Opportunity amid injury

THE HELMETS DON'T go on till next week, but already there's enough injury news on the Palouse that WSU President Lane Rawlins may want to consider starting a medical school. OK, it's not really all that bad. And, in fact, some of the news is actually music to the ears, with a return to health giving the Cougs a big boost at running back. Plus, some young hands get a golden opportunity at receiver.

Topping the good news list are running back Allen Thompson and quarterback Chris Hurd.

Thompson, a junior-to-be who's shoulder woes sidelined him for all of last season and all but a series of 2002, is ready to make his long-waited mark on the Palouse. "He's a great kid, a tough kid. Shoulders can be tough, we'll see what he can tolerate. I hope it works out for him. If it does, you're going to see a lot of him this year. A dream of mine is to get him healthy so he can show you what he can do," WSU offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller told CF.C. Thompson also missed half of 2001 with a high ankle sprain.

Hurd, the No. 3 QB behind Jason Gesser and Matt Kegel in 2002, missed all of 2003 with surgery to correct a congenitive problem in his right knee. He's looked strong and mobile in winter conditioning drills and should push Josh Swogger hard for the starting nod.

Three prominent members of the Cougars' pass-catching corps will miss all or part of spring workouts: Receivers Chris Jordan (knee) and Jason Hill (shoulder) and tight end Cody Boyd (shoulder). Jordan and Hill are both out for the duration, but are expected back at full strength come August. Boyd, the sophomore-to-be who figures to form a dynamic duo at tight end with Troy Bienemann in 2004, is expected to miss half of the spring session.

The silver lining in all that down time is that it will give a ton of reps to other hands. "This spring will be an opportunity for guys to prove they can get on the field, to step up and grab the brass ring," says Levenseller.

Among the grab-masters looking to elevate their stature will be Marty Martin, Thomas Ostrander (who's back is now healthy), Jevon Miller, and Tramaine Murray, the playmaking JC transfer who redshirted this past season. In addition, there's Trandon Harvey, who caught 21 balls in 2003 and looks to solidify a starting role with improved consistency.

One name not in the mix is Brett Johnson, the talented walk-on who saw limited action at receiver in 2002 and full-time duty as the holder on field goals and PATs. He's an academic casualty.

"We're going to be patient. The goal at receiver this spring is to see guys improve their play," Levenseller says. "We'll worry about specific roles in the fall when Chris (Jordan) and Jason (Hill) are back in the mix. The competition will be intense in the fall."

At tight end, Boyd's early absence will offer more work to Jesse Taylor (who's nursing a sore wrist) and grayshirt Scott Selby.

Elsewhere on offense, the biggest injury question is on the offensive line, where guard Norvell Holmes is nursing a bad back. The defense appears to be generally healthy.

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