RB spot has talent, questions as camp opens

MANY STORY LINES surrounding the Cougs with fall practice opening this weekend are on defense. But there are compelling tales waiting to be written on offense, too, particularly at running back where WSU needs to replace Jerome Harrison. DeMaundray Woolridge sits atop the depth chart but running backs coach Kelly Skipper has also made it clear he'll have plenty of competition starting on Sunday.

Woolridge is listed on the fall roster at a bowling ball-like 5-8 and 234 pounds. A very hard worker this offseason according to more than one Cougar teammate, D-Wool was fearless as a true freshman in limited playing time, running full tilt into a 300-pound d-lineman just as soon as he'd run around them.

Initial burst and patience in letting holes develop are two areas for development for the true sophomore but his speed, power and ability to get lost between the tackles is expected to pay big dividends for the Cougs in '06.

Muddling the ground game picture this past spring -- the backs were running behind a patchwork offensive line missing Kenny Alfred (hand) and Dan Rowlands (shoulder). Both are expected to be be ready to go Sunday and compete for starting spots.

It was unfortunate, but last week's announcement by Bill Doba that star junior college running back J.T. Diederichs failed to qualify had been anticipated by many in the Cougar Nation for some time. (Safety Cornorris Atkins also failed to qualify.) The best case scenario for fans of the former Ballard High standout would be for Diederichs to earn his AA degree this fall and enroll at WSU in January. But another junior college All-American running back arrives this week at WSU, in the person of Derrell Hutsona.

Hutsona, who touches down in Pullman on Wednesday, enjoyed a big send off Sunday night with a barbecue in front of 100 family and friends. Named All-America Co-Offensive Player of the Yea for a ridiculous 2,534 all-purpose yards in '05, Hutsona's backfield mates in high school were QB Alex Smith and RB Reggie Bush, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the last two NFL drafts.

Hutsona (5-10, 187) has drawn comparisons to Bush since his days at Helix High. Given Bush's exploits in high school, often lost in the mix is that Hutsona rushed for 2,052 yards on 154 carries -- a 13.3-yard average that remains the San Diego area's career record.

Two others already in the crimson fold are redshirt freshman Dwight Tardy and junior Kevin McCall. Tardy's drawn praise from Doba for the way he hits the hole while McCall, although he hasn't seen the field much over his career, had his best camp to date this spring.

A running back who may be flying well under the radar for many is Chris Ivory, a punishing back with speed. He arrives in Pullman Thursday.

Washington State's roster has the Longview, Texas., bruiser listed at 5-10 and 205 pounds but word is Ivory's now closer to 6-foot, 210 -- and he's probably not done growing. Keep an eye out, he's a great looking freshman who has a shot at early playing time. A couple weeks ago in Longview, one of the football coaches clocked him at a 4.3 in the 40.

Spokane native Skylar Jessen is well known throughout the Cougar Nation. Great speed equals great potential for the Mead running back who gained 3,716 ground yards over his record setting career at Mead. His senior season was cut short by a hamstring injury but he comes into his first Cougar fall camp 100 percent and in the best shape he's ever been in -- he earlier this summer checked in at 5-11, 200-pounds.

Meanwhile, Marcus Richmond (6-1, 200) became the talk of Arizona last season. He averaged 7.22 yards per carry and 190 hashes per game --- for a team that won just a single league contest. He finished with a school record 1,900 yards, just like Harrison did for the Cougs.

Ian Bell will also compete at running back, the position he excelled at in high school. The former Cougar defensive back was widely considered one of the top skill position prospects in the West -- in addition to 4.49 speed, he racked up nearly 3,000 career rushing yards over three prep seasons.

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