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One more day until WSU spring football


COUGARS • UPDATED: 3:45 P.M.

We've put together an overview of WSU heading into spring practice, which starts tomorrow. If you're interested – and I'm guessing if you are reading this you are – then click the link and read on.
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• What I have to post is the unedited version of our story ticketed to run in tomorrow's S-R. But, wait, like those late-night commercials say, there's more. We follow the story with a bunch of notes. And then we'll wrap it all up with a link or two we found today. Enough for you? Probably not, but it's all we got. ...

PULLMAN – Given the past two years, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if some doubt had crept in for Washington State University football coach Paul Wulff.

Three wins in two seasons. Injuries both brutal in number and bizarre in severity. A single Pac-10 victory. An almost complete roster makeover. Off-field problems. The departure of athletic director Jim Sterk, the man who hired him away from Eastern Washington.

It's more than the drip, drip, drip of Chinese water torture. It's been like waterboarding.

But still, as his third spring football session begins, Wulff remains undaunted.

"We have worked so hard since the day we've got here to rebuild this program," Wulff said this week. "From where we started and we know internally where we've gone, we're building this thing as fast as we possibly can. No program that needs a major overhaul is rebuilt in two years."

But like Andy Dufresne, Wulff can see the other side.

"I don't feel pressure," he said, "I feel like we're going to take a big step. We're excited about it. Wherever we are this fall, we're still not going to be where we're going be the following year or the year after that."

Which brings us to today. The Cougars will kick off their 15 spring workouts and scrimmages with a two-hour session in helmets, shirts and shorts – the latter if Mother Nature cooperates.

When the workouts conclude with a spring game April 24, Wulff and his staff hope to have worked their way through a number of areas of concern, and put together a foundation for the fall season. Here are some areas that stand out:

• Youth

Of the 48 players listed in WSU's spring two-deep, former coach Bill Doba's staff recruited only 15. And of the 22 players listed defensively, just four – junior Aire Justin and seniors Kevin Kooyman, Toby Turpin and Chima Nwachukwu – are holdovers.

"We bit the bullet last year on defense and we redshirted eight first-year freshmen," Wulff said. "They could have played, based on how thin and how injured we were. But, ultimately, for the future of our program, to build the program we want, it's going to help these guys and the program."

Many of those, including highly touted recruits such as defensive backs Nolan Washington, Jamal Atofau and Anthony Carpenter, linebacker Andre Barrington and rush linebacker/defensive end Sekope Kaufusi, aren't even in the two-deep. But they'll receive their chances this spring.

As will junior college transfer Brandon Rankin, a 6-foot-5, 271-pound defensive lineman who will work at tackle and end, and redshirt freshmen Darren Markle, a 6-1, 225-pound weight-room legend, and converted running back Arthur Burns, both who will get opportunities at linebacker.

• Speed

Burns, who despite being 5-11 and 218 pounds, is playing defense in part due to a glaring lack of speed last year. Of the nearly two-dozen players who started on the defensive side of the ball last season, only a couple had Pac-10 caliber speed.

The young players should help. And junior Alex Hoffman-Ellis, the fastest among WSU's front seven, will be given the opportunity to showcase his wheels, moving from the middle to weakside linebacker.

"It may fit Alex's talents better," Wulff said of the outside spot.

The offense lost some speed when wide receiver Johnny Forzani decided to forego his senior year and try out for the Canadian Football League, but an incoming group of wide receivers and the expected return of running back James Montgomery – skipping the spring while rehabilitating from knee surgery and his nearly catastrophic lower-leg injury – should help in that regard.

• Blocking

The offensive line struggled with injuries and inconsistency last season, then lost its best player in senior Kenny Alfred. But for the first time in Wulff's tenure, he believes they have the depth and athleticism to compete.

"There's going to be some very good competition at every single position," Wulff said. "We're going to move a few guys around early in the spring to really come up with the best nucleus of players."

Spring will be a time of experimentation, with new line coach Steve Morton moving players around and teaching a slightly altered scheme.

"It's all about how you deliver the message," Wulff said of Morton, "and whether that message translates into the kids playing well. He does that. And he's done that for 35 years."

Junior Andrew Roxas (6-3, 304), who sat out last year after an off-season illness, will get the first shot to replace Alfred at center, but Wulff said others will get looks as well.

Sophomore Tyson Pencer (6-7, 317, 20 pounds heavier than last fall) and Micah Hannam (6-4, 285), a three-year starter, will be pushed at tackle by incoming JC recruits Wade Jacobson (6-6, 307) and David Gonzalez (6-6, 281).

