WULFF: We're ratcheting it up a notch

XAVIER HICKS WILL start on Saturday. A decision has been made on whether to redshirt defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm and offensive lineman Zach Williams. Plus a whole lot more.

Paul Wulff said Xavier Hicks will get the start at safety in his first game back after serving a three-game suspension. Wulff said there's always a concern with conditioning and being at game speed with a layoff but he said Hicks looks about as ready as he could be..

"He has been doing everything in practice and working hard so..he shouldn't be far off," said Wulff. "Xavier's a good kid. he made a few mistakes that were not good decisions at all...but I think he paid a pretty good price. For him to persevere through it and keep his mouth quiet and just keep working, be positive every day in practice and help the younger guys out in practice since we started in August.

"He's done a great job. And I'm very proud of his progress as a person and on the football field. He's certainly earned the right to come back and play."

WULFF SAID DT Bernard Wolfgramm and OL Zack Williams could likely help the team right now but from an overall perspective, they can help the Cougs more over the course of the careers by redshirting this season.

"There's a process it takes to win," said Wulff. "And that's the thing that we have to pay attention to.

"As much as you may want to throw some younger ones out there to gain experience, I think that we have to do this right. We need to let them grow up and let them redshirt..we don't have anybody (else) we plan on playing with the first year freshmen or even, we've made the decision with Bernard Wolfgramm and Zach Williams the offensive tackle, two very capable players who could be, potentially, playing a tremendous amount for us right now, we've made the decision to redshirt those guys," said Wulff.

The five true freshmen who have played this year are LB Tyree Toomer, WR Jared Karstetter, LB Mike Ledgerwood, WR Kevin Norrell and S Louis Bland.

Frosh Cory Mackay is progressing well, Wulff said, though he's been hindered by a groin injury. Wulff said Mackay was one they decided it would be better to redshirt with the move to strong side 'backer, rather than not get him enough real-time experience this season.

AT QUARTERBACK, WULFF said Tuesday morning that, at this point, he expects Kevin Lopina to start though his wrist is still sore and said he was unsure how much he would throw in Tuesday's practice.

"..It depends on how Wednesday and Thursday evolve for any player," said Wulff.

With a number of starting position battles on tap starting with Tuesday's practice, it figures to be a competitive practice week indeed.

"We need to get better and we need to find some answers," said Wulff. "As coaches we've done a good job of implementing things and doing things and they've responded in a lot of ways, and not all the ways. Now as coaches, we're ratcheting it up a notch and it's going to be done the way we need to get it done.

"We knew there was going to be adjustments along the way, we've said that from Day One. So here we are pretty much doing what I said we were probably going have to do, kind of (have to) find ourselves and improve ourselves as the season moves along. And we feel this is the way to do that, obviously. And having Xavier back on defense is going to (help with that)."

FORMER LEFT TACKLE Vaughn Lesuma, who Wulff says NFL pro scouts are also looking at as a guard, will battle it out with B.J. Guerra this week at the left guard spot. Now healthy Joe Eppele and Steven Ayers will square off this week for the starting left tackle assignment.

Chima Nwachukwu and a now healthy Alfonso Jackson, moving back to safety from corner, will this week compete for the other starting safety spot opposite Hicks. Former safety Myron Beck is moving to the weakside linebacker position after spending last season in junior college at safety, his first in the secondary.

"I really think he's really got a chance to be a fine player there. He's got all 10 games this year and two years after this. He's a great kid, he's a hard worker. He'll get stronger," said Wulff.

WULFF SAID ONE of the main things WSU needs more of is speed.

"We're always looking for speed, that's a big emphasis. Right now in recruiting, we're continuing to enhance our team speed in our program, which we need to improve on," said Wulff.

AT EASTERN last year, Wulff said EWU's upset loss to Portland State was probably the worst game the Eagles played in '07 and the offensive struggles, which left the defense out on the field too long, was arguably the main culprit. He said he fully expects PSU to come out loaded for bear on Saturday when they face a Pac-10 team.

"We're facing a team that is probably going to come in here and play their best football game," said Wulff.

Wulff likened Portland State's offense to an anti-wishbone. As much as wishbone teams run the ball, that's how much PSU passes it.

Wulff is familiar in more ways that one with Portland State's run and shoot. Wulff played for Mouse Davis in the World League, back in 1992 with the New York-New Jersey Knights before starting his coaching career at Eastern Washington in 1993.

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