With starters sidelined, Norrell steps up

PULLMAN -- With the season opener just two weeks away, the first full scrimmage of the fall is on tap for the Washington State Cougars. What's left of them, anyway. The starters who take the field Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium will be much different than those projected to start when fall camp opened Aug. 5. One of them, freshman Kevin Norrell, turned in a stellar practice on Friday.

Come Aug. 30, when the Cougars debut against Oklahoma State in Seattle, there figures to be more changes on both sides of the ball.

Injuries have played havoc with the depth chart. Two-time leading rusher Dwight Tardy joined the "limping wounded" Friday when he banged his surgically repaired left knee on a short run up the middle during Friday morning's practice. The Cougars said Tardy only suffered a bruise.

Tardy stayed on the ground in obvious pain for a brief spell, then limped to the sidelines before lying on his back to get treatment from the training staff. He jogged briefly with ice taped to his knee, then watched the rest of practice from the sidelines.

"He's fine … it's been building," coach Paul Wulff said. "It's sore every day. It's time to give him a break."

Wulff said Tardy was "probably" going to sit out Saturday's scrimmage regardless, but now will definitely rest. Wulff said No. 2 running back Chris Ivory, who remains limited by a hamstring injury, might also be sidelined. That would leave Marcus Richmond and Logwone Mitz to pack the ball most of the time.

A half-dozen or more projected starters appear likely to see little or no action Saturday. Wulff said defensive tackle A'i Ahmu may scrimmage; he practiced part-time Friday after resting Thursday with a stinger.

"It's not going to be a scrimmage loaded with plays, just because of where we're at physically," Wulff said. "We just want to be as sharp as we can. I'd love to be really sharp with just 20 plays with the 1's and 20 plays with the 2's."

The scrimmage is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m., 10 minutes later than originally planned. Admission is free.

True freshmen Kevin Norrell and Jared Karstetter joined Brandon Gibson as the starting wideouts at practice. Senior Benny Ward, demoted to the 2's, dropped another ball. Norrell filled in for slot receiver Michael Willis (who may not scrimmage due to a bad leg) and made several fine catches. One was a fully extended, diving catch of a Gary Rogers touchdown pass.

Wulff said he has not determined if any true freshmen will play this year. Gibson had a rare drop, but later made a twisting, leaping catch on the sidelines. Tight ends Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard caught everything that didn't sting when going over the middle. Frischknecht simply threw his big right paw out in front of him on one play, and the ball stuck as if smothered in glue.

Richmond, who split time with Mitz with the 1's after Tardy and Ivory went out, hauled in a touchdown pass from Rogers. California transfer James Montgomery followed excellent blocking by the No. 2 offensive line to end practice with a 30-yard touchdown run.

AS A FORMER WSU CENTER, Wulff knows a thing or two about offensive line play. Wulff was disappointed in early results from the O-line, but he likes the progress being made.

"They're getting better," Wulff said. "They're working at it. They're trying to get better, particularly at the tackle position. But the whole group, we need them to get better."

• Half of the Cougars' 15 returning starters are dinged up in one form or another right now. No. 1 punter Reid Forrest remains doubtful for the opener due to ankle surgery. He pedals forever on the stationary practice at practice each day, and he showed up at practice without his protective boot for the first time Friday. Patrick Rooney and Dan Wagner are vying for the punting chores while Forrest recovers.

Nick Truckey, a senior linebacker at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, watched Friday's practice with his father. The elder Truckey, Dave, is a WSU graduate. Truckey said that in addition to WSU, he's also being recruited by Washington, Boise State and Hawaii, but has not received a scholarship offer. Truckey said it was his first trip to Pullman and he was impressed with the atmosphere.

• Wulff calls senior defensive end Matt Mullennix "an awesome leader," but you'll never hear it from the sixth-year senior. In fact, you'll never hear anything from Mullennix if you rely on the media. For the second straight year, Mullennix -- routinely described as a "really good guy" by people associated with the football program -- has politely declined all interview requests. A reporter said Mullennix told him he decided to stop talking to the media after he twice suffered injuries soon after giving interviews for newspaper articles. Mullennix, who missed most of the 2004 season and all of the 2006 season due to knee operations, was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in May. The son of former WSU linebacker Scott Mullennix, Matt started 10 games last year, but has spent most of fall camp with the 2's.

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