WULFF: QB Plan; Roxas return and more

THE PLAN REMAINS, said Washington State coach Paul Wulff on Tuesday, to give two quarterbacks playing time during Saturday's home opener against Stanford. And Andrew Roxas is back in Pullman. Will he be fitted for a redshirt?

Paul Wulff said during his Tuesday news conference the QB plan could change depending on Kevin Lopina's performance.

"If he (Lopina) plays extremely well, he might stay in there the entire game," he said.

Wulff still plans to give Lopina a few series to start the game, followed by sophomore Marshall Lobbestael. He said the coaching staff elected to start Lopina based on his experience, but he was impressed with both quarterbacks during fall camp.

"They've improved themselves dramatically as players and both earned the right to participate on game day," he said. "No one clearly separated themselves in practice."

WULFF GAVE some clarification on the status of guard Andrew Roxas. He wouldn't release the junior's status due to privacy issues, but said more might be revealed later today. Wulff said Roxas is back in school, but because he has missed so much time and lost at least 20 pounds, he likely will redshirt.

Roxas played as a true freshman in 2007, including a stellar performance starting against UCLA at center for an ailing Alfred.

Roxas' situation was one of the few negative notes on the injury front. Brandon Jones, who suffered an ankle injury during an Aug. 24 practice, is expected to start at left cornerback.

Wulff said the other corner position "is still kind of a battle" between sophomore Aire Justin and freshman Daniel Simmons.

He said junior Chima Nwachukwu, the starting strong safety, might also see time there depending on the injury situation at safety. He said sophomore safety Tyree Toomer won't play against Stanford because of a pectoral injury.

THE SITUATION AT running back is similar to quarterback. Wulff said senior Dwight Tardy, who rushed for a team-high 481 yards and added three touchdowns last season, will start. He will split time with Cal transfer James Montgomery, who is coming off a sprained knee and "should be ready to go."

Wulff said he's been encouraged by the injury situation during fall camp. He said last year's team regularly had 20 or more players sitting out during fall camp practices, compared with about a half-dozen this season.

"I think we had one day I would consider a poor practice," he said. "I think we've gotten a lot better."

That extends to the offensive line. Four of the five starters up front — center Kenny Alfred, tackles Steven Ayers and Micah Hannam, and guard B.J. Guerra — each started at least five games in 2008. The fifth, Zack Williams, Wulff has said, would have been a starter last year had the Cougs not redshirted him.

And only two players in the two deeps, Alfred and reserve Reed Lesuma, are seniors.

"I don't see any reason why we won't be much improved there," Wulff said. "We've got guys with upside that only are going to get better."

THE LINEBACKER CORPS might be the most experienced on the roster with seniors Andy Mattingly and Jason Stripling starting on the outside. Sophomore junior-college transfer Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who redshirted last season, is expected to start in the middle.

Wulff said sophomore Louis Bland isn't quite 100 percent coming off a knee injury, but will back up at all three positions.

"They (Mattingly and Stripling) give us two outside linebackers with good size," Wulff said. "Wherever we can get some age on the field, that's helpful."

THE DEFENSIVE LINE isn't nearly as experienced with only senior Kevin Kooyman and junior Toby Turpin having started last season. Kooyman will be joined at defensive end in the starting lineup by true freshman Travis Long.

"When we signed Travis, I truly felt he was one of the better defensive linemen on the West Coast," Wulff said. "It's all kind of held true. He's flat out performed better than the other guys, along with Kevin Kooyman."

Long will be one of two true freshmen starting along with wide receiver Gino Simone. A third, linebacker Darren Markle, also is expected to play. Wulff doesn't want to play any more yet.

"Let's hope we don't have injuries that force us to pull a redshirt," he said. "There's a large number that when they get into the weight room, they're going to be a presence down the road."

Junior Bernard Wolfgramm, who redshirted last season, will start at defensive tackle along with Turpin. Wulff said the staff was concerned about Wolfgramm's back problems throughout spring ball, but that he has made noticeable improvement.

"He surprised us because his injury really hampered him," he said, adding that Wolfgramm doesn't run as well as he once did. "He gives us steady play in there and a physical presence."

THE COUGARS WILL need that against Stanford, which features senior running back Toby Gerhart. He became the first Cardinal to rush for more than 1,000 yards last season (1,136) since Tommy Vardell in 1991.

"They're going to be tested," Wulff said of the WSU defense. "They will face one of the best backs in the Pac-10, if not the country. I expect those guys to be more physical and aggressive. I expect our secondary to tackle better than they have."

Beyond that, Wulff eagerly anticipates kicking off the season after finishing with a 2-11 record in his first season at WSU.

"I'm excited to get to game week," he said. "It's been a long road coming."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Chancellor, a 2002 graduate of the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, has covered WSU football for the Tri-City Herald, Longview Daily News and Kitsap Sun.

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