Spring ball a chance to get acquainted

PULLMAN – For Washington State head football coach Paul Wulff, spring practice will be about getting back to basics – with a twist.

The team takes the field today for the first day of a month of spring practice. The twist is that it will be the first time many coaches will see their players actually on the field.

“This scenario, truly being on the football field and actually doing football,” Wulff said, “is going to be, one, fun; two, it’s important; and we are going to end up naturally, hopefully, just through time, getting to know each other better.”

Today and Tuesday, the Cougars will practice without pads, as required by the NCAA. Wulff and his new coaching staff will take the taking-it-easy time and make sure players learn the coaches’ base schemes, play hard – and just plain listen.

The fundamentals of offense and defense will be key in getting the Cougars ready for next season. Wulff, who took over for Bill Doba when he retired in December, is bringing in a no-huddle, spread offense.

And this spring the offense will work on effective running while the defense works on stopping the run, Wulff said.

“I think those things have to happen,” he said. “And hopefully (players) come out of it with a better comfort level of knowledge on offense and defense of what we’re going to do.”

But the running game is one area where the Cougars lack depth, Wulff said. Dwight Tardy (knee) is out for the spring but is progressing through rehabilitation. Backup Chris Ivory will most likely sit out spring practice to focus on academics.

So will cornerback Devin Giles. But defensive tackle A’i Ahmu and free safety Xavier Hicks Jr., who were suspended from the team during the off-season, will be back having completed “a series of team disciplinary actions,” Wulff said.

Their return should help strengthen the Cougars’ defense. It’s the offense that needs work, Wulff said.

“A lot of it is on paper, what we know of, and through workouts and stuff,” he said. “But honestly, on paper our secondary’s very thin, our running back situation is very thin. And even our offensive line, in terms of depth, is questionable, and our wide receivers.

“So we’ve got to really, hopefully, find some answers, you know, and some kids could emerge that we’re not expecting.”

To fill out some of the thin positions, the coaches have switched some players around. Redshirt senior Andy Roof, for instance, moved from the offensive to the defensive line – though he didn’t play last season because he was suspended by the university. And B.J. Guerra, a redshirt freshman, switched the other way, from defense to offense.

And all the starting slots are essentially open this spring.

“It’s our job, as coaches, to coach every player hard,” Wulff said. “And ultimately, the players that play the best at every position are going to have every opportunity to play the most.”

That includes redshirt senior Gary Rogers, expected to be WSU’s starting quarterback this upcoming season. He saw little playing time behind Alex Brink last season, but Wulff expects Rogers to step up.

“Anybody that’s been in a program that long – I think everybody wants to rely on their veteran players,” Wulff said. “I think this team’s no different. You always hope that a fifth-year senior is going to be playing his best football in his last year.”

That’s what he expects from every senior, he said. The team returns 23 seniors on a roster of 97, including Rogers, Ahmu, receiver Brandon Gibson, lineman Dan Rowlands, linebacker Cory Evans and free safety Alfonso Jackson.

They’ll all be back on the field two hours a day, four days a week starting today. The first three weeks follow that schedule, and the team’s last week includes two practice days and a head-to-head scrimmage April 12.

“We want to implement how we do things and what our expectations are,” Wulff said. “And as we implement our concepts and everything we want to accomplish through spring, I think we’re naturally going to get to know each other.”

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