Talking D-line with Joe Salave'a

PULLMAN— New defensive line coach Joe Salave'a makes his presence known on the practice field. He'll often jump right down into the trenches to demonstrate technique. He'll yell from across the field to gain the attention of a defensive player, and the people in the next county probably hear him, too.

The new staff as a whole is louder than their predecessors, but Salave'a might be the most demonstrative. Continually this spring, Salave'a, a 6-5, 300-pound native of Samoa, has thrown off his Cougar sweater and lined up alongside his d-linemen to demonstrate a technique, or show them firsthand how to attack the line. Viciously.

As an eight year veteran of the NFL, Salave'a has been working this spring to transfer both knowledge and a mindset.

"We've just been trying to field that toughness," Salave'a said. "Everything starts up front and it finishes up front. When it comes to the tempo and outcome of the game, we have a lot to say in it. There's a lot of teaching trying to address those things and we want to make a big footprint this season."

Last Saturday's scrimmage was a good start. The defensive line recorded 12 sacks, giving the offensive line a waking nightmare. Sophomore Logan Mayes playing on the second team led the way with four of those sacks, while fellow redshirt frosh Xavier Cooper on the first team added three.

"These things don't happen by sitting around and drawing on a board," Salave'a said. "We have to put the work in and the time. I think the guys are starting to come around because we're throwing a lot of things in there -- but they're getting used to what we teach and our approach. We're taking baby steps but it's better to take steps then none at all."

Cooper is among the youngsters that Salave'a says he's seen good things from. The second year frosh has been among the more consistent in getting into the backfield putting pressure on Cougar QBs and disrupting the running backs. Cooper told CF.C he's bought in fully to what Salave'a is preaching.

"Technique and playing low (has been a focus), we're going to be playing against harder, better guys," Cooper said. "We've got to get our job done here first so we can go out there and perform to our highest level."

Salave'a said he's seen plenty of positives from other youngsters, including Mayes and redshirt sophomore Kalafitoni Pole. Mayes has been lined up at both DE and the BUCK linebacker this spring, and has done a good job in getting into the backfield.

"We have a lot of young guys, the ‘(Dick) Vitale Diaper Dandies' of the world," Salave'a said. "You don't get kudos for showing up or being young. You have to spend hours of work up here making sure you're precise and methodical in identifying the problems and issues that we need to address."

The upperclassmen have been rising as well. Salave'a said he's been pleased with the play of DT Anthony Laurenzi, BUCK LB Travis Long and DE Lenard Williams. So what are the chances the wily ‘ol vets and youngsters combine to make one of the conference's better units? Is the potential there?

"They control that," Salave'a said with conviction. "All I can do is be a realist and give them a little bit of motivation. This is their team but the sky's the limit. There's a reason we all assembled and came here from the places we were. We know there's a great deal of excitement and support here but we also know the responsibilities (we have) as coaches."

One is providing the team with the mindset that the past is the past and they can and should be winners. The last four years when WSU has struggled, that doesn't matter one whit to Salave'a and the rest of the staff.

"At one point is was a madhouse up here," Salave'a said. "You didn't want to play here because it was tough, it was cold, it was everything. We have to re-educate our guys and get them to understand that there's a degree of responsibility and pride in wearing the Crimson and Gray. I want our guys to be tough. We're not going to be outhit or outhustled. It starts here, now, and we have a few more (spring) practices, but I think our guys are coming along."

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