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Where is WSU headed in the fall?

WSU running back Dwight Tardy leaves UCLA defenders behind as he seals the win over UCLA in Pullman Saturday Ooctober 27, 2007 with a 51 yard run for a score in the final minute.  WSU beat UCLA 27-7 for their first PAC-10 win of the season.  CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON The Spokesman-Review (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
WSU running back Dwight Tardy leaves UCLA defenders behind as he seals the win over UCLA in Pullman Saturday Ooctober 27, 2007 with a 51 yard run for a score in the final minute. WSU beat UCLA 27-7 for their first PAC-10 win of the season. CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON The Spokesman-Review (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
COUGARS • UPDATED: 6:25 P.M.

We've got a bunch of stuff for you. There's a football note, a basketball note and, most importantly, the rough draft of our fall outlook, based on the recently completed spring practices. Read on.
••••••••••

• We're going to start with the notes. Tight end Devin Frischknecht signed with the Washington Redskins today as a free agent. You can read more here. ... As we've said here before, Washington State will be playing Kansas State in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. The game is set for Manhattan, Kan., on Dec. 5. The Cougars visit Manhattan in New York one year (while playing in Newark, N.J.) and Manhattan, Kan., the next.

• UPDATE: A couple links to share. UW athletic director Scott Woodward talked with Bob Condotta about the Husky Stadium funding bill dying. Notice his comments about Elson Floyd and Jim Sterk about halfway down. Also, we found this link about University of Mary (a correction from earlier) basketball coaching search and an interesting name popped up.

• Now on to the piece. Here's the unedited version of the story that will appear in print tomorrow ...

PULLMAN – If you want to put the college football season into housing terms, then spring is about building a foundation, summer the framing and roofing and fall, that's when you finish up, adding light touches and getting the place ready to move.

After 15 spring practices the past five weeks, Washington State University is done building the foundation.

"We've instilled our culture," defensive co-coordinator and associate head coach Chris Ball said. "With instilling our culture, the kids understand what to expect out of practice. When we come out here and coach, we're coaching ball, not coaching how to run on-and-off the field. They're doing that stuff."

So just how strong is that foundation?

Let's look at it piece by piece, bearing in mind we're just looking at a concrete shell, one that will be shored up during the summer and finished in August, when a freshman class arrives to fill in the gaps prior to the season opener, at home Sept. 5 against Stanford.

And there are gaps. Some were left in place on purpose, as a few returning starters sat out the spring rehabilitating injuries or their transcripts. And other gaps cropped up during workouts, with five more possible starters sustaining bad-enough injuries to limit their participation. Most of those players will be back come August, but there still will be spots for newcomers.

"A lot of that depends on the players who are in the program now, how they come back and how they improve," coach Paul Wulff answered when how many new players will play. "That's an element. I think that, inevitably, where we're at right now, I expect it could be anywhere from four to six players that could play in their first year.

"It's a guess, but I think that's a pretty good guess right now."

What follows is a breakdown by position groups, with a player who showed enough in spring to watch closely this fall, what questions still need to be answered and which player needs to make strides for WSU to improve.

Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy and Ball supply the commentary for their respective sides of the ball.

Offense

Linemen

Player to watch: Zack Williams. At 6-foot-4 and 293 pounds, the junior will start somewhere on the offensive line. He played left guard all spring, but can play tackle if needed. He has the most aggressive, physical nature on the line.

Unanswered question: What's the lineup? With senior center Kenny Alfred (6-2, 300) and junior tackle Micah Hannam (6-4, 284) out during spring, it was a chance for others, most notably tackles Steven Ayers (6-4, 315-pound sophomore) and Joe Eppele (6-8, 306) to show what they could do. We'll see in the fall how much they impressed.

Time to step up: Eppele, a junior, has the build and strength to dominate. But, coming from a limited football background in Vancouver, British Columbia, he hasn't shown it consistently yet.

What Sturdy said: "We've taken some steps ... but we're not where we want to be yet. But our kids are starting to get some confidence. They're starting to get excited about being physical, getting off the ball and running the football."

Tight ends

Player to watch: Skyler Stormo. The 6-4, 253-pound redshirt freshman came on strong as spring drills progressed, showing he can block and catch (two passes for 21 yards in final scrimmage).

Unanswered question: Who is No. 1? It may depend on the need. Senior Tony Thompson (6-2, 241) will be the guy at the start, but there are four others who want time.

Time to step up: Senior Zach Tatman (6-5, 245) might be the most talented physically but mental mistakes limited this former basketball player's advancement during spring.

What Sturdy said: "They are making a (lot) of mistakes yet, because they're just young. But they're all going to help us."

Wide receivers

Player to watch: Jeffrey Solomon. There is a chance the 6-foot, 196-pound Solomon, a transfer from Eastern Washington who hasn't played in more than a year due to his transfer and a back injury, could be a star. He has the hands, the size and the speed to bloom.

Unanswered question: Can Johnny Forzani adjust to Pac-10 football? The Canadian import showed flashes of brilliance in the spring before a foot injury sidelined him.

Time to step up: Jeshua Anderson has put on weight (he said he's at 205, though he's listed at 188) while retaining his track speed. He can be a difference maker if he fine-tunes his game, especially as a run blocker.

What Sturdy said: "Their eyes and ears are open. That's a good thing. We've built some depth. Again, as with everything else, we're not where we want to be, the coaches, the players too. They realize we've got a ways to go."

