For Sorensen, it's about line depth

PAUL SORENSEN HAS taken in a few fall camp practices in Pullman this month, and he likes what he sees. He has raves for Jeff Tuel, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Deone Bucannon, Kristoff Williams, Toni Pole, Anthony Laurenzi and several more of the frontline starters. But there are also areas that give him pause as the Cougars countdown to the kickoff of the 2011 campaign.

The depth on the lines.

"When you're talking about the season, that's the question in my mind. I think the first-team guys are very good. I love the front four on defense -- love them. And Steve Morton is doing great things with his 1s on the offensive line. But WSU's weakness has been depth and they're going to have to prove to me they have some this season in the trenches because right now I'm skeptical," said Sorensen.

"I think the lines are going to be a real position of strength with the 1s. For example, at DT, you've got Pole and Laurenzi -- and Brandon Rankin will back them up once his paperwork gets cleared. That Rankin is backing up shows improving play right there. Pole and Laurenzi are getting nasty from what I saw. But again, here's the thing -- injuries happen and you've got to have that depth."

Sorensen was clear that he likes the potential he sees in the young linemen over the long haul. But in terms of the here and now in 2011, there are questions in his mind that won't be answered until the season is well underway.

"I am concerned about the 2s – it's about physical maturity. You can see kids play early and capably at running back, DB, receiver but not on the lines. Without physical maturity they get eaten up. Idaho State will play a tackle or two at around 235 pounds against Washington State -- do you think that's going to work well for them?.

"Look, there's a difference in man strength, a difference between a guy that's 23 years old and a freshman. You can't hide that in big boy football like the Pac-12. It's amazing Jeff Tuel came out of last year without being in traction. That kid is one tough son of a gun, and he's having a sensational fall camp. But can you go through the season without the line injuries that have hammered this team in the past? That's the thing."

As for the first-stringers on the two lines, one reason Sorensen is so high on them is due to coaching. He points to Morton and Todd Howard as difference makers.

"I know Coach Morton and I know how he coaches these guys," said Sorensen. "The unholy number of sacks they gave up last year, the pathetic rushing average, I guarantee that won't happen again because this kids are getting coached up. But the improvement has to be big -- and that means at least 6-7 wins worth of big, not just improving a little. Good health and start-to-finish cohesiveness are going to be critical to become bowl eligible."

Over on the defensive line, Sorensen says Howard's arrival has him excited because he's teaching his troops how to become experts at hand fighting.

"At the high school level, you can get away with being the big guy, but here you've got to be able to swim and rip and do other things. And Howard knows a lot, a lot of different technique given his college and NFL background. He's teaching the guys that, and they're really taking to it."

The defense as a whole needs to improve by light years for the Cougars to be competitive week in and week out, he added.

"All that crap last year -- being 115th against the run or whatever it was -- that all needs to end now or it won't matter how good Tuel and his receivers are. It's time to get salty, get nasty, and get 11 hats to the ball carrier and with an attitude. Now, I saw attitude and athleticism on the defense when I was down there. Is it good enough to compete for an entire season? That's the question."

Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-America honors as a senior. He later played in both the NFL and USFL, and for many years was the color analyst on Cougar radio broadcasts with Bob Robertson. His son Cody is freshman safety at Idaho State.

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