Even with 3-step drops, Gibson all smiles

PULLMAN -- Brandon Gibson, fresh off an 89-yard kickoff return and a nifty 39-yard TD reception, was as sure-handed after Saturday's final spring scrimmage as he was during it. Asked if the '07 Cougs are post-season material, he didn't hesitate. "Of course we're a bowl team," said the junior from Puyallup. To emphasize the point, he added that he doesn't think Pasadena is out of the question.

If all the Cougs play like Gibson did on Saturday, in front of a Mom's Day crowd of about 1,000, the 2007 campaign indeed will be a dandy. Gibson led all receivers with four receptions for 54 yards, including the long scoring aerial from Alex Brink that Gibson caught over his outside shoulder on the right sideline just beyond the the goal line.

The play of the day, though, came on special teams. Gibson fielded a kickoff at his own 11 and sprinted straight up the middle, past kicker Romeen Abdollmohammadi, before veering down the right sideline for an 89-yard score.

"After I got past Romeen I didn't want to go much harder," said Gibson. "I didn't want to kill myself. It was good to get one off for the offense; we were kind of struggling (at that point)."

Because of injuries on the offensive line, Gibson noted that quarterbacks Brink (7-of-12-for-67 yards), Gary Rogers (1-9-7), Cole Morgan (4-5-21) and Kevin Lopina (3-4-37) were mostly taking three-step drops, rather than the five-step variety conducive to the long balls Gibson loves going after. "We had to go three-step and in a quick game, other that though, I had a lot of fun," he said.

Last year Gibson caught 49 balls, second-most on the Cougs behind Michael Bumpus, and was No. 6 in the Pac-10 in reception yardage. This season he'll be counted on to fill the big-play shoes of Jason Hill, who figures to be a first- or second-round pick in the NFL draft later this month.

"I like what I see, and he's going to be a great player for us," Brink said of Gibson. "And we saw from him last year, some of the things he can do. He's taking it to a different level."

As for Saturday's scrimmage, Gibson was quick to praise the Cougar defense, which struggled in the first two scrimmages of the spring. "I think the defense played tremendous. I think they compete in every play with us ... they came out and had a good day."

"I am feeling good right now," said senior safety Husain Abdullah, who intercepted a Brink pass in the end zone. "I mean, we of course have a long way to go, -- we have summer, we have fall camp -- but for right now we're good.

"This spring everybody has gotten a lot smarter, coach B (Leon Burtnett) makes sure everybody knows where everybody's going at all times, and that really helps and we can make more big plays if everybody knows everybody's assignments."

Abdullah's comments were echoed by Brink and head coach Bill Doba.

"I think this team we can field right now can be competitive," said Brink. "We're going to need this work in the summer and fall, but we're going to get better, and we're going to be alright."

Said Doba, "Defensively I thought we picked it up a little bit .... We looked at some different types of zone pressures and man pressures, and looked at cover-two and cover-four a little bit more, and so defensively I think we accomplished quite a few things," Doba said.

He said the addition of several notable junior college transfers this fall is also something the team is banking on to help improve its performance."We have some kids coming in that we think can help in the fall, and we've got 29 practice opportunities there (to see what they can do)."

Chief among the JC transfers he's counting on in the fall are defensive backs Terry Mixon and Devin Giles, linebacker Wyman Alexander, and ends Oga Faumui and Jesse Feagin. Mixon is a first-team JC All-American who projects at safety but could make a run at corner as well.

On offense, Doba loves his receivers -- Gibson, All-America candidate Michael Bumpus in the slot and uber-athletic Charles Dillon -- and a starting quarterback who earned second-team all-conference honors last year in a vote of league coaches. "Offensively, the receiving corps is I think pretty dang solid, we got quarterbacks who can throw the football, so overall I think, we just have to get healthy, and that's our biggest problem right now, but we have plenty of time."

* The offensive line, which has been a proverbial question mark all spring, received some good news Saturday, as junior Dan Rowlands returned to the field for the first time following an ankle injury. Rowlands ran with the first unit in the session, playing right tackle and joining right guards Andy Roof, center Kenny Alfred, left guard Bobby Byrd, and left tackle Nick Cantlon. Byrd's move to LG from LT this spring looks to be permanent, as he has held the position since the first week of practices. Cantlon is a fourth-year junior-to-be from Spokane who turned down several small college scholarship offers to walk on at WSU.

* Rowlands' ankle was just one of a litany of injuries dogging the Cougar OL this spring. Among the wounded, who missed some or all of the spring, were Vaughn Lesuma (wrist), Joe Eppele (staph infection; shoulder), Derek Hunter (knee), Scott Friberg (knee) and Grady Maxwell (knee).

* The kicking game Saturday looked to improve even more upon an already strong showing this spring, as starter Romeen Abdollmohammadi and Loren Langley each went 3-for-3 on the day, from 27, 22, and 45 yards out. Backup Carlin Birell was 1-for-2, nailing a 22 yarder but missing at 45. "How about those kickers!" gushed Doba. "We didn't miss any did we? Well, the one kid (missed one), but the top two kids, I think they may have (made them all). One was pretty ugly there, that last one, a knuckleball, but they all count. I thought our kickers seemed to get better and a little more consistent."

* The essence of the day, as described by Abdullah: ""It was fun to see everybody jumping around, crowd yelling, that's what we want, and that's why we play."

* Running back Kevin McCall, who had 116 yards in the last two scrimmages, talked about going out on a high note: "I think there is always room for improvement, but overall, I know at the end of the day, as a group, we gave our best .... This is my senior year, and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life knowing that I could get better, so I gave it my all this spring."

* Head coach Bill Doba on the comparatively short, 53-minute scrimmage: "Well, I didn't know how much time it was; I thought it was just right. Nobody got carried off the field, nobody got hurt."

* Doba said long snapping is one area that will need to improve in the fall. "That punter is only as good as that snapper," he said.

* Doba on any disappointments from the spring: "Injuries, I guess. Broadus might have a shoulder injury (that's) worse than we thought, I think maybe him, and Aaron Johnson, with his back, other than those two, I think most of the kids will be back in pretty good shape. But they missed practice time, and just a chance to get better."

* Linebacker Cory Evans had two of the Cougars' five sacks on the day. Kevin Kooyman, Mike Graise and Asly Jean-Jacques had the others. The leading tacklers on the day -- with four stops each -- were safety DeWayne Patterson and linebacker Brady Emmons.

* Besides Gibson's two TDs, the Cougars had one another trip to the end zone on a 28-yard pass from Kevin Lopina to Greg Walker.

* The Cougars open the 2007 season at Wisconsin on Sept. 1. A week later, on Sept. 8, the Cougs come to Seattle to take on San Diego State in Qwest Field. They'll conclude the non-conference schedule in Pullman on Sept. 15 against Idaho and the the Vandals' new head coach, Robb Akey. The Cougs open the Pac-10 season in Los Angeles against USC on Sept. 22. The Apple Cup game this season will be a week later than usual, on Nov. 24, in Seattle.


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