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."