• Throwing

Sophomore Jeff Tuel seems to be being groomed to be the face of the program at quarterback, but Wulff said he and junior Marshall Lobbestael, who finally seems healthy after a devastating freshman knee injury, will both be given in-depth looks.

"As I told my team, everybody's kind of the two right now," Wulff said. "Jeff's going to take the first snaps, but they are going to get equal reps – as much as we can balance it – (as) both have done well in the offseason.

"What's important is both develop some rhythm and consistency executing our offense."

One key aspect of spring is developing depth, and Wulff wants to finish the workouts with an idea of whether he can depend on veteran Dan Wagner or redshirt freshman David Gilbertson as the No. 3 quarterback. That would allow incoming freshman Connor Halliday to redshirt.

• Catching

No matter who is throwing the ball, there has to be people catching it. And the Cougars don't have a lot of depth heading into the spring. Proven talent, yes, depth, no.

"The four that have played a decent amount of football, need to get better," Wulff said, referring to Daniel Blackledge, Jeffrey Solomon, Jared Karstetter and Gino Simone, all of whom caught at least 20 passes last year, "So they're going to have to practice and practice hard and they're going to have to still compete."

Sophomore Simone is the only receiver listed at flanker, though, under receiver coach Mike Levenseller's system, nearly all of the six available receivers should be able to play each of three spots. But the summer, when a new group of receivers get to campus, should be important for developing chemistry.

Of those new recruits, Wulff singled out junior college transfer Isiah Barton, from Fresno, as the key component.

"We feel strongly about him," Wulff said of the 6-1, 190-pound burner. "There's no question Isiah has to play. And there's no question two or maybe even three of those first-year freshmen may end up playing."

• This and that ...

There will be two new assistant coaches on the sidelines today. The veteran Morton, who coached Wulff at WSU, was brought in to replace Harold Etheridge, whose contract was not renewed. And veteran Dave Ungerer replaces Steve Broussard as running backs coach and special teams overseer. Wulff notes WSU may now have the most experienced staff in the Pac-10. ... Offensive lineman Brian Danaher, who grew up in Colfax, has decided against returning for his senior year. Danaher has suffered a handful of concussions since high school. ... UPDATE: OK, practice hasn't started and I have my first turnover. Because Zach Tatman is on the spring roster, I assumed he had been granted a sixth year. Turns out he can practice in the spring while waiting for the NCAA ruling. So we've fixed that. Two seniors who might have graduated, Kooyman and tight end Zach Tatman, are back for another spring. Kooyman took an injury redshirt after hurting his knee in practice before the Hawaii game and Tatman petitioned for and is waiting to hear about a sixth year from the NCAA. ... Two players who were cited for fourth degree assault in the past couple months, Atafou and defensive lineman Jordan Pu'u Robinson, both had the charges dismissed this month, according to the Whitman County prosecutors office and the Pullman Police Department. ... Though Louis Bland will miss spring after a knee injury – there are four players out for the spring, Bland, Montgomery, defensive back Anthony Houston and defensive tackle Josh Luapo – when he returns he'll be in the mix at middle linebacker.

Chima Nwachukwu and Hannam are the only three-year starters – punter Reid Forrest is as well – on defense and offense, and both will face stiff challenges to keep their spot. Sophomore Tyree Toomer, who missed all of last season due to injury, and redshirt freshmen Casey Locker and Atofau are expected to compete for Nwachukwu's strong safety spot. Gonzalez has shown enough in workouts to be second on the right tackle depth behind Hannam. ... Turpin is still waiting to hear about his academic appeal. He is expected to know the outcome in a couple weeks and will practice with the team at least until it is resolved. ... Sophomore Daniel Simmons, who started four games before breaking a leg, is listed as the starter at right corner, bookending Justin. Sophomore Terrance Hayward is listed as Simmons' backup. ... Junior Mike Ledgerwood, who Wulff said showed potential last fall and had a productive offseason, is listed as the starter at middle linebacker. ... Senior Zack Williams, who made six starts at left guard, and junior B.J. Guerra, seven at the right side – both suffered injuries – go into fall atop the depth chart at those spots. ... Senior Chantz Staden, who returned kicks two seasons ago, is expected to be fully recovered from major knee surgery that caused him to miss all of last year.

• And now the links. We found this story about Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh, whose parents, Cindy Fredrick and Mashallah Farokhmanesh, coached volleyball at WSU. ... Ted Miller has another WSU story, this one on Wulff.

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• That's all for now. We'll be back in the morning with links. Until then ...




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Vince Grippi





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