WULFF: Encouraged by defensive strides

MANY OF THE QUESTIONS heading into fall camp center around the offense -- who will win the quarterback job, will Washington State unlike last year run their no-huddle offense, will the running backs be as good as advertised. But one of the very first things Paul Wulff talked about at Pac-10 Media Day on Thursday was the improvement from last year on the other side of the ball.

Paul Wulff said he expects the Cougar Nation will see a tougher brand of football on defense out on the Palouse this season.

"I'm encouraged by our start on the defensive side of the ball," said Wulff. "I think we do have some veteran players and we're going to have a little higher element of 'physical-ness' about us than we did last year. We do have some experience back so I'm anxious to see how (it) unfold(s) this fall."

The Cougs were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-10 Media Poll today but Wulff said the Washington State program is trending upwards off last year's ninth place finish -- for the future and for this year.

"I think the strides are being made in the offseason that need to be made -- We will be a much more competitive football team," said Wulff. "I think a lot of that on how well we do this fall is going to (depend) on some moving parts as we move through the season. I think we've got an opportunity to do some good things and grow throughout the season as long as we don't get hit by the injury bug.

"If we can stay relatively healthy I think (as a) team we'll get better and better and have an opportunity to surprise some people."

OFFENSIVELY, WULFF SAID he expects the pecking order between quarterbacks Kevin Lopina, Marshall Lobbestael and J.T. Levenseller to sort itself out in fall camp and that whoever the starter is, he should have some help in the running game that wasn't there last season.

"We do have a quarterback situation where it's not completely settled yet. I think time will kind of sort that out...I think we do have some experience on the offensive line and at the running back position that I feel like can help us a little bit...We should be a little more physical than we've been in the past," said Wulff.

Lobbestael (offseason knee surgery) has come along nicely in his rehab, said Wulff.

"We feel by the first game, from a healthy knee perspective, he should be 100 percent. I think it will be a little bit of a work in progress all through training camp and through the month of August. As long as everything stays the course like it has, he should be 100 percent by the first game," said Wulff.

ANOTHER COMING OFF a knee injury, suffered in the spring, is linebacker Louis Bland. He might not be 100 percent by the opener with Stanford on Sep. 5.

"Right now he's very limited in his ability. Hopefully by our first game he'll be able to play," said Wulff.

WULFF ALSO NOTED punter Reid Forrest and kicker Nico Grasu are back, plus a good number of returnees from the coverage and return units.

"I envision a lot of improvement in our special teams as well," said Wulff.

BALANCE IS THE goal on offense but Wulff said if the running game is a clear strength this season, as many think it will be on offense with the Cougs' boasting six running backs who are all starting candidates, Cougar Nation could see a lot of dust kicked up in the running game. He also expects to run the new Cougar offense for the the first time.

"It's something we want to do," said Wulff. "Because we ended up playing four different quarterbacks last year, we just didn't have enough experience, or enough time in the system for all the players, it was the first time trying to utilize what we wanted to do, we didn't just grasp it as quickly as we wanted to.

"We always want to be balance (but) I think we're going to do what our strength allows us to do."

ACCOMPANYING WULFF to Media Day was center Kenny Alfred.

"I think he is what we are striving to be as a team, from the neck up they don't come any better than this guy. And we're moving in that direction," said Wulff.

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