Previewing the grab masters: Cougs loaded

DON'T ASK MIKE LEVENSELLER to compare his pass catchers to any of the stellar receiving corps in WSU's past. What about the 106 receptions for more than 1,600 yards among wideouts Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus and tight end Troy Bienemann in 2004? Anything remotely fabulous about that? What about playmaker Chris Jordan and freshman sensation Brandon Gibson?

"I can't tell you yet," the Cougars' offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach said. "These guys aren't real seasoned, but they're pretty talented."

It's not that Levenseller won't talk about Jason Hill's 1,007 yards and 12 touchdowns, Michael Bumpus's cat-quick moves or Troy Bienemann's over-the-middle marauding. It's just that the man who caught his share of passes as a WSU player -- his record setting 67 receptions in 1976 stood for a quarter century until Nakoa McElrath caught 72 passes in 2001 -- goes a bit deeper when others are marveling over deep routes.

The great catch is a thing of beauty, but so is the wide receiver on a head-hunting mission leading the way for a running back who has slipped past the line of scrimmage. A guy like senior Trandon Harvey gets slapped around in the stands and on internet message boards for costly drops against Colorado and Oregon, but few remember key blocks that helped spring Jerome Harrison's big runs in the last half of the 2004 season.

"You've watched the UCLA tape, huh?" said Levenseller, alluding to Harrison's 247 yards on 42 carries.

Harvey may not erase memories of Shawn McWashington's classic block that freed Kevin McKenzie for the game-winning TD against USC in 1997, but his pesky play demonstrates that wide receivers must give as well as receive at WSU. Harvey also is one of a trio of utility players – he and fellow seniors Marty Martin and Greg Prator can play any of the receiver positions. That's a nice option when injuries occur.

Hill, now a junior, showed toughness and athleticism as a freshman playing special teams two years ago, but he's taken his game as a wideout to another level. Blocking for others has become a "point of pride" for Hill, Levenseller said.

"He's refined his game to a point where he's more than just a deep threat," he said.

And just because he had a USC scholarship waiting for him doesn't mean Bumpus doesn't have much to improve upon. The Culver City, Calif., star who opted to play right away for WSU rather than delay his enrollment at Southern Cal has worked hard to get stronger and to become more technically sound, Levenseller said.

Known mostly for his electrifying punt returns, a stronger and more knowledgeable Bumpus is expected to emerge as bigger receiving threat this season.

That leaves Levenseller with a couple of freshmen sensations – past and present.

The past is Chris Jordan whose "tremendous promise" as a freshman in 2003 was interrupted by a serious knee injury in the Apple Cup, Levenseller said.

"It's his job as long as his knee holds up," the coach said.

Should Jordan stumble, true freshman Brandon Gibson has served notice that his future is now. The Puyallup star is ready for action.

"He's a very explosive player," Levenseller said.

And with fellow true freshmen Benny Ward and redshirt frosh Scott Selby (6-5, 229) also demonstrating some talent, Levenseller's biggest problem may be finding playing time for all of them.

"We're as deep as we've been in a while," he said.

And that's not including the tight ends. The injury bug has again shelved 6-8 junior Cody Boyd, but the steady presence of Bienemann and a "nice fall camp" from junior Jesse Taylor have comforted coaches. Levenseller notes that Boyd has a history of coming back from injuries and that WSU is better prepared this year to deal with injuries at the position.

"Last year we had to react," he said, alluding to mid-season injuries to both Bienemann and Boyd that drastically affected offensive game plans. WSU is now much better equipped to keep defenses guessing.

"We're much more proactive in that regard," said Levenseller.

This is one in a series of periodic articles breaking down the 2005 Cougars by position. Click below for previous installments:

DL looks ready for rebound

Previewing the grab masters: Cougs loaded

Starters emerge in secondary

QBs and more with Jack Thompson

LBs will lead Killer D


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