WSU with marquee LBs, but depth a concern for 2005

THE DEFENSIVE LINE and secondary have grabbed the spotlight this spring but the linebacker position was front and center for coach Bill Doba on Tuesday. At the starting 'backer positions, the Cougs field considerable talent, including a Lombardi Award candidate -- and one Cougar walk-on has been making some noise this spring. Beyond that, though, is where things could get dicey.

Doba said on Tuesday that after starters Will Derting, Scott Davis and Steve Dildine, the Cougs are thin at the 'backer spot.

With Derting, on the Lombardi Award watchlist for the second straight year, being held out of scrimmages to allow his surgically repaired wrist to heal, linebackers coach Leon Burtnett has had more opportunities to see the backups perform.

Brian Skjei (pronounced "Shay") has made the most of his reps.

Doba said Skjei, a 6-3, 208-pound walk-on from Mount Vernon, Wash., is building a strong case this spring that he can play in the Pac-10.

Needed depth is scheduled to arrive this summer, with no less than five prep 'backers who all have a chance to contribute in '05. Doba said that Courtney Williams, Greg Trent, Cory Evans, Lamar Brumfield and Jason Stripling all look to be in good shape to meet NCAA academic requirements, although nothing is for certain until summer. Doba said Evans could also play safety in a pinch, having starred there over his high school career.

Note: Becoming NCAA eligible doesn't necessarily equate to being admitted to WSU. Lawrence Ball, despite approval from the NCAA, was denied admission from the Academics Subcommittee at WSU last year. He was immediately snatched up by Arizona mere days later.

Linebackers make up the heart of special teams, where the Cougs struggled at times last year, making it that much more important the incoming group hits the ground running when they arrive in Pullman later this summer.

Doba said the two late pickups by the Cougs, cornerback Nehemiah Mundy and wide receiver Greg Walker, will likely grayshirt this season unless a spot(s) unexpectedly becomes available.

GARY ROGERS has impressed this spring and put together an especially good showing during Saturday's scrimmage, the second of the spring for the Cougs. The freshman quarterback is making good decisions and showcasing a strong arm two weeks in.

"The way he's starting to pick things up, he looks like a pretty talented kid," said Doba.

Doba said he's been pleased with the offense's production this spring, but also pointed out the defense has been nicked up. Alex Teems (neck sprain), Mkristo Bruce (ankle sprain) and Derting (ongoing rehab on wrist) all sat out Saturday's scrimmage.

CORNERBACK REMAINS ONE of the more hotly contested positions this spring with Omowale Dada, Tyron Brackenridge, Ian Bell and Don Turner all vying for the starting job opposite Teems.

"You know, Tyron Brackenridge looks pretty good and I thought overall, Turner had a pretty good scrimmage," said Doba. "Wally Dada is solid. Ian Bell needs some work, he's a redshirt freshman, but I really like what he did last Saturday. He twisted an ankle and was limping and they couldn't get him out of there...He got plenty of reps and has a good, positive attitude."

Doba said no one player has consistently stood out among the group but if the season started today, Brackenridge or Dada would likely get the start. He went on to say gritty Ryan Kensok just makes plays, such as the 68-yard interception in Saturday's scrimmage. It came when the 3's were on the field but it's clear Doba likes what he sees from Kensok on the field as well as in his work ethic.

THE FRESHMAN TRIO of Dan Rowlands, Eddie Vickers and Andy Roof earned some praise on Tuesday from the head man of the Cougs. While Doba says all three offensive linemen have much to assimilate, he also said all three are going to be great players for the Cougs.

Rowlands is probably the furthest along, Vickers has potential off the charts and Roof is one of the strongest players on the team and is a natural leader -- the Spokane native led the offensive linemen from station to station in preseason conditioning drills and circuit training.

"There's so many things (an offensive lineman) has to learn, it just takes some time," said Doba. "And I think that's part of the reason why our offensive line has looked pretty good this spring. It's their third season under coach Yarno, they're starting to pick up his system. It's not easy."

TEAM CAPTAINS will be voted upon this week by the players, with the selections named at a later date. Last year, captains Josh Swogger, Derting, Hamza Abdullah and Sam Lightbody were introduced as captains five days after the Cougs concluded spring drills.

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