Day 9: A 'vital' day, with more to come

PULLMAN- The learning process is in full swing out on the Palouse, as the coaches continue to tweak the personnel groupings on both sides of the ball, while injuries are taking their toll with one position undeniably the hardest hit. Meanwhile, Gary Rogers continued to put points up on the board while Chima Nwachukwu turned in a multi-interception day.

The third week is usually one of the most important weeks of spring session, said Paul Wulff. But next week will be just as big.

"(It's) usually the week where you can see a lot of improvement as the players become more comfortable," he said. "And I think we will as the week progresses. Today was not a bad day. We still have a lot of work to do. The way this team is (because of all the newness going on) our last week is going to be vital. All the signs are there for us to continue to get better."

That may prove challenging, however, with the running back position severely depleted. With Dwight Tardy (knee surgery) already out for the spring, Logwone Mitz and Marcus Richmond were also absent Monday -- Mitz injured a toe and Richmond suffered a minor hamstring injury during Friday's scrimmage. And with Chris Ivory not at Monday's practice in order to concentrate on academics, the backfield was an all walk-on affair, with juniors Jace Perry and Casey Thometz along with freshman Joe Campbell getting a chance to put in a lot of work.

Wulff said when that far down the depth chart, "your timing gets messed up and the inconsistency of getting all 11 working together can really expose an offense." Fortunately for the Cougs, both Mitz and Richmond are expected back soon.

DESPITE BEING four backs deep into the depth chart, the first team offense seemed to get back on track Monday after a somewhat disappointing scrimmage. Gary Rogers completed 11 passes including two touchdowns, one to Daniel Blackledge and one to Greg Walker. Brandon Gibson hauled in six passes on the day -- the Gary-BGib battery has been clicking this spring. Rogers has worked exclusively with the first unit offense throughout spring.

When asked about how Kevin Lopina is progressing behind Rogers, Wulff said, "Players are still in the learning process and getting a feel for what they are supposed to do. We have so much in front of us we all just have to keep learning and getting better. We're not too caught up as coaches right now as far as who's number one and who's number two, we are just trying to get everyone better and that stuff will sort itself out as we keep moving forward."

IN THE SECONDARY Chima Nwachukwu seems to be adapting to the new position pretty well after starting all 12 games last year at cornerback. The true sophomore out of Allen, Texas has swapped positions with Alfonso Jackson. Nwachukwu snatched two interceptions on Monday, both off the arm of Rogers though one went through the hands of Gibson.

The defense showed an interesting look on Monday, with a new package designed to stop the pass. It was used on just a handful of plays, and mostly with the second unit, but DBs Tyrone Justin and Romeo Pellum, who are making steady progress, were able to get additional work.

Pellum, a sophomore corner from Norwalk, Calif., has been taking a considerable number of reps with the first unit with Markus Dawes being hampered by a shoulder injury. The coaches are limiting Dawes in practice and monitoring the situation closely.

THE FIRST TEAM d-line on Monday featured Kevin Kooyman, Andy Roof, Fevaea'i Ahmu and Mike Graise, who has been seeing more and more work with the ones. Graise thus far has shared time with Andy Mattingly, who is playing through some type of upper leg injury. Kooyman, Mattingly, Ahmu and Matt Eichelberger each found the QB for a sack during team drills.

WITH A BACKFIELD in shambles at the moment, it's tough to get a good feel for just how well the offensive unit is performing as a whole. The o-line appears to be making progress, but has been by no means stellar.

"We are taking steps in the right direction," said junior center Kenny Alfred from Gig Harbor. "We are running some new schemes and new techniques so everything has shifted. The guys are pretty eager to get after things. We're all just trying to work as a group and that's the most important thing."

AT THE RECEIVER position, Greg Walker took some reps with the ones in place of Benny Ward, a good example of the coaches' willingness to try new personnel groupings and continuing to learn who works best and where and when.

The offense on Monday worked more than usual on multi-receiver sets, which could prove lethal to opposing defenses with the return of Jeshua Anderson, who is spending the spring focused on trying to make the Olympic team in the hurdles.

  • The injury news isn't great on defensive end Jesse Feagin. After making steady progress this spring and looking like he was contending for a starting spot, the senior out of Long Beach injured his knee during Fridays scrimmage and will miss the rest of spring. According to Wulff, Feagin's recovery time should be 4-6 weeks. DT Toby Turpin was back in practice after injuring his ankle last week, though he saw limited work.

  • Linebacker Jason Stripling missed all of last week with a minor hamstring issue but was suited up on Monday. Midway through practice, Stripling had to sit out and ice the problem area, however.. Walk-on Easton Johnson has looked good so far this spring, but he has a stress fracture in his forearm and did not practice. No word on when he will be back.

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