SPRING BALL DAY FIVE: Position battles are joined

<b><i>Cornerback Omowale Dada

<b>PULLMAN--Snow, hail, wind and rain pushed the Cougars indoors on Tuesday and as the crimson soldiers tackled the second week of spring ball, the position battles are heating up. Starting assignments on the offensive line and in the secondary are in play with the early returns indicating a surprise or two.

The Cougar secondary is slowly beginning to take shape despite the absence of safety Michael Willis, still waiting for the green light from the SAT board and the NCAA.

Omowale Dada (5-11, 195) looks to be leading in the battle for left cornerback if playing time is any indication. Dada, who goes by "Wally" for short, rapidly ascended the depth chart last year and is making a charge to earn even more PT. The Chicago native is seeing the majority of first team reps this spring while Tyron Brackenridge (5-11, 180, Sr.) and Ian Bell (5-10, 185, Fr.). are among those also getting their turns.

At the other corner, Alex Teems (5-11, 176, Sr.) looked strong on Tuesday with a pass break-up and interception during live scrimmage.

In the back 40, running with the 1's are Eric Frampton (5-11, 195, Jr.) at strong safety, Husain Abdullah (6-0, 188, So.) holding down the free safety spot. During drills on Tuesday, Frampton was a shadow the receivers couldn't shake, breaking up a certain completion to Michael Bumpus (5-11, 174, So.) at one point.

ON THE OTHER SIDE of the ball, the front five up front on Tuesday were steakeaters Bobby Byrd (6-7, 294, So.) at left tackle, junior Sean O'Connor (6-5, 275) at left guard, Nick Mihlhauser (6-3, 283, Sr.) at center, Norvell Holmes (6-2, 310, Sr.) at right guard and 6-foot-6, 312-pound junior Charles Harris at right tackle.

Following a similar script from last year's fall camp, Riley Fitt-Chappell (6-7, 316, Sr.), penciled in at right guard prior to the spring sessions, now finds himself behind Holmes at right guard. Line coach George Yarno said more movement is possible, explaining several players have been moving around in order to find a starting position and to help determine the best unit.

"All of the young guys are going to push at it, but they have a long ways to go," Yarno said.

Yarno is referring to the freshmen triumvirate of Andy Roof (6-3, 309), currently second string right tackle, Eddie Vickers (6-3, 335), the backup at left guard and Dan Rowlands (6-4, 284), splitting time with Josh Duin (6-3, 304, Jr.) as the understudy at center. Yarno said Rowlands looks to have the best grasp of what the offensive line is trying to do and that's why he moved him to the center spot.

ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE, unlike recent years, Cougar fans should see a rotation at both tackle and end positions, said coach Mike Walker.

"For once, we have depth in the defensive line and that's good because in the past years we have only had three or four guys (total) coming in off of the bench that could play up to the college level," he said.

Ropati Pitoitua and Aaron Johnson are the starting d-tackles, with junior Odell Howard (6-3, 272) looking like he'll be the first man in. Bryan Olson (6-4, 281, Sr.) and Matt Eichelberger (6-3, 342, Fr.) are battling it out the fourth spot. Walker said ideally, he likes to run a game rotating five DTs in order to keep them fresh and Howard looks to figure prominently in that rotation.

"Odell Howard could be the man coming inside and making plays," Walker said.

The spring session will also help decide the rotation out at defensive end where 6-foot-5, 264-pound senior Adam Braidwood and Mkristo Bruce (6-5, 249, Jr.) hold down the starting jobs. Walker said Jason Roberts (6-4, 225, Fr.) is primed to become a big impact player for the Cougs in 2005. Reyshawn Bobo (6-2, 220, So.) is working on becoming a pass rushing specialist and both Adam West (6-6, 243, Jr.) and Paul Stevens (6-3, 246, So.). could each earn solid playing time.

One pleasant surprise has been the healing powers of Matt Mullennix (6-6, 250, So.), sidelined last year after blowing out his knee. Walker said he didn't expect the Spangle, Wash., native to be so far along and participating this spring but the 6-6, 250-pound sophomore has been running great guns here headed into week 2 of the sessions.

Notes:
*Will Derting was absent from practice Tuesday. Doba said the middle linebacker had a routine doctor's appointment to check on his surgically repaired wrist. It was thought that a screw might be coming loose, but that turned out not to be the case.

*Jesse Taylor (6-3, 242, Jr.) was running with the second team at tight end on Tuesday with Cody Boyd (6-8, 251, Jr.) also seeing limited action. Coach Bill Doba said Boyd will be ready to fully participate in about two weeks as he recovers from February's arthroscopic surgery performed on his ankle.

*The depth at running back is thin to say the least. Jed Collins (6-2, 241, So.) took a few handoffs Tuesday during live scrimmage. Brandon Ervin (5-8, 192, Sr.) also carried the ball during drills, while the majority of reps went to starter Jerome Harrison (5-9, 210, Sr.)

*NCAA rules require three practices in shorts and helmets and Doba said moving indoors on Tuesday allowed the Cougs to avoid the nasty weather while fulfilling that requirement. Practicing inside the IPF also allowed both offensive and defensive lines to focus on technique.

*Dada blocked a kick, forced a fumble, had four pass break ups and a fumble recovery in 2004. Over the course of the year -- during practice and also up on the hill -- Cougar defenders regularly swipe at the football, such as when players are jogging back to the huddle and/or during any other "non-live" action. There is no one better at stripping the ball than Dada.

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