DAY 11: O-line looks to get out and run

PULLMAN--The Cougs' special teams were often special in name only when it came to kick returns last season but an influx of speed should enable WSU to improve in the return game this fall. And new special teams coach Dave Ungerer continues to look at a variety of kick/punt returners this camp. Up front on Thursday, the o-line was looking to blast away, plus a look at the RB battle and more.

Yet another encouraging sign in the amazing comeback story of James Montgomery is the fact that he's worked himself into the mix among kickoff returners.

"We're deep in the return game," Montgomery said after a spirited morning practice at the Rogers Field practice facility. "We're just building. We're getting deep in a lot of spots."

Kick returners include running backs Montgomery, Chantz Staden, Carl Winston and Ricky Galvin, free safety LeAndre Daniels and wide receiver Isiah Barton.

The top punt returners appear to be running backs Staden and Leon Brooks and cornerback Nolan Washington.

Staden led the Cougars in kickoff and punt return yardage two years ago before suffering a knee injury that required surgery and forced him to sit out last season. But he set school records for kickoff returns (43) and yards (970) thanks partly the number of opportunities.

Montgomery, whose left leg and/or life may have been saved last fall when team doctor Ed Tingstad quickly operated on Montgomery's blood-engorged calf after the third game of the season, said there is "no question" he will play in the Sept. 4 opener at Oklahoma State.

"The leg is feeling stronger and stronger every day," Montgomery said. "I can't complain."

MONTGOMERY, STADEN and Marcus Richmond are fifth-year seniors competing at running back with junior Logwone Mitz, Winston (sophomore) and Galvin (true freshman).

"There's a lot of competition," coach Paul Wulff said. "There's three seniors in that group. They're going to have to play very well to get that playing time.

"The freshman's coming on -- Rickey Galvin. He's going to be right there in the mix."

Montgomery has also been impressed with the 5-foot-8, 162-pound Galvin.

"He's put together..He's got some trunk back there. He's just been running good. He has great turnover (speed). He reads the holes well. He's been doing great in pass protection. That's all we can ask from him," said Montgomery.

THE COUGARS STRESSED the running game in the morning session, but Jeff Tuel finished off the final quasi-scrimmage of the day with short touchdown passes to senior wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon on the No. 1 offense's final two drives.

Tuel also threw a gorgeous pass on a fade route to the corner of the end zone that Jared Karstetter hauled in for a TD in spite of excellent coverage by cornerback Anthony Carpenter.

There was a fair amount of mixing and matching going on, plus there are some sitting out with injuries, but it would be accurate to say all three of those plays came against the No. 1 defense.

"Offensively, they played better today," Wulff said. "The defense probably didn't play as well as they could or should."

A PAIR OF true freshmen, safety Deone Bucannon and wide receiver Marquess Wilson, turned in the plays of the day.

Bucannon made a marvelous, one-handed interception of a Marshall Lobbestael pass early in the practice.

Later, Wilson made a leaping, twisting catch on the left sideline despite tight coverage by cornerback Tracy Clark, another true freshman.

Lobbestael also was picked off by cornerback Terrance Hayward on a deep ball down the sideline.

UP FRONT, Wade Jacobson, who has generally started at left guard after coming into camp as the No. 1 left tackle, continues to display impressive athleticism and enthusiasm.

The junior college transfer obviously loves playing the game, and he showed good speed in pulling to the right to open up a giant hole for Mitz on one running play.

Right tackle Micah Hannam, a three-year starter who appears to be winning the fight to hold on to his starting job, banged and bashed his way downfield to clear space for Staden on another running play. Joining Hannam and Jacobson on the No. 1 o-line are LT David Gonzales, C Zack Williams and RG B.J. Guerra.

Darren Markle, a redshirt freshman linebacker, stuffed the lightning-quick Brooks -- a back who uses his ability well to get lost behind linemen -- for little or no gain on another run.

"There was a lot of contact today," said Montgomery, who shook off a couple good licks himself.

The practice ran 1 hour, 50 minutes, a bit shorter than normal since a second practice is scheduled this afternoon in just helmets and shoulder pads.

INJURY UPDATE: No Cougar appears to have suffered a serious injury in camp besides the season-ending knee injury of rising, reserve defensive end Jordan Pu'u Robinson. However, Barton joined the increasingly long line of potential starters or key reserves on the sidelines Thursday.

Barton suffered a hip injury late in practice Wednesday. Wulff said the timetable for Barton's return is "up in the air."

Barton and the other walking wounded -- Daniels, Brandon Rankin, Daniel Simmons, Bernard Wolfgramm, Gino Simone, Kristoff Williams, Andrei Lintz, Jamal Atofau, etc. -- spend most of practice riding exercise bikes, doing strength work, exercising, stretching or whatever. Rankin practiced early, but limped off the field after aggravating his calf injury.

Promising freshman punter-kicker Jake Miller remains absent. Wulff said Miller is debating whether to play college football.

The status of JC transfer Al Lapuaho is still up in the air. Lapuaho, a defensive tackle, has not yet been cleared academically to play or practice.

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