Spring Ball: Day Two

PULLMAN -- <b>Mike Price</b> joked recently that he was planning to launch <b>Jason Gesser's</b> Heisman Trophy campaign much the way Oregon pimped for <b>Joey Harrington</b> last year. But instead of a $250,000 billboard in Times Square, Price said he's thinking more along the lines of a $250 poster hanging from the largest grain elevator over in Dusty.

In other words, Gesser is going to have to earn his acclaim the old fashioned way: By performing on the field.

If the first two days of spring workouts on the Palouse are any indication of what's to come from the Hurlin' Hawaiian in the fall, Pac-10 defensive coordinators ought to be wary. Last year's 3,000 aerial yards and 26 TDs could prove to be just a warm up -- particularly given the amount of experienced beef he'll have protecting him up front.

Gesser is completely recovered from the broken hand that he secretly played with in the Apple Cup and Sun Bowl games. In fact, he's more than recovered. His arm appears stronger. His accuracy is downright scary, and his long ball is looking oh-so-sweet.

Through two days of non-contact workouts, the fifth-year-senior has put virtually every ball on target or nearly so. He's threading needles. He's hitting receivers in stride. The spirals are tight. The ball zips. Remarked one observer at the conclusion of Wednesday's workouts, "He looks amazing."

Also encouraging is the performance so far of junior back-up Matt Kegel. He's throwing the ball well, but more important, he appears very focused.

Price said a month ago that he plans to continue using Kegel in every game. But the rotation would be different than it was in 2001, when Kegel ran the first series at the start of every second quarter. "We're going to use the two-quarterback system unlike anybody in the nation," Price said, without offering specifics.

In other news from spring camp:

* Sophomore running back Allen Thompson on Wednesday tweaked the same ankle that he injured against Stanford last season. He sat out the second-half of practice, which pushed senior John Tippins into the No. 1 RB spot.

* Sophomore Mark Ahlburg and grayshirt freshman Troy Bienneman look to duke it out for starting chores at tight end ahead of redshirt freshman Adam West. Ahlburg currently is running No. 1 but Bienneman really likes to knock heads so expect a fight down to the wire.  Additional competition for the job will arrive in August with touted former Tulane player Eddie Robinson and possibly former Cougar Russell Mizin. Mizin came out of spring ball last season as the No. 1 tight end but hit academic troubles and never returned. Price says Mizin is attending a junior college in the hopes of qualifying for a return to Pullman. Tim Burnette, thought to be a contender for the TE job this spring, announced that he is quitting in order to pursue basketball at a Division III school.

* Price appears to be taking no chances this season with his players' academic eligibility. Last year he lost two guys who came out of spring ball as starters -- Mizin and linebacker Curtis Holden. So far this week, DB Jason David, MLB Kevin Sperry and OL Josh Parrish haven't stepped onto the field in deference to the books. David is expected to sit out all spring, while Sperry and Parrish are expected to suit up soon.

* All-conference guard Derrick Roche has been absent from workouts so far, believed nursing a nagging leg injury of some kind. Senior Phil Locker has been running with the first team in Roche's place.

* With Alex Johnson graduated and back up Mike Issacson passing up his final year of eligibility in order to graduate on time, the Cougars are in serious need of a long snapping specialist. Right now the man in the crouch is Tomasi Kongaika, the one-time starting DT who's been nursing a bum knee for the last year. Troy Bienneman is backing him up. So far, neither is making folks forget about Johnson, which means that incoming freshman Billy Petrick of suburban Chicago may have a golden opportunity to contribute when he arrives in August. Petrick's ball delivery times in high school were on par with some NFL long snappers. Little wonder -- the kid also throws a 94 mph fastball.

* Friday will be the first day the Cougars don pads and start knocking heads. A scrimmage will be held Saturday morning.


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