PULLMAN – There will be a new look for Washington State University’s football team when practice begins this morning at 9.
It doesn’t have much to do with uniforms, though those have been redesigned for the 2009 season, as the Cougars have switched suppliers from Russell Athletic to Nike. It doesn’t have a lot to do with the freshly painted lines at Rogers Field, WSU’s practice facility.
It’s all about the guy in front of the team.
Head coach Paul Wulff’s team will be on the field, but he won’t.
Wulff will be serving a three-day suspension, part of an NCAA-mandated punishment relating to violations that occurred while Wulff was the head coach at Eastern Washington University.
So while the Cougars run through drills in the expected 60-degree weather – the unseasonably cool weather is forecast to last all week – Wulff will be in his Bohler Gym office, banned from contact with players until Wednesday.
Not that he thinks it will matter much.
“We scripted these practices out in what we were going to do quite a while ago,” said Wulff, who has turned over the reins to assistant head coach Chris Ball (see sidebar). “It kind of runs like clockwork at this point.”
So what will Wulff miss in three days without full pads?
•The beginnings of a “wide-open” quarterback battle.
Senior Kevin Lopina and sophomore Marshall Lobbestael – coming off knee surgery but cleared to practice – have the inside track, but Wulff said he’s “not going to rule out (any) of the quarterbacks on our roster.” Sophomores J.T. Levenseller and Dan Wagner also saw time during the injury-plagued 2008 season, while freshmen Jeff Tuel and David Gilbertson round out the depth chart.
•The first look at the freshman class, which includes Gonzaga Prep’s Travis Long, who will get a shot at playing right away on the defensive line, and defensive backs Nolan Washington and Anthony Carpenter, who may be thrown into the mix as well.
There are 30 new faces this fall, counting transfers and incoming recruits.
•A group of returnees from last year’s 2-11 season – Wulff’s first at WSU – including “a lot of players with injuries they had to overcome to get back healthy on the field this year,” Wulff said.
Taking into account the roughly two dozen players coming off injuries that required surgery, Wulff feels there has been “a lot of improvement made.” Just how much improvement is still unclear, though, as NCAA rules preclude coaches from being a part of offseason workouts.
“As coaches, we’re always anxious to see how practice goes the first week or so,” Wulff said, “because we don’t know … how much progress they’ve made in the summer.
“I can answer that question a lot better, obviously, after about a week or so of practice.”