WSU's new DL coach: Let's focus on technique

PULLMAN – Todd Howard, Washington State's new defensive line coach, makes no bones about it: His initial interactions with the Cougars weren't good ones. "My first two years at UCLA, Washington State had our number. So I guess my first Cougar experiences were not that positive," Howard joked last Thursday following WSU's third practice of the spring season.

Howard spent five years in Westwood, first under Karl Dorrell and most recently with Rick Neuheisel as defensive line coach and associate head coach – a perch from which he was able to assess WSU's rebuild up close.

"This team has had a rough patch but they are heading in the other direction and I am glad to be a part of it," he told "I noticed these guys turned a corner after that UCLA game (last season). They played everyone tough after that."

Howard, 45, is the fourth addition to the Cougar coaching staff in the last two years, and second since January along with linebackers coach Chris Tormey. Other than having played his college ball at Texas A&M under former WSU coach Jackie Sherrill, Howard had no direct ties to WSU. So the question begs: How did you land here?

"UCLA just had hired a new d-coordinator and I knew my job might be up in the air, Coach Wulff called and we met for a little over two hours but it felt like fifteen minutes," Howard said.


The former NFL player has only a few hours of on-field work with his new troops, but already has come away with some distinct impressions.

"Pole is surprising," he said of the 300-pound second-year freshman tackle Kalafitoni Pole. "If you would have told me he was a freshman last year I would have laughed at you because he really has some football intelligence. Laurenzi (junior tackle Anthony) is showing good power and (JC transfer) Ian Knight is showing good speed and quickness off the end."

He's going to have to wait awhile to get a full read on two guys who figure to be at center stage for him come September: tackle Brandon Rankin and end Travis Long. Long is rehabbing from off-season shoulder surgery and is missing all of spring ball. Rankin aggravated an injury and will now miss the balance of spring as he goes under the knife to clean up a shoulder. "He got hurt so I haven't seen too much of him. I am excited to see what he is capable of."

The bottom line, Howard says of WSU's corps of tackles and ends, is that they have what it takes.

"We are in the Pac-12 now and they have Pac-12 talent. If they focus on some technique changes and the fundamentals I like to teach, this group will be playing better up front and be better at stopping the run."

On Thursday, with weather forcing the team inside, Howard's linemen were the last players to exit The Bubble. He felt they weren't running to the ball fast enough so they got to enjoy a plethora of pushups, sit ups, and bear crawls. Afterward, surrounded by tired bodies in a huddle, Howard could be heard, "Be safe, have fun, and be ready to get after it when you get back." He was referring to the fact school got out Friday for spring break. Spring practices will resume March 22.

Howard is no stranger to hard work. As a player, he was a standout linebacker at Texas A&M, earning honorable mention All-America honors before moving on to the Kansas City Chiefs for two seasons. As a coach, he has five years of experience in the NFL (including a Super Bowl-winning stint with the Rams in 2000) and is now embarking on his 15th college season.

Wulff is counting on Howard not only for his on-field expertise, but his recruiting acumen as well. He covered Los Angeles at UCLA and is doing the same for the Cougars.

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