Fall Camp: Day 14

PULLMAN--Coach <b>Bill Doba</b> unexpectedly gave the team the day off Sunday, a chance for the players to relax and perehaps heal a bit before classes start Tuesday. From here on out, there are no more two-a-days. And with Monday already scheduled as an off-day, it gives us a chance to take a look back over the first two weeks of fall camp. Today, the offense: Who has impressed? What areas need work? Wh0 are the pleasant surprises?

The offensive line, like the rest of the team, has endured injuries over the last two weeks. Riley Fitt-Chappell is expected to return on Tuesday. Calvin Armstrong (ankle sprain) missed some time but has since returned, competing in both Wednesday's and Saturday's scrimmage. Patrick Afif continues to battle knee discomfort.

But a less-than-stellar performance from the line can't be completely blamed on injuries. Coach George Yarno has been pleased with the effort put forth by the line, very pleased, but he's not satisfied with the final results.

Yarno noted this past week the 2's and 3's have been pushing the 1's. Yarno also told CF.C the 1's shouldn't get too comfortable. While nobody is in imminent danger of losing their position, it's clear the play of the line -- once thought to be the biggest strength of the entire team -- must improve.

Sam Lightbody and Armstrong are the tackles with Nick Mihlhauser at center -- the guard positions remain unsettled. Norvell Holmes has turned in a great camp and may get the nod at right guard while Fitt-Chappell and Afif are in contention on the left side. Fitt-Chappell looks to be the leader but that lead is tenuous. If Afif can overcome the burden of having no cartilage in his knee, he's definitely a contender and Bobby Byrd also can't be counted out here.

Penalties continue to bedevil the line, yet there are caveats and maybe even a silver lining. You have to look hard to see it, but it's there.

Coach Bill Doba pointed out the majority of penalties are due to a lack of concentration. That can be fixed. He's also made clear the offense is now at a point where these types of infractions shouldn't be as prevalent. Also of interest: the number of false starts has dramatically decreased from the spring and last year's campaign. Also, the penalties may appear greater in number simply because they've come at the most inopportune of times.

A bevy of big scrimmage plays have been nullified due to a holding call here, an illegal touching call there. Third-and-short, Josh Swogger hits his receiver for a 37-yard gain. But its called back -- and the offense can't convert the ensuing third-and-long. A touchdown off a 20 yard strike -- wiped out due to holding. And so it has gone for the Cougs in August.

The next week and a half will be critical for the OL to work out the kinks. They've put it all together at times, but the need for more consistency remains.

AT QUARTERBACK, Swogger and Alex Brink have picked up where they left off this spring -- flashes of brilliance followed by a lack of concentration. If the QBs find their consistency, the receiving corps is in place to turn the offense into a juggernaut.

Swogger and Brink have each shown the ability to start. But Swogger is No. 1, having also displayed veteran leadership. The second sophomore captain in program history has done the little things that aren't so little; staying behind after practice to work with the receivers and leading by example.

Swogger has displayed more mobility than he did this spring, though still very much a pocket-passer type of quarterback. He has a cannon and for the most part, has been accurate. One thing the coaches are looking for from Swogger is to better run through his progressions, checking out to the second and third receivers. Brink has bulked up a bit and seems to make his best plays when under duress. Many of the his biggest completions are when scrambling out of the pocket on the fly.

Mike Reilly has looked good in scrimmages playing with the 3rd team, while Gary Rogers appears to be adjusting to the college level but has good size and strength for a true freshman.

THE BIGGEST SURPRISE has been the receivers. It's been night and day compared to the spring.

Chris Jordan, Jason Hill and Trandon Harvey were a bit rusty but have shaken it off for the most part. Injuries appear to have a lingering, albeit slight, effect on their fitness and durability. Jordan took a few days off when fluid built up in his knee but has come back strong. He continues to approach last year's form, when he developed into one of WSU's best receivers.

Marty Martin catches everything thrown to him. However, with Hill, Jordan and Harvey now back in the fold, Martin is seeing fewer balls come his way. Still, he appears to have turned a corner and will be a big-time contributor in 2004.

Hill has made a number of impressive catches, although a wrist injury recently forced him to the sidelines. The injury does not appear serious.

Troy Bienemann should be one of the main receiving targets for the offense this season, he's looked sharp.

Greg Prator has made the smoothest transition of all the newcomers. A strong, aggressive receiver, he has all the tools to make an impact. Not only has Prator turned heads with strong hands and his ability to get open, he's also run over a few would-be tacklers after the catch.

Michael Bumpus has soft hands and speed to thrill. He's a receiver who can drive defenders batty with his ability to change directions on a dime. Although he's appeared in certain sets with the first string, Bumpus has run primarily with the second unit. In both instances, he's made a bunch number of big plays.

Tramaine Murray, the top return man on the team, has gained confidence at wide receiver since the spring and is one more weapon offensive coordinator coach Mike Levenseller has at his disposal.

ALTHOUGH THE HOLES haven't materialized as often as the coaches would like, the running backs have still shown they're capable of ripping off large chunks of yardage. Chris Bruhn has looked good this fall with his combination of power and speed.

Allen Thompson has shined as well although injuries have sidelined him of late, (slight concussion and back strain.) AT is due to return Tuesday and if he can stay healthy, will be a significant contributor along with Bruhn in the backfield.

Jerome Harrison has received more reps of late with Thompson out. The JUCO transfer is speedy and makes great cuts. The long gainer he broke off during Saturday's scrimmage was mostly done on his own, making defenders miss and then zipping downfield.

On offense, the Cougs have shown they can be very good this season, on land and through the air. But it all starts with the line. The unit has not played up to its ability. But as Doba has pointed out, there are a number of things that can readily be improved. There are 12 days before the opener at New Mexico.

The Staff of Cougfan.com contributed to this report. Coming tomorrow, a look at the defense's play this fall..

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