PULLMAN – Jared Byers has had exactly 13 practices to shake off the rust.
Not from the offseason, necessarily, but from spending the first three seasons of his Washington State career as a fullback.
Now, the redshirt junior is a linebacker. If you weren’t aware of that already, you will be on Saturday, when Byers figures to see the field plenty during WSU’s spring game at Albi Stadium. Same with Corey Laufasa, a redshirt senior who was also a fullback last season after walking on in 2010.
The Cougars were already thin at linebacker to begin the spring, because of graduation as well as the dismissal of former starters C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi.
Starters Darryl Monroe (recovering from Achilles injury) and Chester Su’a (hand), along with backup Tana Pritchard (undisclosed), all sat out Thursday’s practice. That means Laufasa and Byers could be relied upon to fill out the depth when the Cougars take the field on Saturday for a scrimmage that will last roughly 80-100 plays, according to coach Mike Leach.
Byers has worked out primarily at the “mike” (middle) linebacker position, where Monroe and Darren Markle play. But he’s also seen time at will (weak side), and might have to play there on Saturday.
“We’ll probably kind of go back and forth a little bit,” linebackers coach Jeff Choate said. “He’s (Byers) going to be kind of a swing guy. He’s going to have to play both ‘mike’ and ‘will’. Right now, we really only have one will on the depth chart with Corey, so Jared will have to split the one and two reps at the ‘will’ position and then we’ll try to get Jared some reps at ‘mike’ without wearing him out too much.”
Byers said he figured that after Mike Leach was hired as coach that he’d be changing positions, knowing that Leach doesn’t use a traditional fullback in his offense.
He said he came to WSU as a linebacker out of Pullman High, but was switched to fullback during his freshman season.
“I like going out there and hitting somebody, so it’s kind of the same position,” Byers said. “Just one’s a little bit different, I guess.”
Choate said both Byers and Laufasa took some time to learn how to react to a play as a defender instead of worrying about executing it, as an offensive player would. But the coach has liked what he’s seen out of each of them, considering neither played the position last season.
“I think they’ve done a really good job of just taking the coaching, not getting frustrated, and just opening their minds,” Choate said. “Credit to them – they’ve done a tremendous amount of extra work. You see them in there all the time studying the film, and they’ve been a lot of fun to coach and it’s been fun to see them progress.”
It also appears as if WSU will be without safety Casey Locker, who had his hand wrapped at Thursday’s practice and didn’t participate. Safety Tyree Toomer hasn’t practiced recently, either, leaving Deone Bucannon and Anthony Carpenter as the starting safeties for Saturday.
“Every year there’s going to be guys sitting out and every year you just deal with it,” Leach said. “You just don’t know when, where or what, and then you just go on, you know? So if they’re there, you coach them. It’s about as easy as that.”
Leach said Saturday’s scrimmage will feature the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense, the 2s against the 2s and so on. There will be a clock for the first half, Leach said, with a brief halftime period in between. … Leach was asked Thursday why a DUI arrest, as in the case of offensive lineman Denzell Dotson earlier this month, is not considered automatic grounds for dismissal from the team; he outlines in his book, “Swing Your Sword,” that drug use, theft and violence against women are his “big three” offenses that won’t be tolerated. Dotson has remained on the team. Leach responded: “We look at each situation separately and just consider the facts of the situation, and the other thing is, I’m not going to share internal stuff, but when there’s other things – fights, minor under the influence, things like that, then we evaluate it on a case-by-case basis. And I’m sure you’ll agree, because the facts on this are pretty indisputable, my line’s a little more solid than it is the rest of the way around the country with regard to dismissals and the big three there. So you might like it, you might dislike it, but that’s what it is.”