FALL CAMP DAY 2: Offensive impression

PULLMAN -- Todd Sturdy realizes everyone wants to know who will be Washington State's starting quarterback when the Cougars open the season Sept. 5 at home against Stanford. And it might be even more difficult to pick a starting running back than a starting quarterback. Plus, late word on Monday that a Cougar running back has been dismissed from the team.

Three-time team rushing leader Dwight Tardy, California transfer James Montgomery, and Logwone Mitz have all done impressive work in college at times. Another experienced hand, senior-to-be Chris Ivory was dismissed from the team on Monday for an undisclosed violation of team rules, WSU Sports Information Director Bill Stevens told Cougfan.com.

There's also plenty of competition at wide receiver and tight end, with far too much mixing and matching going on during practice to establish a clear-cut list of starters and top backups.

At wide receiver, juniors Daniel Blackledge, Jeffrey Solomon and Jeshua Anderson have impressed thus far along with sophomores Jared Karstetter and Kevin Norrell and true freshman Gino Simone.

Senior Tony Thompson is listed as the No. 1 tight end, but younger players like Andrei Lintz, Skylar Stormo and Aaron Gehring are bigger and have shown potential through the first two days.

Assistant head coach Chris Ball, in charge of WSU's first three practices while Wulff serves a three-day suspension for NCAA rules violations under his watch at Eastern, said he's happy to see depth and competition improve on both sides of the ball.

"Competition is good," Ball said. "It's healthy. It makes everybody better."

-- Dismissed: Washington State RB Chris Ivory, a senior-to-be, was dismissed from the team on Monday for an undisclosed violation of team rules, WSU Sports Information Director Bill Stevens confirmed to Cougfan.com. Ivory was one of six running backs in the Cougar fold with Pac-10 experience who were vying for the starting job and game reps. On Monday, Todd Sturdy placed tongue firmly in cheek when announcing when he expects to have the starter picked.

"Hopefully, by kickoff on the 5th," deadpanned Sturdy, WSU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Without negating the importance of the starting quarterback, Sturdy has much more on his plate than just picking a QB.

After WSU's first two practices of the fall, Sturdy said senior center Kenny Alfred is the only player who has locked up a starting job on offense.

"We're developing depth; that's the nice thing," Sturdy said.

True, but the Cougars have resurrected the no-huddle offense that they had to abandon last year due to injuries and inexperience. Timing between quarterbacks and receivers is essential with all the short passes that are an essential part of Sturdy's offensive scheme. The more reps with one quarterback, theoretically, the better the timing.

Today in practice, senior Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael split most of the reps in 7-on-7 drills, with sophomore J.T. Levenseller getting slightly fewer turns.

Highly touted freshman Jeff Tuel and walk-ons Dan Wagner and David Gilbertson stayed after the main practice to work with others deeper on the depth chart.

"We're trying to get, obviously, Marshall and Kevin a lot of looks," Sturdy said. "We're working J.T. in."

Lopina (eight) and Lobbestael (three) started at quarterback in WSU's final 11 games last season after since-graduated Gary Rogers started the first two games. After Rogers, Lobbestael and Lopina all suffered serious injuries, Levenseller was taken off redshirt status.

"As far as the position is concerned, I'm happy," said Sturdy, who enjoyed great success as Eastern Washington's offensive coordinator before following head coach Paul Wulff to Washington State last season. "I'm happy where it can go, but I'm happy where it's at.

"We've come a long way. Our kids have matured and grown. None of them had taken a college snap before (last year)."

-- Simone shines: Sturdy stressed that it's early in camp -- the Cougars don't don shoulder pads until Thursday -- and he doesn't want to burden rookie Gino Simone with too much pressure.

Still, Simone has turned heads in camp, and Sturdy said, "I really love what I see so far."

Redshirt freshman safety Jay Matthews picked off a deflected Levenseller pass during 7-on-7. Matthews (shoulder) is participating on a limited basis and not expected to fully partake in drills when the Cougs go full contact on Thursday.

Ball, preaching toughness, is awarding a small hard hat with a WSU logo to the "toughest" defensive player at practice.

Safety Chima Nwachukwu won the hat Sunday; linebacker Andy Mattingly earned the nod today.

-- Game plan: As of the second day of fall camp, Sturdy has yet to work in all the plays he utilized in the no-huddle at Eastern, but he's confident the Cougars are much better prepared to run the offense this year than last.

"We're a year into it, so systematically, the kids have a better idea of who we are and what we're trying to accomplish," Sturdy said. "Our focus right now is, we've got to be able to run the football."

-- Redshirt chances: Sturdy said the Cougars may redshirt senior running back and return man Chantz Staden, partly due to all the depth at running back.

-- Turnover talk: If Sturdy has his way, whoever plays the skill positions will regard turnovers as mortal sins.

"Turnovers were huge last year," Sturdy said. "it's something that obviously we've got to really focus on. Make it a priority. Quite honestly, it was a priority a year ago, too."

The Cougars tied South Carolina for last in the nation with 38 turnovers in 2008. WSU quarterbacks, poorly protected at times by an injury-riddled offensive line, threw 21 interceptions, including 11 by Lopina.

"It's a fact: If you finish ‘plus' turnovers in a ball game, you've got an unbelievable, great chance of winning a football game," Sturdy said.

--Walk-on trail: Fifth-year senior wide receiver Reid McEllrath, a fine student who will graduate in December, decided not to turn out this fall after learning the classes he needed to graduate were only offered during the time the Cougs practice. Sturdy raved about McEllrath's character and dedication. According to WSU records, McEllrath only touched the field once in college, a brief appearance in a 2006 blowout of Idaho.

--Paging Mr. nom de plume: Former Cougar and NFL star Chad Eaton, who watched practice for the second straight day Monday, has moved his family to Pullman because he plans to complete the year of schooling he needs to earn his degree .

Five years removed from the former NFL and Cougar, the former defensive is still quite the physical specimen. And Sturdy couldn't help but notice the muscular Eaton the past two days.

"I wish we could suit him up," Sturdy quipped. "Give him a name. (Say we) found him up in Alaska."

--Graise in preps: Another practice observer was former defensive end Mike Graise, who said he's been hired as an assistant football coach at Pullman High School. Graise finished up at WSU last season.

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