PULLMAN – Football is football to new Washington State University defensive line coach Todd Howard, whether it’s in Texas, where he grew up and played, or at UCLA, where he coached the past five years, or on the Palouse.
But there was one small item he recently realized he needed. An item he used to use during his days of coaching in Iowa.
“I just had to get that (ice) scraper out of storage and start using it,” Howard said Tuesday, after the Cougars’ first full-pad spring practice, a 2-hour, 20-minute workout in bright sunshine.
Howard was smiling, something the former Texas A&M and NFL player seems to do often. But that wasn’t always the case throughout WSU’s fourth of 15 spring workouts.
The Cougars’ defensive line is missing some integral parts this spring, most notably starting defensive end Travis Long and tackle Brandon Rankin, both sitting out in various stages of recovery from shoulder surgery.
But Howard isn’t letting up on the players he has. That group included a new recruit Tuesday, former tight end Skylar Stormo, who moved over to defensive tackle.
“We just wanted to give him an opportunity to see if he could help on defense,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said of the switch. “He played it in high school. We’re a little thin on the defensive line and we felt he could add something for us.”
But just because Stormo is new to the position, that doesn’t mean he’s the only defensive lineman who has a lot to learn.
“(Howard) is teaching a different technique than coach (Malik) Roberson,” who Howard replaced, said Anthony Laurenzi, a redshirt junior who started four games last year at tackle. “It’s hard to adjust to at first, but I’m getting the hang of it.”
“I’ve typically been the guy to break them the whole piece off,” Howard said. “I tell them everything I know. And I go from there.”
That has been a process that started even before spring ball kicked off two weeks ago. And will continue through the final scrimmage April 16.
“You would like to say, when you correct the technique, the next practice it is corrected,” Howard said. “But that’s not often the case. I venture to say by the end of spring ball that they are on point with the techniques I’m teaching.”
After coaching such All-Americans as Brian Price and Justin Hickman at UCLA, how does Howard assess the group he’s working with?
“I’m happy with the guys I’ve got to work with,” he said. “I went through all 12 games from last year and I saw some good things. We’ve got some things we can clean up … but with all those guys coming back and being a year stronger, we can expect them to play better.”
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