A healthy Case Cookus and a pair of injuries at wide receiver highlighted the first week of spring ball for Northern Arizona football.
Cookus is in the process of recovering from a season-ending broken right collarbone he suffered two games into last season, but is back to football albeit in a limited role this week.
Lumberjacks first-year head coach Chris Ball said the star signal caller is coming along, and they are working him back slowly in the early portion of spring practices.
“Yeah, he is doing alright, he’s not doing a whole lot,” Ball said. “We're just keeping him out and being real conservative with him until he gets completely healthy.”
Absent from practice was Cookus' backup, Daniel Bridge-Gadd, who also suffered a season-ending injury in the 2018 season. Bridge-Gadd tore his ACL in a mid-season game at Northern Colorado, and his current status is unclear.
As past seasons have shown, an injury-free Cookus can mean wonders for the Lumberjacks' win chances. With Cookus’ most reliable target, Emmanuel Butler, now likely NFL-bound, he and the offense need to work through how it will replace that chemistry and production.
Two of the top prospects in that category, Brandon Porter and Chancellor Brewington, each suffered injuries this week. Porter injured his left wrist Monday and Brewington was on crutches at Friday’s practice.
Porter and Brewington are the Lumberjacks' top returning wide receivers in terms of production. Porter, who was forced to play quarterback near the end of the season due to injuries at the position, scored a touchdown as a receiver, passer and runner last season. He finished the season second on the team in both receptions (28) and yards (325 with a long of 69).
Brewington faced a slight dropoff in 2018 after a solid freshman outing the previous season. As a freshman he caught 31 passes for 396 yards, hauling in a pair of touchdowns. Last year his production dropped to 23 catches for 246 yards and one TD.
“They’re OK, we got a lot of work to do,” Ball said. “We got new quarterbacks that are getting a lot of reps, and we are banged up at the receiver position, so we got a lot of work to do still.”
Returning wideouts Justis Stokes, Malik Lovette and Stacy Chukwumezie will also get their chances at the position. None of the three recorded more than 10 receptions last season.
Throughout Friday’s practice at the South Fields, and throughout the first week, Ball made toughness one of the main messages.
Following Friday's outing, the post-practice message of being tougher on the field was made clear by the first-year head coach.
Overall, Ball said the first-week had gone well.
“Good, it was good,” Ball said. “Anytime you’re doing football, it’s good. I mean, you’re playing football and the kids have responded, and they have a lot of want-to out here. It’s all new to them, too, running on and off the field, running from drill to drill and doing some of the things that they’re not used to doing. It’s just change. I thought they are doing a great job of adapting to change and it’s something that we need to get better at every week.”
DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD CHANGES
Heading into the new season it’s clear the Lumberjacks will need to replace the production of departing senior safeties Wes Sutton and Kam’ron Johnson.
It was unclear whether the team was getting back senior Maurice Davison. But Ball cleared that up after practice, saying that Davison is no longer with the program.
Northern Arizona attempted to get Davison a fifth-year of eligibility, citing an injury year in which his bio claims he played five games, but the team’s statistics page claims four games -- which is still more than the max amount a player can play to receive a medical redshirt -- but the petition was declined by the NCAA.