PRACTICE REPORT: New man in the middle

PULLMAN – Taking the field for the first time since Saturday's setback to OSU, plenty seemed to be missing from the Washington State football team. For starters, the Cougs seemed to be missing the swagger that goes with being undefeated. On top of that, WSU was missing several key players, from offensive and defensive stars Jason Hill and Will Derting to starting cornerbacks Alex Teems and Omowale Dada. The players replacing them, however, looked more than capable during Tuesday's practice.

On defense, freshman Greg Trent is the odds-on favorite to replace MLB Will Derting, who will be out at least 2-4 weeks. Derting (knee strain) was on crutches Tuesday.

Trent looked sharp Tuesday, making well known his presence in the middle. Also having a good day in the middle of the Cougar D was defensive tackle Aaron Johnson, who shined in competition both against the 1s and versus the Scout team.

When Trent wasn't in, fellow Texan rookie Jason Stripling filled in at middle linebacker. Stripling is the second-unit strong side ‘backer behind Scott Davis and while it was apparent Tuesday he was playing out of position, he's impressed Doba with his ability to quickly assimilate the WSU defense.

While Omowale Dada (knee sprain) was held out of practice merely for precautionary reasons, Alex Teems (shoulder sprain) may not play against Stanford this Saturday, although chances are better now than they were Sunday night.

REPLACING THE TWO senior starters Tuesday were Don Turner and Lorenzo Bursey. Both players looked great against the scout-team offense, but then again, the entire defense looked great. Unlike the first four games, the defense had a takeaway fest Tuesday, intercepting pass after pass as freshman quarterback Cole Morgan had a nightmare of a practice.

Morgan threw at least five interceptions and a few more near-picks that were simply dropped by defenders. Just about everyone -- Davis, Bursey, Turner, Husain Abdullah, Ian Bell -- seemed to get in on the act and collect at least one pick.

THERE DOESN'T APPEAR appear to be a clear-cut winner in the competition to replace Jason Hill (quad contusion) if he can't go against Stanford, but Trandon Harvey took the majority of the snaps in Hill's place on the first unit. Hill is listed as probable for Saturday but will likely be held out of most drills this week.

Brandon Gibson and Greg Prator are also in the mix. And the Cougars also ran through a few different formations and receiver packages different than the norm.

Fullback Brandon Asuega-Stark and tight end Jesse Taylor were new additions to the kickoff coverage unit. Taylor was a bright spot on WSU special teams last year, including an open field tackle agianst Arizona that was key in securing the win. Jerome Harrison split time with Michael Bumpus fielding punts, although that could be simply to keep him familiar with the duty in the event Bumpus were to get dinged up.

Freshman Courtney Williams looked more comfortable this week than last at his new cornerback spot on the scout-team defense, picking off one of Alex Brink's passes. Michael Willis, who worked out some at corner last week, stayed at safety on Tuesday.

Ropati Pitoitua did not suit up Tuesday. Doba has set a post-practice Wednesday deadline to determine if the defensive tackle will be able to return for Stanford, a week earlier than originally expected.

Hamza Abdullah, starting safety in 2004 and Husain's older brother, was at practice Tuesday. A late-round selection and early cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Abdullah had a workout with the New York Jets last week. After practice, Hamza worked out with WSU defensive backs coach Ken Greene. Last year's other starting safety, Jeremy Bohannon, has been a regular visitor at practice, as he's on campus finishing up his degree.

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