Competition is Cougars' buzz word of spring

THE UNOFFICIAL MOTTO for Washington State's football program this offseason is competition. Paul Wulff, who enters his fourth season as head coach, said Friday afternoon that multiple positions are wide open as the Cougars begin spring practice next week.

"Just because someone started on a 2-10 team last year doesn't mean they're a starter in 2011," he said.

Wulff released the team's depth chart to the media shortly before the meeting, and it featured some surprises. Perhaps the most notable was Ian Knight, a 6-foot-2, 244-pound transfer from Butler County Community College in Kansas, listed as a starter at one defensive-end position. But Wulff cautioned not to overanalyze that.

"He's just a little more experienced," he said. "He hasn't earned anything. A depth chart at this point really means nothing."

That does not mean Wulff dismissed the possibility that Knight could contribute — or even start — this fall.

"Hopefully he brings us the athleticism we want to continue to add to the football team," he said.

Two other defensive ends — Travis Long (shoulder), a two-year starter, and Jordan Pu'u-Robinson (knee) — will not participate in practices while they recover from surgery. Other players who will not compete include running back Arthur Burns, whom Wulff said injured his left wrist in the weight room and needs surgery, and Jared Byers, who suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee last year at Oklahoma State.

Wulff said both Pu'u-Robinson and offensive tackle Dan Spitz, who suffered a torn right-shoulder labrum in practice last season, are progressing well enough to perform limited functions, such as agility drills, and might even be able to practice toward the end of spring. But Wulff said he will be cautious with both.

He said no players will sit out practices to focus on academics.

SPRING PRACTICE STARTS earlier this year than in recent years. Wulff said that is beneficial for a couple of different reasons. He said the team will be busier in the weight room this spring than before because he wants his younger players to make strength gains, and that the earlier start will allow less disruption with spring break. In addition, he said, the coaching staff will be able to work on recruiting earlier.

"We've made some good strength gains and are ready to get onto the football field," Wulff said. "We're anxious to kind of get moving and take the next step."

He also outlined what he wants to see during the 15 practices this spring.

"I would like to see the players show tremendous leadership and run the drills," he said. "Hopefully we have enough leadership where we don't have to have a coach in the huddle."

And competition.

One area where that figures to be intense is along the offensive line. David Gonzales (left tackle), Wade Jacobson (left guard), B.J. Guerra (right guard) and John Fullington (right tackle) all are listed as starters. But Wulff said there could be as many as eight players vying to replace Zack Williams at center. He even mentioned that Gonzales has experience at the position.

Andrew Roxas, who started against UCLA in 2007 as a true freshman in place of Kenny Alfred, is listed at No. 1 on the depth chart. Junior-college transfer Taylor Meighen is his backup.

Wulff said the coaching staff plans to evaluate several players at that position during the spring, though. He said that will be the same for the new long snapper. Zach Enyeart, who handled that job the last few seasons, recently gained notoriety with a homemade video of long-snapping trick shots. Enyeart graduated and is considered an NFL prospect.

"It doesn't surprise me what he did," said Wulff, referring to the video. "It's quite funny."

He said candidates to replace Enyeart include Long, offensive lineman Alex Reitnouer and incoming junior-college transfer Nico Aumua. If none work, Wulff said the coaching staff will look to add a walk-on to fill that role.

ANOTHER POSITION THAT features uncertainty is running back. Wulff said there is "nothing final" on the possibility of James Montgomery earning a sixth year of eligibility, but noted that he is expected to earn his degree this spring.

"I've given him some time," he said. "I'm not sure it's something he desires to do."

Wulff said that position, where 6-1, 230-pound Logwone Mitz is listed as the starter, will see many players sharing practice time during the spring. WSU averaged just 2.62 yards per carry last season, which ranked 119th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs.


  • Cornerback Tracy Clark, who was arrested last month on burglary charges, has been reinstated to the football program. But, Wulff added, "We'll continue to deal with him." Linebacker Louis Bland remains suspended. Even before Bland recently was arrested and suspended from the program due to felony assault charges, Wulff said he had plenty of work to do after missing last season following surgery on his left knee.

    "He's not 100 percent," Wulff said. "It was a pretty serious surgery. It's going to be a work in progress."

  • Wide receiver Kristoff Williams, who redshirted as a freshman last season because of a reoccurring issue with turf toe, still has some pain in that area, Wulff said. But he added that he feels that is normal, and that the coaching staff "intentionally" is running Williams at 80 percent as a precaution.

    "It looks like he's progressing well," he said.

  • Brandon Rankin still is listed as a defensive tackle, but Wulff said he has not ruled out the possibility of moving back to end, where he starred at in junior college.

    "I think it's all going to depend how we evaluate his spring early in camp," said Wulff, adding that Rankin has battled a shoulder injury for the last year. "Brandon has a little more flexibility than some other guys to play both."

  • Wulff said he expects significant development from quarterback Jeff Tuel in his second full season as a starter. Tuel completed 219 of 266 passes for 2,780 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season.

    Marshall Lobbestael enters his senior season listed as the backup, but Wulff said he will be challenged by Connor Halliday, who redshirted as a true freshman last season, and walk-on David Gilbertson. Wulff said Halliday has made progress in the weight room, but that the 6-4, 175-pound Ferris High School graduate still needs work there. He said Gilbertson, a Redmond High School graduate, is "a guy we have high hopes for." Wulff said he hopes to give all three significant practice time in spring to sort out the depth chart.

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