Cougs looking to get healthy in a hurry

PULLMAN -- To say that Washington State's team is banged-up ranks right up there with "Reggie Bush is somewhat elusive," as one of college football's colossal understatements. It's early in the week, but on the Tuesday before a road game against Bush and No. 1 Southern Cal this Saturday, WSU has compiled a trainer's room full of injuries to key players on both sides of the ball.

In other practice news and notes, Josh Swogger looked particularly sharp during the afternoon session.

After four straight losses, an inevitable quarterback debate has erupted among some members of the Cougar Faithful concerning starter Alex Brink and backup Josh Swogger, last season's starter.

Swogger hasn't looked particularly good in practices as of late, but on Tuesday was very sharp from the get-go --- from initial drills through work against the 1s, 2s and scout team. Swogger hit almost every pass he threw, with the only blemishes a couple of overthrown deep balls. The two quarterbacks looked to go about 60-40 as far as working with 1s, about the normal breakdown for a Tuesday practice, with Brink getting the lion's share.

Brink also looked sharp for the most part Tuesday, but did make at least three bad throws: one on a slant route when he seemingly didn't see linebacker Steve Dildine the linebacker picked off, another interception when he threw into triple-coverage that was picked off by safety Michael Willis, and the third on a play where the sophomore quarterback rifled a ball high out of bounds that was too tall even for the 6-foot-7 Cody Boyd.

The staff has given zero indication they are considering any lineup changes, at quarterback or anywhere else, that aren't due to injury. Swogger told CF.C earlier this week that rumors of him transferring at the end of the year were baseless. "I'm a Coug," Swogger told CF.C Monday morning. "That's the way I look at it. That thought hasn't even crossed my mind. There's always going to be stuff like that. Pretty funny, really."

WSU'S TOP THREE running backs were out of action Tuesday, forcing the Cougars to field a patchwork backfield consisting of two fullbacks masquerading as tailbacks.

Jerome Harrison (shoulder), DeMaundray Woolridge (sick) and Kevin McCall (ankle) each missed practice. Both Harrison and Woolridge are considered probable for Saturday, and at least Woolridge should be ready to practice Wednesday.

Since scout-team backs typically use the designated individual position time to work with the defense, that meant running backs coach Kelly Skipper had just two healthy bodies to work with in Brandon Asuega-Stark and Jed Collins.

Neither of the converted fullbacks seemed to have an upper hand as far as who would play against USC if it came down to it, but Asuega-Stark ran with impressive power and looks faster than last season.

Freshman Dwight Tardy, who is playing the role of Reggie Bush on the scout team this week, also saw some carries with the No. 1 offense as well as on the scout team. The true freshman tweaked a knee during the practice, sitting out briefly before returning, and then tossing a bag of ice on it after the session ended. It did not appear to be serious.

Receiver Jason Hill (thigh), receiver/punt returner Michael Bumpus (ankle), cornerback Omowale Dada (groin), kick returner/cornerback Lorenzo Bursey (shoulder) and linebacker Will Derting (knee) also sat out practice.

Of the five, only Jason Hill is considered probable at this stage of the week. And among those who did practice, defensive end Mkristo Bruce (knee) defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua (leg) saw limited reps.

WITH DADA looking highly unlikely to play against USC, the competition is on to start at his corner spot opposite Alex Teems. So far Don Turner has the edge over Ian Bell, with Ryan Kensok running far behind. Neither player looked particularly fantastic Tuesday, but Turner made a couple nice pass breakups and was always the first to take the field with the first-unit defense.

Brandon Gibson, Trandon Harvey and Marty Martin all took turns subbing in for Hill and Bumpus.

BUT PERHAPS the more interesting story was who will replace Bumpus as the Cougars' punt returner. Turner filled in immediately for Bumpus last week, but after some miscues, has apparently lost that job. For now, Harvey looks to be The Man, with Martin and Benny Ward behind him.

Out of five catchable punts he took with a coverage unit bearing down on him, Harvey caught four but dropped one, also losing the purchase on another ball after a half-speed hit by Courtney Williams.

All three then worked on catching punts for about 10 minutes before practice, and Harvey stayed for about 15 minutes after practice working on it as well. Harvey has made a resurgence of sorts with a number of clutch catches this season after a tough 2004 campaign, and looked to be getting more comfortable during the extra work after practice.

Ironically, Harvey—who had never returned a kick in college—first broached the idea of returning punts to head coach Bill Doba last week, days before Bumpus was injured against Cal.

"I usually catch some punts before practice, just to get my hands ready to catch deep balls," Harvey said. "Last week, I just randomly told Coach Doba that if something were to happen, I could take some punts."

Despite the injuries and WSU's recent string of tough losses, the Cougars were anything but down in the mouth Tuesday. Harvey, Eric Frampton and Chris Jordan all said the team will be ready to give it everything they have come Saturday.

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