Night practice: Optimism on injured starters

PULLMAN -- Monday's second practice session saw two d-line starters on the chalk -- DE Matt Mullennix and DT Aaron Johnson were each deemed out indefinitely earlier in the day following morning practice injuries. Line coach Mike Walker commented after practice on their return timetables. Meanwhile, yet another fleet-footed WR in the form of true frosh Anthony Houston made his presence known.

Walker Monday evening offered some needed good news for the defensive line following the day's injury report, expressing optimism that Matt Mullennix and Aaron Johnson both would be back on the line for the season opener.

Mullennix is expected to only miss a few days of practice. Still, it was a double whammy Monday morning for Walker.

"Man that hurt," he said, referring to Mullennix's broken right hand and Johnson's sprained right hamstring, both of which occurred in this morning's session. "Hopefully we get Aaron back for Auburn, because we need him. Mully, I think he'll be back in a couple of days. They're going to build a cast for him, and he'll be back soon."

Walker said the Johnson injury occurred late in the session, during a pass rush. The Mullennix injury reportedly occurred when his hand became entangled in a teammate's facemask. "Both those guys are really important to our d-line," Walker said. "And we've got to get them back, especially in time for Auburn."

In spite of the potentially dire injuries -- especially in light of inexperienced depth at defensive end -- Walker expressed confidence in the charges up front, praising both the play of the vets, and the development of the youth during camp. Good thing, because one of the incoming DE rookies will likely play this season.

"We've got three real good guys coming in," said Walker, referring to true freshmen Kevin Kooyman, Preston Brooks, and Ansley Jean-Jacques. "They're the future of the Cougars. We might have to use one of them this year -- we need a backup end, so one of those guys is going to have to play."

Replacing Mullennix at the left defensive end Monday on the first team were Lance Broadus and Kooyman. It speaks well for Kooyman, prep state athlete of the year out of Auburn in '05, that he looked as comfortable and efficient at the position as he did Monday night. However, it also highlighted the paper-thin experience Washington State has out on the edge. At d-end, veteran Mike Graise and Broadus have the most experience, but Graise has been sidelined with a hip flexor and is listed as 'no practice' for the time being.

The injuries also put the suspensions of Odell Howard (DT) and Paul Stevens (DE) in a new light. There has been no word on their status since coach Bill Doba said each was suspended indefinitely for violation of team rules shortly before Washington State began fall drills a week ago Sunday.

On the interior, Walker said he hopes to use the returnees on the squad, namely juniors Ropati Pitoitua and Johnson, and sophomore Fevaea'i Ahmu close to an equal amount. Walker also said Matt Eichelberger would likely see his turns increase. Ahmu and Pitoitua ran with the 1s Monday night, with Eichelberger also getting more reps with the first team defense.

"To me, the starter doesn't really matter, because they're all going to get the same playing time," said Walker.

Both Mullennix and Johnson were present Monday night, seemingly in relatively high spirits despite wearing wraps on the injured appendages.

On offense, WR Anthony Houston, a highly touted freshman who has sat out most of the fall with a groin strain, returned to practice with a proverbial bang, putting together a highlight-reel of catches throughout the practice periods.

Perhaps the most athletic reception for the 6-4, 200 pounder out of San Diego came early in drills, as Houston stretched out nimbly with one hand, pulling down the Alex Brink rope for the "score."

The catch drew both praise and good-natured ribbing from the rest of the unit, as coach Mike Levenseller demanded, "Who was that guy?" Senior receiver Chris Jordan quickly piped in, "That's the guy that got hurt the first day, coach."

  • Corners Courtney Williams and Brian Williams joined senior Don Turner in taking reps with the first team defense Monday night, all with good result.

  • Both DeMaundray Woolridge and Derrell Hutsona turned in some nice runs, moving the chains and getting the offense amped up.

  • Brink looked to be still shaking the effects of a virus that contributed to a less than stellar Saturday scrimmage where the junior was limited to only a few series. Brink, who had been scintillating before the illness, still showed flashes on Monday, displaying accuracy and velocity to end the skelly as he connected with Finas Rabb for a score from 30 yards out. Brink was on the move during the play, but nonetheless managed to beeline the ball into the hands of the 6-6 junior.

  • The secondary's resurgence continued Monday night, with free safety Xavier Hicks and Don Turner both pulling down interceptions. Hicks' INT came at the expense of Cole Morgan, while Turner's pick was on a toss from Brink.

  • The defense, despite missing two of their frontline starters, also managed to turn back the offense during a pair of red zone drills, forcing back-to-back field goals instead.

  • Tuesday's schedule calls for an afternoon session, preceeded by a morning walk-through.

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