PULLMAN -- Cougar veterans opened their 2002 fall practices on Saturday and one thing was clearly evident: The vast majority of these guys stayed in Pullman over the summer working out together. Especially on offense.

While the first week or so of fall practice is usually spent trying to get everyone on the same page, it appears most of the offense is already clicking. While there were the normal breakdowns, dropped passes and bad throws, the O looked much more cohesive than it did early in last year's fall camp.

With seven starters returning on offense, there are only a few starting spots up for grabs on the offense. One is at left guard with the graduation of Joey Hollenbeck. Senior Phil Locker and junior Billy Knotts, both seasoned veterans, will battle for the spot. The rest of the line is set with center Tyler Hunt, right guard Derrick Roche and tackles Calvin Armstrong and Josh Parrish all firmly entrenched.

Running back figures to be the most intriguing position to watch between now and the Aug. 31 season opener in Seattle. Senior John Tippins and JC transfer Jermaine Green are the frontrunners, but JC All-American Jonathan Smith is now in camp and could make some serious hay. Sophomore Allen Thompson also is in the mix.

Tippins is running at No. 1 right now, but Green, fully recovered from a summer knee tweak, looks like he spent every waking hour in the weight room this summer. He's still around 215 pounds, but his upper body looks rock hard. That added strength, coupled with blazing speed, makes him one guy to watch.

Only two other offensive spots need to be filled: receiver and tight end.

Out wide, pencil in Florida State transfer Devard Darling as the heir apparent to Nakoa McElrath. Meanwhile, senior flanker Collin Henderson is running with the No. 1 offense at split end until Mike Bush's bum foot is ready to go late next week. Jerome Riley is No. 1 at flanker and Trandon Harvey at slotback.  Another kid to keep an eye out for is JC transfer Sammy Moore. The much-touted receiver/return man arrived in Pullman on Friday. He was admitted to WSU just this week and is expected to be cleared to play by next week. His abilities as a kickoff returner could give the Cougs the return threat they've lacked since the days of Dee Moronkola oh so long ago.

At tight end, look for a battle among redhsirt freshmen Troy Bienemann and Adam West, redshirt sophomore Mark Ahlberg and perhaps JC transfer Eddie Robinson, a former Tulane product, who is expected into camp next week. Among those close to the program, the 6-4, 250 Bienemann is thought to have the inside track, with great size and agility, but he has little more than one spring session of experience under his belt so the door is definitely open. Russell Mizin, WSU's starting TE in 2000 before running into academic troubles last year, apparently has failed to make the grade again and won't be in the mix in 2002.

AS FOR SPECIAL teams, the Cougs seem to be rock solid at most aspects. Kickoff specialist Adam Holiday is still booming kicks into the end zone, placekicker Drew Dunning is still automatic from inside 40 yards (and with more strength, will be more consistent from longer distances), and punter Kyle Basler is booting moonshots. With his unbelievably strong leg and a mop of long blonde hair only a mad scientist could love, Basler will be one of the most entertaining punters to watch for the next four years.

However, as everyone knows, the biggest question mark on special teams will be who will handle the long snapping duties. With high school phenom Billy Petrick opting for pro baseball, the position is wide open. There is a slew of players being tryed out, Among them are Bienemann, Hunt, Riley Fitt-Chapell, and walk-on freshman Leif Fuller. All look solid so far.

Notable Notes:

-- Jimmy Wilson, a would-be redshirt freshmen running back/receiver is off to junior college this season to gain some playing time, but is expected to return to the crimson fold next season.

-- The first full-contact practice is slated for Wednesday, with the first scrimmage set for Aug. 17.

-- Cornerback Jason David, who sat out spring workouts to focus on his studies, is academically sound and will be trying to hold down his starting spot against what is expected to be a strong challenge from Karl Paymah.



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