COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Frischknecht in middle of Cougars' TE mix

He was the pass-catching hero – if only for a half – in the memorable, back-and-forth 2007 Apple Cup, won by the Washington State Cougars.

Perhaps since he was Jed Collins’ backup, few knew how viable Devin Frischknecht was as an offensive force.

This season, the senior from Ephraim, Utah, is the top dog for WSU, and capable of matching the 52 receptions Collins registered last season that ranked him as the second-most productive tight end in the Pacific-10 Conference behind Southern California’s Fred Davis.

If early fall camp signs are an indicator, quarterback Gary Rogers will be looking for Frischknecht early and often this season, especially if defenses load up in trying to stop Rogers High product Brandon Gibson, the conference’s top receiver a year ago.

“There are a lot of routes for tight ends in this offense,” Frischknecht said. “It’s going to explode pretty soon.”Two years ago, the position was thin in numbers and talent. Now, it’s loaded with well-rounded players, including Frischknecht, senior Ben Woodard and junior Tony Thompson.

“A lot of our offense is built around those guys in the check-down type routes,” said Rich Rasmussen, the Cougars tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator who came over along with first-year coach Paul Wulff from the staff at Eastern Washington.

“We want to rotate all three of the tight ends on a regular basis.”

As tight ends friendly as Wulff’s new offense appears to be, the numbers did not bely that at Eastern a season ago.

Partially, it was because the Eagles had one of the top receiving corps at the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level. And their best receiving tight end, Nathan Overbay, was slow to recover from an early season injury.

One thing for sure, Rogers has shown immediate trust in Frischknecht, and has thrown his way often in drills during fall camp.

“Me and Gary have been really good friends for a while,” Frischknecht said. “I trust him, and he should trust me to catch it.”

Rasmussen knows he has tight ends who can catch the ball. What he’s demanding this fall is an improvement in run blocking.

“The biggest adjustment is getting a guy who is used to lining up in space, and asking him to move inside and put his hand down, which hasn’t been natural,” Rasmussen said. “For (Frischknecht), it’s all about his pad level and hand placement. Those are things he’ll continue to pick up through repetition.”

Frischknecht recognizes that. That is why he has devoted extra time after practice to go over blocking techniques.

“It’s obvious, if I’m going to be a starter, I have to learn how to block,” said Frischknecht, who has been mostly a jumbo-sized receiver in high school and in junior college. “I’m doing a lot better. I seriously have put a ton of work into it, working on my steps, because it does not come naturally at all.”

Here is Rasmussen’s assessment of his three tight ends:

- On Frischknecht: “He’s best in the passing game because of his quickness and soft hands.”

- On Woodard: “He’s our best all-around blocker, but he can get open. We’ll run him on the inside routes.”

- On Thompson: “He’s battling a hamstring issue ... but he’s similar to Frischknecht in his route-running.

He’s still doing some long-snapping, but more on an emergency basis. He’ll be on punt and kickoff returns.”

Extra points

The Cougars are using caution with starting tailback Dwight Tardy, who is returning from reconstructive left knee surgery. He took a big hit Friday during practice, and immediately went to the sideline to have it iced down. He’ll miss the first fall scrimmage this afternoon. ... Today’s 2:30 p.m. scrimmage, the first of training camp, isn’t expected to last more than 45 minutes. Wulff plans on running 20 plays for the first-team offense, and then 20 plays for the No. 2 offense before calling it a day. ... It was formally announced Thursday that WSU will wear silver helmets with the Cougars lettering for home games, and crimson helmets with a white Cougar head logo for away games. ... The athletic department is starting a football-only, “First and Crimson” blog this season.