EXPERIENCE, AGILITY, STRENGTH, ATTITUDE -- all of these things, and more, are necessary ingredients to fielding a winning football team.
It's been clear, however, to anyone who has closely watched the Cougs the past 1 1/2 seasons (and one could reasonably argue for longer than that) the chief reason that wins and bowl games have been hard to come by since 2003...
Speed. Or more accurately, a lack thereof. And where it's most apparent is on defense. But in our conversation with Paul Wulff, it also became apparent that the tide is turning on that front.
IT SHOULD ALSO be noted, it's not for lack of effort, and if you saved '08 Cougar games on your DVR and compare them to this year, the Cougs are arguably faster this year than last -- Alex Hoffman-Ellis, for example, has good wheels for a middle linebacker and Brandon Jones is a fast corner.
But across the board, the Cougars are simply not as fast as the competition they're facing, and the opinion here -- that's the biggest reason for the win-loss record being what it is.
YET THERE ARE a number of true freshmen redshirting, combined with some younger players, that look ready to change the speed rating of the Cougar defense in a significant way.
Indeed, we'd go so far as to say the most drastic change Cougar fans will notice next season is that Wazzu will be fast on defense, particularly in the secondary. CF.C asked Wulff about the speed of the guys redshirting this year and the head man lit up.
"Anthony Carpenter is a legit 4.4," said Wulff." "Nolan Washington is a 4.4. Daniel Simmons, LeAndre Daniels and Brandon Jones, they all have (speed). All those guys, including (Jamal) Atofau, play really, really fast. And all those guys in the secondary, including (Casey) Locker, are able to really, really run."
Alex Hoffman-Ellis in his first season on the field has shown quicks at the MIK spot. Wulff said he expects next year's linebacker group to have more of the same.
"And now your back seven can really run," said Wulff.
Granted, that speed will be youthful, and young players make mistakes that veterans do not. Yet while speed doesn't conquer all, speed can also help overcome some of those mistakes.
ON THE D-LINE, WSU loses just one player (Jesse Feagin) to graduation.
Expected to arrive in January are DE Brandon Rankin (6-5, 260) and DT Quayshawne Buckley (6-4, 280). Buckley, in CF.C's estimation, has a shot to be a contributor in his first year, although that might be a lot to ask coming out of high school. But Rankin, a terror as a junior college player, almost certainly will be. And there's another, already in the crimson fold, who might be ready to emerge.
"Justin Clayton is doing well, he's going to be a good football player," said Wulff. "He's tough, he has a very physical presence. I see him as having an impact."
And senior DE Kevin Kooyman, injured in the first game of the season, is redshirting and will return in '10. Also redshirting is Tyree Toomer. Expected to be a key contributor in the defensive backfield and in the box, Toomer was lost to injury before the season began. Other injuries that hurt the Cougs this year include S LeAndre Daniels and CB Daniel Simmons. All, said Wulff, have high ceilings.
"Daniel Simmons has a bright, bright future...Toomer is going to be a good one," said Wulff.
WULFF'S FIRST RECRUITING class where he had a full year to recruit was this past one, most of whom are redshirting. Wulff had about eight weeks before Signing Day to cobble together a 2008 class after arriving at WSU. And the common denominators among this class and the one coming in (10) are athleticism and speed.
"I think Sekope Kaufusi, just as an athlete and with his strength, I think he has a chance to be a really, really good football player," said Wulff. "Nolan Washington, Anthony Carpenter, Jamal Atofau and Casey Locker, I mention those four secondary players as guys who will have an impact...I think Andre Barrington and Darren Markle are going to be good players for us."
The Cougs were at 76 scholarships last year, in part because of the NCAA docking WSU six scholarships (two more were applied to the previous year for a total of eight) after they feel below the organization's APR metric.
Schools can take only 25 initials each class and WSU signed 23 and welcomed two January grayshirts for the maximum 25 this past year. But because of departures, some signees who will delay enrollment until this January plus other factors, the Cougs are at 75 scholies this year.
Needless to say, having nine and 10 less scholarship players over the course of year, rather than 85, makes things decidedly more difficult from a competitive standpoint.
And then consider how that further affects things when injuries have hit as hard as they have the past two years.
But next season Wulff said the Cougs should be at, (or at least very, very close to), the maximum 85 -- and it will be the first time in the last three seasons.