(Presented in reverse chronological order.)
DAY FIFTEEN: CRIMSON v GRAY
PULLMAN - - Despite the strong efforts of a prideful Gray squad, the Crimsons--featuring a strong passing game--eased their way to a 49-7 victory today in Martin Stadium at the annual Crimson and Gray game.
Not that the Crimson passing game was perfect. They had their share of overthows and dropped balls, but generally made the big plays when they needed to and were not intercepted.
The Crimsons - - made up of first team Cougars and main reserves - - started the scoring when Jerome Riley ran a reverse in from 12 yards early in the second quarter. The receiver would hit pay dirt twice more on passes from Jason Gesser and Matt Kegel, covering 6 and 40 yards, respectively. Riley led all receivers with 108 yards on 8 catches.
Crimson receiver Trandon Harvey was also on the receiving end of a pair of TD passes. The first, from Gesser, went in from 50-yards out; the next, from Kegel, distanced 33-yards. Harvey also crossed the century mark in receiving yards, tallying 106 on 4 grabs.
Both Crimson quarterbacks passed for over 200 yards, with Gesser connecting on 16 of 33 throws for 214 yards, and Kegel hitting 11 of 16 for 203. Head coach Mike Price, watching the game from the press box, had high praise for Kegel's performance today - - and all spring - - following the scrimmage.
Aside from one big play, the Gray air game never quite got off the runway. Facing a voracious Crimson pass push, the Gray QBs - - Chris Hurd, Josh Swogger, Dayton Dennison, and Dan St. Mary - - completed just 6 of 17 pass attempts for 74 yards. Both Ira Davis and Karl Paymah intercepted a Gray pass and the Crimson defense recorded four sacks, one each by D.D. Acholonu, Rien Long, Tai Tupai, and Jeremey Williams.
The Grays only score of the day came on a 46-yard pass from Hurd to Jevon Miller following a Ray Bonnell fumble recovery -- forced by defensive back Aaron Joseph - - early in the third quarter.
Miller, the Anchorage native who came to Wazzu as a defensive back, then switched to running back, has practiced at the wide receiver position for just over a week. The redshirt freshman led all Gray receivers by catching 3 passes for 62 yards.
Mike Bush, Curtis "Flea" Nettles, and Thomas Ostrander also contributed positively to the Crimson passing game. Bush snared 5 balls for 78 yards; Nettles earned 45 yards on 2 grabs, including a sweet sliding catch that covered 30-plus yards; Ostrander pulled down 3 for 18 yards.
Four receivers were absent from today's scrimmage: Devard Darling (sore ankle), Marty Martin (sore calf), Anthony Buchanan (setting records for Cougar track), and Collin Henderson (2 for 5 today in WSU's baseball win over UCLA). Darling, the Florida State transfer, and Martin, the Puyallup High product, had been enjoying outstanding spring performances prior to their injuries.
Neither squad produced much of a running game. John Tippins had some nice runs, but finished with just 40 yards on 14 carries. JC transfer Jermaine Green carried the swine 6 times for 25 yards before aggravating his knee and staying on the sidelines for most of the game. Redshirt freshman Allen Thompson - - the starter coming into spring drills -- did not suit up due to a lingering ankle injury. Tippins scored from 1-yard out in the second quarter and caught two passes out of the backfield for 11 yards.
Three projected offensive line starters were not suited up for the game: Derrick Roche (injury), Josh Parrish (academics), and Phil Locker (injury). Riley Fitt-Chappell played on both squads O-lines and received high scores from the coaching staff as did Billy Knotts, who saw action out of postion at center.
The questions surrounding the tight-end position were somewhat answered today. Crimson ends Mark Ahlberg and Troy Bienemann combined for 3 catches for 51 yards and showed improvement in the blocking arena. Bienemann, a redshirt freshman from Santa Clara, made a highlight film catch that had the cold Martin Stadium crowd oohing. Gray TE Adam West also caught one pass for 9 yards and looked good for the most part on his blocking assignments.
