EARLY SESSION: Rough morning for OL, D shines

PULLMAN—Many football fans pay no attention to offensive linemen. Worse, the remaining few a) think they know more than they do or b) need to study game tape before drawing conclusions. Usually, that is. Friday morning, for the second straight day, anyone with decent eyesight and the knowledge that a football has pointed ends could readily see the Cougar o-line overwhelmed by the D once again.

Editor's Note: With today the first 2-a-day-session of the WSU fall camp, Cougfan.com will bring you a second article, covering this evening's session, as soon as it is available.

The hosses who toil on the offensive line have a spectacularly thankless job. And after practices like Friday's morning session out on the Palouse, the first of five scheduled 2-a-days in fall camp, Washington State's o-linemen are probably thankful they have an evening session opportunity to bounce back rather than let this one sit for a day.

Asked if he's concerned about the o-line -- one of the two biggest question marks going into fall camp along with the secondary -- coach Bill Doba answered in the affirmative, also adding that they're throwing the sink plus everything else in the kitchen at them -- by design, and for the benfit of both defense and offense.

"You have to be," said Doba. "But … we've got time to get them to jell. The experience of ‘firing out' (on blocks) and seeing twists and stunts and all that kind of stuff -- we're doing a lot of that defensively to try to get them ready."

OFFENSIVE LINE COACH George Yarno has expressed confidence in his three returning starters -- center Kenny Alfred and guards Bobby Byrd and Dan Rowlands. The Cougars are woefully inexperienced at tackle, however, and that has been painfully obvious in the short, limited-contact scrimmages at the end of the morning practices yesterday and today.

The starting candidates on the ends are brothers Vaughn Lesuma and Reed Lesuma, Joe Eppele and Micah Hannam. The Lesumas are former Fiji rugby players who have played football for just two years. Eppele, who played a weaker brand of high school football in Canada than seen in the States, and Hannam, are redshirt freshmen.

Yarno, famously intense, had been relatively quiet earlier this week, also telling CF.C he was quite please with Reed's performance on Wednesday. Any level of satisfaction Yarno had felt, however, up and vanished faster than a speeding Jeshua Anderson on Friday morning.

Yarno was hollerin' at his men like only he can on during the early session and it was Reed who was the target of much of Yarno's venom. Lesuma's reaction? Simple. You're right, coach, and the more the merrier.

"Coach Yarno, he's one animated guy," Lesuma said after Yarno ordered some running for his linemen at the conclusion of the first of WSU's two Friday practices. "He's a guy with a never-say-die type of attitude. That's the type of leader you want."

Yarno, like so many others in Pullman, raves about the warm personalities and polite manner of both Lesumas. Yarno is quite the charmer himself and his relationships with his former players are many and strong -- but not when practice is going poorly.

"It's been an experience," Reed said with a smile. "He's a loving father type off the field, but on the field, he switches into that game mode situation. He just wants to get you to be the best he can by whatever means possible. He does it, and I really appreciate it, because I'm the type of guy who needs an extra push, an extra shove."

REED SAID the difference in talent between Pac-10 and JC defensive linemen is "tenfold." He raved about the skills of WSU defensive ends Matt Mullennix and Mike Graise and defensive tackles Aaron Johnson and Ropati Pitoitua.

"When you play against better players, it makes you better," Reed said. "I'm glad we have people like that to go up with."

SPEAKING OF THE D-ENDS, Mullennix and Graise continued to apply good pressure on the pass rush; Johnson, Pitoitua and middle linebacker Greg Trent continued to stuff the middle; and cornerbacks Devin Giles and Chima Nwachukwu continued to provide hope at a position where the Cougars are desperate for help on Friday morning.

"Defensively, we came to play," Doba said. "Offensively, we didn't have the intensity we need. We dropped some balls, fumbled the football, things we hadn't been doing before."

Doba added, "Defensively, they had good enthusiasm. Our two defensive tackles (Pitoitua and Johnson) are playing real well, much better than they have before."

Coming off surgeries, Doba will be alternating Fevaea'i Ahmu (foot) and Johnson (back) in 2-a-days with each DT participating in one of the day's sessions. Ahmu will get after it tonight, while AJ having played this morning will sit out the evening practice.

MEANWHILE, TRENT RAN a fumble back for a score after *B.T. Walker drilled tight end Jed Collins just as the normally sure-handed tight end started to turn up field after making a catch. (*note: B.T. Walker was incorrectly identified in the initial report)

Brandon Gibson, a big-play receiver for the Cougs who has drawn heady praise from offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller and from Doba, had uncharacteristic drops in the scrimmage and in an earlier drill.

SKILL TEST: The Cougars had some fun at the end of Friday morning's practice, having linemen and coaches attempt to catch "kickoffs" out of a machine.

Byrd came through for the offense, and Pitoitua -- despite reaching up for the ball like it was an escaping butterfly and then momentarily bobbling the ball -- made his catch. Alfred and Johnson, however, showed why they're linemen instead of receivers. Defensive line coach Mike Walker delivered, but Yarno capped a miserable morning for himself by dropping the last ball, much to his chagrin.

THE COUGARS hold their first full scrimmage at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Starting running back Dwight Tardy, who has been held out of practice since straining a hamstring earlier in the week, will not play for precautionary reasons. Terry Mixon is also expected to be held out, allowing his hammy some time off to heal as well.

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