Paul Wulff spent about 15 minutes answering questions from a few writers this afternoon and nothing he said was all that surprising. There was a little news, however, so read on.
• The first question asked concerned the difference in attitude and atmosphere between this team and last fall’s group. “The whole team has developed a lot more trust within the locker room,” Wulff said. He went on to say the offseason was good – on and off the field – in a lot of ways and the talent level, while young, is improved, helped along by strong senior leadership. Later, when asked how he would explain why his team is improved, Wulff went back to the talent well once again. “Our talent level is improving, albeit young, it is clearly improving,” he said. “(We’ve been) bringing in kids who belong in the Pac-10 and can win in the Pac-10.” The buildup of talent has come over time, he explained. “We’ve got some players who played in our system a year ago back, and we’ve got a number of players who didn’t participate for a variety of reasons, primarily injuries, who will add to our team and help us be better,” Wulff said. All that adds up to more depth. And depth means competition. “We have competition at a number of positions – not all – but we are starting to build the competition that all good programs have,” he said. “We haven’t had that. We’ve had a lot people absorb roles without the competition because there was no one else on the team.” He also added the players are getting more accustomed to his system.
• Speaking of depth, Wulff said Louis Bland is still not recovered from his knee surgery and has yet to be cleared to practice. If he can’t go full bore by the week of the Oklahoma State game, there is a good chance he could redshirt. The linebacker hasn’t used his redshirt year yet. … Safety Jay Matthews had more surgery on his shoulder over the offseason and may have to redshirt again, hoping to get a sixth year down the road. … Tight end Skylar Stormo broke his hand over the summer but is expected to be ready to go. A few players are nursing sore hamstrings and ankles. … A couple of newcomers might not be available Sunday, including JC transfer defensive tackle Al Lapuaho and freshman cornerback Tracy Clark. Wulff said he expects both to be cleared and to be on the field soon. … Though Wulff would love to redshirt every freshman – he expects by next year only having the exceptional candidate play as a frosh – this year some will have to get some time. He mentioned offensive lineman John Fullington and receivers Kristoff Williams and Marquess Wilson as candidates to play. It’s those young guys – and the overall youth of the roster – that was behind the practice time change for camp. Instead of going on the field in the morning, Wulff said, the coaches will hold their position meetings at that time, possibly even walking through some things before lunch. Then the team will practice at 2, eat dinner and have film sessions in the evening. The hope is to accelerate the learning curve.
• With two new coaches this year, I asked Wulff if the dynamic on the staff had changed. “A little bit,” he said, though everything has gone smoothly because the two new coaches were well known by the staff. Plus, Wulff added, “the one common trait (among the staff) is they all are extremely hard workers.” … There is a new graduate assistant for the defense that is familiar to WSU fans. Former All-America defensive lineman Chad Eaton earned his WSU degree, is in graduate school and will help out with the defense overall and with Malik Roberson on the defensive line.
• Once again Wulff was asked what would constitute a successful season. And once again, after saying he wants to win games and contend for a bowl berth, Wulff didn’t list a number of wins but instead reiterated the crucial step is to be competing late. “Right now, a good step would be to put ourselves in position to win games in the fourth quarter,” he said, “and however many we pull out, we pull out.” He wants to be more explosive and, for almost the first time in his three years here, make big plays when it matters. “We haven’t had the playmakers necessary to make the big plays,” he said. “What big plays do for you is they are momentum changers. … A lot of times you need somebody to give you a spark. We just haven’t had that at all. I finally feel like … we can put some players on the field who can make some big plays.” Asked to name the players who can supply that this season, Wulff went through most of the usual suspects, quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael, whatever running back emerges from the group, wide receivers Jared Karstetter or Daniel Blackledge along with “we may need a Marquess Wilson or Kristoff Williams as freshman or an Isiah Barton, those guys need to make some plays for us.” Tight end Andrei Lintz earned mention as a guy who had a good spring and summer. On defense, Wulff mentioned Kevin Kooyman, Travis Long, Brandon Rankin, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LeAndre Daniels and Daniel Simmons. “It’s time they can start making those kind of plays,” Wulff said.
• Wulff expressed his pleasure in the return of James Montgomery, but we’ve covered that pretty well. … And he said punter Reid Forrest should be a real weapon this year and should contend for national honors. As long as “hopefully, it’s not because he has lots of opportunities,” he joked. … Finally, he confirmed that Nico Grasu is still the No. 1 kicker but newcomer Andrew Furney, a walk-on from Burlington-Edison High, will get a chance to compete. … By the way, Wulff’s first sentence on today’s conference call: “Very excited to get going.” Some day a coach will say how he wishes the season never started, so his summer would go on forever. When that happens, I can die a happy man.
• That’s all for now. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …