Will Bowlin, Russell lead S-T resurgence?

PULLMAN — New Washington State special teams coach Eric Russell wasn't handed an easy task. The Cougs in 2011 were lagging in multiple special teams categories, with net punting among the areas most in need of a fix. But Russell tells CF.C there's a mid-year transfer who can take care of that problem -- and more -- in 2012.

There were some exceptions, (WSU ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in kickoff returns, third in field goals), but mostly it was a season from hell in 2011 when it came to the special teams work.

The Cougars ranked dead last in kick-off coverage in the pac-12, eleventh in punting and eleventh in punt-return average. Senior Dan Wagner finished out of the conference's top ten, averaging 40.8 yards per punt. He also had two punts blocked.

Enter Mike Bowlin, and two of the above problems could be thrown out the door in '12. The transfer from Saddleback JC has only participated in five practices for Washington State, but his performance has stood out.

Bowlin has been running with the 1s during punting drills and has been booting the leather off the pigskin, his kicks soaring high into the sky and with plenty of distance.

During practice last week, Bowlin had several punts that went at least 50 yards and had returners such as Leon Brooks and Henry Eaddy jogging back trying to get their hands on it.

ON TOP OF his punting, Bowlin has also impressed with his kickoffs. Although the Cougs haven't worked on live kickoff drills yet, Bowlin has been kicking on his own on one of the practice fields and consistently booting the ball deep, sometimes out of the end-zone. In 2011, kicker Andrew Furney only had one touchback.

With all that said, can Bowlin make an immediate impact for the Cougs this season?

"Well, we'll find out," Eric Russell said. "He hasn't done a whole lot of it live yet but obviously there's reasons that we like Mike. We signed him to come punt and kickoff and I've been pleased with what he's done so far in practice. But that's just drills, he hasn't done anything when the pressures on but he's done a good job and has been focused off the field taking care of his body doing the right things."

As for Furney, he's coming off an impressive year where he went 14-of-16 in his FG tries, with a long of 51 yards. Both he and Bowlin went 4-of-4 in their PAT attempts during Saturday's scrimmage and it appears both will be pushing one another for the starting placekicker job.

Russell said, however, it's Furney's job to lose.

"You've got a guy with sixteen Pac-12 snaps under his belt and (he) made 14 of them," Russell said. "What Bowlin brings is some competition for him.

But I don't want a guy doing all three (kicking jobs)."

SPECIAL TEAMS as a whole has been an emphasis for the Cougars early on this spring -- plenty of skill players have been getting plenty of reps.

The most notable -- WR Marquess Wilson has seen plenty of action lined up as punt returner. Wilson has been joined by Brooks and fellow WRs Eaddy, Gino Simone, Rahmel Dockery and Blair Bomber among others.

Meanwhile, the gunners have been drawn from both offense and defense, and Russell has been testing them out plenty through the first week and a half of spring.

Those players include WR Kristoff Williams, WR Bobby Ratliff, WR Bennett Bontemps, CB Tracy Clark, S Deone Bucannon and LB Eric Oertel among others.

"The focus is just getting better," Russell said. "(We're) identifying core guys who can be difference makers and find out where we can play them. We'll have a heavy focus of techniques, fundamentals and learning the game. As we get into a little more of practice, we'll tie that into our schemes."

  • Punter Tyler McNanny has been working with the 2s during drills behind Bowlin. McNanny has fired off some impressive boots himself, but he's not been quite as consistent as Bowlin on distance and hangtime. McNanny has also seen snaps as the place holder during FG attempts along with QB David Gilbertson.

  • Alex Den Bleyker has been getting the lion's share of the work at long snapper this spring, with Zach Koepp also getting turns.

  • Bowlin's work ethic has stood out during the first five practice sessions. When the offense and defense is running drills, you'll often find members of the special team group on the sidelines looking on. Not Bowlin. He is almost always working on some sort of drill. It has been rare indeed this spring to see him not working on something, somewhere.

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