Spring Ball Day 7: M-Rich shines, Hicks leads

PULLMAN -- In the highlight play of the scrimmage portion of Washington State's practice on Tuesday, running back Marcus Richmond made the defense pay. With defenders blowing into the backfield, quarterback Kevin Lopina fired a strike to Richmond in the left flat. The outside linebacker had overcommitted and Richmond turned on the burners to paydirt.

Wulff praised his junior running back. "He's practicing hard, and he's come ready to work every day, and so he's done a nice job so far...As we move into more intense scrimmages, these next three weekends, were going to see more and more what he's capable of doing. He'll have opportunities to prove himself."

There were other fireworks besides Marcus Richmond's. Running back Dwight Tardy took a run off right tackle and made a couple of nifty moves to make both the linebacker and safety miss on his way to a touchdown. The play showed that he has regained much of his previous form after having knee surgery in the offseason.

However, the practice wasn't all rosy for Tardy. On one handoff with backup quarterback Dan Wagner, he never got the handle and the ball dropped to the ground, where charging safety Xavier Hicks scooped it up and rambled in for six. Hicks seemed to be in the action nonstop, taking reps with the ones and twos at a position where injuries have piled up.

"It gets tiring a little bit...but you've gotta take each rep as a rep to get better," said Hicks, a Fullerton, Calif., product whose uncle Kevin played running back for the Cougs in the early ‘90s. "The more reps that I get, it's only gonna make me better. I like being in there, so I definitely enjoy having a lot of reps."

Cougar coaches have singled out Hicks as one of the defensive leaders, and he hasn't shied away from the responsibility. "I gotta to take the leadership role that every senior (takes). Greg Trent had it last year, so you know it's my turn. I've been waiting a long time for my time to come."

On the field, Hicks is not only vocal, but almost like another coach. "They don't really have me call the plays, but they expect me to make sure everyone is lined up in the correct spot, make sure they know their correct assignment, and if they're not in the right spot, I have to get them in the right spot."

Hicks has had to adapt to a bevy of players work on his sides at cornerback. Tyree Toomer, a sophomore-to-be from Bellflower, Calif., and Brandon Jones, a junior from Seattle, are among them.

Toomer spent some time on the field in coverage last year, but was rarely left out on an island. Hicks says time together, combined with the experience Toomer gained last season, has made that transition easy. As for Jones, who transferred in from Cal last summer, Hicks said, "He's a high tempo guy. So I know he's real into it at corner and it's been real good adjusting with him cause he likes to talk and so we talk coverage, what we're gonna do on certain plays...I enjoy it a lot."

ON OFFENSE, THE WIDE receiver spot is a big question-mark for the Cougs, but Wulff and his assistant aren't worried about what the depth chart looks like.

"We're just trying to get them all better. We're not too caught up on who's the starter and who isn't...They need to continue to elevate their own personal performance. We don't really have a true starter, to be honest, at the receiver position right now. Yeah, we have some guy's running with the ones, but we're a ways away from whose going to be in our starting lineup ... their performances through spring and fall camp will sort its self out by our first game."

Newcomer Johnny Forzani was one of the wideouts who rotated with the first team Tuesday, and he got the chance to show why WSU recruited him. He's fast. Forzani, who played basketball in high school but not football, outran the entire secondary – including Hicks -- and Marshal Lobbestael made a nice throw to beat everybody for six. Also rotating at wideout with the first team were Kevin Norrell, Jeffrey Solomon and Jared Karstetter.

• Injuries so far this spring are down from a year ago. But Wulff noted that more than 20 players entered spring camp with pre-existing injuries.

• Several players and coaches from Skyline High, the state's reigning Class 4A football champions, were on hand for Tuesday's workout.

• Despite Lobbestael's rehabbing knee, coaches continue to get him reps with the first unit. Lopina is getting more, especially when it comes to the scrimmage portion of practice, but Lobbestael is getting plenty of action during skelly drills.

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