Wolfley Stuffs the Middle

Rick Wolfley has settled in nicely with his role as nose tackle so far this year. Wolfley was buried on the offensive line depth chart before making the switch because of the season-ending injury to Russell Tialavea just prior to the start of the season. Six games in, Wolfley is playing an important role on defense.

"I love it," said Wolfley when asked about his role on the defensive side of the ball. "Defense is where I have the most fun and I feel that I'm improving a lot and that I'll definitely continue to get better every game."

Indeed, Wolfley has been a major fixture in the middle of the Cougar 3-4 defensive system. Playing in the middle requires a lot of strength so as to bottle up the middle of the line on running plays. It's a role Wolfley is well-suited for.

"Rick Wolfley is obviously very strong, being such a big body," said defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi. "We need him to lose some weight, at least 30 pounds or so, which he'll work on during the offseason, but he's doing a good job for us so far."

Wolfley's job in the middle of the line is defined simply: don't let them move you. Maintaining leverage while plugging up the middle is easier said than done. It's one of the more physically demanding positions on the field of play.

"You need to rotate guys at the nose tackle especially with our starter Eathyn Manumaleuna being young and it being his first year," said Kaufusi. "That's where Wolfley has helped us the most, in giving Eathyn breathers when he needs them."

Wolfley's reps have varied largely in part due to the type of opponent the Cougar offense is stacked against, among other factors. Against New Mexico, Wolfley saw close to 20 reps throughout the game, as opposed to the last game against UNLV where he saw six.

"A lot of that was because the defense wasn't on the field as much that game," said Wolfley. "I play more against running teams obviously and during running situations. I'm big and I stuff the middle well, but I can't rush the quarterback like the other defensive linemen on the team."

"We manage our linemen according to situation, sure, but it mostly has to do if they're tired or not," said Kaufusi. "When Eathyn just comes off a short series I may use him for the next series, but if it's a long series I'll send in Rick while Eathyn gets a breather."

In regards to specific situations, Kaufusi is even more liberal in his substitution patterns, but one constant remains in that Wolfley more often than not isn't on the field during those situations.

"I won't use Wolfley in pass situations because it's not his strength," said Kaufusi. "I'll use a lot of other options, like put Ian Dulan or even Jan Jorgensen in the middle since they're good pass rushers. I'll rarely if ever put Wolfley in during pass situations."

For right now Wolfley is working hard to develop to the point where he can become an every-down defensive lineman that excels at both stuffing the run and rushing the quarterback. Wolfley knows he has a long way to go, but is confident he'll get there.

"I'm big, but I'm too big," said Wolfley. "I need to lose weight, get quicker and work on my technique a lot, which I focus on every day and will focus more on during the offseason. For right now I like my role of stopping the run during running situations."

Kaufusi too has noticed Wolfley's improvement with every game and is excited for the recently converted offensive lineman's prospects.

"Wolfley has a long way to go until he's where he can get most of the reps," said Kaufusi. "But you know what? He's willing and he's a quick learner. When he gets his footwork right and learns how to use his hands and all the other technique stuff that we teach, I think he could become a very good lineman for us."

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