PULLMAN – Linebacker Travion Brown will return to Washington State’s lineup this weekend for the team’s Pac-12 opener against Oregon. Three other Cougars standouts are questionable to play.
Brown missed WSU’s Week 3 win over Colorado State with an injury he had sustained the week prior at Wisconsin. The middle linebacker, a co-starter at the position, will be “ready to go, for sure” when the Cougars host the 15th-ranked Ducks on Saturday, according to head coach Jake Dickert.
Strong safety Jordan Lee was also sidelined for the CSU game due to an unspecified injury suffered in Madison, Wisconsin. Starting cornerback Chau Smith-Wade and veteran slot receiver Renard Bell left the field late in the Cougars’ 38-7 win over the Rams last Saturday. While Dickert didn’t mention Bell specifically during his chat with local reporters Wednesday morning, the coach said he’s “hopeful” Smith-Wade and Lee will be back.
“Chau is on his progression and J-Lee is on his progression, so we’re getting those guys back and ready to go,” Dickert said. “We’re hopeful, come Saturday, that we can see them back out there. It’s not a definite, but we’re hopeful.”
Brown totaled seven tackles and half a sack during WSU’s first two games while splitting reps with redshirt freshman Francisco Mauigoa, who has recorded 18 tackles – second on the team – to go with 2½ tackles for loss and 1½ sacks.
Lee, a senior Nevada transfer, has been particularly effective in the run game. He registered nine tackles, two for loss, across his first two games as a Cougar. Redshirt freshman Jaden Hicks filled in admirably for Lee against the Rams, finishing second among WSU defenders with 10 tackles and adding an interception.
Smith-Wade was absent for the final few minutes of Saturday’s game after being shaken up and taken to the injury tent during the fourth quarter.
The third-year sophomore has emerged as a breakout player for the Cougars in his first season as a full-time starter. Smith-Wade, WSU’s No. 3 cornerback in 2021, has allowed just eight receptions this year. He is highest-graded corner in the Pac-12, per Pro Football Focus’ performance metrics. Smith-Wade snagged an interception in the Cougars’ season-opening win over Idaho and has tallied 11 tackles.
“Chau has really matured from last year, and he’s been very consistent,” Dickert said Monday. “You have always seen some highs and lows. Now, we’ve been able to see a ton of highs, and people have challenged him down the field. … He’s tackling at a consistent level and playing bigger than what he’s listed at (5-foot-11, 184 pounds).”
The Cougars have three other capable options at cornerback – senior Derrick Langford Jr., junior Chris Jackson and Utah State transfer Cam Lampkin.
Bell was missing from WSU’s lineup in the second half of Saturday’s game. He reappeared without pads on the sideline midway through the third quarter. Bell’s injury did not appear to be significant – he wasn’t wearing any medical equipment, such as a walking boot or a sling, and spent the final period walking around the sideline and conversing with teammates.
Bell, a seventh-year senior and a starting slotback, didn’t have a reception against CSU. He has 83 yards and a touchdown on six catches this season. If he is unavailable against Oregon, the Cougars will start senior Robert Ferrel, an Incarnate Word transfer who impressed in his WSU debut against CSU.
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