Just got done with Paul Wulff's season-kickoff press conference, then had an opportunity to talk a little more with Washington State's coach afterward. Read on for some highlights.
• We'll post our stories concerning tomorrow's opening day of practice later this evening, but it seems like it would be a good idea to summarize a few things Wulff touched on during the 18-minute session.
• In his opening statement, Wulff talked about all the positive developments since last season, including the influx of freshmen with this class and the gains the returnees had during the offseason. ... Asked to name players who took the biggest strides since the end of last season, Wulff named Chima Nwachukwu (pictured making a tackle above), Toby Turpin, Kevin Kooyman, Myron Beck and Brandon Jones on defense along with Micah Hannam, Joe Eppele, Zach Tatman, Marshall Lobbestael and Dwight Tardy on the offensive side. Part of the improvement, Wulff stressed, had to do with some of the above-named players' ability to bounce back from injury. ... He feels the players and coaches will enter this fall camp with a much better understanding of what to expect from each other. ... Wulff doesn't expect his absence from the first three practices will be that big a deal. He'll stay in his office during the practice time, working on recruiting and other aspects of his job. He'll be able to attend coaches' meetings – he can't be in player meetings – and will be kept up-to-date. As Wulff said, the practices are planned out to the minute, so there's not a lot he won't have control over. ... Because of the limits the NCAA puts on coaches in the summer, he and the rest of the staff are eager to see which players are able to translate the off-season work into improved play on the field.
I asked about injuries and Wulff said the only player who will be missing Sunday is backup center Andrew Roxas, who is dealing with an injury Wulff said he was not at liberty to discuss. He expects Louis Bland to be on the field, but limited in what he can do. By the way, it has been reported in numerous places, including here I'm sorry to say, Bland had knee surgery. That's not the case. The treatment for the injury he suffered did not include cutting on the knee. It just did not heal as quickly as it was expected to. Other players with limits include defensive backs Terrance Hayward and Jay Matthews, who are still recovering from shoulder surgery. Bernard Wolfgramm's back is fine, Wulff said, but he's still got some nerve problems that have limited his workouts. And finally, offensive lineman Kevin Freitag had toe surgery recently and may have to sit out the season.
Wulff expects the offensive line to be much improved, or as he said, "we need it to be." The experience gained last year should pay dividends this season, Wulff said. ... One of the biggest areas of concern is the defensive line, with just two players – Kooyman and Turpin – with Division I experience. Wulff, though, feels there is potential there. ... The running game should play a much bigger part in the offense this year, what with the depth at running back – he called Cal transfer James Montgomery a "solid player," which seems like a little understatement to me – and the expected improvement up front. ... Wulff then explained how the no-huddle isn't a hurry-up offense and that's why it fits fine with a strong running attack. It's about keeping the defense off-balance, controlling the tempo by force the defense to react to the offense. ... However the Cougars attack, the quarterback will be the guy leading them. Who that quarterback will be is still "wide open" according to Wulff. He did say Kevin Lopina and Lobbestael have the inside track, though every quarterback on the roster will be given an opportunity to show what they can do. He just wants someone to step up, show they can make the throws, make the right calls, make the right decisions, basically just win the battle.
Asked how he gets his team to deal with the low expectations Cougar fans have this year, Wulff made it clear they don't spend a lot of time dealing with the expectations of others. "We can only control what we can control," he said.
• For once, WSU will start football practice without an incoming players standing on the sidelines, idled by a paperwork issue or a Clearinghouse problem. However, there are a handful of players who were announced last winter who didn't make it into school including Spokane's Chris Mastin, a defensive lineman from Lewis and Clark High, along with California defensive lineman Quayshawne Buckley, who would have played a lot up front, linebacker Terrell Thompson of Colorado, Utah defensive back Asi Hosea and junior college d-lineman Brandon Rankin. All except Hosea and Thompson are possible in the spring.
• That's it for now. As I've said, when I get my stories done, I'll put them up. Until then …