WULFF: Cougar D will play faster this season

THE SAYING HAS BEEN AROUND since the days of Walter Camp and leather helmets: You can't coach speed. But is that completely true? Paul Wulff offers his view. And while much of the public focus since his hiring has been on the Cougs' new up-tempo, no-huddle offense, Wazzu's head man agrees with those who say defense wins championships.

Washington State is not going to suddenly become a speed merchant among the nation's defenses after significantly lacking in that department last year. Such a sea change can only be accomplished over time.

But in a wide ranging discussion with CF.C held recently after spring practices, Wulff made it clear there is a plan in place to increase the speed on defense -- both in the long and short term.

While there's usually a tradeoff -- chiefly the susceptibility to giving up the big play -- more speed can be injected into a defense through changes in schemes and player responsibilities. And that's what Cougar fans will see this year.

"A lot of times when you can do that, you can get kids to play a lot faster," said Wulff.

"We're going to do everything we can to, one, recruit more speed, and we have to do that (for the future), get it here and let it grow up. And then hopefully structure and simplify a defense enough to where they truly can just play and not have to think as much."

WASHINGTON STATE LAST fielded a great defense in 2003 when the Cougs knocked off Texas in the Holiday Bowl. The speed on defense last year wasn't close to that level, said Wulff.

Indeed, in the last four years, while there have been some success stories, the storyline on D has too often played out the same way: Bend don't break, don't give up the long play.

But that approach's tradeoff has been frustrating for Cougar fans who love defense. WSU too often would give up five-to-seven yards on first down, setting up clock-eating drives by opponents.

Wulff is a former offensive lineman most known in the coaching world for his offenses. That mean all the best athletes will automatically be put on that side of the ball. And for those who say defense wins championships, Wulff has a response.

"I agree with them," said Wulff. "I think if you're a defensive coach and you work with me the first thing they'll realize is yes, my background is offense but...I know a great defense always gives you a chance to win every ballgame.

"And we'll do our best to put the best players there that can make a difference. If we have a player who can be a dominating presence on defense, then he's going to be on defense first. That's going to be our philosophy."

A KEY INGREDIENT to any success on defense is solid tackling -- wrapping up a guy once you've made initial contact. That's one of the biggest areas the Cougs need to improve upon if they're going to get back to the type of defenses that helped win 10 games in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Wulff doesn't promise overnight success, but he says the Cougs will tackle better and they will be faster, and that process will begin this season.

"I think people will like what we do defensively. But I think ultimately what people want to see is a defense that doesn't give up a lot of points," said Wulff with a laugh. "It's going to be a process -- a philosophy and a culture change on defense -- because we're going to ask them to do things from an effort and energy standpoint that are different. And we're going to demand more, (more) running to the football, and to be more sure in their tackling.

"We're going to demand more fundamentals, hopefully from a simplified scheme where they have the ability to play a little bit faster than they normally have."

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