Fall camp: Day One

PULLMAN — Monday marked the first official day of practice for the 2004 Cougars and the look of the club, on offense, was dramatically different than the last time we saw them. The receiving corps, inexperienced and showing it at the Crimson and Gray game in April, is bolstered by the return to health of three of its most talented members. Plus there's a solid JC transfer in the mix as well as hotshot freshman from California who showed Monday why he was a five-star prospect.

The play of the receivers was downright encouraging as head coach Bill Doba formally opened his second campaign at the helm. That's a stark contrast to the spring, when it seemed the receivers were doing all they could to derail the progress of quarterbacks Josh Swogger and Alex Brink. Dropped balls. Sloppy routes. Missed assignments. For the wideouts, it was a spring to forget.

But the QBs were all smiles as the Cougars worked out under Monday morning's Palouse sun. There was fleet Chris Jordan, showing no ill effects from the knee he blew in the Apple Cup. Sophomore Jason Hill, out all spring with a bum shoulder, looked game ready. So did Trandon Harvey, who missed virtually all of spring with a sore hamstring he pulled running track.

In addition, a couple of newcomers made good first impressions on the coaching staff.

Super-touted freshman Michael Bumpus of Culver City, Calif., the Pac-10's biggest surprise on letter of intent signing day when he became a Cougar rather than a Trojan, showed soft hands and quickness in drills. JC transfer Greg Prator from Riverside Calif., also showed good athleticism during the first day of drills.

Doba was pleased with the performance of his receivers but pointed out that they are not yet wearing shoulder pads and don't have to worry about getting hit for a few days.

On defense, JC transfer Tyron Brackenridge also impressed Doba, and looks to battle Don Turner and Alex Teems for the starting corner spot opposite Karl Paymah.

Doba says his main concern leading up to the nationally televised Sept. 3 opener at New Mexico is health, especially for the young players who need to develop the strength and endurance to compete in the Pac-10. "They need to know the difference between pain and injury," said Doba.

Speaking of injuries, here's the latest, courtesy of trainer Bill Drake: Offensive lineman Sean O'Conner, who had back surgery in June, has three weeks left of rehab and is questionable for the season opener. Linemate Patrick Afif is nursing a sore knee but wearing a protective brace and moving nicely. Receiver Blake Ferguson, a freshman walk-on from Issaquah where he was consensus All-State, has a thumb ligament injury and had surgery in early July. He is expected to be out 3-4 weeks.

The Cougars will practice once a day through Friday and then have two-a-day drills through Aug. 20. The first scrimmage is set for the afternoon of Aug. 15. Picture Day is August 28.

A couple players were sporting new hairstyles, including linebacker-turned-defensive end Paul Stevens. He let his curly locks grow past his shoulders and now bears a startling resemblance to the legendary Mufasa from Disney's "The Lion King." And free safety Christian Bass has a ‘do reminiscent of Will Smith in the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" days.

Swogger is just the second sophomore in Cougar history to be voted a team captain. The other honoree was a guy by the name of Jason Gesser. Eager to show his leadership skills, Swogger organized 7 on 7 workouts this summer to help this youthful squad develop. These mini scrimmages even included some players from up the highway at Eastern Washington University players.

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