Spring ball Day 13: No. 1 RB, center tabbed

PULLMAN -- While sophomore safety Michael Willis continued his bone-rattling assault on the spring season, the hard news Tuesday was emanating from the offense, where starters at two contested positions -- running back and center -- were formally anointed. Meanwhile, injuries pile up at receiver, and the search for a new understudy for Loren Langley turns toward a walk-on defensive back from Othello.

Sophomore DeMaundray Woolridge, who served as All-American Jerome Harrison's backup last season while Dwight Tardy redshirted and Kevin McCall battled nagging leg injuries, will be the Cougars' starting running back heading into fall camp, running backs coach Kelly Skipper said Tuesday.

"DeMaundray right now is my No. 1 guy. He has the most experience, and he's playing like the No. 1 guy," Skipper said, noting that the 5-8 1/2, 223-pounder from Keller, Texas, has improved dramatically since last fall.

The battle for the top spot, however, figures to get even more intense in fall camp, when the Cougars expect to welcome two JC All-Americans backs -- Derrell Hutsona and J.T. Diederichs -- and three prep standouts.

For Skipper, the Cougars' depth at running back is dream come to life. In spring workouts a year ago Harrison was the only scholarship tailback available.

"You've got DeMaundray, who has had a great spring, and McCall, and then to throw Tardy in the mix, and we've got three guys there we can win with."

In addition, Skipper sang the praises of walk-on backups Isao Puailoa, Jace Perry and Darren Moss.

OPENING THE HOLES for all those backs is an offensive line that returns three starters from last season -- Bobby Byrd, Charles Harris and Sean O'Connor -- but must find new No. 1s at center and right guard.

A rash of injuries this spring hampered the quest to find the new starters, but line coach George Yarno said Tuesday that senior Josh Duin, a former walk on, will be the man at center when fall camp opens.

However, he'll have a fight on his hands to hold on as freshman Kenny Alfred and sophomore Dan Rowlands will be given every opportunity to fully show their stuff.

Both missed big chunks of the spring session with injuries -- Alfred with a broken hand and Rowlands a shoulder strain.

"Right now he (Duin) has taken most of the reps and has done a good job," Yarno said. "I think both Alfred and Rowlands have a chance to beat him out before the Auburn game, but right now Duin is our starter."

Rowlands returned to practice on Tuesday and Alfred came back last week. The Cougars will have one more workout this week before capping the spring season on Saturday with the annual Crimson & Gray game.

The Cougars' open spot at right guard has been held all spring by sophomore Andy Roof, but he figures to get a run in the fall when everyone is healthy. Little challengers for that slot could be Rowlands or Duin depending on what happens at center, and Derek Hunter, who also has missed time this spring with injury.

THE INJURY BUG continues to rear its ugly head -- especially at receiver. Brandon Gibson left Tuesday's practice with an ankle sprain, while three of his mates didn't practice at all: junior Michael Bumpus (right leg contusion), sophomore Scott Selby (right hamstring strain), and sophomore Benny Ward (left turf toe). In other injury news, senior defensive tackle Odell Howard is done for the spring after suffering a high ankle sprain in Saturday's scrimmage.

On the positive side, defensive back Courtney Williams (left hip strain) was back at practice Tuesday, though his participation was limited. He didn't wear either pads or a helmet.

WITH NEWS OVER THE weekend that walk-on kicker Romeen Abdollmohammadi is academically ineligible and will not be returning to the team, freshman defensive back Geoff Kirkwood's periodic kicks with the special teams took on greater import Tuesday as the Cougars scramble to find a backup for Loren Langley. Kirkwood, the Pride of Othello, was 2-for-4 on field goal attempts. He also sent two punts about 50 yards down field.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: New WSU recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Greg Peterson will be in the CF.C Chat Room Wednesday night (April 12) starting at 7 pm to answer questions from the faithful.

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