The disadvantaged Gray squad played with grit and determination, most notably from defensive back Cole Sheridan and defensive tackle Tomasi "King" Kongaika. Sheridan, the Pullman native, made several outstanding pass defenses. Kongaika applied a constant pressure on the Crimson offense and was all over the field.
Coach Price also offered praise for the defensive play of two linebackers, the Crimson's Al Genatone and Gray's Mawuli Davis. Two other linebackers that are expected to contribute next fall, Will Derting and Derrick Dillon, sat out the game with injuries.
On the kicking end of the game, Kyle Basler punted well today, averaging over 45 yards per kick, and All Pac-10 kicker Drew Dunning connected on 2 of 3 field goals, with a long of 44 yards. Redshirt freshman Graham Siderius also saw action today, hitting on 1 of 2 extra points.The pair also handled kick-off duties, as starting KO specialist Adam Holiday sat out the game for academic reasons.
It was somewhat difficult to get a good read on special teams, as the defenses were instructed to only simulate a rush with a single advancing step on punt, field goal, and PAT attempts. Additionally, kick and punt returners were whistled down by a one-handed touch by a member of the coverage unit. Despite this limitation, Erik Coleman nearly took a punt return all the way. The special rules were imposed to avoid injuries.
At least five members of the Gray team have familial ties to former - - and future - - football Cougs. Receiver McKenzie Hansell is the son of Tyler Hansell, a WSU letterman from 1967-69. Blair Hawkins, a running back, is the brother of Adam Hawkins, also a RB and best remembered for his bull-rush performance against Hawaii in 1999. Running back Kealan Smith is the brother of CouGreat and Minnesota Viking linebacker Raonall Smith. Linebacker Ray Bonnell is the older brother of future Cougar QB Carl Bonnell, who enrolls this fall at WSU. Defensive back Anthony Burnett is the brother of one-time Cougar RB Deon Burnett.
DOC FARLEY FAN CLUB
Since the release of the Crimson and Gray roster a few days ago, the Cougfan.com message board and our email inbox has been buzzing with comments and questions regarding linebacker Doc Farley. In fact, we haven't come across a player whose name enamored so many fans since Kyle Stiffarm (we admit to being taken with the name, also…it would've been a natural fit on the 1916 Cougar Rose Bowl roster). We're pleased to report the Montana native was in on four defensive stops today.
PULLMAN -- The Cougars closed out their final practice before Saturday's Crimson & Gray Game with one last scrimmage. The 60-play affair featured the No. 1 offense and defense squaring off against one another, and the D came out on top.
The offense couldn't manage a score in three drives, although Heisman candidate quarterback Jason Gesser did complete a nice crossing pattern to Mike Bush for a 30-yard gain in the first possession.
The No. 2 offense, with Matt Kegel at the helm, didn't score either. In fact, the only group to score a touchdown was the No. 3 offense, with Chris Hurd throwing a 2-yard strike to Brian Winter.
It appears doubtful that receiver Devard Darling will play in Saturday's game, although it is still a possibility. He sat out practice again Wednesday after injuring his ankle in last Saturday's scrimmage. Another player bitten by the injury bug is running back Jermaine Green, who hurt his ankle Wednesday. He will probably play on Saturday.
Head coach Mike Price has compared Green's prowess carrying the pigskin to legendary Cougar Steve Broussard. Price also is quoted in the current edition of ESPN Magazine as saying if Darling, formerly of Florida State, is indicative of the caliber of athlete at FSU then it's little wonder Bobby Bowden's such a good coach.
The Crimson & Gray game kicks off this Saturday at 2 pm in Martin Stadium. The game will be replayed on Fox Sports Northwest Sunday, April 28, at 11 a.m.
LONG SNAPPING UPDATE
Tight end Troy Bienemann looks to be the leader to fill the much-publicized vacancy at long snapper.
After a rocky start, defensive lineman Tomasi "King" Kongaika has shown improvement at the position, but knee problems have hampered his mobility. Trying Kongaika out at long snapper wasn't an idea that popped out of thin air, however. As a high school student in Anchorage he was named to the All-State team as both an offensive and defensive lineman, and as a long snapper.
