PULLMAN – At times last season, the Washington State Cougars were lucky to have one healthy running back to use in practice.
Depth, that was for the future.
Or the spring.
In their first official scrimmage of spring practice Saturday, the Cougars showcased three backs with three distinctive styles.
There is the veteran, senior Dwight Tardy, 17 months removed from major knee surgery, running like, as he said, “I’ve got two legs again.” The do-it-all back gained 63 yards on eight carries.
“He’s just an all-around back,” said B.J. Guerra, who has solidified his hold on the right guard spot this spring. “Good running backs make offensive linemen look good. When they’re getting yards, that makes us feel good.”
There is the power back, sophomore Logwone Mitz, using his 6-foot-1, 224-pound frame to run over everyone in his way, including, on a 17-yard blast, guard Zack Williams.
“Logwone has a lot of talent to be an extremely physical runner,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said about Mitz, who finished with 32 yards on three carries. “Getting Logwone to be consistent is his challenge. If he can become a consistent performer at a high level, then he’s going to really elevate himself as a football player and help our team.”
And then there was the star of the scrimmage, California transfer James Montgomery, who had 61 yards on nine carries. It was the junior’s elusiveness that stood out, especially on a 33-yard touchdown run in which he juked safety Chima Nwachukwu to the ground at the 22-yard line.
“He’s been very, very consistent through the first nine practices,” Wulff said. “He’s doing a great job. He’s a well-rounded football player. He blocks well, he catches the ball well, he runs the ball well.”
Of course, the yards weren’t coming against the same level of competition that will be faced in the fall – the No. 1 offense matched up with the No. 2 defense and vice versa – but the signs were encouraging to Wulff.
“The best thing about the scrimmage is it gives some legitimacy there,” he said. “You can’t tell if a guy breaks an arm tackle, how he runs through contact in practice when it’s not live.
“It’s nice to see guys making people miss and gain extra yards.”
•Kevin Lopina was able to thread the needle to tight end Skylar Stormo for an 8-yard touchdown pass, but the connection of the day was turned in by backup Dan Wagner and reserve receiver Randy Johnson.
Johnson got inside cornerback Brandon Jones on a skinny post before laying out to catch Wagner’s toss for a 25-yard score.
Wagner and Lopina split all the snaps – Wagner finished 1 of 4, Lopina 4 of 6 – because J.T. Levenseller’s bruised knee turned out to be more than that.
Levenseller had been on crutches for a week and wasn’t getting better, so the WSU training staff had more imaging done this week. The diagnosis: a small fracture at the top of his tibia. He’ll be off the leg for 4-6 weeks.
Andy Mattingly had surgery this week to repair his left pectoral muscle. Surgeons reattached the muscle, anchoring it to the humerus bone. He should be in a sling for 6-8 weeks and then will begin rehabilitation. He’s still on track to be back in the fall. … Two players left the team this week. Redshirt freshman defensive back Kevin Frank told Wulff he doesn’t expect to play football anymore while another redshirt freshman, receiver Michael Vandenkolk, told Wulff he wanted to transfer to a school closer to his Carlsbad, Calif., home. … Kevin Kooyman suited up for the first time during the spring, though his back only allowed him to go through individual drills. Wulff said he should be back for team drills next week. … Defensive tackle back Toby Turpin was banged up early and sat the rest of the scrimmage with an ice bag on his lower left leg.