DAY 5: Full contact brings big hits, volume

JOHN FULLINGTON

PULLMAN -- The first day in full pads resulted in a tie at Washington State's practice Thursday. Not a tie on the scoreboard -- a tie between players and coaches for passion and energy. The defense had a big day, with Myron Beck, Kevin Kooyman, Tyree Toomer, Chima Nwachukwu and Nolan Washington all making the highlight reel. Plus, a true frosh got in some work with the No. 1 O, and much more.

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"In the meetings, they (coaches) said, ‘We're going to come out enthusiastic, and you guys better match it,'" outside linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis said with a wide grin. "We had no problem doing that."

The crisp, 2-hour practice featured a handful of good licks. However, the Cougars played under control, keeping in mind that "blowing up" a teammate in a preseason workout is not particularly beneficial.

"I thought it (practice) was good," offensive tackle David Gonzales said. "Everybody was moving around. Everybody was going full speed."

That most definitely included the coaching staff. An enthusiastic bunch by nature, the coaches were flying around, pounding helmets and screaming their approval or disapproval even more than usual.

THE WSU COACHES got particularly amped up during a drill where linemen squared off one-on-one. With coaches inches away from their ear holes, the big 'uns lined up nose to nose, and coaches took turns going bonkers when "their" man won the battle in the trenches.

One gets the impression that new special teams and running backs coach Dave Ungerer tends to get fairly jacked up about the rising and setting of the sun. Judging from the volume of his voice, the New Jersey native might lead the Pac-10 in lung capacity.

"That's an East Coast guy right there," Hoffman-Ellis said with a laugh. "They've got to be heard!"

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER Myron Beck ran back an interception for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage -- Jeff Tuel's attempted pass to Gino Simone was tipped by middle linebacker Mike Ledgerwood -- and the defense often had its way Thursday.

Simone did spin out of a big-time hit after the catch for a nice gain later on another Tuel pass over the middle.

Senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, looked sharp against the run and pass. He was working without projected starting tackles Brandon Rankin and Bernard Wolfgramm, who are nursing minor dings.

Chima Nwachukwu leaped high to bat away a pass in an athletic play. Fellow safety Tyree Toomer blasted running back Chantz Staden with a hit heard 'round the Palouse.

Cornerback Nolan Washington made a fine play to break up a pass inside the defense's 5-yard line. Safety Casey Locker intercepted David Gilbertson in the end zone.

The Cougars shortened practice by half an hour Thursday because a rare day with two practices (each set for 90 minutes) is scheduled Friday.

The first scrimmage of the fall will be included in Saturday's 2 p.m. practice.

TWO NOTEWORTHY DEVELOPMENTS Thursday -- the increased workload of Hoffman-Ellis and true freshman tackle John Fullington's brief appearance with the No. 1 offense at the end of practice.

Hoffman-Ellis said he strained his back during summer weight lifting, so he's taking it slow. A highly energetic sort, Hoffman-Ellis was delighted to practice more Thursday.

"Thank goodness!" he said. "I was getting a little bored."

Hoffman-Ellis led WSU in tackles last season while playing football for just the third year in his life. The speedy California native played middle and outside linebacker as a senior in high school and outside linebacker in his one year of junior college ball, then moved back outside this spring after spending most of last season in the middle.

"The outside is more of a natural position for me … I'm more in my comfort zone," Hoffman-Ellis said. "It's more in space. I can stunt more."

FULLINGTON, WHO CAME out of North Mason High in Belfair, Wash., has a 6-foot-5, 268-pound body that looks more than ready and willing to carry well over 300 pounds someday.

Fullington was the subject of unusually high praise by Cougar coach Paul Wulff on national letter-of-intent signing day. Wulff has seen nothing the first week of camp to back down from his previous words.

"I said when we recruited him I felt he was one of the best (high school) offensive tackles on the West Coast, and I feel like we were right," Wulff said.

Wulff remains adamant that he would prefer to redshirt almost every true freshman every year. However, Wulff has maintained since signing day that some true freshmen will play this season.

For our look at some of the early candidates for playing time among the true frosh, click here .

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