Of course, the long snapping issue won't really be settled until summer, when freshman Billy Petrick arrives in Pullman. Petrick is said to have NFL-type speed in getting the ball to the punter.
CLASS IS IN SESSION
Price and his staff will put on a coaching clinic at WSU on Friday and Saturday.
In addition to the Cougar staff, the clinic will feature head coaches Vic Randall of Ferndale High, Jeff Chandler of Eastlake High, Mike Morgan of Colfax High, and John Tulley of Whitworth College.
The cost is $30 and is open to all coaches. Registration is from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Friday, with the clinic running until 1 p.m. Saturday. Coaches can earn 10 clock hours through the WIAA at $1 per hour. For more information, call 1-800-335-0250.
PULLMAN--Several days after Allen Thompson made his triumphant return to spring practice, Mike Bush made his long-awaited return Tuesday afternoon. Bush had been resting the foot he injured during the basketball season since the first week of practice. He showed no lingering effects of the injury, as he looked in sync with the offense and made several nice catches during the team's two-minute drill.
Now the bad news: Just when it seemed the receiving corps would be back up to full strength after Bush's return, Devard Darling went down with an injury. Darling has a sore ankle that kept him out of practice Tuesday, and could keep him from playing in Saturday's Crimson and Gray Game.
Wednesday will mark the final full practice of the spring, as the team will not practice on Friday, like it had the rest of the spring. Coach Mike Price customarily gives the players the day off before the Crimson and Gray Game.
The format is just about set for Saturday's game, scheduled for 2 p.m. in Martin Stadium. The first team offense, defense and special team will comprise the majority of the Crimson team, while most of the No. 2s and 3s will make up the Gray squad.
Because of the often-changing depth charts due to injuries and other factors, expect several players to be switching teams throughout the day. Matt Kegel will probably get some reps with both the No. 1 and No. 2 offense. This will be a bit of a switch from last year's game, when the top team had virtually all of the travel squad and the second team was made up of freshmen and bench players. Although the Crimson will definitely be the stronger team, Saturday's game should be more balanced than last year's.
Notably absent from this year's game will be cornerback Jason David. David, out all spring to concentrate on academics, drew the attention of fans and the coaching staff alike with his stellar performance in Spokane last year.
And speaking of last year's C & G game, here's an interesting bit of trivia: Two of the scrimmage's defensive stars that day, linebackers Curtis Holden and Aaron Wagner, never played a down for the Cougars in 2001. Wagner went on his Mormon mission; Holden was ruled academically ineligible.
Nothing definite yet, but the annual Crimson and Gray game will likely be taken on the road in the near future, as it was last year when the scrimmage was held at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane. One scenario has the game alternating between Pullman and Spokane, and could possibly include other cities throughout the state.
DAY TWELVE: SCRIMMAGE THREE
PULLMAN -- The Cougars closed out their last scrimmage before the Crimson & Gray game with a high-intensity, hard-fought affair Saturday morning. The entire contest was run with the No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense and the No. 2 O against the No. 2 D. The result was, without doubt, the team's most impressive session of paint-swappin' to date as both sides showed flares of dominance.
Senior quarterback Jason Gesser led the way, completing 15 of 24 passes for 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns, all against the No. 1 defense. Junior Matt Kegel was almost as impressive, finishing 7 for 14 for 146 yards and two more touchdowns. He also had several balls dropped by the backup receivers.
Freshman signal caller Chris Hurd also had a solid day, going six-of-eight for 73 yards and a touchdown pass to Scott Faries.
Each quarterback had the best day of his respective spring on Saturday.
Gesser's TD passes went to Devard Darling (11 yards) and Trandon Harvey (20 yards). The drive on Harvey's catch was particularly impressive, as the offense blew down the field, needing just two plays to go 65 yards. The touchdown pass was setup by a 45-yard pass from Gesser -- the Hurlin' Hawaiian Heisman Hopeful -- to Jerome Riley.
