SPRING BALL DAY 1: Cougs intense from start

TREVOR MOONEY

PULLMAN -- Spring workouts on the Palouse began with a bang Thursday. The intensity was high despite a padless practice that featured players in helmets and shorts. A former walk-on turned heads in the secondary, and Cougar seniors discussed leadership and goals. Two well-known faces showed up to take in the action -- action that included three linemen who weren't expected to practice.

Senior defensive end Matt Mullennix (knee), junior offensive lineman Vaughn Lesuma (wrist) and senior defensive tackle Aaron Johnson (class work) all participated in the session despite being listed as out or limited by coach Bill Doba on Wednesday.

Neither Mullennix, who missed all of last season with the knee, nor Lesuma, who arrived in January from Mt. San Jacinto College, is expected to partake in contact drills when the Cougs pad up. But it was still something of a surprise to see them running through drills without limitation on the spring's first day.

It would have been an unfortunate session to miss, too, as the Cougs turned up the intensity and turned in some sterling performances.

Leading the charge for the defense was cornerback Ryan Kensok, a 5-8, 164-pound junior who earned a scholarship in the off-season.

The one-time walk on from Spokane, competing for turns in the secondary this spring, joined fellow CB Brian Williams in running with the first unit in all 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. He picked off two passes out of three coverage opportunities.

The first interception, a bullet from QB Gary Rogers, was meant for 6-6 wide receiver Finas Rabb III, a player a full eight inches taller then Kensok.

Kensok's second pick came on his very next opportunity, as he pilfered a Cole Morgan rope intended for Matt Sledge. The interception, like his first, earned verbal praise from members of the secondary crowded on the sidelines.

All in all, the session was marked by vocal and energetic performances by all, with many players loudly proclaiming their self-disgust at dropped passes or missed blocks. The intensity was epitomized by Johnson, who said with a smile following the session, "You can sure tell everybody is ready to get pads on and start hitting each-other. It was fun (to be back on the field)."

On the offensive line, Lesuma, who is listed at 6-5 and 340 pounds and handily fills the number 55 jersey left by the departed Charles Harris, joined an offensive line that, like most of the units, spent most of the day focused on position-specific drills.

The running back corps, under the direction of first-year coach Steve Broussard, was led by sophomore Dwight Tardy who carried the ball aggressively up the gut in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

Looking sharp catching the ball were tight ends Tony Thompson and Jed Collins. Thompson made nifty grab of a pass from Rogers and Collins pulled in a bomb from a scrambling Rogers in 11-on-11 action. The pass was just over the fingers of a fully extended Cornorris Atkins, a freshman out of Reseda, Calif., who joined the team in January.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • In line with what Doba said on Wednesday about taking long looks at some of the Cougar youth, redshirt freshman receiver Keith Rosenberg was among those seen running with the first unit during the session.

  • Both Alex Brink and Johnson spoke about the state of the team going into this spring's session, noting the theme for this year is the same as last year: Finish. "There's no doubt about it," said Brink, when asked if there was a lingering feeling about the end of the 2006 campaign, in which the Cougs' lost three straight. "Nobody's happy with the result of last season, especially the last three games, so this is a great place to start."

  • Johnson, who like Brink is entering his senior campaign, said being a leader is something he takes very seriously. "Sometimes you feel like, when you're a freshman, ‘Oh I got four more years here, I can kind of takes things off sometimes,' but this year, you can't even think of taking one play off," he said. "I like to lead by example. I am trying to go out there and prove, you know, this is what you're supposed to do."

  • In addition to Broussard, the Cougs welcomed defensive ends coach Marty Long to the field. He replaces Robb Akey.

  • An ample crowd including former Cougar players Mkristo Bruce and Jason Hill, was on hand for Thursday's session, with Bruce and Hill joking with players from the sideline.

  • The session lasted more than two hours, and consisted of 22 periods. Last spring, the average session was about 18 periods long.

  • Although the session was marked with purposeful play, both Brink and Johnson noted that players were a little rusty, having not seen he field as a full team since the Apple Cup.

  • The team resumes practice tomorrow, with a 4 p.m. start time.


    ALEX BRINK LETS ONE FLY ON DAY ONE OF SPRING DRILLS.

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