Injury moves Willis to O; Bruce, Jordan back

PULLMAN – Hard-hitting sophomore safety Michael Willis' ailing shoulder looks to be ticketing him for a permanent move to the offensive side of the ball. "In order to play defense you need to be able to come in and hit, whereas as an offensive player you catch the ball and you can kind of protect yourself with which shoulder you want them to hit," said head coach Bill Doba.

In other news from Pullman, Mkristo Bruce is back in uniform and receiver Chris Jordan is set to play Saturday.

Bruce missed practice Tuesday after tweaking an already tender knee in the UCLA game. Jordan, a starting receiver, has been out of action since spraining a knee against Baylor in Week 3. Starting offensive lineman Andy Roof, out since injuring a heel against Oregon, practiced Wednesday but his status for Saturday is uncertain, said offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller.

As for Willis, who came to WSU after a star-studded two-way career at Tacoma's Lincoln High, the future looks now to be at receiver. Wednesday, for the second consecutive day, he practiced with the offense.

"I think it could be something that's long-term," Doba said. "He's a good athlete, a big strong kid. He runs well, (and) he's got really soft hands."

Willis (6-0, 213) played last year as a true freshman, primarily on special teams, and then turned heads in spring practices with his bone-rattling hits. He has missed much of the season because of the shoulder woes and has been wearing a yellow, no-contact jersey over the last several weeks of practice.

"He's struggling to get on the field defensively," Doba said, noting that a free safety is far more shoulder-dependent than a receiver.

The nagging injury, coupled with his uber-athleticism, are behind the move to offense. "He's pretty natural at it (playing receiver)," Levenseller said. "He's shown signs that he can do it, and that's a positive for us and a positive for him."

Levenseller was quick to note that Willis shouldn't be expected to light things up just yet -- a switch as significant as this takes adjustment time. "It's going to be hard right now, at this stage," Levenseller said. "But there's spring ball down the road, and an opportunity this winter for him to learn the offense."

Doba said the injury will play heavily into whether or not Willis stays at receiver, but a firm decision will not likely be made until after the Cougs wrap up the season. "We're going to evaluate him after the season, see if he needs surgery -- but I think it could be a permanent (move to wideout)."

Although the Cougars will only lose two members of their receiving rotation next year -- seniors Jason Hill and Jordan -- Doba said if Willis does stay at the position he will likely fit into next year's game plan.

"We'll play five wide receivers at a time, and there are so many guys rotating in and out and if he learns his routes and doesn't make mistakes he'll get plenty of playing time," the coach said.

At Lincoln High, Willis was a two-way wonder, earning All-State honors and Narrows League Bay Division MVP plaudits. He racked up 1,207 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns his senior season.

NOTABLE NOTES:

Backup tight end Ben Woodard (knee) practiced Wednesday, but his status for Saturday has not yet been determined.

Jordan, who was putting together a career year before injuring his knee and undergoing surgery earlier this season, is a welcome return to the offense, Levenseller said. "It's nice to have him back. It's his senior year and he's got an opportunity to play. He'll have three or four more games, (so) I am real happy for Chris."

The Cougars' 2 p.m. game Saturday with Arizona is the centerpiece of Dad's Day festivities in Pullman.

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