Riley had an amazing day, catching four balls for 129 yards, including a 53-yarder in which he juked several defensive backs. He appears to have fully recovered from the hamstring injury that had him down for the past week.
The offense seemed to focus on the tight ends more Saturday than in past scrimmages. Mark Ahlberg had a 28-yard touchdown catch from Kegel, and Troy Bienemann nabbed a pair of catches for 16 yards.
It was a bittersweet day for the running back corps, as the top two runners, John Tippins and Jermaine Green, couldn't get much going on the ground, but the backups looked very good. Tippins carried 8 times for 14 yards, and Green managed 37 on 12 carries. Green was also responsible for a fumble after a catch that was recovered by defensive lineman Bryan Olson.
On the other hand, sophomore Lavell Anderson had six carries for 63 yards and a touchdown, accounting for the entire yardage in a touchdown drive against the No. 2 defense. JC transfer Tony Ryan, seeing his most action of the spring, rushed for 44 yards on five carries, slashing through huge holes made by the O-line.
The great offensive stats shouldn't overshadow the performance made by the defense. Free safety Erik Coleman, on the day his predecessor ascended to the NFL, picked off two Gesser passes, including one he returned 68 yards untouched for a touchdown. Those were just the second and third INTs Gesser has tossed in his entire spring career at WSU. DB Cole Sheridan , the Pride of Pullman, also had a pick on a Kegel pass.
The defensive line, despite missing starters Rien Long (out to concentrate on grades) and Fred Shavies (dislocated his finger) dominated at times, particularly against the run. The unit has amazing speed, as evidenced by the fact that virtually no running backs were able to get any yardage when trying to go to the outside.
The linebacker corps had a solid day on Saturday, as Al Genatone had a sack and Kevin Sperry had his best scrimmage of the spring. Sperry appears to be getting more comfortable in the defense, and is following his instincts to flow around the ball. He had several hard hits at the line of scrimmage Saturday.
Drew Dunning struggled throughout the scrimmage, hitting on only five of 13 field goal attpemts. However, the majority of his misses were from beyond 45 yards, and he was missing his usual holder, Collin Henderson, for most of his attempts. Hurd is the backup holder, but has only been practicing at it for a few weeks.
The finale to spring workouts, the Crimson & Gray game, is set for April 27 in Pullman.
A month ago at the Pierce County Cougar Club dinner, Mike Price said he planned to continue his two-quarterback rotation in 2002, but that it would be "unlike any platoon in the nation." He didn't elaborate. But given the ho-hum results of last season's version, in which Kegel played the first series of the second quarter, you can hardly blame Mike for wanting to try something new.
Well, folks, the something new appears to have been sampled on Saturday. And it is indeed a bit different. But that's all we're going to say. You'll just have to show up August 31 in Seattle to find out what we're talking about.
PULLMAN - -The running back corps saw the return of a familiar face Friday, as Allen Thompson participated in his first practice since week one of spring ball.
Thompson, the No. 1 running back coming into the spring, had been down with a sprained right ankle -- the same one in which he suffered a high sprain last season at Stanford -- but returned Friday with no apparent pain. He was held out of contact drills throughout practice, and will probably get limited reps in Saturday's scrimmage, but it was encouraging to see him back on the field pain-free.
Although the running backs were bolstered by the return of Thompson, the crew lost a member when Jevon Miller was switched to receiver. Friday was his first day at the position, and although he had some troubles, coaches were encouraged by his abilities. Miller is the second running back this week to switch to receiver, as Jimmy Wilson was moved to the position on Tuesday. Miller's position switch is a little confusing, as he had appeared to improve greatly since the 2001 season, and was looking very impressive with the No. 3 offense during scrimmages. Time will tell if the position switch is permanent.
Another player making a triumphant return from injury was Jerome Riley, who played in his first full practice in a week. He originally injured his hamstring before last Saturday's scrimmage, and attempted to practice on Wednesday. However, the hamstring continued to bother him and he left early. Fortunately, he appeared unaffected by the injury Friday, and spent the entire practice with the No. 1 offense.
