Healthy offensive line an unfamiliar sight

WSU COACH PAUL Wulff paused for a moment to answer a rhetorical question. It has been so long since the Cougars started their original offensive line that Wulff initially thought it had not occurred since the season opener against Stanford. Seconds later, he remembered the correct answer was Sept. 12 against Hawaii -- one who week later in the second game of the season.

That still was long enough ago that wide receiver Jeshua Anderson, who latter left the program to focus on track, was in the WSU starting lineup.

But that will change when WSU (1-8 overall, 0-6 conference) faces UCLA (4-5, 1-5) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium. Left tackle Steven Ayers rejoins guards B.J. Guerra and Zack Williams, both whom returned just recently after suffering various injuries. Center Kenny Alfred and right tackle Micah Hannam both have started every game.

"Steven's a good football player," said Wulff, adding that Ayers still "has a little hobble" from the ankle injury he suffered Sept. 26 at USC. "When he's focused and aggressive, he can do some good things.

"It's kind of nice to see these guys back. It seems like a long time since we've had these guys together."

WULFF SAID THE Cougars' offensive line play will be critical against a talented UCLA defensive line. The Bruins might be without senior defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski, who has plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but Wulff noted how big the three other players -- senior Jess Ward, junior David Carter and sophomore Justin Edison -- are. In addition to them, Wulff considers junior Brian Price a first-round NFL draft pick.

"Brian Price is the guy," he said. "I think he clearly is the best interior defensive lineman in the Pac-10 right now."

Another player Wulff said his team must account for is senior cornerback Alterraun Verner. He has had interceptions against WSU in each of the last two seasons.

Wulff said the starting quarterback -- sophomore Marshall Lobbestael or true freshman Jeff Tuel -- simply must make good decisions to avoid issues with Verner. Tuel, who suffered a subluxed right kneecap in the second quarter of Saturday's 48-7 loss at Arizona, remains a game-time decision said Wulff. Tuel has not practiced this week.

IN OTHER INJURY news, junior kicker Nico Grasu is "questionable to doubtful" according to Wulff. Senior Patrick Rooney will take over Grasu's duties if he is unable to play.

Junior safety Chima Nwachukwu (ankle) and senior tight end Tony Thompson (concussion) are questionable. Redshirt freshman Jay Matthews will start for a second consecutive week if Nwachukwu is unable to play despite suffering a shoulder injury during last week's 48-7 loss at Arizona. Wulff said it is in "functional shape" to play.

Thompson remains listed on the depth chart as the starter at tight end, followed by redshirt freshman Skylar Stormo and senior Zach Tatman. But redshirt freshman Andrei Lintz has seen more time with the first team during recent practices.

"He's kind of developing himself a little more physically," Wulff said. "He's still not wearing he needs to be. If he can combine that with his natural talent, he has a chance to be a really good football player."

LINTZ MISSED virtually all of last season (while redshirting) after suffering a broken leg during a practice for a high-school all-star game. While he now is healthy, the Cougars are dealing with several other injuries coupled with being 10 scholarship athletes below the NCAA 85-player limit.

Wulff said the situation has adversely affected special-teams play. He said he has put a few starters on the unit, but doesn't want to make further personnel adjustments because of limited numbers and how that would affect other areas.

"We've got some guys nicked up, which clearly is affecting our special teams," he said.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Asked about his thoughts on the reports of snow hitting the Palouse on Friday, Wulff didn't appear to mind the possibility, although Saturday would be better.

    "Friday is not good enough," Wulff said, laughing. "I thought you were going to say 100 percent Saturday."

  • Wulff expects to see plenty of 6-foot-1, 235-pound sophomore Derrick Coleman on Saturday. Coleman has rushed for 188 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries this season. Coleman generally has been the Bruins' No. 2 running back behind freshman Johnathan Franklin.

    "I think they're going to try and be really physical and run the ball on us," Wulff said.

  • Senior Dwight Tardy will start at running back, but Wulff said sophomore Logwone Mitz and true freshman Carl Winston also will see playing time.

  • Junior Anthony Houston is listed as Brandon Jones' backup at cornerback this week. Houston was one of the more highly touted players that signed in the 24-player class in 2006 as a wide receiver. But he never emerged at receiver and the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Houston moved to defense this season. He is one of only seven players from the '06 class still with the team.

    "He's done a good job," Wulff said. "We've taken a lot of hits at the cornerback position since the end of last season. He's taken advantage of the opportunity which has been presented."

  • WSU sports information director Bill Stevens said that between 25,000 to 26,000 tickets had been sold for the UCLA game when he last checked earlier this week. Martin Stadium currently holds 35,117. (Phases III and IV would boost capacity to appx. 43,000).


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