A padless Tuesday w/ jersey swaps and more

PULLMAN -- Washington State's special team units have been a breeding ground for future stars over the years. Heading into Thursday evening's season opener against Idaho, keep your eyes peeled on the special teams, because you'll be watching future standard bearers of the program.

In 2003, little-known freshmen Jason Hill and Scott Davis turned heads on special teams, either by blocking kicks or registering impressive open-field tackles in kick coverage. A year later, Hill was making headlines as a record-breaking wideout, while Davis was putting himself on the Pac-10 map as a hard-hitting, ball-hawking linebacker. Last year, Omowale Dada and Husain Abdullah each made their share of big-time special team plays before winning jobs as starting defensive backs this summer. So who among this year's special teamers could be WSU's next breakout stars?

According to special teams coach Kelly Skipper, we won't know until the games begin.

"I don't know. We haven't done anything live yet," Skipper said after Tuesday's no-pads practice. "That's something you can't tell until the lights and cameras are on, and then those playmakers start to develop.

Just from the looks of things, a couple of those extra-special teamers could be DeWayne Patterson and Brandon Gibson.

Gibson, a freshman receiver from Rogers High in Puyallup, has quickly moved his way up into the second unit on offense. But his biggest impact this year may be felt on special teams, as the 6-foot, 195-pounder is one of the deep men on the kickoff returns next to JC transfer cornerback Lorenzo Bursey. If practice and scrimmages have been any indication, Gibson's speed and long stride will amount to some big returns in 2005.

Patterson is one of the "gunners" on the punt coverage team, alongside junior cornerback Don Turner. Patterson will also start at free safety in against Idaho, due to Abdullah's injured ankle.

Defensive backs coach Ken Greene said that although Abdullah will play, he isn't 100 percent yet. The job is Abdullah's, though, as soon as he's ready to go all the way. Patterson, a transfer from Chaffey College, has had a foothold on the interim starting job since Abdullah went down. But once Abdullah returns, he'll likely have to do most of his damage on special teams.

"He's more experienced in the secondary than Christian Bass and Michael Willis," Greene said about Patterson and his main competition. "Plus, he's more physical."

Greene said he's "confident, yet wary," about his inexperienced secondary, as the group will head into the season with three new starters in Dada, Abdullah/Patterson, and safety Eric Frampton. The only returning starter, senior cornerback Alex Teems, has started just 10 games in his career.

"I'm actually excited to see how they do," Greene said.

SPECIAL TEAMS SPECIALISTS

Senior tight end Troy Bienemann will be the Cougars' long snapper, with senior defensive end Adam West and senior OL Riley Fitt-Chappell backing him up. The holder for kicks will be starting punter Kyle Basler, with Alex Brink backing him up.

No surprise who the No. 1 punt returner is: Michael Bumpus. Jerome Harrison is No. 2. On kickoff returns, it'll be a pair of new faces in Lorenzo Bursey and Brandon Gibson.

At kicker, Bill Doba said Tuesday Loren Langley will handle PATs and field goals against Idaho unless the sophomore looks shaky in warmups. Graham Siderius will handle kickoff duties, where Doba said he's like another defender. Siderius had a several crushing hits last season on kick coverage.

Doba said both Langley and Siderius were still not as consistent as he would like. He cited Langley's ability to get the ball up quickly as one of the factors in the decision.

Doba also noted the NCAA rule change that if a player attempting a block lands on even his own teammates, its a penalty this year. Previously, the rule was if a player landed on an opponent. The NCAA implemented the rule change in an attempt to make the game safer.

JERSEY SWAPPING GALORE

No-pads practice usually means a lot of jersey-swapping for the Cougars. Of course, it's always more entertaining when smaller skill position players switch shirts with beefy linemen, so that's a common sight. The only "rules" are that you can only switch with someone on the same side of the ball as yourself, so coaches don't get offensive guys mixed up with defensive guys.

Tuesday's most noticeable jersey-swappers were short-stack receiver Michael Bumpus and right tackle Charles Harris. If you were real quiet, you could hear Bumpus' poor No. 5 jersey crying for help while being stretched to its limits by the 6-foot-6, 314-pound Harris. At the same time, Bumpus looked like he was swimming in Harris' No. 55.

Other jersey-swappers included: receiver Trandon Harvey and O-lineman Dan Rowlands; receiver Greg Prator and center Nick Mihlhauser; O-lineman Andy Roof and fullback Jed Collins; receiver Chris Jordan and lineman Josh Duin; receiver Brandon Gibson and center Kenny Alfred; receiver Benny Ward and tackle Spencer Hollison; kickers Loren Langley and Graham Siderius; cornerback Lorenzo Bursey and D-end Mike Graise; and safety Christian Bass and D-end Mkristo Bruce.

NOTES:
Coach Skipper wouldn't offer a guess on the odds of backup tailbacks DeMaundray Woolridge or Dwight Tardy getting any carries against Idaho. "We're just trying to win the game. We're planning on playing hard all the way until the end," he said, implying Jerome Harrison might have to take all the carries throughout.

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