With the Crimson and Gray game just around the corner, special teams coach Kasey Dunn has started working on the team's kickoff and kick return teams. Look for them to practice this some on Saturday. Currently, the two kick returners on the No. 1 return team are sophomores Karl Paymah and Devard Darling. Both are lightning quick and have very good open field moves. Other players getting looks at returning are Marcus Trufant, Curtis Nettles, Jerome Riley, Lavell Anderson and Jermaine Green.
As for the Crimson and Gray game itself, rumor has it that the teams will be broken up much like last years -- the travel squad and several others on the Gray team, with the rest of the players on the Crimson team. While this takes any sort of drama or competitive balance out of the spring scrimmage, the coaches prefer this method, as it gives the top players an extra day of game simulation.
The team will practice again Saturday morning at 9:30, followed by a scrimmage at 10:15. Since the Crimson and Gray game will be run in the manner that it is, this could be the fans' final chance to see the No. 1 offense go up against the No. 1 defense this spring.
PULLMAN -- As sure as April showers, a Cougar player seems to emerge each spring from the bottom rung of the depth chart, making the most of each practice and scrimmage, and serving notice to coaches and fans alike that they're here to contribute in a big way.
Often, the player the coaching staff will refer to as a "pleasant surprise" won't enter the collective consciousness of the Cougar Nation until the Crimson & Gray game; other springs this player will make a name for himself before the first week of practice is even completed.
Cornerback Jason David was the "pleasant surprise" of last year's spring camp, leaving a Spokane crowd of Crimson & Gray watchers wondering just who the heck that diminutive DB was flying around the Joe Albi Stadium field. Eight months later he was starring in the Sun Bowl (and earning a much-coveted spot on the Cougfan.com All-Time Bowl roster).
A similar tale was told in 1999. After coming out of Nowhere (actually his hometown of Anchorage is just south of Nowhere) and shining in the spring season, walk-on defensive tackle Tomasi "King" Kongaika went on to start six games as a redshirt freshman in the 1999 season. He followed that up spectacularly in 2000, earning honorable mention all-conference honors.
Ten days into the 2002 spring campaign, the Cougar cup of "pleasant surprise" candidates darn near runneth over. Better news still: History tells us that with five days of ball remaining, the true "pleasant surprise" may still be lurking somewhere on the practice field.
Here's a quick look at some Crimson Soldiers turning heads --- and surprising some folks ---- these days:
John Tippins: While it may be hard to label JT a complete surprise, what with his heroics last season against Stanford and Montana State, there's no denying he's taken his game up a notch or two. The senior has responded to the challenge of a crowded backfield by coming into camp lean and mean, and putting his heart and mind into each practice. He's been punishing would-be tacklers all spring, making a strong case that the bevy of JC talent on his heels may have to sit for a while.
Alex Teems: the redshirt freshman corner is dropping some jaws --- and ball carriers --- with his hard hitting and seems to be making great advances learning the science of pass coverage.
Bryan Boyer: The Lapwai, Idaho, native may be just a redshirt freshman, but the way he's been shedding blockers and getting to those yellow-vested passers this spring, it's sometimes easy to confuse him with touted defensive end mates, Isaac Brown, Fred Shavies and D.D. Acholonu.
Kyle Basler: Sure, we'd heard good things about some walk-on punter from Elma last year, but no one really knew what a boomer we had. Coach Mike Price says Basler, who he recently rewarded with a scholarship, may wind up being the best punter in Cougar history. His consistency woes, downright troubling back in the fall, appear to be a thing of the past. He's also displaying some great hands, nabbing up just about every wayward snap.
Marty Martin: It's easy to get blinded by the bright potential of receivers Mike Bush, Jerome Riley, Collin Henderson, and Florida State transfer Devard Darling. But it was hard to overlook Martin's progress prior to dinging his calf in the first spring scrimmage --- a scrimmage in which, by the way, the redshirt frosh from Puyallup caught six passes for 82 yards, including a TD strike from Josh Swogger that covered 60 yards.
