Spring ball Day 7: Trent back, Dildine loaded

PULLMAN -- The clouds rolled back and rays of sunshine broke through the Palouse sky on Friday. It proved a fitting metaphor as the Cougs, overdue for positive news on the injury front, welcomed back linebacker Greg Trent and receiver Brandon Gibson. Trent's emergence put a smile on the face of linebackers coach Leon Burtnett. The veteran assistant noted, however, that Trent's absence up to this point had a silver lining for Jason Stripling, who is now the team's new No. 2 middle linebacker.

Trent, who played without the cumbersome boot he had been wearing on an injured foot until last Tuesday, participated in a number of 7-6 and 11-11 drills. Wearing the yellow jersey emblematic of those nursing or just coming back from injuries, he wasn't involved in any overly aggressive or impressive plays, but the 5-10, 230-pound sophomore from Keller, Texas, looked quick and agile.

Last season, as a true freshman, Trent started five games in place of injured Will Derting and wound up second on the team in tackles with 69. He injured his foot during winter conditioning.

"It's good to have Greg back," said Burtnett. "This was the timeline we had for him, and with the next two weeks of spring ball going for him, he should have some pretty good experience going into the summer."

The Cougars' starting linebacker are Trent in the middle and senior Scott Davis and Steve Dildine on the flanks. Davis, on the strongside, and Dildine on the weakside, have looked solid all spring and turned in strong performances Friday. The 6-1, 223-pound Dildine ws especially impressive, punishing the offensive units all afternoon and putting a huge hit on Sean O'Connor that put the 6-5, 287-pound starting guard on the ground.

Adding depth to the position is a cadre of talent, including Stripling and fellow sophomores Alex Hamill and Cory Evans, and seniors Brian Hall and Chris Baltzer.

"We are pretty happy with the depth we've developed," said Burtnett, "Jason has had a hell of a good spring -- we are going to move him to the middle behind Greg, and then have Cory and Chris on the outsides. We might move a couple things around, but most importantly all these kids can play, so that's good news for us."

Stripling (5-11, 218) came in to the spring session as the No. 2 weakside 'backer behind Dildine, with the 6-2, 228-pound Baltzer listed as the No. 2 man in the middle.

Stripling, from Tyler, Texas, played in nine games for the Cougars last season a true freshman.

Overall this spring, the linebacking corps has shown a nose for the ball, great athleticism good communication skills with the secondary.

NOTABLE NOTES:

* Brandon Gibson (elbow) returned to full contact strength Friday, stripping the no-contact jersey he has worn for most of spring.

* In injury news of a different variety, offensive lineman Dan Rowlands has an ailing shoulder. X-ray results were encouraging but MRI results are pending. He is just the latest OL to to go down this spring. Kenny Alfred, Colin Donovan and senior walk-on Kevin Freeberg all have hand fractures.

* The Cougars will hold their second scrimmage of the spring at 9:30 am tomorrow (Saturday).

* A sad day for the Cougar Nation on Friday with news that Hank Grenda, who turned in one of the most amazing individual performances in Apple Cup history, died following a massive heart attack last weekend. He was 59. In 1968, in his last college game, Jim Sweeney made him the Cougars' surprise starter at quarterback against Washington and Grenda proceeded to put every point on the board in a 24-0 WSU victory. A Canadian native, he was a long-time teacher, coach and counselor in Kelowna, B.C. Cougfan.com did a feature story on his Apple Cup heroics in November. The story can be found by clicking here.

* Tickets for all of the Cougars' 2006 road games – as well as the Sept. 16 battle in Seattle with Baylor -- are on sale. The road slate is: Auburn (Sept. 2), Stanford (Sept. 23), Oregon State (Oct. 7), UCLA (Oct. 28) and Arizona State (Nov. 11). Auburn tickets are available only at www.wsucougars.com. Tickets for the others are available at that website or by phone at 800-GO-COUGS.

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