SPRING BALL DAY TEN: Tight ends gearing up

<b>PULLMAN--Washington State took the field on Wednesday with the mentality of "finishing" on every play. Unfortunately, one of the stars of the WSU offense wasn't able to finish the session, as the injury bug jumped up and reared it's ugly head. Elsewhere, one of the expected positions of strength this season is once again at tight end -- where coach Robin Pflugrad has an abundance of riches.

WR Jason Hill went down early in Wednesday's practice with a possible strained hamstring. The injury is not thought to be serious but with drills winding up a week from Saturday, the 6-2, 205-pound junior could be done for the remainder of the spring.

Coach Bill Doba said more will be known by Friday afternoon on how long the star wide receiver will be out of action. Hill, the leading receiver each of the first two scrimmages, has had an outstanding camp.

FOR THE REST of the practice session on Tuesday, the mindset remained all about finishing.

"Finishing spring ball is a lot like finishing a game," said Pflugrad, who now has a talent-rich complement of tight ends on the field with Cody Boyd (ankle) having returned to live action since Day Six. "A team wins in the fourth quarter -- and that is what we are going to do."

Pflugrad said he's been pleased with the effort, leadership and consistency from the TEs this spring, a group headlined by senior Troy Bienemann (6-5, 255)

Bienemann and Boyd, a 6-8, 255-pound junior, lead a group whose tight knit bonds run from scholarship player to walk-on. "It really helps when you have a lot of guys on the team who are acting as older brothers," said former WSU walk on and former Ballard High star Tony Thompson, son of Cougar legend Jack Thompson. "Not a lot of programs are like that."

The 6-2, 234-pound freshman tight end who enrolled at Washington State in January, turned in a pair of athletic catches on Wednesday, drawing congratulations from both Doba and Pflugrad. Ever the perfectionist like his father before him, Thompson said he was trying to make up for what he felt was a bad showing on Tuesday.

PFLUGRAD HAS ALSO been impressed with the play this spring of Jesse Taylor. "Jesse has had a much more consistent spring," said Pflugrad. "He has caught the ball a lot better and is getting up the field after the catch."

Pflugrad noted Taylor's (6-4, 240, Jr.) knowledge of the game has grown by leaps and bounds since his arrival in Pullman. In position meetings, WSU coaches tend to question underclassmen more than starters to accelerate the learning curve and because it's a given that the starters know the answers.

Taylor has had the correct answers at the ready all spring. Pflugrad said that speaks to Taylor's leadership and desire to earn playing time out on the field.

  • Linebacker Chris Baltzer (6-1, 225, Jr.) performed well at practice on Wednesday, swatting away a pass thrown by Alex Brink (6-3, 198, So.) and forcing Bienemann to catch a ball out of bounds. Doba said Baltzer is as good as anybody when it comes to pass coverage. Baltzer is currently a little nicked up, with Doba saying he'll likely have his knee scoped after spring ball.

  • The Cougs look to have found a solid combination up front. The starting offensive line remained the same on Wednesday with LT Bobby Byrd (6-6, 314, So.), LG Sean O'Connor (6-5, 279, So.), C Nick Milhauser (6-3, 290, Sr.), RG Norvell Holmes (6-3, 300, Sr.) and RT Charles Harris (6-6, 311, Jr.) making up the first unit.

  • Limited most of the year with a severely bruised shin, Bienemann finished with 26 catches for 268 yards and 2 TDs but those stats don't tell the full story, nor speak to the importance of the tight end to the Cougar offense. In a little over three games before going down against Arizona, Bienemann already had 16 catches.

    Late in the year up on campus the day before the ASU game, the star tight end was still taking stairs one at a time.

    Bienemann is a two-time Pac-10 All-Academic Football Team selection. He owned the highest grade point average of any player in the conference selected to the first team in 2004, a 3.75 in communication.

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