Long-time NFL Scouts weigh in on Wulff, Cougs

HOW MUCH HAS Washington State improved over the last three-and-a-half years and are they on the right path? They're pressing questions in Cougar Nation right now after the loss to Oregon State. So CF.C went looking for answers in as objective a place as we could find: the NFL. More specifically, we talked with a pair of long-time NFL scouts -- people who are paid to focus on reality, not emotion.

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For competitive reasons, both NFL scouts asked that their names not be used in this article. In addition, they kept specifics mostly to themselves when asked about certain players or position groups.

No matter. They were interesting, forthcoming and knowledgeable. Both scouts have been to Pullman this season to observe practice and both have seen Washington State play on multiple occasions.

Here's what they had to say:

CF.C: From an NFL angle, what's your gauge on improvement at Washington State -- a little or a lot?

NFL Scout 1:   I'll do you one better. The people in this business, and I'm including myself, the people in this business all say there has been a big improvement. The talent that has been brought in, the talent they're bringing in, the people in this business see the improvement. I think it's a close knit team that's sticking together, too. Look, I don't play favorites and I'm not a cheerleader for anyone, but you have a head coach there that knows how to treat people right. And that goes a long ways in recruiting the state of Washington and in California. The truth is he's a good coach and he's doing good things up there. You've got some winnable games coming up and some tough games coming up ... but you've got a much-improved football team.

NFL Scout 2: I think they've definitely made a step forward every year. There's just no question about that. If you want my opinion, I think he's a pretty darned good coach. I went to the UNLV game and I thought the starting five on the offensive line was a really good-looking group. That starting o-line was as good a looking a group, other than maybe USC, as there is in the, I keep saying Pac-10 but it's now the Pac-12. Paul has always done a great job on the offensive line. He's developed the Michael Roos' and the Tom Ackermans of the world so I would think if you were a state of Washington offensive line recruit, or a guy from California, I would think you would want to play for him.

CF.C: How much of a difference in the talent level in terms of potential NFL prospects do you see since Paul Wulff has been at Washington State?

NFL Scout 1:   Let me ask you, how many points were you scoring last year (19.58)? How many points were you scoring two years ago, (12.0)? Okay, and how many points are you scoring this year, (34.0)? That 34 points per game tells you the talent is coming in, you're doing the right things recruiting and you've got people that are starting to perform. It tells you something about the coaches, too. If that doesn't drive it home, I don't know what will. And then defensively, you're not giving up the number of points you've given up in the past. The difference is more pronounced on offense but that's because almost every one of your performers on defense are young guys.

NFL Scout 2: I think it was certainly down. The volume that you have to do and go through, that takes time. Basketball you can get one or two recruits and it's an immediate turnaround but that's not how it works in football. WSU has gotten better every year. I'm guessing people are edgy from last week but they lost their QB from Game One on. Their backup has done a heckuva job, I think Marshall did a really good job of maintaining, but losing your starting guy there is tough. I think what Paul has done is he's given a boost to their program, he's made a difference in the talent development. He has to continue to get more of his players in there.

CF.C: What kinds of things specifically have improved, can you talk about some individual players and position groups?

NFL Scout 1:   I don't want to talk about players specifically but you have good receivers, a good QB, and the backup QB did very well when he came in there, and your o-line has gotten a lot better. You've got a senior linebacker that is playing well -- the whole program has improved dramatically there in four years, and that should speak volumes. The one area where you've got to get better, really, is that you just don't have the seniors yet. You've got a bunch of young guys, very few seniors. But all those guys are playing well. That should tell the fans the recruiting is on the right track and that you must have some pretty good coaches there at Washington State.

NFL Scout 2: I may not be real helpful detail-wise because, for example, they don't have a senior safety, so I don't get as dialed into some of the position groups because of that. And they don't have a lot of seniors overall. But Paul, I think, immediately through his presence and his staff, they certainly settled that program down. There were problems, there were a lot of guys getting in trouble if I remember correctly, and through their recruiting efforts the first few years they simmered that down, the overall character in recruiting has risen... You've got some talent at the wideout position, you've got some young talent at running back – I think one of Paul's real strengths has always been in developing offensive line talent and this is clearly the best unit they've put forth. They've been able to absorb some injuries there too and still compete. Offensively, a couple years ago, they were just hoping to get first downs. Now they're making big plays, they're scoring at a much higher clip, it's definitely improved. So there's offensive linemen, the one senior linebacker makes a lot of plays, and those guys aren't going to be high first round picks but they're certainly in the mix as far as having pro potential.

CF.C: From an NFL perspective, what was the depth of the hole Paul Wulff walked into like?

NFL Scout 1:   Well, first off, I want to take a different approach with you here. Take a look at the programs that have done well, and then they make a change. You can look it up -- the results change just about every time you make a coaching change. Unless you're one of very few, you're looking at a 2-3 year disaster in most cases. Look at how high some teams were a few years back, there's a coaching change, and now look where they're at today. Now take a team that is building like Washington State is and think about how that might affect them. If you want to hire some big power guy, well, what if he wants to build it just to win for a year, at most two, and then he leaves for what he sees as a better job, and now you're right back on the same carousel.

NFL Scout 2: I think Washington State has accounted for themselves very well and with Paul, you can see the improvement from where they were. You've got talented skill guys, your o-line is solid, defensively it's coming along and its being driven by almost all young guys -- almost every one of your impact players are young on that side of the ball. And what is going to happen next year is that defense is going to catch up to the offense.

CF.C: The NFL has a lot of guys from less than big-name schools, the Saginaw States, the Northern Iowas, the Central Floridas, and more. Is that comparable to the college recruiting game, and for a school like Washington State?

NFL Scout 1:   You had guys there like (Jim) Sweeney and (Mike) Price who knew they had to do it in a different way, and Paul understands that. The other thing is, if you take a look when Paul took over, how many guys did he have to let go there -- it was a housecleaning. Those guys needed to go but that was still talent you were getting rid of, so that you could improve the character. You don't snap your fingers and immediately build that back up, it was some 20-plus guys if I'm not mistaken, you need to put that into the heart of the equation. You have to have seniors, in talent and numbers, and you haven't gotten there yet, there hasn't been enough time that's gone by.

Now, is he building it back up? Well, you've got one of the highest scoring offenses at 34 points per game, that's up there pretty good. People have short memories and want unrealistic returns but when you have to let that much talent go, you have no chance. Building something that is continually good takes time and if you look at the guys who are in there, and so many of them are sophomores and freshmen, that's what he's doing.

NFL Scout 2: If you go back to the (Mike) Price days you have to be creative (at WSU), how you recruit and in your evaluations. Go back to (Erik) Coleman and (Marcus) Trufant, these were guys that everyone could have recruited and didn't, and I see a lot of that happening today. They've always done a good job of doing that there and Paul is doing the same thing. And we haven't gotten to see his seniors start to come through. But they have some talent that they're developing, that talent is improved. There's no question about that.

You have the lowest budget in the conference if I'm not mistaken and a small stadium to try and work with but with Bill Moos there, they'll get more done. They were all over the UNLV guys this year and they wouldn't have been a couple years ago. You can just tell offensively how much better it is and how much better it is overall. That first year or two for them, it was, ‘Can someone please do something?' But now, it's an offense, and you can see the continuity and the chemistry. The arrow is going up.

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