Bland's return notable for a couple reasons

LINEBACKER LOUIS BLAND started nine games as a true freshman in 2008 and at one point, Paul Wulff referred to him as the Cougs' best player. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury that cost him half of the '09 campaign and all of the 2010 season. His return to full health in 2011 is great news for the Cougar defense. And so is the fact Bland will find stiff competition for his starting spot.

"What Louis (Bland) is going to have to overcome is that he's missed the last year and a half of football," Wulff said at the annual Cougar football dinner in Seattle earlier this month.

In his first year at WSU, Bland posted 55 total tackles -- fourth-most on the team -- from his spot on the strongside. As a sophomore in 2009 he played half of the season -- primarily at middle ‘backer -- before going down with a knee injury. At the time of the injury he was on pace to be WSU's leading tackler for the season.

"In the meantime, we've had some young football players step up and play. He's going to have to fight to get back onto the football field," Wulff said of Bland, who redshirted in 2010 while continuing to recover from surgery.

Wulff noted the strong play of freshmen Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell in 2010 has dramatically strengthened the linebacking outlook.

Mizell started five games at middle linebacker, including the final four, and concluded the season with 57 total tackles -- fourth-most on the team. Kaufusi saw action in 11 games last season, despite injuries, both at outside and inside 'backer. He started once, in the middle, and posted 22 total tackles on the season.

Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who will be back for his senior campaign in 2011, started all 12 games last season at weakside linebacker. His 81 total tackles were second-most on the team behind safety Deone Bucannon's 84.

Myron Beck, last year's starter at strongside 'backer, is graduating, so the opportunity for someone or several someones to pick up significant PT in the linebacking corps is there this season.

Besides Bland, another experienced hand who will be back in action in 2011 is Mike Ledgerwood. Injury hampered much of his 2010 season but not before he started four games at MIK.

Among the young guns looking for more playing time in 2011 will be Eric Oertel, who was the No. 2 SAM behind Beck at the end of the 2010 season; and Darren Markle, who saw action in 10 games last season. Two names that won't be in the hunt are Jamal Atofau, who started one game in place of a dinged up Beck last season, and Andre Barrington. Both were removed from the team for off-field reasons.

From the new recruiting class, Darryl Monroe, who enrolled in January, has the attention of a lot of fans already, wanting to see how far along he might be at the jump of his college career. And then in fall camp the Cougs will welcome the rookie trio of Chester Sua, Logan Mayes and Tana Pritchard. Wulff is high on all three and believes Sua could offer instant impact.


  • Wulff says he believes the WSU football program is "finally ... built to where we should be looking for a bowl game every year. I don't have a crystal ball and I can't predict the future — and never will. But do I think we can get to a bowl game? Absolutely."

  • Sua, who is the most highly rated member of WSU's new recruiting class, had numerous schools make late runs him, including Oregon State and Washington, but held firm with the Cougs. This native Samoan moved to Hawaii just two years ago and is still becoming fluent in English. "He has a great physical presence and excellent speed," Wulff says. "I won't be surprised if he plays this fall and has a big impact."

  • Brandon Rankin, who started at defensive tackle most of last season, could end up at that position or defensive end in 2011 – it depends on how the depth chart sorts out, Wulff said. Rankin had 24 sacks as a defensive end in 2008 at California's Butte College, earning All-America honors.

  • Wulff said Chris Tormey, who spent the last two seasons guiding safeties and special teams at Hawaii, was named linebackers coach at WSU last month because he's the full package. "He's proven to be a phenomenal recruiter and a really good football coach," Wulff said. "He has an excellent reputation." Tormey, 55, who grew up in Spokane, compiled a 49-54 record at Idaho and Nevada in eight seasons as coach. He also has coached linebackers and was a defensive coordinator in two stints at Washington.

  • Chris Dyko, who started on the offensive line at WSU in the late 1980s with Wulff, was in attendance at the Seattle "Night With Cougar Football." When Wulff showed Taiese's highlight clip, he noted the 6-foot-6, 350-pound Bay Area-product is "bigger than Dyko." Dyko, who is also 6-6, played in 1989 for the Chicago Bears.

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