Wednesday was my one semi-free day and I spent it traveling across the state, showing up in Pullman just in time for football practice. I had yet to see the 2011 version of the Washington State Cougars, and now seemed like as good a time as any. With Saturday's game fast approaching, I was anxious to get a look at the team and see if there was a noticeable change in how practices were conducted.
Of course, I was only able to spend about an hour on campus, but it was enough to get a good look at the team and see how the coaching staff interacted with the players. And to me, there was a significant difference in how practices were run, how players went to work and what was being done to prepare for the game ahead.
So what's new? Read on.
- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Vince Grippi's wife, Kim, one more time. I spent the better part of my time at Rogers Field talking to Vince, getting caught up and tugging on his sleeve while asking if he'd heard any news back from her about the doctor's visit. To say I'm thrilled at the news would still be an understatement. It's been a long month, or so, and that bit of good news is comes as a huge relief, both to the Grippi family and the nation of concerned Cougar fans.
- I hate the Jugs machine. Not quite as much as Stuart Scott, but stand by a Jugs long enough and one starts to wonder if a ball will come rocketing at their head accidentally. Isiah Barton, however, does not hate the machine. In fact, he's at one with it. Barton kept inching closer and closer before finally, in one of his later attempts, reaching up and snaring a ball while standing just a few steps away from the machine. Impressive hands.
- Jeff Tuel is still Jeff Tuel, and that's a great thing. Watching him work, it's clear just how far ahead of the WSU quarterbacks he is. Tuel looks big and strong, with an arm that wing the ball around. He was hitting his spots during drills that had quarterbacks sprinting out left or right, then dropping the ball into a stationary net. Marshall Lobbestael also looked capable, though the rest ... well, not so much.
- Speed. Vince wrote about speed this morning, looking at "playing fast" and "football speed." What I saw is probably better described as tempo. Everything was about tempo, getting to the line, being in the right formations and getting the ball snapped. And the tempo has improved, at least from the limited action I saw. The play ends, the offense sprints to the new spot and the ball is snapped. It was bang, bang, bang.
- At one point, the field goal unit lined-up on the far end of the practice field and the two kickers -- Andrew Furney and Alex Gauper -- took turns hitting chip shots. The defensive was out there, it seemed, until they blocked one, with a heavy emphasis on getting to the kick. After about five tries, the defense did get one, though it was more on the holder than anything else. Moral of the story? It's nice to see WSU placing an emphasis on special teams and looking for that big play.
- Thinking Rickey Galvin will be fun to watch. I don't need to add anything else to this.
- I wasn't paying attention to the defense very munch, so I've got nothing there. With Jeff Tuel throwing in front of me and a fear of the Jugs machine behind me, I was occupied. Like you wouldn't do the same.
The Cougs will be back on the field Thursday for some final installations and game-prep before Friday's walkthrough. Football is almost here! Dance in the streets!