Practice notebook: Mattingly making his mark

PULLMAN -- Andy Mattingly, a multi-purpose threat back at Spokane's Mead High, is continuing his wide-ranging run through the football landscape as a Washington State freshman. WSU special teams coach Kelly Skipper has the 6-4, 229-pound blue chipper working on every unit - kickoffs, punts, field goals and extra points. And on defense he's slotted at No. 2 strongside linebacker behind Scott Davis.

Meanwhile, JC transfer Derrell Hutsona on Wednesday put an exclamation point on his bid for playing time, and the punting team has Skipper smiling.

But back to Mattingly. Widely considered the gem of the Cougars' 2006 recruiting class, he appears to have shed anyone's notions about redshirting.

"He's on every special team ... he's getting a lot of work," Skipper said of Mattingly. "And we think he can contribute this year." That latter statement was driven home in a big way later in the day when the Cougars released an updated depth chart and Mattingly was listed as Davis' understudy at strongside linebacker. While his rise to No. 2 is in no small way aided by the shoulder surgery that will keep sophomore Jason Stripling sidelined for several more weeks, the plain fact is that Mattingly has looked sharp since camp opened.

He had a pass deflection Wednesday that led to a defensive touchdown and in Scrimmage Two last week he picked off a Kevin Lopina pass and returned it 57 yards for a TD.

Skipper, though, isn't just smiling about the play of Mattingly. He says special teams play overall is improving significantly.

"We've come a long way -- we've gotten a lot of repetitions," he said. "We're lucky we've got a lot of guys coming back from last year, especially on the punting unit. Snaps have been on the money, we're protecting the ball really well, and that unit has come a long way, therefore, we feel that unit will be a strength for us."

The long snappers are second-year freshman Tony Thompson and walk on sophomore Peter Hill. The tight punting battle between Darryl Blunt and Fritz Brayton looks to be over, with Blunt installed as the starter on the new depth chart. The placekicking chores, where walk on Romeen Abdollamohammadi looked to be edging out returning starter Loren Langley before a woeful practice on Tuesday, is still undecided.

The gunner position on kickoffs and punts will be handled by sophomore cornerback Courtney Williams, who made a name for himself there early last season, and sophomore receiver Benny Ward. A number of players have worked out at gunner since camp began, including three corners -- junior Brian Williams, sophomore Ryan Kensok and freshman Kerry Maddox. The gunner is the member of the special teams who specializes in racing downfield to be the first one to reach the opposing team's return man.

"Both of those guys (Williams and Ward) have plenty of experience, so they'll be back," Skipper said, "But we've worked in a lot of other players, so we can develop depth at that position, so we can rotate in a game, and still get the effort that we need."

The Cougars' kickoff return duties will be handled by sophomore receiver Brandon Gibson and Hutsona, a JC All-American who racked up mountains of yardage last season running, catching and returning. On Wednesday, Hutsona put in another strong showing at running back with impressive short-yardage gains for touchdowns. He's currently listed as the No. 3 running back behind DeMaundray Woolridge and Dwight Tardy. Junior Kevin McCall is No. 4, with converted corner Ian Bell and true freshman Chris Ivory behind him.

Woolridge, a sophomore who collected more than 300 yards last season as Jerome Harrison's understudy, also looked impressive Wednesday, using his hard-nosed technique to move the chains in several drills.

Skipper, who also is the running backs coach, said he's pleased with his backfield talent.

"I think we have guys that are developing really well," Skipper said. "We've got 4-to-5 guys that we would feel good about putting in a game, so we'll be solid."

Despite the performances of the RBs and crisp passing by the quarterbacks, Wednesday's practice was truly a showcase for the defense. Linebackers, safeties and corners all delivered hard knocks and turned on the blanket coverage.

The biggest wrap-up of the day belonged to senior corner Tyron Brackenridge, who nailed tight end Cody Boyd following the big man's reception from quarterback Alex Brink.

Also making his presence felt was junior free safety Christian Bass, back from a high ankle injury, who grabbed a Mattingly deflection off of QB Gary Rogers and returned it to the bank.

Senior corner Don Turner turned in the coverage play of the day with a nifty break up of a Brink-to-Hill pass. Turner, slotted to start at corner opposite Brackenridge, has been steady as rain in recent weeks in the face of a spirited challenge from JC transfer Markus Dawes.


* Junior transfer Bryan Tarkington, a defensive tackle participating in only his second practice this fall, looked solid Wednesday. In one-on-one drills he pancaked an offensive lineman and proceeded to take down the simulated quarterback -- a 6-foot-tall pin weighted with sand at the bottom.

* No. 2 tight end Jed Collins, who injured a finger Sunday, is apparently recovering quite nicely, sporting only tape on his hand Wednesday.

* Alex Brink on Wednesday was one of 22 quarterbacks around the nation named to the watch list for the Manning Award.

* For more news from Wednesday's practice,click to the CF.C front page story, "Fall Camp Day 17: Akey tabs DTs."

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