Cougs still playing with 'spring' in their step

PULLMAN -- Though spring football is nearly over on the Palouse, the Cougars show no signs of slowing down, even after last Saturday's scrimmage that saw five players come out with injuries. Tuesday's session was an intense two- and-a-half-hour ordeal that eventually ended up in Martin Stadium with an abbreviated scrimmage. Plus, Alex Brink appears to have passed Chris Hurd as top challenger to Josh Swogger.

The day was mixed with solid if not spectacular play on both sides of the ball. The offense would convert on third and long or have a long touchdown completion; then the defense would come up with a big turnover or shut down a fourth-and-one conversion attempt.

Fumbles were the turnover of choice by the defense today, having three forced fumbles and pouncing on two of them. Quarterbacks Josh Swogger and Alex Brink each threw interceptions on the day. Brink threw his during one-on-one receiving drills to junior Nic Scott. Swogger's, while not his fault, was more costly, coming at the end of the scrimmage on a second down play with the offense driving. The sophomore signal-caller threw a ball that hit Tramaine Murray in the hands, but was knocked away by a defender and into the arms of junior corner Omawale Dada.

Head coach Bill Doba said by the end of spring he'd like to have solidified a No.1 quarterback, but still isn't sure who that is going to be. "Right now, I would say Swogger is in the lead with Brink second," Doba said.

He also said quarterback by committee is out of the question. "Teams that I've seen over the years that have done that have had to cut the offense in half," Doba said, "It's tough to get two guys ready to play unless you want to extend practice, and that's against my philosophy."

In addition to the takeaways, the defense stuffed the offense on fourth-and-one a whopping three times, one of which was a forced fumble on running back Chris Bruhn.

Despite the fumbles and failed fourth down conversions, the running game looked pretty good Tuesday. Bruhn caught a Swogger screen pass and raced up the sideline untouched for touchdown. The senior ran hard all day, pounding into defenders and earning every yard. Allen Thompson looked like his normal self with a couple of decent gains after an ankle sprain slowed him most of last week.

"Both of our running backs (Bruhn and Thompson) have had an awesome spring," Doba said before Tuesday's practice.

Marty Martin did something on Tuesday that he hasn't done in quite awhile: he dropped a pass. Martin actually dropped a couple of easily catchable balls, but made up for it with touchdown reception from Swogger over the middle from about 15-yards out. In one-on-one drills, the receiver made a single-handed grab over the top of a defender and later stretched out his 5-10 frame to make a difficult catch.

Receiver Thomas Ostrander laid out for a couple receptions and scored on a pass from Brink, who practiced primarily with the first team offense today.

Brink got a chance to try going no huddle against the first team defense and just like last Saturday's scrimmage, the offense was hot early before cooling way down. Brink had a decent gain on a pass to Martin and then a long gain to tight end Cody Boyd. The offense was on the move but Brink was sacked on the next two plays, which put them in a third and 20 situation they could not escape from.

Despite suffering an ankle sprain on Saturday, linebacker Pat Bennett was back and practicing on Tuesday with a brace on his ankle. Cornerback Don Turner was also back, but only took part in some of the fundamental and individual drills.

Injured defensive back Hamza Abdullah was on-hand for all of practice Tuesday, motivating and cheering on players from the sidelines. "He is a great leader out there. He gets excited about plays, high-fivin' guys and showing a lot of enthusiasm," Doba said of Abdullah.

Secondary coach Ken Greene said Abdullah will be out six to eight weeks with a collarbone fracture, but will definitely be ready for summer work-outs and fall camp. "If this is going to happen, better it happen know than (during the season)," Greene said.

Greene hopes the recruits coming in at fall camp can play a big role for the secondary next fall. He wants his unit to create turnovers and stay healthy in Saturday's Crimson & Gray game.

BATTLE OF THE GUARDS
The offensive guard position likely won't have a definitive first team when spring ball ends on Saturday, but Doba doesn't necessarily see that as a bad thing.

"We have a good battle going," Doba said. "Patrick Afif and Bobby Byrd are both a little dinged up. I don't know if Byrd is going to be able to play Saturday. We have been taking a look at sophomore Charles Harris at the other guard spot. Of course, Riley Fitt-Chappell is in there as well, so we will have four guys battling it out in the fall."

A SPRING IN HIS KICK
Although getting off to a somewhat slow start, junior kicker Graham Siderius has turned in a strong spring performance, earning the praise of Doba.

"He can hit it from 60 yards out," Doba said. "He has a great leg and is kicking the ball very, very well."

EXTRA-POINTS
Doba said DT Ropati Pitoitua "is probably the starter at the other tackle position next to Steve Cook"…Brink, Martin, Pitoitua, walk-on QB Mike Reilly, and LB Steve Dildine were cited by the coach as the most improved this spring...Siderius will kick-off for both the Crimson and the Gray on Saturday…Butkus award candidate, LB Will Derting, TE Troy Bienemann, tackle Sam Lightbody, Swogger, and Abdullah were mentioned by Doba as players who were stepping forward as leaders of the 2004 Cougars…the final practice of spring will take place on Wednesday at 3:30, instead of Friday as originally planned; the Crimson and Gray game will kick-off at 1:15 on Saturday.


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