Spring ball Day 9: Injuries, youth & kicking

BENNY WARD

PULLMAN – Injuries have claimed three more members of the Cougar defense and on offense Jason Hill's understudy, Benny Ward, continues to make a strong bid for the receiving rotation. Meanwhile, on special teams, punter Fritz Brayton turned in his finest day of the spring session but kicker Loren Langley couldn't shake the errant ways that plagued him in Saturday's scrimmage.

As practices go, Tuesday's rain-soaked session was a low-key affair. There were no teeth-rattling hits, electric runs or long bombs. But there was lots of news.

On the injury front, three defensive players appear to be lost for the remainder of the spring season: junior defensive end Lance Broadus (left groin strain), sophomore linebacker Cory Evans (right ankle sprain), and sophomore defensive end Michael Graise (right wrist surgery). The MRI on sophomore offensive lineman Dan Rowlands' left shoulder was, like the earlier X-ray, negative but he isn't expected back in action this week.

Jason Hill, who is poised to leave WSU as the most prolific wideout in school history wasn't practicing Tuesday either, suffering from the flu-like symptoms that also have shelved JC transfer wideout Finas Rabb. Hill's absence, though, gave Benny Ward a chance to put an exclamation mark on what has been a stellar spring for the 6-3, 186-pound sophomore from Van Nays, Calif.

He made several solid receptions Tuesday, including a nifty grab during receiver drills when he made a nice cut across the center and then showed off his athleticism snagging a ball thrown a bit behind him by QB Arkelon Hall.

Ward said he has been fortunate to be able to learn from a talented receiver like Hill and this spring he has been working hard on his technique and perfecting his route running.

Two other receivers, sophomore Brandon Gibson and true freshman Greg Walker, also looked sharp Tuesday. Gibson, who is coming off an elbow injury which limited his play early in spring ball, made an athletic catch during 11-11 drills, snaring a high bullet from Gary Rogers for a 20-yard gain.

Walker, meanwhile, had a series of impressive catches on the day. The most notable was a backward, diving reception of an Alex Brink pass. The 6-4, 185-pounder from Los Angeles drew praise, along with Ward and Gibson, from receivers coach and offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller. "Jason was sick today, and that gave some of the other guys a chance to play," Levenseller said. "It's good to see a guy like Walker come out and learn quickly."

The Cougars' young talent on the flanks will get another boost in the fall, with the expected arrival of three touted receivers in the new recruiting class: prepsters Keith Rosenberg and Anthony Houston, and four-star JC transfer Charles Dillon.

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY WAS a mixed bag on Tuesday. Brayton, battling Darryl Blunt for the starting punter's job, laced up his best day of the spring with strong kicks and good consistency. Blunt, who has held an edge up to this point, looks to have a stronger leg than Brayton but he continued to be a little erratic with several kicks sailing out of bounds.

As far as the kicking game goes, Langley, who struggled Saturday, sent only a handful of his attempts through the uprights, and hit the pole twice. He was kicking from about 35 yards out. Romeen Abdollmohammadi did not have as many chances as Langley, but he hit almost all of his attempts.

NOTABLE NOTES:

Senior receiver Chris Jordan made an early exit from Tuesday's practice, but Levenseller did not elaborate. He didn't appear to be hobbled in any way.

One-time fullback Jed Collins continued to show potential as a tight end, pulling in a shoestring catch from Rogers, then running for another 5 yards before being gang tackled by the secondary, in 11-11 drills.

The annual Crimson and Gray that caps spring workouts is set to start at 11 am on April 15.

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