Spring Ball Day 6: Running game is focus

PULLMAN -- The Cougs were in full pads Tuesday and the running attack became more of a focus, as did the kicking game. Perhaps the most noticeable development, though, was the number of players not in pads. Plus, a double dose of team unity.

A week into the spring session, injuries are beginning to mount. While specifics weren't available, the extent of the maladies doesn't appear serious. Among a large group not in pads were defensive tackles Matt Eichelberger and Toby Turpin, defensive end Andy Mattingly, linebacker Jason Stripling and receiver Keith Rosenberg. Turpin twisted his ankle in practice Monday but there was no official word at press time on the others.

An interesting trend this spring is that injured players come to practice up in full uniform, including helmets, albeit with no pads. This could be another sign of the team unity head coach Paul Wulff has talked about since day one.

Another sign of unity is apparent on the offensive line. Each practice, the hosses hit the field together, led by offensive line coach Harold Etheridge.

Running back Chris Ivory practiced for the second straight day and the third time this spring. That's an encouraging sign, because his presence this spring was expected to be limited as he focused on getting his grades up.

While passing has been the emphasis on offense so far this spring, the running game took center stage Tuesday. There were draws and dives, two-back sets, goal-line plays and more. Ivory, Logwone Mitz, and Marcus Richmond shared time on the first team.

When the ball was in the air, the running backs made their share of grabs. Mitz and Ivory teamed up with Kevin Lopina, who was on target all day, for nice pass plays. Ivory's catch was a TD. Gary Rogers connected with Brandon Gibson four times and Cole Morgan hooked up with tight end/H-back Tony Thompson on a big gainer in which Thompson showed off his soft hands.

ON SPECIAL TEAMS, walk-on freshman quarterback Dan Wagner again took snaps at punter. He also teed up some field goals at the beginning of practice. Following his special teams work, Wagner rejoined the QBs.

Wagner, a multi-dimensional standout at Jesuit High in Portland, is competing against returning starter Reid Forrest for the punting job. The placekicking spot appears more wide open. Wagner is one of four players vying for the job. Wade Penner, the Cougars' kickoff man last season, is in the mix, along with walk ons Matt Myers and Patrick Rooney.

For the first time this spring the team worked on kick returns. A huge group got a chance to field kicks, including receivers Brandon Gibson and Daniel Blackledge and defensive back Tyrone Justin -– all of whom worked out returning punts on Monday. In addition, there was Ivory and DBs Romeo Pellum, and Tali Talakai and receiver BennyWard, who has been a staple on special teams for a couple years now.

ON DEFENSE, WITH Mattingly and Eichelberger out, more guys not at the top of the d-line depth chart got more reps. Andy Roof, the former offensive lineman, is looking more comfortable at DT and getting fairly consistent pressure on the QB. Defensive end Jesse Feagin has looked good so far this spring as well. Feagin got to the QB during team drills several times and recovered a muffed pitch. Sophomore end Asly Jean-Jacques, from Venice, Calif., got in on some licks Tuesday as well, busting up a run and pressuring the QB.

• The Chima Nwachukwu at safety/Alfonso Jackson at corner experiment continued Tuesday. The move is still in the research and development stage.

• The annual Crimson & Gray game is set for Mom's Weekend, April 12.

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