PULLMAN – Here we go.
The Paul Wulff era at Washington State takes its next step March 17 with the start of a month of spring football practice.
But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill spring. It’s a chance for the Cougars to get to know the new coaching staff, and vice versa.
“Anytime you have a drastic change like this,” tight ends coach Rich Rasmussen said, “that’s a big part of spring – getting a feel and an idea of the personnel that you have here and what their capabilities are.
“And then as a staff we can make adjustments to the personnel that we have to give us the best opportunity to win on Saturday.”
Spring practice, which culminates April 12 with the spring game, is the first time the new coaches will see the Cougars play, other than on tape. Just two current coaches – Mike Levenseller and Steve Broussard – were with the Cougars last season under Bill Doba.
Wulff, who took over after Doba’s retirement in December, brought most of the rest of the coaches with him from Eastern Washington University. They also brought changes.
Sophomore Andy Mattingly went from linebacker to defensive end, earning the spot after the coaches saw he had a knack for sacking the opponents’ quarterback, Rasmussen said.
“He showed last year that he has the ability to rush the passer,” he said of Mattingly. “And so, we’re pretty thin on the D-line as it is, and so he was the most likely candidate to move up there.”
Moving to defense is redshirt senior Andy Roof, who was suspended by the university last season and did not play. Before then, he played as an offensive lineman, but Rasmussen said Roof has played on the defensive side of the ball before, just not since high school.
“He’s one of the strongest guys on the team,” Rasmussen said. “He’s also one of the fastest linemen overall. And we needed help on the defensive line. It was very thin.”
Roof essentially switched positions with redshirt freshman B.J. Guerra. The positions seemed to fit each player better, Rasmussen said.
Then there’s Gary Rogers, the quarterback who saw little playing time last season behind Alex Brink. The 6-foot-6, 233-pound redshirt senior is expected to be the starter come fall.
Though he made an appearance in all 12 games last season, he totaled just 37 yards in 19 plays.
The other quarterbacks are Cole Morgan and Kevin Lopina, both redshirt juniors; Marshall Lobbestael and Dan Wagner, both redshirt freshmen; and true freshman J.T. Levenseller.
Rasmussen stressed that, for all positions, starting spots are up in the air. The coaches want to see how the athletes fare with WSU’s new strategies, such as a spread offense and the abolition of the huddle.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re just putting in the offense,” Rasmussen said. “You know, there’s not a single guy on this roster that’s taken a snap with some of the things we’re going to do offensively.
“And so that’s going to be a big evaluation time for us, using all 15 practices this spring to see who fits what pieces where.”
Wide receiver Michael Willis, a redshirt junior who was academically ineligible last season, returns and is “one of the leaders on this team,” Rasmussen said. Willis and linebacker Jason Stripling, who also was ineligible last season, turned the coaches’ heads during winter conditioning, Rasmussen said.
Also turning heads is walk-on junior Easton Johnson, a defensive back who transferred from Feather River College in Quincy, Calif. A receiver last year, Johnson had a good winter in the training room, Rasmussen said.
Redshirt sophomore transfer Myron Beck, a safety from Glendale College, will also join the Cougars this spring.
“It’s hard for us to tell anything because we haven’t seen them on the field,” Rasmussen said of the walk-ons.
A’i Ahmu, a senior defensive tackle who started last season, and free safety Xavier Hicks Jr. are expected to participate in spring practice after being suspended from the team this winter. Wulff was unavailable for comment late Friday.
Sophomore cornerback Devin Giles, while still on the roster, will not suit up this spring so he can focus on academics.