IN 11 DAYS, the first clues about the 2011 WSU running attack will begin to emerge. Will Cougar fans look back on '11 as the season the ground game come of age under Paul Wulff? Maybe. There are signs that augur for a good sized improvement -- it figures to be a faster group than the year before. But there are also plenty of question marks. The top priority for the group this spring? That's easy.

Plain and simple, by the end of the 15-practice session that begins on March 7, the Cougs would love for a consistent playmaker at running back to emerge from the group.

Washington State WAS a passing offense last season, because that's what worked best. Losing the guy they expected to carry much of the running back load last season, Rickey Galvin, on the very first play of his collegiate career didn't help. But that's in the past and 2011 is a new year. And Galvin isn't the only back Paul Wulff is counting on to make an impact.

Logwone Mitz will be a seasoned veteran in 2011, embarking on his final collegiate season. Mitz is a tough runner in tight places and has at times looked to be on the precipice of becoming a big-time, smash-mouth runner in the conference.

The problem has been that he's stayed on that precipice, in large part due to injury, and not just on Saturdays -- there have been times he has simply not been physically able to take enough reps during the practice week, and that's critical. Mitz will certainly get his looks this spring from special teams and running backs coach Dave Ungerer.

KEEP A CLOSE WATCH on Carl Winston this spring. He was dinged up a good portion of last year but still played through much of it. A healthy Winston has some wiggle to his game. He also has a degree of breakaway potential. In short, Cougar fans haven't seen Winston at his best yet. This spring might change that.

And then there's Galvin, whose 2009 campaign went from a hoped-for breakout debut to Season, Interrupted. Many envisioned the first half of last year playing out for Galvin this way -- getting more and more carries each week as the Cougs' change of pace option and eventually perhaps earning the starting job by midseason. But a bad arm fracture clipped his freshman year before it began.

Galvin is a dynamic runner who can get yards on his own. In fall camp of last year, he was a guy Cougar fans hadn't seen for a few years – a running back with speed and who can make a lot of yards on his own. Galvin can be special, but he still has yet to actually do it at the Pac-12 level and he also has to stay healthy. A breakout performance this spring could send him on his way.

Galvin, Paul Wulff said in the CF.C chat room earlier this month Galvin was on track for being 100 percent healthy for spring drills. But WSU also figures to be cautious, and they wouldn't hesitate to shut him down until fall camp if circumstances should so dictate.

WSU IN 2010 rushed for 1,092 yards including QB sacks, an improvement over the 848 net yards of 2009. Still, those 2010 numbers are not worth writing home about. But Wulff thinks another improvement in the running game, and potentially a good sized one, is in the offing this season. Part of the reason for Wulff's optimism -- the Cougs have a little more depth at the position.

Arthur Burns is the wildcard of this group – will he leap to the top of the chart or will he fit in somewhere below the starting spot and/or as a situational type back?

Burns spent most of his true frosh campaign at WSU in 2009 redshirting as a scout team running back before moving to outside linebacker. Last October, he was moved back to running back. Why? Wulff wanted more speed and explosiveness coming out of the backfield.

Burns, listed this past season at 5-11, 206-pounds, spent his senior season in high school bulling and sprinting his way to 1,760 yards and 29 touchdowns at Centennial High in Corona, Calif. How well his running back skills transfer to the Pac-12 level, and how well Burns has acclimated to running back since October, promises to be one of the intriguing stories of this spring.

The Cougs also have walk-on Leon Brooks, a 5-7, 170-pounder who would have seen time last year given the rash of injuries that hit the RB position, if he hadn't also been one of those who was out injured.

THE COUGAR OFFENSIVE line will of course play a large role in how far and fast the Cougar ground game rolls. And given the strides WSU made in the passing game in 2010, it's hard to imagine the passing game won't again be the offense's strength.

But the running attack was more of a factor last year than the year before, and the same figures to hold true from 2010 to 2011. The question is to what degree will the ground game be improved... The answers start coming on March 7.

  • Wulff is trying something new this spring -- the Cougs will practice March 7, 9 and 10, be off for spring break, and then return to action March 22 for the final 12 practices and scrimmages. The thinking is it allows the staff more time for evaluation and adjustments.

  • WSU will get a boost in the fall when freshman RB Marcus Mason arrives. The 5-8, 175 pounder from Etiwanda, Calif. could still redshirt, but he'll also bring with him to WSU reported 4.39 speed in the 40, something the Cougs under Paul Wulff have been working to increase in the running back corps and throughout the team.

  • How bad were injuries last season at the RB spot? In the first week of November, the Cougs were down to three bodies -- Marcus Richmond, Mitz and Burns. On the shelf that week were James Montgomery, Winston, Chantz Staden, Galvin and Brooks.

  • Speaking of Monty, will he be back in 2011? He won't take part in spring drills, (which would seem a pretty good indicator) and Wulff said Montgomery hasn't decided if he's going to try to come back in 2011. If he does try to come back, he would still have to receive an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA. From this vantage point, that Montgomery was able to resume his college career at all and play at the level he did after a devastating leg injury (acute compartment syndrome) was nothing short of remarkable. Indeed, if he's carried the rock for the last time as a Coug, he's already accomplished one whole helluva lot.

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