BREAKING NEWS: Cougs escape first practice without injury!

OK, so I'm being just a little facetious with that headline. And given the fact that it was helmets and shorts, I'm pretty sure it would have been a surprise if someone had left the field today. But last year, it seemed like there was a player coming down with one major malady or another just about everyday, so this is welcome news.

Grippi's got a nice recap of the day's goings on, and it appears that the theme -- or, rather, the word -- of this camp is "tough." As in, "we're not as talented as everyone else in our conference, so we better do something better than them":

"If all things are equal, or if you’re lacking in an area, speed or size or somewhere, you can make that up by being tough," said Chris Ball, WSU assistant head coach who ran Sunday’s season-opening practice while coach Paul Wulff served his NCAA-mandated three-day suspension.

"One thing we’ve made a living on around here for a long, long time is being a tough football team," Ball added. "We’re trying to bring that back. But it’s got to show on every face. … If you’re not tough, we’re going to talk you into being tough. We’re going to be tough at the end of this camp."

That's all very nice, but we'll see how much good that new found toughness really does. What I saw last year was a team that could have been disciples of the toughest man on the planet and it wouldn't have made one difference in the ultimate outcomes of games. What I saw was a team that wasn't as talented as their adversaries whose problems were compounded by myriad injuries and by some of the most undisciplined football I've ever seen.

By all accounts, the talent gap should be smaller this year, which is a great start. But this team needs more than just some kind of macho "toughness," which is a great ambiguous mantra if not something measurable.

But, if by "tough," what Ball really means is "mentally tough enough to not only withstand the challenges of being routinely overmatched but also tough enough to remain disciplined to the point that they give themselves a chance to actually be competitive this year," then I'll buy it. Cut down on the turnovers (dead last in FBS last year), cut down on the stupid penalties (No. 102 in penalties per game, No. 114 in penalty yards per game), cut down on the blown assignments (no team could possibly allow 43.8 points per game and play assignment sound football), and then I'll give this team a legitimate chance to be a lot better.

I guess this is another way of saying I'll believe it when I see it on September 5. Assuming we can make it out of camp healthy.

The team returns to the practice field tomorrow at 9 a.m. for another helmets and shorts workout.

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