Price visits Pullman at behest of coach

PULLMAN, Wash. -- Former Washington State head coach Mike Price delivered a pep talk to the Cougars, who returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since November.

Price, who left WSU for Alabama in 2002 but never coached a game there, dropped by the opening of spring practice at the behest of Cougars coach Bill Doba.

Price gave the team a few words of encouragement at the beginning of practice before heading back to El Paso for the Miners' spring session.

"It was good to see him here and be able to talk with him," Doba said. "He's a good friend. And once again, once a Coug always a Coug."

Price took over Texas-El Paso this season and led the Miners to the Houston Bowl.

Quarterback Josh Swogger, who missed the final five games of the season with a broken bone in his foot, participated in offense-only drills.

Swogger, who will be a junior next season, will be kept out of contact this spring but is the No. 1 quarterback.

"I was a little rustier than I thought I'd be," Swogger said after practice. "My legs feel like Jell-O right now. My legs aren't in very good shape; I didn't get to run a lot. I've got a lot of work to do."

Sophomore-to-be Alex Brink, who took over for Swogger and beat Washington in the Apple Cup last November, "looked pretty good," Doba said.

Also being held out of contact drills this spring is linebacker Will Derting, who is recovering from surgery to fuse two bones in his left wrist.

The captain from last season's team helped lead stretching drills, but by the end of the session was back in a T-shirt and shorts.

Doba said he hopes to have Derting available for some drills by the end of the spring because the team has little depth at linebacker.

The Cougars also are temporarily thin at running back.

Jed Collins and Brandon Asuega-Stark, both of whom played fullback at times last fall, are getting looks at running back behind starter Jerome Harrison.

Backup Kevin McCall has been suspended while the courts decide the third-degree rape case against him.

Doba said the problem at running back should ease in the fall when prep recruits DeMaundray Woolridge of Keller, Texas, and Dwight Tardy of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., come to campus. Both appear capable of contributing early, Doba said.

In a cold rain that looked more like late fall than early spring, the Cougars began working to improve on last season's five wins.

"Spring is important," Doba said. "I know some people think it's not that important, but spring is darn important as far as picking up where you left off and it carries you through summer and the preseason."

It was the first practice for wide receiver Benny Ward of Van Nuys, Calif., and quarterback Cole Morgan of Seattle's Ballard High, both freshmen who signed in February of 2004 and enrolled in January.

Also on the field for the first time were 10 walk-ons, including Tony Thompson, the son of former Cougars quarterback Jack Thompson.

The Cougars first practice in pads will be Friday. The annual Crimson & Gray Game is scheduled April 16.