Spring Ball Day 10: Ground game looks good

PULLMAN—With a basically brand new air attack and a stout offensive line, the 2004 version of the Washington State offense plans on relying heavily on the ground game. If the performance of the Cougars' top running backs thus far this spring is any indication, the rushing attack will deliver.

Both senior Chris Bruhn and junior Allen Thompson have had strong spring performances, answering one of the questions entering spring ball—can the running game meet the high expectations?—with a resounding yes.

The promise shown by Thompson has been stopped by injuries so far in his collegiate career. Shoulder injuries kept him out of all but one game the past two seasons; a high ankle sprain halted a strong 2001 campaign by the then true freshman. So far this spring, other than a minor ankle injury on the last play of Saturday's scrimmage, the Sweetwater High (Calif.) product has remained physically fit, despite his punishing style of running through and over defenders. And running backs coach Kelly Skipper is very pleased with his progress.

But more than just Bruhn and Thompson have earned the praise of Skipper this spring. The coach is impressed with the play of redshirt freshman Kevin McCall and thinks the Carson, Calif. native could challenge for playing time. "He's in the hunt," said Skipper.

The running back position is in McCall's blood—literally. Six of his family members, including his father, four uncles, and a cousin, were Div.1A tailbacks.

McCall rushed for 59 yards on 15 carries in Saturday's scrimmage.

Tight end Troy Bienemann, who suffered a concussion last week, was back at practice today. Bienemann appeared to be wearing Cody Boyd's dirty laundry; a yellow jersey meaning contact is to be avoided. Boyd, who wore a similar jersey last week, showed good hands again Wednesday afternoon, his second day of contact practice. Sophomore Sean O'Connor continued to get reps as a tight end much, as well.

Wide receiver Chris Jordan, who has been rehabilitating an injured left knee, did some light individual work today.

Sophomore QB Josh Swogger looked good throwing today, particularly on the long passes. He completed a couple of nice deep throws to Tramaine Murray, and one each to Trandon Harvey and Marty Martin.

Redshirt freshman Alex Brink had a series of passes during one-on-one drills that were on the money this afternoon. The first came on a throw over the middle to Harvey; the next was a completion to Thomas Ostrander in tight coverage. Brink threw a bomb down the sideline to grayshirt Scott Selby, who has showed much improvement over the pass few weeks. Brink hit Murray over the middle on play when the receiver burned the defensive back guarding him on the play. Brink continued to shine in 5-on-5 sets, hitting the sure-handed Martin for a long touchdown pass. The duo later hooked up on another TD pass in the back of the endzone from a shorter distance. To cap off a great outing by Brink, he hit Ostrander for a long touchdown pass during team drills.

Martin was a touchdown catching machine Wednesday, in addition to the pair of Brink passes that went for touchdowns, he also hauled in a Swogger TD pass. The 5-10 Martin went up for a jump ball in the back of the endzone and somehow held on.

In team drills, the offense began on their own two-yard line. They appeared to be unfazed by the threat of losing points to the defense, as Bruhn followed blockers en route to a big gain on the first play of the drill.

The defense showed it could be stingy in the red zone today with junior corner Omowale Dada leading the charge. The 5-10 Dada picked off a Brink pass in the end zone and nearly intercepted another, then knocked away a pass intended for Ostrander.

Head coach Bill Doba is pleased with his team's unity and swagger so far, and is excited about the high level of play on both sides of the ball. "You've got to have some success before you get confidence," Doba said.

When asked if he had any predictions for the fall, Cougar defensive coordinator Robb Akey remarked, "We're gonna open up at New Mexico, and it's going to be zero to zero when we kick it off."

Don't miss "Lunch with Coach Akey" in the Cougfan.com premium chat room, Thursday, April 8, from noon to 1 pm.

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