Running backs

Player to watch: Dwight Tardy. In his first three years, Tardy has showed flashes of brilliance. But a knee injury suffered his sophomore season limited him last year. Finally healthy, the 5-10, 208-pound senior is running better than ever and can always be relied on to earn the extra yard, make the right block, catch the tough pass.

Unanswered question: How good is James Montgomery? The 5-10, 202-pound Cal transfer showed a variety of moves and an ability to outrun angles throughout spring practice. But it's been more than a year since the junior last played in a game.

Time to step up: Marcus Richmond showed last season he can play fullback when WSU needs, with the 6-1, 220-pound junior making the key block in Logwone Mitz's big Apple Cup run. Now he needs to show he can contribute consistently.

What Sturdy said: "As with several other positions offensively, we've got a situation now where we have some competition. Those kids have all done a great job this spring."

Quarterbacks

Player to watch: Marshall Lobbestael. How quickly Lobbestael comes back from his knee injury this fall could be the most important factor in the offense's success.

Unanswered question: Who's the starter? With Lobbestael, a 6-3, 206-pound sophomore unable to do team drills in the spring, senior Kevin Lopina (6-3, 234) assumed the mantle. Can he keep it?

Time to step up: Lopina has worked hard on his accuracy and patience over the past few months. It showed in spring as he threw the ball better and took more time making his reads. If he plays well, the Cougars have a better chance of being successful.

What Sturdy said: "The disappointing thing was J.T. (Levenseller's leg injury), because it got cut so short. He really would have benefited from all those reps. ... Marshall's situation, we got as good a spring as we could get out of his situation. ... A year ago, you look at where Kevin and Marshall were and where they are today, they've both taken huge, huge steps."

Defense

Linemen

Player to watch: Cory Mackay. This 6-4, 257-pound freshman, who came to WSU as a tight end, played linebacker during his redshirt season and has found a home on the defensive line, asserted himself early in the spring. As he learns more technique, he should begin to put up big numbers.

Unanswered question: Can Bernard Wolfgramm play? The 6-3, 288-pound junior college transfer redshirted last season, then had back surgery over the winter. Whether or not he'll be able to go come August is still an open question.

Time to step up: Kevin Kooyman. It looked like 2008 was going to be Kooyman's break-through year, but the 6-6, 246-pound end didn't, recording just 31 tackles and one sack. After sitting through most of spring, Kooyman needs to supply pressure from the edge or WSU's pass rush will fall flat.

What Ball said: "They're young. There are a bunch of them who didn't play for us last year. But I think they have a pretty good understanding of what we're going to do. They're stronger. Overall, we're better."

Linebackers

Player to watch: Louis Bland. Despite being undersized at 5-10 and 202 pounds, Bland made a mark last season, making 55 tackles in nine starts as a true freshman. A knee injury cut short his spring, but he has a shot to be one of the Cougars' best.

Unanswered question: Is Alex Hoffman-Ellis the answer in the middle? Before his spring knee injury, the 6-1, 236-pound sophomore was showing he had the speed to fill the role of middle linebacker. Now he has to get the experience.

Time to step up: Nobody works harder than Andy Mattingly. After a junior year spent trying to learn how to play defensive end, the 6-4, 255-pound Mattingly returned to linebacker, only to lose his last spring to a freak arm injury. A return to his sophomore form (91 tackles, 8 sacks, 11 tackles for loss) is crucial for the defense.

What Ball said: "Those guys (Mike Ledgerwood, Josh Garrett) got better. It would have been nice to have Mattingly there, but that's part of the game. Sometime or another those guys that were playing this year (due to injuries) will have to play. It was good experience for them."

Safeties and cornerbacks

Player to watch: Xavier Hicks. You never know when the 6-foot, 211-pound senior is going to lay out a receiver. The Cougars' hardest hitter is also their most important defensive back.

Unanswered question: Are there enough corners? With last year's starter Romeo Pellum suspended all spring and probably headed for a transfer, the corner spots aren't awash with depth. Junior Brandon Jones (5-9, 178), sophomore Tyrone Justin (5-11, 156), senior Devin Giles (6-foot, 173) and freshman Daniel Simmons (5-10, 187) must hold down the edge.

Time to step up: Chima Nwachukwu. The 5-11, 201-pound junior has assumed a mantle of leadership. But he's still learning how to play safety in the Pac-10. The quicker he learns, the better the defense.

What Ball said: "We don't have the depth right now. We've got good ones. I feel good about the safety spot with Chima, Tyree (Toomer) and Xavier. ... Brandon Jones looked really good at corner, I think we've got a chance with him, the way he's come along. At that position, who I was really pleased with was Daniel Simmons. The last two weeks he had a great, great spring."

Special teams

Player to watch: Zach Enyeart. No one ever watches the long snapper. But Enyeart (6-1, 265) has turned into a good one as a junior. If he can start adding punt tackles to his repertoire, he'll be better than good.

Unanswered question: How much did his winning Apple Cup kick help Nico Grasu? The senior kicker seemed to be more confident and displayed a stronger leg all spring. Will it carry over?

Time to step up: The punt and kick returners. With the likelyhood Chantz Staden will still be rehabbing his knee injury into the fall, others like Kevin Norrell will have to fill a void. The Cougars worked hard in the spring to improve in the return game.

•••

• That's it for this evening. We'll be back as events warrant. Until then …




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