And what of JC transfer running back Jermaine Green? Certainly he's had an outstanding camp thus far, giving us glimpses into his potential and making us daydream of future Saturday highlight-reel runs. But the fanfare and track record Green --- and most JC transfers --- brings to the field disqualifies him for "pleasant surprise" candidacy.
So look down deep on those depth charts, Cougfans. You just may find a pleasant surprise waiting to happen.
There's good and news and bad to report on the status of construction of a new indoor practice facility. The good news is that the foundation is laid and the construction timeline is a month ahead of schedule. The bad is that we Cougar faithful still have some work to do to pay for the self-supporting roof and other facets of the facility. Specifically, we all need to start writing checks because Jim Sterk needs $500,000 this year to keep this phased project on track.
It's been rumored that with the arrival of at least three junior college running backs for the 2002 season, Allen Thompson and/or Jimmy Wilson might be redshirted to save a year of eligibility. However, if Wilson is redshirted in 2002, it won't be because of too much depth at running back. Word out of Pullman has it that Wilson is being switched to receiver, where his lean, 6-2 frame might be better suited to the rigors of Pac-10 play.
The switch seems logical; with John Tippins, Lavell Anderson and Thompson all returning, as well as the addition of Jermaine Green, Jonathon Smith and Lionel Arnold, there wasn't much elbowroom in Mike Price's one-back offense. Also, Wilson has very good hands out of the backfield, and with proper tutelage from receivers coach Mike Levenseller, he could make an impact at receiver.
The team braved the weather Tuesday for practice, enduring pouring rain mixed with snow at times. The result was a rather sloppy practice that featured lots of dropped balls and wounded ducks from the hands of quarterbacks.
Freshman cornerback Alex Teems had the hit of the day, laying a blow to running back Rafael Bolton during the team's perimeter offense drill. Teems is making a name for himself thanks to his hard hits, but he is also developing into a solid young defensive back. Although it remains to be seen what kind of playing time he'll get in 2002, he'll definitely be making contributions in the years to come.
Wes Patterson-Aumua is another young defensive player who's performing well. He's already at his third position since coming to Pullman -- he started as a running back, then switched to defensive back early in the season, and is now a backup linebacker. Patterson-Aumua's one of several former DB's playing linebacker now -- Ira Davis is starting, and Derrick Dillon is currently injured -- perhaps showing a shift in defensive coordinator Bill Doba's philosophy. With no big bodies at outside linebacker a la Raonall Smith, he's looking for quicker guys who can fly around the ball.
- Receiver Jerome Riley missed practice again Tuesday. He's still hampered by the hamstring injury he suffered Saturday before the scrimmage.
- Back-up kicker Graham Siderius is also working out as the back-up punter.
- Although Tomasi "King" Kongaika has shown improvement as the experimental long snapper, incoming freshman Billy Petrick remains the most anticipated long snapping center in the history of NCAA Division 1-A football.
DAY EIGHT: SCRIMMAGE TWO
PULLMAN -- Midway through Saturday's scrimmage in front of a Mom's Weekend crowd, WSU coach Mike Price had to remind Matt Kegel that he was playing behind the first-team offensive line. Kegel had looked a little anxious at times, and knowing the first string hosses were up front might have comforted him. Unfortunately, it was impossible at times Saturday to tell the No. 1 line from the No. 2, or even the third string for that matter.
Due to injuries, the O-line played without five of its top eight players for the majority of practice -- Derrick Roche, Phil Locker and Riley Fitt-Chappell all sat out. Tyler Hunt saw limited action, and Josh Parrish isn't suiting up this spring to concentrate on the books. As a result, Billy Knotts got some time in at center, and second and third stringers got extended action throughout the day.
Not surprisingly, the defensive line reaped the benefits of the patchwork O-line, dominating the trenches for most of the day. D.D. Acholonu and Fred Shavies registered two sacks apiece, and Isaac Brown, Rien Long and Jeremey Williams added one each. Not only that, but many running backs were stopped for losses or minimal gains.
