DAY 4: Morton making mark; air battle waged

MICAH HANNAM says Morton is real deal

PULLMAN -- The words were not said loudly so much as they were said passionately. Emphatically. Powerfully. "Bang the drum, baby ... Are you ready? Are you ready? We are accountable, men to men."

Steve Morton, the offensive line coach of the Washington State Cougars, encouraged his troops with those words the other day at practice. Morton's passion for offensive line play is well established, but Morton was so jacked to start work that day, he delivered his pep talk just to get his players excited about STRETCHING at the start of practice.

"He's doing a great job. He‘s awesome. He's great," said head coach Paul Wulff, who brought in Morton -- a former WSU offensive lineman and O-line coach -- to shore up line play that was routinely awful the past two years.

"He knows his stuff," senior offensive tackle Micah Hannam said.

"Our players are getting better," Wulff said. "They're improving all the time."

"I like Coach Morton," Hannam said. "He'll joke around with you when it's appropriate, but when something needs to get done, he'll put the hammer down and make sure you get your job right."

Morton's hosses were in full battle mode Wednesday at Rogers Field -- the fourth day of the Cougars' fall camp -- as the aerial game went full tilt. The day was highlighted by some excellent one-on-one battles between receivers and defenders.

Second-year freshmen defensive backs Casey Locker and Nolan Washington and true freshman Damante Horton made excellent plays to break up passes.

True freshman wideout Marquess Wilson again showed good hands and shiftiness after the catch. Senior wide receiver Daniel Blackledge hauled in a gorgeous 42-yard bomb from Tuel down the left sideline despite close coverage by Washington.

Later, Tuel connected with fellow sophomore Gino Simone on a 6-yard touchdown bullet over the middle with Simone practically wearing senior safety Chima Nwachukwu in the end zone.

All-out full contact won't start until players don full pads for the first time Thursday, but sophomore running back Carl Winston took hard hits on two straight plays (a catch and a run) and bounced right back up.

Exciting 5-foot-8 freshman running back Rickey Galvin showed off some flashy moves and wheels when his left-side blockers cleared the way for about a 35-yard run. Senior linebacker Myron Beck's tackle prevented a touchdown.

Lobbestael, wearing a brace on the left knee that was surgically repaired late in the 2008 season, showed impressive speed while racing to the sideline before diving past the chains for a first down. On the next play, senior running back Marcus Richmond took advantage of great blocking on the left side to score on an 11-yard run on the final play of a quasi scrimmage.

The defense exacted a measure of revenge, however, when Terrance Hayward picked Connor Halliday and took it back all the way. He was mobbed by his defensive teammates afterward.

Several players expected to play key roles this season, including cornerback Daniel Simmons (who broke his leg last season), continue to see limited action as coaches bring them along slowly from injuries. Defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm came out of practice Wednesday due to foot blisters, and freshman receiver Bobby Ratliff suffered a groin injury that Wulff said does not appear to be serious.

It is so very early in fall camp and the first day in full pads is Thursday. With the first game 3 ½ weeks away. Still, many observers at WSU's first four practices seem downright stunned at how much bigger and faster the Cougars look than the past two years. The rebuilding process is ongoing -- the Cougars are still young, inexperienced and lacking in depth at several positions -- but it would be difficult to argue that progress is not being made with a heaping amount of help from the coaching staff's diligent recruiting work.

PRESEASON PROGNOSTICATORS HAVEN'T been kind to the Cougars this year, and the players have noticed.

"That's just food; we're hungry," quarterback Jeff Tuel said. "It's motivation. Nothing else matters but what we believe in our hearts and minds, and what we know we can do. We're going to win games, and we're going to surprise people."

Marshall Lobbestael, Tuel's backup at quarterback, expressed similar thoughts.

"We're not focusing on what other people are thinking. We're focusing more on ourselves and how we can improve. I feel a lot more guys are looking in the mirror and figuring out what they can do for the team. We're definitely excited for this year."

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel says every Pac-10 team except WSU has a shot at the title. That might be seen as a slap in the face of the Cougars, but it's also a statement about the wide-open nature of the Pac-10 this year after an off-season filled with turmoil for many teams.

"It's a good thing for the underdog and a bad thing for the guys on top," Tuel said.

"This is really our time to make a push and come up in the Pac-10 and show what we can do," running back James Montgomery said.

NOTABLE:

Encouraged by a recent surge in football season ticket sales -- typical at WSU as the season opener approaches -- athletics ticket manager Jessica Young said she believes the Cougars will top last year's sales. The Cougars sold 9,072 full and partial season tickets last year (10,871 if you count trade-outs and such). Those were the lowest figures since WSU began compiling complete records on ticket sales in 2002. As of Wednesday morning, the Cougars had sold 7,726 full and partial season tickets (9,716 counting trade-outs and such).

Young said no current figures are available on all-sports student passes. Last year, 10,643 passes were sold. The school record of 11,746 was set in 2008-09. "Usually, when we have the Apple Cup (in Pullman), the student pass numbers are up," Young said. Washington comes to Pullman for the Apple Cup on Dec. 4.

Single-season tickets for all home games went on sale Saturday. Approximately 8,500 tickets remain for the Apple Cup, excluding 4,800 reserved for Husky fans. Tickets may be purchased at (800) GO-COUGS or www.wsucougars.com.

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