10 spring questions with WSU's Joe Salave'a

WASHINGTON STATE HEADS into the start of spring ball today with a veteran defensive front. But don't sleep on the guys listed behind them on the pre-spring depth chart, WSU defensive line coach Joe Salave'a tells Cougfan.com. Indeed, Salave'a says he is highly intrigued on what's about to take place this spring on the d-line...

Cougfan.com: What are your expectations for the guys listed atop the depth chart on the d-line: T Xavier Cooper, NT Toni Pole and E Destiny Vaeao.
Joe Salave'a: I told the older guys, ‘You've got to prove your play. You've got to prove to me you're worthy of the reps and you're worthy of playing time.' That's the only way we can harness the high level of play…if they think they're comfortable enough not to have that chip on their shoulder not to have that workmanlike mentality, then I've failed them a coach…The expectation is the players that played a lot a year ago, is to get better… to work their tails off. I want to see all of our guys compete and I'm not worried about any kind of depth chart right now... I just want to see our level of energy and the way we attack the line of scrimmage, that's where my concerns are.

Cougfan.com: Who are some of the guys beyond those three that CougFans should keep an eye out for this spring?
Salave'a: Darryl Paulo was a guy who was a spot player last year, I think he's finally healthy now and he brings a lot to the table. His body has changed from the bowl game to now, from the weight room training. Kids like Daniel Ekuale and Robert Barber, this is going to be their first go-around as far as spring ball is concerned and those guys are ready to prove they're worthy for the opportunity. The sky's the limit for those guys because they don't know better. They just want an opportunity to prove themselves and they're going to get starting Thursday. And then there's guys like Gerald Sterling… these are guys Washington State (fans are) going to hear a lot about in the next season.

Cougfan.com: What's the ideal rotation, numbers-wise, look like for you?
Salave'a: If we could get a solid two-deep that would be ideal, so you're looking at six guys. We're always shooting for that but if we don't have six guys, I'm not going to have six guys just for the sake of it. The quality of play is most important.

Cougfan.com: You didn't have that quality depth your first two seasons at Washington State. And granted, spring ball hasn't started and you still have fall camp but knowing what you know… Do you think you'll have the ability to rotate quality depth in 2014?
Salave'a: I'm excited, really intrigued by what's about to take place. The last two years we didn't have that, we just had a swing guy. Those (starters) played maybe an average of maybe 80 plays per game. I think our guys were the only team I know of (in the conference) that we never really rotate. And that's hard. The nuances of the offenses that we face.. and I couldn't spell them and it (was) reflected in some of the play and some of the games that we struggled in… But I was not going to sacrifice (the present or future) just to spell them.. To their credit and to their tribute, their conditioning level and those things, they worked their tails off.

Now we've got some young guys that are pushing and will let them know they can continue to leave it out there, knowing those guys spelling them are going to be as good or at least in that same light. I'm really interested to see how much these young guys can push this competition… I'm really, really excited about our young guys. The expectation around here has changed and you expect to play every weekend with a chance to win... The feeling is if you come to Washington State, you're going to compete for a championship, that's what we've been working on. I'll continue to do my part and make sure that our group up front continues to terrorize the Pac-12.

Cougfan.com: Is spring the time for experimentation, will the depth guys get more reps than established starter-types like Cooper, Pole, etc., guys that you already have a good feel for what they can do?
Salave'a: I think it's a combination of those things… spring is a great time to reinforce fundamentals and techniques, but it's also a good time for evaluations for the young guys.

Cougfan.com: You watched a ton of film in advance of spring ball, the WSU staff reviewed every play of every game last year in advance of this spring session. What did you learn from that, what did your group do well, what needs improvement?
Salave'a: If we don't execute our technique properly, we'll leave a lot of plays out on the field – that was the most prevalent thing. The other thing was the finishing part. We were around the ball a lot but we didn't tackles as well as up front, that was one of the glaring things in doing a self-scout on us.

Cougfan.com: You're well known as a coach who is constantly teaching and emphasizing technique, the fundamentals. What was the cause last year of, at times, being unable to generate enough heat on the QB and most importantly, what's the cure? Leverage? Pad Level?
Salave'a: Both. There were (times last year where ) we're not in a position that would allow out players to shed off blockers, and guys weren't in their landmarks… We're all tied to the coverage. If our coverage doesn't hold up, our pass rush is never going to get there and if we don't get there, those guys in the back end are going to suffer.

One of the main things we'd really like to have happen this spring is our ability to defeat one-on-one blocks. And that's something I'm really impressing on our guys to continue to understand this spring -- angles and leverage and getting off blocks.

Cougfan.com: Landmarks?
Salave'a: The understanding of the depth of the quarterback and then understanding lanes, the rush lanes, especially now in the Pac-12 with all the mobile quarterbacks. if we don't get where we need to be…the other guys are going to have do more than they're supposed to do. It's just Football 101, understanding where the football is and that we're sound in not giving creases and lanes…If we can impact the pocket and just make the quarterback hesitate for a second or two, that's going to work in our favor.

Cougfan.com: Will there be a lot of movement of players up and down the d-line this spring, lining up at various positions?
Salave'a: At the end of the day, we need to be sound with (players in their) initial slots… I like to make sure some of these guys that are able to hold more than your average players, I like to expose them to secondary positions so we have a good contingency plan… I think position flexibility is a marquee thing to have, but not everybody is able to do it. I think going in everyone is slotted at a primary position, and we'll go from there.

Cougfan.com: Some of the guys are a little lighter and usually after spring, they're a little heavier before entering summer conditioning. Was that by design?
Salave'a: I think part of that is having our weight training program that's been put in place and also the type of the bodies we're recruiting. Some of these guys, really, this is their first time lifting hard and taking part in the nutrition part. Guys like Destiny and Robert are still growing, they're still babies. The biggest thing that comes with the way they train is to never lose their quickness… That's something we're really excited about.

And you're starting to see guys like Toni Pole and Cooper maintain those big weights and still move around like they're 270. And that's the goal, if we can continue to recruit those body types and have the type of program we have set with them, and with (Jason) Loscalzo in the weight room, you're going to see the level of guys who come in here be ones who can really get after the line of scrimmage.

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