Mike Levenseller, WSU's offensive coordinator, told a packed house Friday at the annual Pierce County Cougar Club coaches dinner that the 6-7, 300-pound Byrd is ready for the challenge and will join with center Nick Mihlhauser (6-3, 290) in anchoring the Cougars' 2005 offensive line.
Byrd, a sophomore-to-be from Oceanside, Calif., redshirted in 2003 and then started much of 2004, improving nicely as the season progressed.
"Next to center, left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line because it protects the quarterback's backside," Levenseller said.
He noted that Mihlhauser, a senior-to-be, is one of the best in the West and on track for a career in the NFL.
Right guard will be filled by another senior-to-be, 6-3, 310-pound Norvell Holmes, who started there much of last season after coming back from back surgery. Levenseller marveled at Holmes' performance in 2004 given his earlier injury woes and considers him a bona fide member of the all-tough team.
The remaining two starting spots on the line look to be filled by Charles Harris (6-6, 312), a spot starter last season, and Riley Fitt-Chappell (6-6, 319), a part-time starter in 2003 and 2002.
BYRD WON'T BE the only Cougar with a new assignment come spring. Jed Collins, who saw action last season at linebacker, fullback and on special teams, will be a full-time fullback in 2005.
He'll be helping pave the way for a bulked-up Jerome Harrison. The 5-foot-9 JC transfer who racked up nearly 1,000 rushing yards for the Cougs in 2004 has been living in the weight room this off-season and now tips the scales at 210. That's up from 192 last season.
He's also developing into a solid team leader and has been helping understudy Kevin McCall bring his game to the next level, Levenseller said
Harrison and McCall will be the only two scholarship tailbacks in uniform this spring since injury-plagued Allen Thompson, who is set to graduate in May, decided to forego his final year of eligibility.
That lack of depth means the Cougars will be giving long looks in August two a pair of incoming freshmen running backs: Dwight Tardy of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., and DeMaundray Woolridge of Keller, Texas.
Film clips of the dynamic duo had the faithful at Friday's Pierce County gathering seeing stars.
Tardy (5-11, 210), who rushed for 2,272 yards and 34 TDs last season, was described by WSU assistant head coach Robin Pflugrad as a "tough, tremendous athlete." One impressive clip showed him patiently waiting for blocking to develop before turning on the jets to paydirt.
Woolridge (5-9, 215) runs the 100 meters in 10.5 seconds. "He's not tall, but he's stout, fast and powerful. He reminds me of Jerome Harrison and Jonathan Smith," said Pflugrad. One clip showed him catching a screen pass with four defenders virtually in his face. With moves like a cat, he turned the would-be tackle-for-loss into a 30-yard touchdown.
We'll have more coverage from the Pierce County dinner (co-sponsored by Cougfan.com) as the week progresses.
Levenseller talks about o-line and running backs
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