With Washington State taking the day off from practice, we’re taking a little time ourselves. We have the unedited version of our defensive line preview story on the link along with a couple of web-only notes. Click the link.
• Here’s the defensive line preview …
PULLMAN – You look down the two-deep for Washington State University’s defensive line and three letters stand out. DNP. As in “did not play” last season.
Which could be considered a bad thing or a good thing. It all depends on your perspective.
It could be bad because the Cougars are in a rebuilding mode in one of the key positions up front, with only 10 starts combined last year for the eight guys who will probably play a lot in the Sept. 5 season opener against Pac-10 rival Stanford.
But it might be good if you consider Washington State’s rushing defense was worst among all 119 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in 2008.
The Cougars yielded 247.6 yards a game, nearly 6 yards a carry and saw the opposition cross the goal line 50 times on running plays.
“Last year was such a rough season all the way through,” said the group’s most experienced returning player, senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman. “People were looking down at the d-line and we’ve got to step up.
“We’re supposed to be the core of the defense, so we really look at it as a challenge.”
The group that’s taking up that challenge includes just two guys who played last season, Kooyman and tackle Toby Turpin, and Turpin didn’t see extensive action until the season’s second half.
There are six newcomers, from senior Jesse Feagin, who sat out last year due to academics, to junior Casey Hamlett, who transferred in last spring after Division II Western Washington dropped its program. There are two junior college transfers, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman.
“We definitely have made a lot of improvements since last year,” Kooyman said. “We are a lot bigger inside than last year and we’re going to be a lot more aggressive.”
Defensive line coach Malik Roberson, in his second year, especially agrees with the latter part of that statement.
“We’re asking the guys … to play sideline to sideline,” Roberson said.
It’s a bigger, stronger group of Cougars Roberson is asking to “fly around and to move.”
Turpin and Kooyman each added 18 pounds of muscle over the off-season while redshirt freshman Dan Spitz and JC transfer Bernard Wolfgramm each added more than 20 during their non-playing season.
There’s also the introduction of freshman Travis Long, who is running with the first string less than three months after graduating from Gonzaga Prep.
Asked what Long has showed in his first 21 collegiate practices, Roberson answered, “speed, great pad level and … we get the real good pass rush, real good pass rush.”
But he is a freshman.
“He’s going to be a great player,” Kooyman said. “I’m trying to lead him in the right direction. … My freshman year, I felt kind of lost. I was playing, what 230 (pounds)? I was getting pushed around.”
Long is bigger, at 247 pounds, though still the lightest of WSU’s top eight. But after last year, any type of reinforcement is welcome.
“I’m excited to see how he plays,” Kooyman said. “We need big guys, we need athletic guys, to compete at this level.”
As determined by me, so take it for what it’s worth …
(Height, weight, year and 2008 starts in parentheses)
Kevin Kooyman (6-6, 260, Sr., 6)
Casey Hamlett (6-3, 250, Jr., dnp)
Bernard Wolfgramm (6-3, 291, RS Jr., dnp)
Josh Luapo (6-0, 311, RS Jr., dnp)
Toby Turpin (6-5, 284, RS Jr., 4)
Dan Spitz (6-6, 268, RS Fr., dnp)
Travis Long (6-4, 247, Fr., dnp)
Jesse Feagin (6-4, 258, RS Sr., dnp)
• OK, so that’s the d-line story. Though there was one thing line coach Malik Roberson said that I couldn’t work into the story, but felt was interesting. I ended the interview asking him if he thought the group was better than last year, a lot better, worse, what. “I’ll tell you this right now,” he said, “what we have that we didn’t have last year that’s going to make all the difference in the world, talent, speed, size, it doesn’t matter. We’re closer. Really bonded this off-season. There’s a lot more trust and guys are playing for each other better than they did last year.” Which doesn’t answer the question, really, but gives you an insight into the dynamic at work last year. … The Cougars got in 21 practices before school started and will have 10 more before the Stanford game. We’ve got three more previews to finish up: linebackers, defensive backs and special teams. So I thought it would be a good time to ask you to begin formulating your thoughts on the upcoming season. On the previous post I wrote that people interested in the WSU program would consider four wins a success. Am I wrong? Would that not be enough to satisfy you? What do you think the season holds? You don’t have to put it all down now. Think about it and get back to us. It’s a subject that can be discussed all week here. … One final note. Maybe Wulff shouldn’t have given the Cougars the day off. Freshman safety Jamal Atofau was arrested by Pullman police after midnight Sunday for an alcohol violation. If you’re wondering, a WSU spokesman said he’s been suspended pending investigation.
• That’s it for today. We’ll be back tomorrow as the practice week starts anew. Until then …