Cougar Notebook: Gibson back, intensity high

PULLMAN -- The intensity, from players and coaches, reached a new level on Tuesday as Washington State enters the stretch run of preparations for Saturday's regionally televised opener against Wisconsin. But the biggest development was on the injury front, where there was good news.

Star receiver Brandon Gibson, our for two weeks with an ailing knee, returned to the practice field -- albeit in a limited role. While he participated in just a handful of drills, his mere presence seemed to send energy through the entire squad. Depending on his progress in practices Wednesday and Thursday, Gibson's status for Saturday's 12:30 PT contest might be a game-day decision.

If he's ready to go, Wisconsin will confront a highly formidable starting trio of wideouts, with Gibson and seniors Michael Bumpus and Charles Dillon.

Possibly the first receiver off the bench -- and Gibson's stand in if he's unable to play -- is junior Benny Ward, a 6-4, 184-pounder from Van Nuys, Calif. He pulled in a long pass from Gary Rogers on Tuesday.

The receiver rotation continues wity true freshman speedster Jeshua Anderson and 6-6 senior Finas Rabb. Second-year freshman Greg Walker and junior Scott Selby were in crimson helmets Tuesday -- a sign that they too will travel to Madison. Second-year freshman Keith Rosenberg (knee) and Anthony Houston (wrist and hamstring) remain on the injuried list.

Gibson wasn't the only Cougar back in action Tuesday. Long snapper and tight end Tony Thompson, out for more than a week with a knee sprain, returned to the field. And in the secondary, two guys who practiced last week with yellow no-contact jerseys -- safety Husain Abdullah and cornerback Markus Dawes -- were in full contact mode.

SECOND-YEAR FRESHMAN Micah Hannam of Gig Harbor will be making his college debut Saturday, starting at right offensive tackle. He'll be joined on the line by center Kenny Alfred, left guard Bobby Byrd, right guard Dan Rowlands and touted junior college left tackle Vaughn Lesuma.

"Coach Yarno has done a good job of getting me ready," Hannam said Tuesday. "Kenny, Dan and Bobby are really helping me through."

The soft-spoken Hannam, who checks in at 6-4, 292, said the sophomore Alfred -- considered by the coaching staff to be an eventual honors candidate -- is coming into his own on the field and as a leader. "Kenny, I would definitely say is the driving force (on the offensive line). He sets the tempo of the game."

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Alex Brink was on target most of the day, firing several lasers to Gibson, Dillon and Anderson.

  • Besides Jeshua Anderson, several true freshmen will make the trip to Madison. Chima Nwachukwu will start at cornerback, while linebacker Hallston Higgins, offensive linemen Andrew Roxas and Steven Ayers and defensive linemen B.J. Guerra provide depth.

  • A decision by the NCAA on linebacker Jason Stripling's appeal regarding his academic eligibility is expected any day now. Stripling continues to wear a crimson helmet.

  • The Cougars begin their 112th season of football Saturday against Wisconsin in what will be the 999th game in school history. WSU holds an all-time record of 487-466-45 (.511).

  • WSU has five season-opening wins over Big Ten schools: At Iowa (7-0) in 1965, at Illinois (19-18) in 1969, at Illinois (44-7) in 1988, at No. 21 Illinois in Chicago (10-9) in 1994 and at home vs. Illinois (20-13) in 1998.

  • ABC's broadcast team for Saturday's game will be Brad Nessler on play-by-play, Bob Griese and Paul Maguire on color, and Bonnie Bernstein reporting from the sidelines.


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