Defensive Tackle: A CF.C fall camp preview

NO TWO WAYS about it: Coming out of spring ball, the Cougs were looking weak at defensive tackle. But a potential starter who sat out last session appears to be back. And another promising talent has assimilated Wazzu's system nicely since arriving in January. Three more candidates -- a fourth-year junior and two redshirt freshmen -- might also be ready to make some noise when camp opens Sunday.


DEPTH CHARTLT: R-Jr. Toby Turpin (6-4, 284);  R-FrDan Spitz (6-7, 260);  R-FRAnthony Laurenzi (6-3, 290);  R-Jr. Jessy Sanchez (6-2, 259)  | RT: Jr. Josh Luapo; (6-0, 321);   R-JrBernard Wolfgramm (6-3, 288) 

Note: Justin Clayton, Jesse Feagin and Jessy Sanchez are all guys who may also play inside but are listed by WSU in the fall camp prospectus at DE. Jordan Pu'u-Robinson is another guy who has inside potential but is listed at DE in the here and now.

PLAYERS LOSTFevaea'i Ahmu (Had 11 starts in 13 games played last season), Matt Eichelberger (Had nine starts in 13 games played in '08)

INJURIES:  Wolfgramm missed the spring session with a back issue and a couple months ago, some were wondering if he would be ready. But all indications from Paul Wulff are that he looks ready to go. Sanchez sat out the spring as well with an injured shoulder, he is expected back for fall camp.

OVERVIEWThe Cougs are not, with the exception of Luapo, heavyweights on the interior of the line. But Pac-10 history is also rife with lighter DT's who have excelled. Washington State does have some good athleticism here, but it is inexperienced for the most part and some guys will need to perform as expected, and others will have to step up, if the Cougs are going to be stout up front in the trenches.

There is good news afoot, however. A light turned on for Turpin last year. He went out and took the starting job from Eichelberger the last four games of the season, and had played some good stretches in rotation prior to that.

Turpin is a relentless sort on the field, but he's been a bit of a late bloomer at the collegiate level -- more than a few expected him to have blossomed and made a bigger Pac-10 impact earlier in his career. Then again, he still has two years to go -- he's only halfway there collegially. 

His former prep coach, the highly respected John Barnes, has tutored high schoolers who went onto the NFL and back when Turpin committed to the Cougs, he told CF.C Turpin unquestionably had the same kind of NFL potential. WSU needs Turpin to turn another corner this season and take a few more strides up the development ladder.

Wolfgramm is listed as an either/or starter with Luapo and that's important to note. When a guy doesn't take part in the spring, it often makes sense to place him down the depth chart and especially when someone really steps up in his absence. Wolfgramm, however, has had Cougar Nation buzzing about his ability ever since he signed with WSU back in February 2008 and there are few things they'd like more than to see some of that buzz realized this year.

He's been slowed by a long-term back issue but Wulff has indicated he's ready to roll. Kenny Alfred in one of his summer diaries also noted Wolfgramm has been "coming back strong after his injury" this summer. He hasn't taken a snap for the Cougs yet on Saturdays but he has all the tools you want in a d-tackle. Whether he stays healthy and reaches his first year potential at WSU are the unknowns, ones that will bear watching indeed.

A dump truck with legs - an apt description for Luapo. He's a shorter d-tackle, but he's not small. In fact, he was probably too big this spring and if he sheds a few pounds, while still retaining some of that heft, he has the real potential to plug up gaps.

Luapo is like a lot of incoming first year Cougars -- he's one of those guys who has excelled at the high school, and in his case the JC level as well, primarily based on the fact that he's naturally strong and more athletic than his competition. But what players find out at the Pac-10 level is that those things, on their own, are not enough. Technique and hours upon hours in the weight room are requisite for success.

Luapo had a good spring session but in spurts, he wasn't at his ideal playing weight. If he continues to study and work hard under d-line coach Malik Roberson, and continue to round into better fighting trim, he can unquestionably be a playmaker this season for the Cougs. The good thing there, he's got a great work ethic.

Spitz, Laurenzi and Sanchez are all needed by the Cougs to take steps forward from the camp's get-go. Spitz is a mountain of a guy but still needs more bulk to add to his 6-7 frame to play his most effective ball. In the meantime, textbook technique, leverage and pad level could help him elevate his game. Laurenzi has come on a bit this offseason, and has been showing some nasty in padless, voluntary workouts. When the pads come on in fall camp, his will be one more compelling storyline at d-tackle to watch.

Washington State has been at its most successful on the d-line not when they have some star players in the fold, but rather when they have a legit Pac-10 rotation at DT to implement. Indeed, one could make the strong argument that some  great Cougar DT's became that way in large part because of the rotation quality during their time at Wazzu.

AN OPTIMIST WOULD SAY: Washington State will look decidedly different inside on the d-line this year. Guys are bigger and stronger and will better occupy o-linemen and allow linebackers to make more plays. Turpin emerged last year, and he'll take another step forward this year. Meanwhile, Wolfgramm and Luapo will surprise opposing defensive coordinators.

A PESSIMIST WOULD SAY: The Cougs got clowned stomped at defensive tackle last year and while they may be improved, they're still going to get pushed around and need another year with the weights. The spring revealed just how far there is to go at DT, and it's a far piece. If injuries strike, it goes from bad to worse. WSU is on the right developmental path at DT, but Rome wasn't built in a day, or in a year.

STAR PLAYER Toby TurpinIf he improves at the same rate he did last year, would-be media experts will be talking in November about how he "seemingly came out of nowhere."

UNIT STRENGTHPotential. A decent number of guys have the tools to provide solid d-tackle play this season. The question is will they realize that potential.

UNIT WEAKNESSExperienced depth, size. WSU needs a) to stay healthy and b) guys to step up. That sometimes can be asking a lot.

WULFF"Toby Turpin came on late last year and really took big steps in his development. We need Josh Luapo, Bernard Wolfgramm, Anthony Laurenzi and Daniel Spitz to step up and help us.


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