The D-line also welcomed back senior Tomasi "King" Kongaika, out the past eight months with injuries. Kongaika wasted little time shaking off the rust (and blockers) today. His long snapping was much improved, as well.
DESPITE THE offensive line woes, the top two offensive units did look improved over last week's scrimmage, in which neither could manage a single score. The first offense scored a pair of touchdowns Saturday -- the first a perfectly executed 60-yard screen pass from Jason Gesser to Jermaine Green, and the second a 9-yard pass from Gesser to Curtis Nettles in which Gesser checked out of a running play to throw a perfect strike to Nettles streaking across the endzone.
Kegel threw his first touchdown pass of the spring, a 3-yarder on a fade to Devard Darling. Both quarterbacks looked pretty sharp, as Gesser completed five of 11 pass attempts for 164 yards and the two touchdowns, and Kegel was good on nine of 15 attempts for 101 yards.
Four other quarterbacks -– Chris Hurd, Josh Swogger, Dayton Dennison, and Dan St. Mary -- saw limited action today.
DARLING HAD a long-awaited coming out party Saturday morning. The sophomore transfer from Florida State hauled in four passes for 103 yards and the touchdown, including a 54-yarder from Gesser and a 30+ yarder from Kegel. With his speed, he can run circles around many defensive backs, and it looks like his hands are benefiting from a little extra concentration.
JC transfer Green was perhaps the most impressive offensive player, tallying 138 total yards, including 78 on the ground on 10 carries. Watching him run, it appears that he has only two speeds -- fast and faster. Get him in the open field, and there aren't too many players in the country that could catch him, as evidenced by his 60-yard touchdown catch on a short screen. His only weaknesses right now are learning the offense (something that will happen with more practice) and learning when to make the right cuts against the defense. On several carries, he was stopped for losses when he cut back across the field and ran into defenders.
Trandon Harvey, pushed into starting duties, caught four passes four 53 yards, making several tough grabs. In addition, he caught three touchdown passes in the team's red zone skelly drill before the scrimmage. He got some extra looks Saturday, as starting receivers Jerome Riley, Mike Bush (injury) and Collin Henderson (in Seattle with the baseball team) missed the scrimmage.
Running backs John Tippins (five carries for 55 yards) and Jevon Miller also looked solid. Miller, a freshman, carried seven times for 22 yards -- not a lot, but he showed the coaches he had the ability to hit the hole quickly and make good reads on cutbacks. Although he won't see a lot of playing time in 2002, look for Miller to be making contributions in the future.
The highlight of the day, however, was kicker Drew Dunning, who closed out practice hitting a 60-yard field goal with a breeze at his back. After missing the first two attempts from that distance, Dunning requested one final try, and as the Mom's Weekend crowd cheered, drilled it through the uprights. Dunning also hit from 55 yards and 47 yards twice. He seems to have the perfect mentality for a kicker -- always demanding a shot, even if it's a difficult kick -- not to mention a little cockiness. When Dunning hit the 55-yarder, he didn't even watch it go through the uprights. He merely kicked it, told everybody it was good, turned around and told Price he wanted to try from 60.
PULLMAN -- The proclamation by assistant coach Bob Connelly that his current group of beef eaters could be the best offensive line in school history might be easier to agree with if so many of ‘em weren't watching practice from the sidelines.
Phil Locker and Riley Fitt-Chappell are the latest hosses to head for the sidelines. Locker missed practice today with a cast on his left foot, and Fitt-Chappell injured his shoulder midway through the workout. It is unknown when either will be available. If there is a silver lining, this means some younger players who wouldn't necessarily get as much work are getting reps with the first offense.
Locker and Fitt-Chappell join three of their brethren who already are on the shelf. All-conference guard Derrick Roche had ankle surgery over the winter and won't be back in uniform till August. Josh Parrish is chained to Holland Library for the duration of spring bal to get his grades shored up. And center Tyler Hunt is still feeling the effects of a sore shoulder.
The team closed Friday's short practice with a two-minute drill simulation, as they do fairly often during the regular season. The first-team offense, led by quarterback Jason Gesser, marched down the field quickly to score. A 25-yard touchdown pass from the Heisman candidate to Jerome Riley, who made a sensational diving catch on a fade route, capped the drive.
