Jack Thompson's first impressions 2005

PULLMAN -- Washington State football has been near and dear to my heart for three decades, but these days it's taken on a whole new perspective because my son, Tony, is a freshman tight end for the Cougars. So when I was asked this week about my impressions of the 2005 Cougars after watching their inaugural practice last Sunday, my first focus was the players Tony will be battling in practice everyday, the D-line. My summary of them is pretty succinct: WOW!

As a former quarterback and now, as the dad of a tight end, I can say without hesitation that the WSU starting defensive line is outstanding. They're big, they're lean, they're fast and they are very aggressive.

Senior defensive end Adam Braidwood is frightening. Since last year, he has added about 10 pounds to his frame and at 6-5 and 270 pounds, he's incredibly agile and fast. On the other side, Mkristo Bruce stands 6-6 and close to 260 pounds and plays with the enthusiasm of someone who really, really likes to hit.

They may not be as fast as former DE's, D.D. Acholonu and Isaac Brown were, but they're definitely bigger and stronger. Bottom line, the Cougs have two very imposing guys coming off the corners of the line of scrimmage.

On the interior you have Ropati Pitoitua (6-8, 300) and Aaron Johnson (6-6, 310). They're only sophomores, but the playing experience they got in 2004 has them moving like big-time veterans. And from a physical standpoint, Pitoitua is so lean that even at 300 pounds he looks slender. Johnson, on the other side, will be a massive headache for opposing centers and guards.

Coach Bill Doba said right off the bat that this Cougar team is headed to a bowl game. After watching these linemen go through their paces, I know why there was such conviction in his claim. A good group up front allows the linebackers time to wreak havoc --- and, rest assured, Will Derting and Scott Davis are a pair of wrecking machines, taking pressure off our young secondary. It goes without saying that Derting will go down as one of the best Cougar linebackers ever.

AS FOR THE OFFENSE, I thought the receivers looked sharp. These guys have all the physical tools needed to be an excellent receiving corp. My hope is that this season, our receivers have the heart and focus that their coach, Mike Levenseller, possessed when he played the game. In all the years I played with Levy, I can remember only one dropped pass in "the frame" (1976 vs. USC in the Kingdome, in Seattle).

You can't really judge running backs until the pads go on, but it's nice to see the new depth there, and hopefully someone will step up and take the No. 2 spot behind Jerome Harrison, who is one of the elite backs of the Pac-10.

At quarterback, the Cougars have a very talented group. Aside from USC, I don't think there's a team in the conference that, top to bottom, can match the Cougars behind center.

Josh Swogger (6-5, 247) is healthy, in the best shape of his life and still carrying that cannon of an arm. He's been working on his touch and he's surprisingly agile for a QB his size. Combine all that with his leadership skills honed by his mentor, Jason Gesser, and you have a guy who could be on the verge of a very big season. Not to get ahead of myself here, but Josh has all the qualities and dimensions that make him a prototypical NFL quarterback.

That's not to take anything away from Alex Brink (6-2, 202), whose style of play is closer to Gesser's. Alex looks a lot stronger and more confident than a year ago. Like Gesser, he's mobile and elusive in the pocket yet he brings his own special flare to the QB position. Alex is smooth! He reminds me of a young Joe Montana. Swogs and Brink are two very different quarterbacks, but they are both very bright and fiercely competitive. I'm sure Coach Doba and Levy sleep better at night knowing they have this kind of talent leading their offense.

The No. 3 man on the depth chart, second-year freshman Gary Rogers (6-5, 241) is a physical specimen. Though Gary may not have the same cannon of an arm, (but who does?) like a Drew Bledsoe, he sure looks a lot like him in a uniform, and he has excellent feet. He has the tools to become another great Cougar quarterback, with two very good mentors ahead of him to learn from. The practice reps he got a year ago after Swogs was lost for the season should prove invaluable in his progression.

Cole Morgan, the grayshirt freshman from Ballard High, looks much more relaxed than he did in the spring, when he made his Cougar debut. He, too, has put on some muscle mass in the past six months, about 15 pounds worth. I know Cole better than any of the other quarterbacks at WSU. I helped coach him during his years at Ballard High School. Simply put, he is talented, he's a leader, and he is a winner.

And then there's Arkelon Hall, the highly touted new recruit from Fresno. I came away impressed after my first glimpse of him. He has a strong arm with a quick release and he's very athletic. He has an engaging personality, and by the looks of it, he's already endeared himself to a lot of his new teammates.

Over the years, WSU has been called Quarterback U.? If ever that term applied, I think it's right now. The quality throughout is exceptional.

And what about those tight-ends? I wish I had had the likes of Troy Bienemann (6-4, 258 pounds!!) and Cody Boyd (6-8!!!, 255 pounds) as my tight ends when I played at WSU. Talk about impressive targets! If these guys can stay healthy, it will have a huge impact on both the running and passing games. Besides being imposing figures, these are great young men. My son Tony is enjoying learning from these guys, as well as from red shirt junior tight-end Jesse Taylor. And speaking of Tony, what can I say? The kid was born to be a Cougar! And I hope to have many opportunities in the future to comment on his football career at WSU!



About the author: As Washington State's starting quarterback from 1976-78, Jack Thompson (a.k.a. The Throwin' Samoan) shattered virtually every conference passing record, as well as the NCAA mark for most career passing yards. He was twice selected for All-America honors by the Associated Press before being taken as the third overall pick in the NFL draft. He is one of only two players in Washington State history, the other being Mel Hein, to have his jersey (No. 14) retired. In 1998, Cougfan.com selected him the No. 1 QB on it's All-Time Cougar team.


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