MR goes after reps; Roberson on Mattingly, DL

PULLMAN--A trio of Cougar running backs got turns Wednesday with the first and second teams. One had earlier this year jumped to receiver with injuries at wideout but has since returned to the backfield, and Marcus Richmond on Wednesday took a good sized chunk of RB reps with the ones. And Malik Roberson reveals what the key ingredient is to building Andy Mattingly into the perfect defensive end.

With starting running back Dwight Tardy looking doubtful for USC and No. 2 Chris Ivory definitely out, the focus Wednesday out on the field was on Marcus Richmond, Chantz Staden and Logwone Mitz. No clear-cut winner seemingly emerged, and all seemed to have their moments.

Roberson, on How to Get Mattingly from Here to There
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH Malik Roberson had a crystal clear answer on what it will take for Andy Mattingly to move to the next level and become a force at defensive end. Mattingly already has one piece of the puzzle, and the junior is becoming more aware of a missing, critical ingredient.

"Strength in his lower unit -- that's really what's been slowing down the process for him," said a candid Roberson. "...He's really starting to understand what playing with leverage is -- that's basically sinking your hips and getting the separation you need....His strength is to cover a lot of ground once he gets off blocks."

Mattingly has said one of his goals this offseason is to gain weight to become better equipped to battle with offensive linemen. And Roberson noted that extra weight is no good unless it's the right kind of weight.

"It's really strength. Your weight will come if you eat right and train right -- your weight will get where it's supposed to be at. His key is he has to get stronger in his lower body," said Roberson.

The Cougars have seen a few different faces up on the line this year and that doesn't look to change.

"We're just trying to give different looks and different fronts and stuff like that. And obviously we're just trying to keep them fresh and so we're trying to rotate as much as we can," said Roberson.

The defensive line, like a microcosm of the entire defense itself, has seen it's share of ups and downs, but Roberson sees promise. He also has a roadmap on what will have to happen before Wazzu gets back to playing Cougar defense. It's the same thing the Cougar offense needs.

"Sustaining. Being able to execute (and decrease) long drives. We obviously could use some improvement at that. We just need consistency as far as everybody playing as one. At times you can see we can do some good things when the defense is playing 11-as-1. Sometimes we aren't playing 11-as-1, and you can see that too. That's the key, and our kids are starting to understand that. If we play together, we can be a pretty stout unit," said Roberson.

DE Matt Mullennix has shifted inside and back outside on the defensive line, but the Cougars have used him less inside recently.

"Matt, he's pretty good with his hands, which will allow him to defend bigger guys and he also bring a pass rush element because he is a little bit quicker than the guys we have in there right now. That was the whole goal when we moved him in on pass rush downs. It made us a better pass rush front with him inside.

As with most things when you're thin at a position, there was a tradeoff.

"It caused substitution problems, because we're going against quicker, no-huddle teams. We had to get out of that because guys were speeding the process up and they wouldn't allow us to substitute like we wanted to," said Roberson.

Near the end of the day's practice, for whatever it's worth -- and it's been proven often this season it sometimes doesn't mean much at all as far as a predictor of who starts on Saturday -- Richmond was taking most of the reps with the first team.

Richmond's receiver experiences have made him a more versatile player, he said. And while Oregon State was a disappointment, he's not picky when it comes to game reps.

"(Playing receiver) helps a lot. Coach (Mike) Levenseller is a good coach and helps us run good routes and gets us open…I was waiting for my opportunity. I've been patient, and I know that there's people who don't like those kind of reps, but I wanted to take advantage of those reps and get my name out there a little and see what I can do," said Richmond.

AT QUARTERBACK, Kevin Lopina 's second practice back with the first team after coming off a vertebrae fracture saw more passing.

And the good news was that his throwing strength looks to be fully restored. Getting back that fine edge after three weeks away is the flip side to the coin. Indeed, he threw several passes that went over the head of his intended targets on Wednesday.

THE COUGARS SPENT a lot of time running through one-on-one drills Wednesday -- the receivers received a lot of tutelage from Levenseller, who told them the practice should be treated like an audition.

Benny Ward was on the receiving end of a lot of coaching, but finished the practice strong with a great run and catch in the back of the end zone.

THE OFFENSIVE LINE saw plenty of shuffling at the tackle positions, something not unusual even when injuries have not been at issue.

Joe Eppele, Micah Hannam and Steven Ayers all took turns at tackle, with Eppele trying his hand at both right and left spots.

B.J. Guerra, who got his first start last week, got in lots of time with the with the ones at guard. Brian Danaher, who missed Oregon State but who practiced on Tuesday, didn't look to be in with the first unit line on Wednesday while Kenny Alfred and Andrew Roxas took up their customary center and guard positions. Alfred missed yesterday's practice because of a lab class.

AFTER ANOTHER LOPSIDED Pac-10 loss, some fans might be looking at USC on Saturday with less than full enthusiasm. Not Richmond. He's thinking positively because, as the saying goes, past does not equal future.

"Well, I'm excited, I'm sure all of us are excited for the game," said Richmond. "I think that we all bring power and speed -- me and Chantz are a little more agile, Logwone is more of a downhill runner. We're sure to make some big plays this weekend."

The Cougar running game has not enjoyed enough big plays this season. And the Cougs will be facing arguably the league's top linebackers corps with USC coming to town. But Richmond says you have to feel confident, and have a belief you will have success, going in.

Otherwise, your opponent is already winning.

"We know they're there, but we're going to play every down like every game...Just run hard."

Running back and receiver are certainly a different animal, and it is one that Richmond said he's had to work hard at to keep separate.

"It is kinda hard," he said. "But as long as I stay in the playbook, I'll be okay."


Cougfan Top Stories