Cougs start summer workouts; eye on red zone

PULLMAN -- Cougar football players took the field Thursday for the first skeleton drills of the voluntary summer workout season, and a pair of tight ends came away with rave reviews. Between now and late July the Cougs will be running and lifting, plus waging war on the turf with skelly -- 7-on-7, no-linemen -- drills. The aim is to be strong, fast and in sync when fall camp starts August 3.

All four Cougar quarterbacks -- Alex Brink, Gary Rogers, Cole Morgan and Kevin Lopina -- were filling the air on Thursday, with a full complement of receivers and tight ends running basic routes.

JC transfer Devin Frischknecht, currently the No. 3 tight end on the depth chart behind Jed Collins and Ben Woodard, impressed teammates with a nifty juggling catch of a Brink pass. Collins, not to be outdone, then reeled in a nice one-handed catch from Morgan. Collins followed that up a little later with an oh-so-sweet juke on safety Xavier Hicks that left teammates howling in amazement.

The fine work by the tight ends follows sterling comments about them last week by offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller. At the King County Cougar Golf Classic co-sponsored by, he told CF.C that the tight end position, which is critical to the Cougs' red zone offense, was a worry entering spring workouts in March. But after a stellar spring showing, he believes TE will be a definitive team strength. Collins, Woodard, Frischknecht, Trevor Mooney and Tony Thompson all have what it takes to perform at a high level.

Last season, Levenseller noted, the Cougars' proficiency in the red zone was outstanding until injuries at tight end mounted, starting with the Oregon State game. From then on, red zone production dropped. He doesn't foresee a replay of that in 2007 given what truly is unprecedented tight end depth. In fact, the Cougars are so stacked at the position that Mooney, a redshirt freshman last season, is No. 5 on the depth chart -- yet forecast by tight ends Greg Peterson to one day be a Pac-10 star.

Frischknecht, who enrolled in January after catching 54 passes last season for Snow College, is perhaps the most intriguing face in the group. He was a wide receiver as a JC freshman but grew to 6-3, 250 pounds and was moved to tight end a year ago. His pass catching skills are outstanding because of that history as a receiver.

BRINK, THE SENIOR co-captain and reigning second-team All-Pac-10 quarterback, said the emphasis in summer drills will be narrowly focused.

"I think the biggest thing, offensively, we'll do a lot of stuff with the wide receivers and tight ends and work in the red zone, as well as with our timing," he said.

"The work is structured the same (as last summer), but we'll do more stuff together with the defense," Brink stated. "We're working on cohesion as a team."

Asked who he thought could have a breakout season, Brink was quick to say, "I think Brandon Gibson has obviously played a large part and I expect him to continue where he left off. Jed Collins is another player. He'll have a more important role now that Cody (Boyd) is gone."

Gibson, a junior from Puyallup, caught 49 passes last season -- sixth-most in the conference -- but worked in the shadow of star senior Jason Hill, who is now doing his thing for the San Francisco 49ers.

Senior safety Husain Abdullah, the defensive captain, echoed Brink's comments about team unity.

"We set some goals," said the three-year starter. "We're going to bond together, trust each other and get closer to one another off the field."

He pointed to fifth-year safety Christian Bass as someone Cougar fans should keep an eye one. Bass came out of the spring season as No. 1 at Frampton's old post at strong safety.

"He doesn't get a lot of credit to how good he is since he's played behind myself and Eric Frampton," Abdullah said.

Linemen don't partake in skelly drills, but when not lifting or running are devouring film and working on their footwork and techniques.

* Brink is a lock as the No. 1 quarterback and Rogers is No. 2, but the No. 3 spot figures to be a battle royale between Morgan and Lopina, Levenseller said last week. Lopina, a former Kansas State player, missed much of the spring with a bad hamstring so Morgan won the No. 3 slot by default. Incoming freshman Marshall Lobbestael of Oak Harbor will join the fray this fall and then in January, Levenseller's son J.T. Levenseller, who is grayshirting, will be in the fold as well.

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