Spring Ball Day 11: Who will back up Rogers?

PULLMAN – Quarterback Gary Rogers continued his impressive spring on Thursday, spreading the ball around the field and again harmonizing with star receiver Brandon Gibson. After 11 spring practices, it's clear the 6-6, 233-pound fifth-year senior is not just the Cougars' No. 1 QB. He's clearly the main man. The battle to back him up appears to be well in hand, too.

Rogers, as he has since workouts opened three weeks ago, took most of the first-unit snaps on Thursday and again looked sharp in hitting a variety of receivers. One of those wideouts was third-year sophomore Greg Walker, who looks to be making the most of his chance to impress while Jeshua Anderson is out of action running track.

As for the battle among Kevin Lopina, Cole Morgan, Marshall Lobbestael and J.T. Levenseller to back up Rogers, the 6-3, 231-pound Lopina appears to be settling in as the No. 2 signal caller.

Lopina, a fourth-year junior who missed part of last season with a torn leg muscle, had one of his most stellar days of the spring season on Thursday, hooking up with Michael Willis and Reid McEllrath for touchdowns. McEllrath, a junior walk on from Battle Ground, has been solid all spring working exclusively with the twos.

Lopina, from Concord, Calif., was rated one of the top 25 prep QB prospects in the nation coming out of high school in 2005. He signed with Kansas State and spent a year in Manhattan under Bill Snyder before transferring to WSU in 2006.

Elsewhere on offense, the situation at running back continues to deteriorate. Walk on junior Casey Thometz, one of the few healthy RBs left in camp, left practice midway through the session with an undisclosed injury. That meant another walk on, second-year freshman Joe Campbell of Pasco, was Mr. Prime Time.

At 5-10 and 163 pounds, Campbell is by no means imposing, but he runs hard on every snap, whether it's against the first-unit defense or the backups. His work all week has been inspiring.

The running back situation is depleted for several reasons. Dwight Tardy is out till August recovering from knee surgery. Chris Ivory is practicing only sporadically as he works to improve his grades. And the Big Three so far this spring -- Logwone Mitz, Marcus Richmond and junior walk Jace Perry of Camas -- were all on the sidelines Thursday nursing various injuries. All three are expected back next week, and possibly could see time in Friday's scrimmage.

THE PRACTICE WAS run with energy and tenacity pretty much from start to finish. The coaches were getting after the team and the players seemed to respond well. Indeed, Thursday marked one of the loudest work-outs of the spring as a sense of urgency seems to be emerging. This week has been without question the most upbeat and intense period so far this spring.

Junior tight end Tony Thompson praised the amped-up style of the coaches. Asked how the atmosphere, both on and off the field, has changed with the new staff, Thompson said, "There is a lot of energy. The coaches are really into it and the players are feeding off of that. It's great to see the coaches getting more involved, not only out here on the practice field but in the weight room as well, it's really cool."


• The Cougs were in full pads Thursday and the weather actually felt like spring outside for the first time since practices began. • Sophomore Chima Nwachukwu, a starting corner last season, seems to be flourishing in his new spot at safety. He made some nice stops against the run Thursday while looking good in pass coverage.

• Punters Reid Forrest and Dan Wagner are battling for the starter's job. Forrest got off a couple of booming kicks with nice hang time Thursday, and appears to have the edge right now. Both are working to improve consistency.


• Second-year freshman receiver Kameron Thurmond, a lanky walk on from Mission Viejo, Calif. practiced for just the second time this spring and appears to be at full health.

• Sophomore receiver Anthony Houston from San Diego is slowly recovering from a leg injury and practiced during individual drills, but was not in pads.

• Linebacker Jason Stripling remains sidelined with what looks to be a hamstring issue.

• DB/Kick return specialist Tyrone Justin is out with a stress fracture in his forearm. No timetable for his return has been made public.

• Backup center Chris Prummer injured his ankle late in practice Thursday, but was able to walk off the field under his own strength.

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