The offensive line for Washington State is certain to be a much improved unit this year. They will be opening up holes for a host of Cougar running backs with tremendous potential along with a leader who has a measure of success under his belt.
Running down the talent WSU will have lining up in the backfield is one thing.
Maximizing that talent is quite another.
Aside from their individual athletic ability, Cougar running backs are being mentored by one of the best coaches anywhere, Steve Broussard.
Coach Broussard knows how to play football from the running back position. During his college days at Washington State and his pro career in the NFL, Broussard made the most of his athletic ability.
More than a player, Coach Broussard knows how to share his experience and the tricks of the trade with his student/athletes.
When Coach Broussard talks, the smartest thing any of the Cougs can do is listen and learn.
The running back with the most experience and proven track record on the WSU roster is senior Dwight Tardy.
Tardy led the team in rushing his sophomore year with 676 yards on 143 carries. OK, those number might not sound like the stuff of an All Pac-10 player, but he accomplished that in just eight games. Remember, he was just a sophomore as well. In the eighth game of the season, as he was just coming into his own, Tardy's 37th carry was for a touchdown. The run brought his total for the day up to 214 yards against UCLA. It was also his last rush for the season as he tore his left ACL on the play and required surgery.
After playing last season at something less than full speed, Tardy is fired up and ready to go in 2009. He's able to play at the athletic level he did two years ago with added experience. Tardy has the power to go up the middle and quickness to get outside.
When healthy, Dwight Tardy will average nearly 5 yards a carry.
The good news for Coach Paul Wulff is Tardy is healthy and ready to carry the rock.
All through spring practice and continuing in fall camp, junior transfer James Montgomery has been turning heads. He's also made quite a few players on defense look bad. Montgomery makes cuts lightning fast, using his great field vision to find any weakness in the defense that's exposed. It's a sure bet Montgomery will get his share of reps in the games this season.
Logwone Mitz is a different style runner than either Tardy or Montgomery. Carrying about 20 more pounds than either of those players, Mitz can power the football up the middle. Mitz isn't all about power though. If you don't wrap him up with a solid tackle it's "good bye", "see ya" and off to the races. He led all Cougar rushers last year with an average just a shade under five yards a carry. Keep in mind he was doing that for an offense that wasn't a threat to pass the football.
The Cougs have another big back in the person of Marcus Richmond. Sure, Richmond is a team player but he didn't come to Washington State to become a backup for anyone. He has worked hard during the off season to prepare for his junior season with an eye on earning significant playing time.
One of the surprises during spring practice was the play of walk-on Remy Martin. Martin was recruited in high school by WSU as one of the top players in Alaska. Failing to meet academic requirements, he spent two years at West Hills College in Coalinga, CA. It's there he developed a hard-nosed attitude on the field playing linebacker, fullback and tight end. That mentality is what is expected when the offense is running a two-back set.
Coach Wulff had this to say about the Cougar running game:
"We have some players that have played college football. Obviously, Dwight Tardy has the most experience out of all of them, Logwone Mitz and Marcus Richmond have a little bit, and James Montgomery has a little bit from his freshman year at Cal. The all still can improve a lot more on game day. They all have a lot to prove and it should be a great competition (for playing time). Whoever is playing the best is probably going to see the most playing time. All will have an opportunity to play, but at the same time if someone is playing real well we have to go with the hot hand. It's a diverse group as we have the ability to get to the edge with speed, have the ability to run downhill and with power and can catch the ball out of the backfield. There is something there we can work with."
It was just a few years ago Washington State had a running game that produced a 1,900 rushing season for Jerome Harrison. With the improvement on the offensive line and the stable of talented backs, WSU is headed back in that direction. Probably won't happen this year, but at the current pace of progress that day is coming very soon.
Next time we'll take a look at the corps of receivers hauling in passes and throwing blocks for the offense of Washington State this year.
Originally published on Examiner.com