The No. 2 offense, with Matt Kegel at the helm, struggled a bit but managed to score on a TD pass from Kegel to redshirt freshman Thomas Ostrander of Yakima. The drill is valuable for the players to learn the pace needed to execute a two-minute drill, as well as getting the quarterback accustomed to making the right reads and audibles in that setting. Both quarterbacks looked comfortable in the offense.
The highlight of practice came at it's conclusion, when receiver Curtis Nettles teamed with coach Rob Rainville to win a wheelbarrow race against coach Mike Walker and defensive back Anthony Burnett. The race was just another chapter in the ongoing offense vs. defense challenges, in which each practice ends with a competition between select members of the offense and defense. The games range from punt-catching contests between linemen to one-on-one passing drills between offensive and defensive coaches.
Among other players missing practice due to injury were Mike Bush, Allen Thompson, Jimmy Wilson, Derrick Dillon and Will Derting. Derting, who is still recovering from knee surgery, hasn't practiced since the team started full contact drills last Friday.
The team will practice Saturday morning at 9:30, with a scrimmage to follow around 10:15. Check back tomorrow afternoon on Cougfan.com for a full scrimmage report.
PULLMAN -- Better start thinking of a clever nickname for the WSU defensive line. If these first six practices of spring are any indication, this group of stoppers will be making a name for itself next fall.
Indeed, the defensive line looked extremely impressive in Wednesday's practice. Jeremey Williams, working at tackle for the No. 1 defense, seemed to be in the middle of every play, blowing the offensive linemen off the ball and batting down several passes. D.D. Acholonu also knocked a pass down.
For the most part, as was the case in the first scrimmage, the D-line simply out muscled the O-line, as many running backs were hit behind the line of scrimmage. Granted, some of that is the result of two starting offensive linemen missing spring ball and a third, Tyler Hunt, playing with a sore shoulder, but word around the team is that virtually every defensive lineman busted his hump in the off season, and this is merely the result of that hard work.
RUNNING WITH THE ONES
With safety Erik Coleman out for the rest of the week due to a suspension, youngsters Jeremy Bohannon and Aaron Joseph will be getting some valuable reps with the No. 1 defense. Although Coleman and Virgil Williams are the frontrunners for the starting safety positions, the experience Bohannon and Joseph get will help them during the season, as they will learn exactly what needs to be done to play.
A LEG UP
Isn't it a great feeling to take the kicker position for granted? After several springs of wondering who the starting kicker would be (it was Nick Lambert and Anousith Wilaikul in 2000 and Drew Dunning, Lambert and Adam Holiday in 2001), Dunning is officially The Man this year, and he's proving why in practice. The reigning All Pac-10 kicker is virtually automatic inside 40 yards, and is building on his 2001 excellence by improving his distance. One difference that stands out is the height he gets on his longer kicks. Whereas he would line drive many of his 40+ yarders last year, he's getting better loft on those kicks now, making them extremely difficult to block without a complete offensive line breakdown.
Freshman Graham Siderius has the leg but continues to struggle with his consistency, and walk-on freshman Alex Oyer is getting noticed in camp with some nice kicking.
THE JT EXPRESS
John Tippins is currently the No. 1 running back, and he doesn't look very eager to give up the job. Though many people consider JC phenom Jermaine Green's promotion to the No. 1 offense inevitable, Tippins just goes out every day and runs defenders over. He's been the toughest runner in the group, and the only one consistently breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage. While Green's talent turns heads, Tippins has assumed a newfound focus and determination since he was given the starting job. That focus will no doubt help him in 2002. Look for him to be the feature back on goal line situations in addition to getting his share of carries throughout the game.
Follow this link for part II of "15 Days of Spring," days 1 through 5: http://washingtonstate.theinsiders.com/2/48156.html
Follow this link for part II of "15 Days of Spring," days 1 through 5: http://washingtonstate.theinsiders.com/2/48156.html