WULFF: Time to get nasty on offensive line

MEAN, NASTY, ATHLETIC and detail oriented. That's what Paul Wulff wants in his offensive linemen. He embodied those qualities himself during his WSU playing days as a four-year starter at center. After all, how many o-linemen start trading punches with their quarterback in the huddle? Plus, Wulff offers up candid comments on his starters, three who could challenge them, and much more.

Wulff remains good friends with Timm Rosenbach, who set up behind Wulff at quarterback in the late '80s at Washington State. But even brotherly good friends will disagree, and sometimes in spirited fashion.

"I remember we got in some fights along the way," Wulff laughs. "Early in our learning days in '86 and '87, there were some arguments. There were maybe some punches being thrown in the huddle," Wulff allows before moving on to more present day topics.

It's a compelling picture, the starting center and quarterback squaring off and throwing a few haymakers at each other. But there's a core philosophy in that image not to be missed.

"I think there's a misnomer there, that people try to label...offensive linemen and defensive linemen," says Wulff. "Based on if a guy is mean and nasty, they'll say he must be a defensive lineman and a guy who is softer and more passive, he must be an offensive lineman.

"I really don't believe in that. I believe an offensive lineman needs to be extremely nasty. And I lean much more to an athletic type of player -- I really like athleticism versus massive size. And that's where our philosophy here will be."

Wulff on the post-spring starting offensive line
IN LOOKING AT this coming year, Wulff said the five o-linemen who began the spring atop the depth chart also ended the session as the starters, though there are also those who Wulff thinks can close the gap between themselves and the No. 1s.

Here's Wulff's candid, bullet point thoughts on the five post-spring starters:

"Kenny Alfred was our best football player on the offensive line through spring football. Kenny's a very good football player, with still room for improvement. But he clearly has a chance to be one of the better centers in the league. He's our most refined player and our most consistent player right now."

"Vaughn (Lesuma) has all the God-given ability in the world. He is probably 30 pounds heavier than he needs to be right now which limits his stamina and puts him at higher risk for minor injuries..And it slows his game down, he could be a faster football player if we could get him to lose some weight...But he has a tremendous amount of potential. But potential also doesn't really do anybody any good unless he can (realize) it...If he ever does figure out the right kind of work ethic that he needs, the sky's the limit for him as a football player."

"Dan (Rowlands) needs to continue to get stronger. There's a lot of room for him in the weight room even though he's been here for four years. He's got upside. He's got a little bit of toughness to him, and experience, which allows him to function. But I still think he has a lot of room for improvement, where he can get a lot better in the weight room and he can get a lot better fundamentally. And it's all there for him to take advantage of but he's got to really lock in and get focused to get those two things accomplished by this next season."

"Micah (Hannam) is a tough kid, smart, and really tries to apply what he's being taught so that allows him to play football. I wouldn't say he's the most naturally gifted player but his intelligence, toughness, really allow him to function well. We need him to continue to work on his strength and foot quickness. But those other attributes allowed him to play as early as a redshirt freshman and to be able to function."

"Andrew (Roxas) has a lot of upside. He has real nice toughness, he's a competitive kid. His demeanor is fairly mature for his age, too. The sky's the limit for him, he has a chance to be a really good football player. I'm excited about what he can do -- if he keeps developing."

IN ADDITION to those no-brainers who already look the part, Wulff says Cougar recruiting efforts will focus on the hosses-to-be -- those who have the athleticism and the guys who have really good feet, but also the frame to get bigger.

"It's so much easier to add weight and strength than it is to add athleticism. It's not easy to get a big, athletic guy who is 17-18 years old. A lot of times those guys come in (still-developing) packages. We like 'em a little longer limbed, a little more rangy," said Wulff.

ATHLETICISM AND ATTITUDE are critical but by no means are they exclusive. And while Wulff says Washington State needs to get more athletic up front in building for the future, what about the here and now.

The coaching staff spent a good portion of time this spring with the group who will help determine the fortunes of the Cougs this coming year working on the fundamentals.

"You can take a better athlete and if he doesn't execute some basic fundamentals, he's not going to get the job done. I think there are certain techniques and fundamentals that have to be consistent. And we want all the players, regardless of their ability, to be able to execute X amount of basic fundamentals from stance to initial footwork to hand placement and those things," said Wulff.

HAVING ENJOYED considerable success during his WSU career, it would seem only natural for Wulff to have strong ideas on coaching an offensive line. So he hired a 20 year-plus veteran, Harold Etheridge, whose philosophies were very similar to his own. But most importantly, it's not about who has the right idea, it's about what works.

"I do my best to make suggestions -- at all positions -- with things that may help. But by no means do I ever mandate against somebody if they're very strong in their feelings and if they can prove their point right, then I'll usually keep my mouth shut. As long as their point works, then I'll stay out of it," said Wulff.

THERE ARE ALSO THREE hosses Wulff named who made significant strides this spring -- any of the three could challenge the incumbents and/or significantly contribute this year, said Wulff.

"I think Joe Eppele will clearly start pushing either tackle for a starting position," said Wulff. "He had a solid spring and got better and better.

"B.J. Guerra just turned over to the offensive line but showed flashes of some really good things. Depending on how quick he continues to develop he has a chance to be clearly pushing for a starting position. I really like his potential. He has a bright future in front of him."

"A walk-on, Brian Danaher, has definitely shown some flashes and has perked the interest of the coaches as a guy that may be able to get in the two-deep and push some guys."


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