EARLY SESSION: Mackay at 'backer

PULLMAN -- Cory Mackay said he backed out of a verbal commitment to UW and came to Washington State because the Huskies wanted him to play outside linebacker and the Cougars projected him at tight end or receiver. When the Cougs opened fall camp Tuesday, Mackay was a wide receiver. On the practice field Wednesday, Mackay was a tight end. On Sunday morning at WSU, Mackay was..an outside linebacker.

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Mackay is the first to admit, "I prefer to catch the ball." However, he likes being on the field even more, and with seniors Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard and junior Tony Thompson solidly entrenched ahead of him at tight end, Mackay said he was quick to agree to the move to defense.

"Coach (Paul Wulff) asked me to, and I want to get on the field," Mackay said. "I'm hungry for playing time.

"I understand if I played tight end, I'd probably redshirt this year. But I want to get on the field, so I figured, 'Why not play linebacker?' I don't mind playing linebacker at all."

Mackay said he packed 215-220 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame last season at Eastlake High School, but now weighs in at 246. He earned All-State honors at wide receiver after catching 64 passes for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns.

But he also had 19 sacks as a part-time starter at outside linebacker and rover.

After Mackay announced he was headed to WSU instead of Washington, he said Husky coaches called him several times and offered to let him play tight end or wide receiver "to try to get me back." Mackay said California made a very late offer to him as an outside linebacker.

WSU's three projected starters at linebacker are seniors, so Mackay said his long-term position is "kind of up in the air." Right now, Mackay said he's just happy to be playing any position at Washington State, thanks partly to the tremendous intensity and energy levels at workouts.

"It's like an all-star game every practice," Mackay said. "It ups your competitiveness every day, because everyone is hungry. Everyone is fighting for a spot. I love that."

FLEET WIDE RECEIVER Jeshua Anderson is scheduled to undergo hernia surgery Monday, and Wulff said he's bracing for the "standard" recovery time of six weeks. That would cost Anderson the first three games. More on his timetable return should be known next week.

Daniel Blackledge, another projected starter at wide receiver who has been injured at camp, is starting to look doubtful for the start of the season.

Wulff said Blackledge first hurt his hamstring in the summer, and the coach indicated it might be optimistic to expect Blackledge back in "a week or two."

"If we bring him back too soon, he'll probably miss the year," Wulff said.

And wide receivers Michael Willis and Anthony Houston joined the lengthy list of Cougars on the sidelines with hamstring problems Sunday.

SOME OF THE injured players aren't drawing a lot of sympathy from Wulff.

"We need to make sure if a guy can practice, even though he's nicked up, he needs to practice," Wulff said. "We haven't grasped that yet, I don't think."

Cornerback Alfonso Jackson, running back Chris Ivory and outside linebacker Jason Stripling remained out Sunday morning with hamstring problems.

Wide receiver Keith Parr Jr. (formerly Rosenberg) scrimmaged with the 2's after shaking off a leg injury.

ON THE FIELD, Brandon Gibson is an All-America candidate at wide receiver -- but he looked like an All-American middle linebacker Sunday morning when he pancaked unsuspecting safety Chima Nwachukwu with a block on a running play during scrimmage action.

Gibson's offensive teammates whooped and hollered, and Nwachukwu (who intercepted a poorly thrown Gary Rogers pass in the end zone earlier) seemed none the worse for wear. Of course, coaches often experience mixed emotions when teammates collide so violently in practice.

"If that's an Oklahoma State guy, I'm ecstatic," assistant coach Mike Levenseller told his receivers.

Later, the defense reaped revenge when outside backer Ken Dunn steamrolled true freshman wideout Kevin Norrell approximately 1-billionth of a second after Norrell hauled in a short pass.

Norrell, only 17 years old, somehow held on to the ball.

Wulff said he had no problem with Dunn's big hit, but he cautioned, "We've got to be smart."

WULFF SAID HE gave senior Matt Mullennix the day off to rest, so Andy Mattingly was back starting at right defensive end. Mike Graise started at left end ahead of Kevin Kooyman on Sunday, but the big play of the day for defensive ends was recorded by redshirt freshman walk-on Bryce Buslach.

He picked up a fumbled exchange between Kevin Lopina and Marcus Richmond near the goal line and romped into the end zone.

Safety Easton Johnson, who had an impressive spring, saw plenty of action with the 1's on Sunday.

Wulff said junior college transfer Patrick Rooney will focus on punting, leaving sophomore Wade Penner and JC transfer Nico Grasu to battle for the kicking job.

Rooney and reserve quarterback Dan Wagner are competing for the backup punting job. No. 1 punter Reid Forrest is recovering from ankle surgery and might not be ready at the start of the season.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Todd Sturdy, WSU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, placed a garbage can in the back left corner of the end zone and had all five QB's work on fade passes with quick drops from various spots. The ball was spotted anywhere from the 3- to 10-yard line. A few dozen throws later, only Rogers and No. 2 QB Kevin Lopina found the target.

  • Wulff said the Cougars don't expect to know until Aug. 21 if JC defensive tackle Josh Luapo will earn his Associate of Arts degree to become academically eligible. Luapo had 17 tackles in nine games at Los Angeles Harbor College last season.

  • Tyson Pencer, who had to wait a year to join the Cougars after a last-minute NCAA academic snafu, is now waiting on the sidelines to see if a shoulder injury improves enough for him to begin practicing. Wulff said he fears Pencer may require surgery. Whenever Pencer suits up, Wulff said it will be on the offensive line, since the former tight end prospect is now 6-6 and 270 pounds.

  • WSU quarterback legend Jack Thompson (father of reserve tight end Tony Thompson) and his eldest son, Jack Thompson Jr., observed the 1-hour, 40-minute practice, the shortest of the week. The Cougars are practicing twice in one day as one unit for the first time Sunday.

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