Depth: loaded at RB; more at MLB

PULLMAN -- There's a new name to add to the mix at middle linebacker: redshirt freshman <b>Scott Davis</b>. With fellow freshman <b>Brian Hall</b> and sophomore <b>Aaron Wagner</b> coming along a tad slower than hoped, Davis, a two-way All-State performer at Kamikain High in Kennewick, is moving from outside linebacker to inside.

With Don Jackson, the likely starter in the middle, nursuing a sore hamstring, the 223-pound Davis made the move on Saturday. Hall, meanwhile, played with the first-team defense in Saturday's scrimmage.

One position where there's no concern about the pace of progress is running back, where Jermaine Green, Chris Bruhn, Jonathan Smith and Allen Thompson are all coming along beautifully.

Smith, dubbed by teammates as "J. Smooth" was the big star in Saturday's scrimmage, piling up 65 yards on seven carries.

"He's been all business this camp," said running backs coach Kelly Skipper. "He worked hard this off season and is trying to finish his senior season off well."

Smith seemed to ooze his way through tackles on Saturday, popping back up anytime he looked to be down. His performance has impressed Skipper so much that he now calls both Green and Smith his No. 1 backs.

"He's listed at No. 2, but I see both him and Jermaine at No. 1," Skipper said. "They're both (performing) at that level and both will get their share of plays."

Last season Smith made a quick statement during the Cougars' first two games against Nevada and Idaho, scored five touchdowns. Against Idaho Smith carried 12 times for 121 yards. After the Idaho game Smith — who only played one year of high school football — faded from the scene and soon was used primarily for special teams.

This off-season Smith spent a lot of time working on quickness with his feet. He also used a weight vest to improve speed and body work. "That's where I progressed the most," Smith said."I gained about 20 pounds this off-season."

Those 20 pounds have seemingly made the most difference in his game, as well as a low pad-level. "When you have a good, low pad level you start to force guys to make arm tackles," Skipper said. "But he also has the strength now to run right through tackles so guys are just sliding right off him. He also has picked up his endurance and is able to keep going now after a third or fourth hit."

What Smith's improvement has meant for WSU is a team that is at least a solid three backs deep. The Cougars could be four deep, though, provided Thompson — the one time heir to the throne — keeps his shoulder healthy.

Thompson has fared well during scrimmages, despite just having another surgery a week ago. Skipper said Thompson is basically just experiencing irritation in the shoulder since he just had surgery.

"You've got to have two-to-three good running backs in this league, two-to-three who could each start," Skipper said. "Now if you have four, then you're real solid."

Of the top four backs, JC transfer Bruhn is in catch up mode trying to learn plays. Skipper said he is receiving the most reps of any of the four in order for him to learn the system. Pretty much what Bruhn has displayed so far is raw talent that needs to be ripened before he can make the impact coaches feel he can.

"We need to get him down to a good pad level," Skipper said. "It's just a matter of him knowing when the hit is going to come and not being surprised. He needs to get down earlier than he is used to, there were a couple of times he made some bad decisions."

Skipper also said that Bruhn's method of pile-driving defenders would work if aimed right.

"We need him to attack the shoulders, not just run over guys," Skipper said. "He's 220 (pounds) so he can run over most of the guys."

Skipper also assuaged any fears that the tightness in Green's back on Saturday would be anything to worry about. "We were just taking pre-cautionary measures," Skipper said. "If it were a game he still would of played. He practiced well today. But that's the good thing about having depth like that. We talk a lot about opportunity and being ready to perform if a guy goes down and you get your chance to go in."

Notable Notes:
• The team practiced in shoulder pads and helmets on Sunday. They worked mainly on their two-minute drill. Doba has said before that the team needs to improve on it.

• Wide receiver Robert Franklin looks to be on the road to recovery. Franklin who sustained an MCL sprain to his knee in late July, was seen running with the team after practice.

• Two notable plays Saturday were a Cody Boyd touchdown reception from Matt Kegel in which he grabbed the ball right over Will Derting's head. The 6-foot Derting played the 6-foot-8 Boyd as best he could. The second was by Aaron Wagner who made a stunning interception of Josh Swogger to end practice. Swogger tried to hit a receiver cutting through the middle when Wagner leaped in front and made a one-handed grab securing it to his chest before falling on the ground.

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