Wulff eyes marked OL improvement under Morton

SHELTON -- During "A Night With Cougar Football" at Little Creek Casino last week, Paul Wulff was questioned about the offensive line, whose greenness this past season stood out even during one of the worst seasons in program history. Wulff, who started on the Cougs' o-line from 1986-89, simply pointed to the back of the conference room, where Steve Morton sat.

THE COUGARS RUN a no-huddle offense, but Morton said that deviation has little impact in working on gap- and zone-blocking schemes.

"I've played a lot of things from power-I to wishbone, split back to chuck-and-duck," he said. "I'm comfortable with a lot of things."

Including returning to the Palouse.

Morton said he might be even more excited now than when he signed with WSU as a player in the early '70s or when he came on board as a full-fledged assistant coach for Jim Walden. And he looks forward to selling its virtues to recruits.

"It's a unique situation in the Pac-10 and college football," Morton said. "There are not a lot of schools like Washington State that are in an agricultural, rural area. It's so fun. I can't wait to sell young men ... on what is waiting for them in Pullman."

EVEN WHEN MORTON was on rival Pac-10 sidelines at UW, USC and Stanford, he said he followed his former team closely. He said those were the only 12 games of his career that he could not root for his alma mater.

"Once a Coug, always a Coug," he said. "I wear that with me."

WULFF SAID WHEN he was a high school senior he committed to WSU out of Davis High near Sacramento partially because of his respect for Morton, who recruited him hard for WSU. Cougar All-American Dan Lynch is among five Morris Trophy Award winners Morton mentored in his carer, along with many future NFL draft picks, but Wulff said there was another aspect about Morton that stood out.

"His players always have played hard," Wulff said. "He's going to be a great asset to our offensive line."

WULFF EXPECTS SIGNIFICANT improvement up front this season. Except for Kenny Alfred, the hosses are all back. In addition, the Cougs have added junior college tackles Wade Jacobson and David Gonzales. Jacobson is expected to challenge incumbent starters Micah Hannam and Tyson Pencer -- for their positions. Gonzalez, said Wulff, could be ready to knock head but also may benefit from a redshirt year.

Sophomore Alex Reitnouer was slated to redshirt last season, but was forced to play at tackle due to injuries -- despite weighing just 260 pounds. Wulff said he would not be adverse to redshirting him in '10 if circumstances should warrant. He noted that junior Andrew Roxas, who contracted viral hepatitis last summer, benefited from a redshirt season that allowed him to get stronger and develop his technique. Roxas looks to replace Alfred at center.

Meanwhile, Wulff said junior Steven Ayers will move inside, his more natural position. The Cougs were forced to start Ayers at tackle last season. Both starting guards, junior B.J. Guerra and senior Zack Williams, return and Wulff is very high on their potential. In addition, redshirt freshmen Tim Hodgdon, William Prescott and Sebastian Valenzuela all return. Kevin Freitag's career has been ended by injury.

WULFF SAID IT will be a blank slate for the returning players under Morton. Because he is brand new on staff, Morton said he has not been able to sit down and do a detailed study of his players yet.

"I've got tape prepared that highlights each individual," he said.

Morton, who was WSU's offensive-line coach from 1977-86 under Walden, replaces Harold Etheridge. A Chehalis native, Morton played for the Cougars in 1973-74.

He spent the last five seasons as offensive coordinator and offensive-line coach at San Jose State under Dick Tomey, who retired at the end of the 2009 season.

Morton, 56, noted how much the times have changed since he left Pullman with Walden to go to Iowa State. In 1981, WSU played in the Holiday Bowl -- its first post-season appearance since 1931. The Cougars have played in seven bowls since then, and now he will coach under his former pupil.

"I appreciate Paul and the other members of the staff that have accepted me," said Morton, adding that none of the other staff members have teased him about his age. "Nobody has called me Grandpa yet. If they do, I'll have something to say about that."

Another season like 2009 might age even the hardiest of offensive line coaches. Washington State allowed 53 sacks, the second-most among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Only Miami of Ohio (59) allowed more.

BUT THAT'S WHY Morton was brought in by Wulff, a reversal from when Morton was Wulff's first o-line coach at WSU.

"It just goes to show you've got to be careful whose face you step on because you might have to go kiss his behind for a job some day," Morton said, laughing.

Morton said the most important aspect right now is becoming acquainted with players and building trust.

"I want everyone to aspire to succeed at the highest level," he said. "I promise them I will do everything to help them maximize their potential."

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