PULLMAN – With exactly one week before fall football camp starts, Washington State coach Paul Wulff has yet to decide the starter for the Cougars’ most important position.
“We do have a quarterback situation where it’s not completely settled yet,” Wulff said Thursday at the Pac-10 football media day. “I think time will kind of sort that stuff out.”
Wulff and offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy will give most of the practice time to the three players who played the most last season: senior Kevin Lopina and sophomores Marshall Lobbestael and J.T. Levenseller.
There are three other quarterbacks in camp in sophomore Dan Wagner, who filled in on an emergency basis last season; freshmen Jeff Tuel, who Wulff hopes to redshirt; and walk-on David Gilbertson, son of former California, Washington and Idaho coach Keith Gilbertson.
Lobbestael and Lopina were both designated starters on the fall depth chart, indicating the indecision the position faces.
Lopina started eight games last year, but his statistics weren’t record-breaking, especially the touchdown-to-interception ratio of 0 to 11. The senior, who had an efficiency rating of 88.7, completed 56.9 percent of his passes for 841 yards.
Lobbestael, who started three games while Lopina and Gary Rogers were injured, did a little better (103.1 rating), hitting on 51.5 percent of his throws, with four touchdowns and four interceptions. His season was cut short with a knee injury suffered at Oregon State.
Lobbestael is expected to be ready by the Sept. 5 opener against Stanford in Pullman after undergoing surgery on the medial collateral and anterior collateral ligaments in his left knee late last year.
“We feel by the first game, from a healthy knee perspective, he should be 100 percent, at least that’s what they are predicting,” Wulff said. “It will be a little bit of a work in progress all through training camp and through the month of August.”
Levenseller, who didn’t participate in much of spring practice after suffering a leg injury, also missed time over the summer when he tweaked his left (non-throwing) arm. In limited duty last year he completed 50 percent of his throws for 134 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Wulff is starting to wonder if his team just might be a little, well, “snake-bit.”
“Yeah, I think we have (been),” Wulff said. “We’re not in a situation yet where we can endure a lot of injuries. We don’t have the depth in our program yet.
“We’re going to, but we don’t have enough depth.”
Wulff’s response was related to a question on the status of sophomore outside linebacker Louis Bland. Bland was one of the bigger surprises last year when he won a starting spot despite beginning the season as a backup in the secondary.
He was enjoying a big spring when he suffered a tear in his posterior cruciate ligament. He missed the final few days, and then underwent surgery, one of about two dozen Cougars who were operated on in the offseason.
Bland’s recovery was progressing fine until June, when, despite wearing a brace, he aggravated the injury walking at home. Then, in July, he aggravated it again, this time as he was starting to run.
Now Bland will not be ready to go full speed when camp opens next Sunday and may miss a game or two.
“We’ve had a couple of unfortunate things,” Wulff said of the offseason setbacks. “But you can’t slow down and look behind you. You’ve just got to keep going forward.”
The backup at Bland’s weak-side linebacker position is Myron Beck, who started nine games last year. But he also underwent offseason back surgery.
“He’s done some good things in his rehab and training and he seems to be doing well,” Wulff said of Beck. “Myron will do a good job. He played some good football last year for us.”
The hardest injury for Wulff to deal with is the broken back defensive end Cory Mackay suffered when he was involved in a one-car accident en route home to Redmond, Wash., after school ended.
Mackay, who underwent surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his back, is home and in rehabilitation but Wulff said his hope of returning to school this month was too optimistic. The goal now is for Mackay to return to Pullman in the spring, Wulff said.
No. 14 unretired
Tight end Tony Thompson will wear a different number for his senior year. Father Jack, who just happens to be one of WSU’s all-time best quarterbacks, has allowed the Cougars to unretire No. 14, one of only two retired football numbers, so Tony can wear it his last season.
The no-huddle offense should return this season.
The Cougars started out last season using Sturdy’s tempo-controlling scheme but scrapped it after injuries rendered it ineffective.
“It’s something we want to do,” Wulff said. “Because we ended up playing four different quarterbacks last year, we just didn’t have enough experience, or enough time in the system for all the players … we didn’t just grasp it as quickly as we wanted to, but the idea is we want to definitely do that.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it at the pace we like.”