Cougs ready to get after it, says Wulff

WASHINGTON STATE HAS been installed as roughly a four-touchdown favorite in its season opener Saturday against Idaho State at Martin Stadium. While coach Paul Wulff said during his Pac-12 and afternoon teleconferences Tuesday that he is not nervous about his team overlooking the Big Sky school, there is a matter that concerns him. Also, Wulff discussed his program's offseason strides and more.

Idaho State, which finished 1-10 last year and plays the Cougars for the first time, perennially has struggled in the Big Sky. But the Bengals now are coached by Colton native Mike Kramer, who served as an assistant to the director of football operations under Wulff last season, and previously guided a pair of Big Sky programs -- Eastern Washington and Montana State. Wulff was hired by Kramer at Eastern

Wulff's concern about Kramer is all about familiarity. While Kramer worked with the Cougars last year, Wulff has no game film of Idaho State.

"He probably has a really good feel for the types of things we're trying to do," Wulff said. "We would like to know more about him."

He said there are multiple ways to prepare for that. Wulff said he tries to review old game film if it is available and examine the "overall philosophy in what they're trying to do." He said preparations also involves some "guesswork."

"As the game progresses, we've got to make adjustments on the run," Wulff said.

Wulff served as Kramer's offensive coordinator in 1998-99 at Eastern. He then became the Eagles' coach in 2000 when Kramer left to take that position at MSU.

"He's a great friend," Wulff said. "In a lot of ways, he's been a brother to me. Obviously, I owe a lot to him and his family."

AS FAR AS his own team is concerned, Wulff said there was nothing that disappointed him about fall camp and the offseason in general. He said many players need to continue to improve, but he was impressed with the development in his team athletically and academically.

"I think as we've progressed through fall camp our players have gained more and more confidence," said Wulff, adding that his team had few poor practices. "Our players believe they can win."

One player who has emerged is junior defensive end Adam Coerper. After suffering a high-ankle sprain during spring ball, Coerper returned with a vengeance to earn the starting left end job in fall camp.

"Adam has shown a physical play in defending the run, which is something we need," said Wulff, adding that he feels Coerper can develop even more. "We like his size, his frame and his strength."

Sophomore cornerback Damante Horton, who did not play last season after Oct. 16 when he suffered damage to the medial collateral and anterior-cruciate ligaments against Arizona, also has secured a starting position on the left side. Juniors Daniel Simmons and Nolan Washington are in a battle to be Horton's counterpart.

"(Horton's) stayed healthy and worked hard," Wulff said. "It goes back to the playing experience he got last year. He's improved greatly from last year at this time."

He said Horton also has been the team's most consistent cornerback. Wulff said Simmons needs "to be a little more consistent," while Washington returned to practice Monday after being sidelined with a hamstring injury. Both Washington and junior defensive end Travis Long (knee) are probable for Saturday, he said.

WSU again could play a number of true freshmen this season. That particularly is the case at linebacker even though the Cougars return some experience at that position. Wulff said that is because Darryl Monroe -- along with wide receivers Henry Eaddy and Isiah Myers -- enrolled in January from Florida high schools and are more experienced than typical freshman.

"(Monroe's) comfort level is higher than any freshman you can imagine," said Wulff, who also lauded his athleticism, speed and physicality.

Linebacker Chester Su'a, who was WSU's highest-ranked signing in February by Scout.com, is not quite as refined as Monroe. But Wulff said he can contribute early -- particularly on special teams.

"Chester is a little more raw with a lot of talent, speed and quickness," he said. "It's tough to keep an athlete like that off the football field."

Wulff said other true freshmen who could play immediately include running back Marcus Mason, walk-on linebacker Cyrus Coen and possibly safety Jordan Simone.

He said wide receiver Rahmel Dockery and lineman Alex Mitchell still are waiting approval from the NCAA Eligibility Center. Wulff hopes that Dockery will be cleared in the next two days, but said "we're working on some details with Mitchell" that could delay his start.

WHEN IT COMES to the program he took over in December 2007 from Bill Doba, Wulff never has shied away from answering questions about the myriad challenges inherited. WSU finished 2-10 last season and has a 5-32 record in Wulff's three seasons. But with a roster nearly full of players he recruited, Wulff is more than ready to begin the season.

"This team has put in a lot of hard work," he said. "We're now having more leaders on our football team and community. We're anxious to get to the season and see a lot of that pay off."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy's no-huddle offense will be fully implemented this year, Wulff said.

    "When Chip Kelly went to Oregon, they had a pretty set program," he said. "It's a pretty quick turnaround for guys like them.

    "It has been challenging to get all the pieces we need to function. This is the first time we have enough pieces and experience. You'll see a lot higher level of play offensively."

  • Wulff agreed with a reporter's assessment that he is a "500-word underdog" against Kramer.

    "There's a big difference between his vocabulary and mine -- and what comes out," he said.

    Wulff added that Kramer was helpful last year in reviewing thousands of highlights that the Cougars received from prospective recruits.

  • WSU focused on more hitting during the spring, and by design, did not do as much of that in fall camp. Still, Wulff feels his team did plenty enough hitting to be prepared for the season.

    "We did a lot of live situations in spring and then toned it back in fall," he said. "I felt our tackling was pretty darn solid. It seemed like a higher percentage of our defense was in that position."

  • Sophomore C.J. Mizell entered fall camp as a backup at middle linebacker, but beat out senior Mike Ledgerwood for the starting position. Mizell's poor practice habits last season were well documented. But Mizell has made a big turnaround this fall.

    "He's had a good camp," Wulff said. "He's worked hard. He's in shape and I think he's ready to play a game."

  • Wulff said both lines will be significantly improved this year. Last year, the offensive line started true freshman John Fullington and a pair of junior-college transfers -- David Gonzales and Wade Jacobson -- on the left side. The result was 51 sacks allowed and 2.62 yards per carry, which ranked 119th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

    This season, Fullington is the only projected starter who is not a senior. Wulff said the group's experience allows it to comprehend "more of what they're being taught."

  • While he understands that some fans could view the nonconference schedule in similar terms to an NFL preseason slate, Wulff does not look at Idaho State, UNLV and San Diego State in that manner. He said the Cougars will be able to play more backups because of their depth, but they will blend starters and backups instead of making immediate mass substitutions if any of the games become blowouts. SDSU in particular could present a formidable challenge, some college pundits believe they have a strong, Top 25-ranked squad this season.

  • Wulff said he has not determined whether senior Marshall Lobbestael or redshirt freshman Connor Halliday will be the backup quarterback. He said both could play against the Bengals.


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