"Amazing Graise" sings in Bye Week scrimmage

PULLMAN -- Bye week Saturday has become the annual date for Washington State's scout-team scrimmage, where freshmen, newcomers and upperclassmen who don't often see the field on game days get an opportunity to pop some pads against each other. Afterwards, defensive coordinator Robb Akey was singing the praises of Mike "Amazing" Graise, while Kenny Alfred, Dwight Tardy, Xavier Hicks, Cole Morgan and Tony Thompson were among those turning in standout performances.

"These guys come here to play football, and being on the scout team, they never get to go live," said head coach Bill Doba. "We do this so they can have some fun and tackle people."

The scrimmage consisted of just a handful of offensive drives, but it was full-contact and full-tackle, a welcome diversion from the customary "bump-and-release" of practice sessions.

Redshirt freshman Gary Rogers saw most of the snaps at quarterback, but true freshmen Arkelon Hall and Cole Morgan got some work as well. Rogers is known for being a Drew Bledsoe-type -- tall, big arm, nice pocket presence, but slower afoot -- however on Saturday he showed a little mobility, scrambling for decent gains on a few plays.

In addition to Rogers, the offensive "starters" were running back Dwight Tardy; receivers Reid McEllrath, Scott Selby and Andy Largent; tight end Tony Thompson; and linemen Andy Roof, Dan Rowlands, Kenny Alfred, Derek Hunter and Scott Friberg.

DOBA SINGLED OUT Alfred when asked which players stood out during the scrimmage. "He got out there and knocked some people back," Doba said of the 6-foot-2, 294-pound freshman center. Alfred, whom the Cougs are hoping to redshirt this season, is expected to battle for the starting center job with senior Nick Mihlhauser set to graduate after this year.

Tardy made one of the standout plays in the session, when he took a handoff to the right and was met by linebacker Lamar Brumfield almost immediately. But when the two collided, Brumfield slid to the turf, and Tardy not only kept running, but cutback to the left and made something out of what should have been nothing.

Morgan turned in the play of the day, however. Getting chased to his right by two defenders, Morgan was starting to fall down when he flung a side-armed pass to Thompson, who made a diving catch, another something-out-of-nothing gain.

THE STAR OF the day, though, was defensive end Mike Graise.

Graise was a constant presence in the offensive backfield on Saturday, getting to the quarterback repeatedly and on one play, tackling running back Isao Puailoa in the backfield the moment Puailoa received the handoff.

Defensive coordinator Robb Akey, calling him "Amazing Graise," had praise for No. 96 afterwards.

"He flew around and made some nice plays," Akey said.

Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing only 213 pounds, the redshirt freshman from Inglewood, Calif., is small for a defensive lineman, but has the speed to make up for it.

ON DEFENSE, the "starters" were defensive ends Paul Stevens and Lance Broadus; tackles Odell Howard and Matt Eichelberger; linebackers Brumfield, Brian Skjei and Alex Hamill; safeties Christian Bass and Michael Willis; and cornerbacks Lorenzo Bursey and Ryan Kensok.

The defensive play of the day came courtesy of safety Xavier Hicks, who knocked receiver Kipp Curtis out of the scrimmage when he separated Curtis from a ball on an attempted completion near the goal line. Curtis looked to have had the wind knocked out of him, as Hicks made a textbook shoulder-pad-to-chest hit.

Other young players who get regular game day playing time subbed in during the scrimmage, such as Graise and defensive backs Courtney Williams and Ian Bell. Williams, a special teams standout who is converting from high school linebacker to college safety, also saw a little bit of work at cornerback during the scrimmage.

ON BALANCE, the defense outperformed the offense on the day. The defensive line looked especially solid, stuffing several running plays at the line of scrimmage and causing the quarterbacks to move before they could get a pass off.

"A lot of young guys made some good plays today," Akey said. "This is a chance for them to cut loose and play ball."

• Before the scrimmage, the Cougars had a short practice that began at 9:30 a.m. After missing the last two days due to dental surgery, receiver Jason Hill was back in pads, although he didn't take part in hitting drills. In fact, midway through the session, Hill took his helmet off and never put it back on, clearly bothered by his jaw area.

• Although the receiving corps made some nice plays—such as Chris Jordan's left-handed catch on an out route to his left—the practice was marred by several dropped passes. Jordan, Marty Martin, Greg Prator, Brandon Gibson, Trandon Harvey and tight end Jesse Taylor all muffed catchable passes.

• Some of the Cougars have given Prator the nickname "Keyshawn," after Cowboys wideout Keyshawn Johnson. Prator wears Johnson's No. 19, and is a big, physical receiver like his NFL counterpart. Prator also isn't shy about showing his desire for the ball, although as far as we know, he hasn't written any books yet.

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