Aug. 24, 1999
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Senior Steve Birnbaum, who started eight games for the Washington State Cougars last fall, worked with WSU's number one offensive unit during Monday's and Tuesday's practices and is now officially listed as WSU's starter for the Sept. 4 opener at home against Utah, head coach Mike Price confirmed after Tuesday's practice.
"Steve Birnbaum is our starter for the opener," Price said. "We have charted every pass our quarterbacks have thrown in the scrimmages and practices, over 450 passes each, and Steve had the highest completion percentage, over 73 percent. He also has not thrown an interception in any of our scrimmages."
"Our quarterbacks are much better this year, but Birnbaum has been at the top of our charts," Price added. "Steve, as well as Paul and Jason, have taken care of the football and that has been one of our key goals. The ability of all our quarterbacks to make the right decisions has improved greatly from last year.
Birnbaum, junior Paul Mencke and redshirt freshman Jason Gesser have been locked in a three-way battle to see who will start the opener against the Utes.
Price said before the start of fall camp he hoped to name a starter a week into the three-week camp, but delayed that decision until this week.
Birnbaum, in WSU's three scrimmages this fall, has not thrown an interception while completing 13 of his 26 passes. He also did not throw any interceptions in WSU's spring scrimmages. Price has stressed since last season turnovers would be a key part of his decision. A year ago the Cougars turned the ball over 40 times, including 25 interceptions.
While Birnbaum ran with the number one offensive unit, Gesser has split his time this week with the first and second units and Mencke with the number three offense. Mencke also took a few snaps as a wide receiver Monday.
Returning to the practice field this week after missing several practices including last Saturday's scrimmage were running backs Jeremy Thielbahr and Brad Philley, wide receiver Milton Wynn, linebacker Raonall Smith and offensive lineman Ryan Raymond.
Several key starters continued to work out in sweat cloths on the sidelines this week, although Price said several of them could play if it was game-day.
Among those nursing injuries and not participating in the contact workouts are running back Alex Tinsley (hamstring), offensive linemen Reed Raymond (hamstring), defensive lineman Ing Aleaga (hamstring), defensive back Virgil Williams (shoulder) and linebackers Serign Marong (hamstring) and Grady Emmerson (ankle).