Spring Ball Day 3: Full pads, new faces

PULLMAN -- Friday marked the first full-pads practice for the Cougars this spring season and the intensity was palpable. The offensive line showed its depth, with sophomore Collin Donovan stepping up his game, and the kicking unit welcomed a new foot.

Walk-on kicker Romeen Abdollmohammadi, a prep soccer standout from Stanwood, Wash., joined the team this week and has looked solid as the understudy to Loren Langley, who has been highly consistent all week. But more on that in a moment.

The offensive line, anchored by experienced tackles Charles Harris and Bobby Byrd, looked solid on Friday and got a boost with the stellar play of Donovan, a 6-7, 284-pound third-year sophomore from Superior, Mont. A one-time defensive end, he moved to offensive tackle a year ago following knee surgery and is now running with the second-unit behind Harris on the right side.

Four players are vying for the starting spots at right guard and center: Sophomores Andy Roof and Dan Rowlands, freshman Kenny Alfred, and senior Josh Duin. All have all performed well so far, said line coach George Yarno. With no clear leaders emerging, expect to see all four getting lots of reps in the days ahead.

"That's what spring ball is all about," said Yarno, "A chance to see who has what it takes to step up and play big." All four have that ability, said Yarno, with Roof and Rowlands showing intense early-season aggression, and Duin playing quality ball as well.

Alfred may be the front-runner at center. The 6-2, 294-pounder from Gig Harbor made consistently clean snaps and tough blocks all day Friday, including one in 9-on-9 drills that opened up a huge hole for freshman running back Dwight Tardy.

No matter who earns the starting spots come fall, expect everyone to get a shot at playing time, said Yarno, who stated that as long as the group plays together well, the Cougars will plan on using their depth to their advantage.

The unusual green helmets donned by the special teams players at the start of practice provided a spotlight on the kicking teams. Langley made 16 of 17 field goals from 42 yards out. It would seem that the troubles that haunted the jumior from Puyallup toward the end of last year are fading.

Bill Doba cited rhythm as the culprit for Langley's late-season miscues. "He lost that little bit of tempo and he struggled at the end of the year, but he's got all summer to pick it up and with a little more maturity I'm sure he will be fine," Doba said. Doba said Langley's new understudy, Abdollmohammadi, has a strong leg, and noted that a kick-off by Adbollmohammadi went 7 yards deep in the endzone. He could be the successor to Graham Siderius as the Cougars' kickoff specialist.

The battle for the punter position left open by the departure of Kyle Basler raged on between sophomores Darryl Blunt and Fritz Brayton. It is still unclear which player has the upper hand. Doba said he thinks Blunt has a stronger leg, but Brayton has been a little more consistent so it will be a good spring competition. Blunt showed off the leg strength Doba cited when he kicked an impressive 50-yard punt.

The first day of full pads practice was also ridden with a few more injuries. Wide receiver Brandon Gibson, who donned a yellow no-contact jersey for the first time this spring, was slow to come up after making an impressive diving roll-over catch and saw limited action for the remainder of practice.

A scary moment of practice came when during one on one drills between the wide receivers and the secondary, Michael Bumpus's hand was stepped on, causing him to step to the sidelines for a moment. However, it didn't seem cause for concern, as he played the remainder of practice without difficulty.

Also of note was an impressive afternoon from some of the young secondary players, including sophomore Michael Willis who had crisp footwork and looked solid in the secondary, swatting a pass while covering sophomore Scott Selby. Also notable was a play made by fellow safety DeWayne Patterson, who made a leaping, highly athletic swat on a pass from QB Gary Rogers.

Speaking of Rogers, the sophomore made a number of poor choices in the passing game Friday, throwing several errant, un-catchable balls.

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