Fall Camp Day 17: Akey tabs starting DTs

PULLMAN -- With the proverbial dog days of Washington State's fall camp drawing to a close, the picture comes into sharper focus. Position battles are won, units take shape -- and some step up beyond expectations. That's the story in Pullman, as defensive coordinator Robb Akey sheds light on one who's moved up the depth chart, plus a progress report on the newest member of the crimson stop corps.

Fevaea'i Ahmu, who started every game last year for then-injured -- but recently dominant -- defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua, will once again be a starting DT this fall. This time, the 6-1, 289-pound true sophomore from San Diego has usurped one of the expected starters, junior Aaron Johnson.

"He (Ahmu) moved himself up the depth chart about two weeks ago. He and Ropati are starting," Akey said, following Tuesday's practice. "A'i (Ahmu) played himself into that spot, and he's done a nice job."

AJ hasn't played poorly this fall camp by any stretch but rather, Ahmu has simply looked that good.

The fight to earn playing time now belongs to Johnson, who to his credit has also put together a fine stretch over the past few days, and looked particularly aggressive Tuesday. But Akey said it is now in Johnson's hands to earn the starting spot back, and expects the 6-7, 317- pounder will continue to be a force.

"He can either try to win his job back, or we can rotate him in. And that's the same offer we are going to give Tarkington."

The reference to Bryan Tarkington, (6-4, 320) is music to the patient ears of many in the Cougar Nation. The junior was a member of the 2005 Cougar recruiting class, and was even in Pullman last August, waiting for clearance that never came. This time around, transcript issues all fall camp had kept him off the field, but he finally got the green light to suit up for the D yesterday, running drills in full pads from the get-go on Tuesday afternoon.
Note: The NCAA rule requires player to go through four practices before they are allowed to don full pads but once classes start, players, despite number of practices participated in, can go full pads regardless. Classes started at Washington State Monday.

Tarkington will add depth on the inside and Akey said, compete for some serious playing time as well.

"We've got a lot of work to do with him. We'll find out how soon we can get him into playing shape. We are going to try and fast-forward that to the best of our ability. But he's coming along," Akey said.

The defensive end position, a spot short on experience, still appears to at least be set on the front line in senior Mkristo Bruce and junior Matt Mullennix. Today, however, Mullennix sat out the session, after leaving practice early yesterday, his first since returning from a fractured hand.

Mullennix looked to have a leg injury about halfway through Monday's session though it did not seem overly serious. He appeared to be held out Wednesday's for precautionary reasons and for part of the session, Mullennix rode the stationary bike. Akey did not elaborate on the status of the 6-7, 257 pound end, instead saying his absence gave an opportunity for some of the back-ups on the squad to step up -- in particular, junior Lance Broadus and sophomore Mike Graise.

"Graise is getting more reps, and we're still trying to build the strength into Broadus' groin. (Freshman Kevin Kooyman is getting a chance to play as well," said Akey.

The secondary, a primary area of concern for the Cougs coming into camp, is also starting to take shape. Akey praised the play of the linebackers and safeties, saying both units are doing a "pretty damn good job." Seniors Eric Frampton and Husain Abdullah look to have the starters' jobs back deep, while Scott Davis, Steve Dildine and Greg Trent make up the starting 'backers.

The corner position is still in play, however, as Akey failed to name a front-runner at the currently open slot opposite Tyron Brackenridge.

"We're getting more reps for those kids at the corner position. Those guys are getting some opportunities, and hopefully that will work itself out in the next few days."

Based on the number of reps with the first team of late, Don Turner looks to have the edge across from fellow senior Brackenridge, but the stand-up play of Markus Dawes this fall appears to have given the Cougar coaches food for thought.

This is the first of two Wednesday practice reports. Part II will be up late tonight or early tomorrow morning

Late Wednesday, Washington State released the official depth chart. Ahmu was at one starting defensive tackle spot, while Turner was listed No. 1 at the cornerback position in question. Chris Jordan is the starting flanker, changing spots with Brandon Gibson who had been atop the FL list coming out of spring and into the fall. Still, expect Gibson to get plenty of touches. Gibson is also on the KO return team, along with Derrell Hutsona. As expected, Andy Mattingly is the No. 2 strongside linebacker, with most of the other spots and names containing few surprises. The kicking battle continues between Romeen Abdollmohammadi and Loren Langley. The pair are listed with an "OR" between their names. Bill Doba has said he will only take one kicker for the opener at Auburn.

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