Reflections of Spring

PULLMAN -- There were times watching football practice last month that I would have to remind myself it was only spring and mistakes were to be expected. Then there were moments when I felt certain this team would be destined for a return to the Rose Bowl.

And that personal experience pretty much sums up the Cougar football team's performance in the spring of 2003.

While the offense had its peaks and valleys, the defense was, for the most part, a model of consistency. Of course it's expected that the D be a step ahead of the O during spring ball, but this year it seemed to be a step-and-a-half.

The Great Quarterback Debate never happened. Matt Kegel was officially given the helm before the first snap and made the most of his opportunities. Sure, he struggled at times, but overall showed the poise and athleticism the team will need from him this seaso -- so calm down Kegel doubters. He was particularly sharp during the Crimson and Gray game, completing 16-of-25 passes for 273 yards. All told this spring, he connected on 39 of 63 scrimmage passes for 503 yards.

 

Chris Hurd and Josh Swogger gave the Cougar Nation further cause to breathe easy in regard to the QB spot.

Hurd sparkled with his accuracy and arm strength. He just needs to develop the touch that separates a great arm from an outstanding one.  QB coach Tim Rosenbach, known to smoke a fastball himself back in the day, is working on taking some of the zip off Hurd's ball. Hurd's numbers (12-28 for 125 yards) weren't exciting but his performances were consistent and clean with few mistakes. 

 

Swogger will need some time to develop. He put up some big numbers (29-69 for 253 yards), spiked by his ability to make big plays.  But Swogger's inconsistency was no more apparent than during the Crimson and Gray game, when playing with the first-string offense he went 1-3, gaining just one yard. Against the first string defense with the second string offense, Swogger was 6-19 for 36 yards. Still, the coaching staff is extremely high on the freshman, confident more experience will make the talented Ohio native more than ready for prime time.

The offensive line played most of the spring without All-Pac-10 junior Calvin Armstrong. His replacement, JC transfer Patrick Afif, looked sluggish as did sophomore-to-be center Nick Mihlhauser, who lost out to senior walk-on Mike Shelford for the starting job. Offensive line coach George Yarno believes the hosses struggled because they are still trying to learn his new schemes. The line has enough returning players to eventually get it right. They looked fine during the Crimson and Gray game, but of course they were playing the second-string defense. Whether it is complacency or not grasping new schemes the O-line will need to figure it out because their stability is key to the 2003 campaign.

 

The envelope, please:

Top Offensive Player: Big-play grab master Sammy Moore has made it very easy for WSU to get over the loss of receivers Mike Bush and Jerome Riley. Moore finished the Crimson Gray game with two receptions for 83 yards. Kegel and Moore routinely hooked up deep many times during practices.

Top Defensive Player: It still amazes me that Jason David is just 5-foot-8, 173 lbs. and plays at the level he does. David did not make too many spectacular plays in the scrimmages but during the weekly practices David was always in the way of passes, whether he was picking them or deflecting them.

Golden Hands Award: The great Devard Darling became the (obvious) target of choice for Kegel during the Crimson and Gray game. The two hooked up for seven catches for 107 yards.

On the Verge Award: Receiver Trandon Harvey. A healthy Harvey should add mightily to an already explosive group of receivers.

Top Coach: Who else but head coach Bill Doba? Doba re-assembled a home-wrecked coaching staff and took the time to learn the offense. The staff has blended nicely with the players. If there was one common theme I noticed players saying all throughout spring it was how much they appreciated the new coaches and respected the vast amounts of experience each coach brought. Instead of singling out one coach, the award goes to Doba, who brought them all together.

Biggest Surprise: (tie) Jevon Miller and Mike Shelford. Miller didn't put up the biggest numbers, but had a consistently solid spring. He had scrimmages of 40, 21 and 45 yards, while catching 10 passes this spring. If Miller continues to improve he will relieve much pressure off Moore and Darling, who should be the focus of opposing defenses next fall. Shelford, a walk-on center (no for much longer), ended spring ball where probably no one but himself thought he'd ever be: Number one on the depth chart.

Top Freshman: Rabbit quick defensive end MKristo Bruce terrorized offensive linemen and quarterbacks all spring. His presence was a welcome addition to the defense and will most likely see significant playing time next year. I don't think it's going out on a limb to say this guy could be a future All-American.



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