PULLMAN -- Paul Wulff and his coaching staff bemoaned the lack of speed they found when arriving at Washington State 2 ½ years ago, so they've put an emphasis on recruiting faster, more athletic players. The results have yet to show in the won-loss column but regular observers at practices noticed a marked improvement in speed last season (in redshirting players), and more of the same this spring.
Still more speed will arrive in the fall via the most impressive of the current staff's three recruiting classes.
Some of the fastest and most promising Cougars redshirted as freshmen last year. Coaches candidly admitted a few of those players were superior to the ones suiting up on Saturdays, particularly after injuries made a mockery of WSU's limited depth.
Redshirt freshmen are young, inexperienced, mistake-prone players, but the rebuilding Cougars are counting on several to play key roles this season.
After Saturday's scrimmage, Wulff singled out seven redshirt freshmen, all on the defensive side, for sterling play this spring: strong-side linebacker Andre Barrington
, ends Sekope Kaufusi
and Jordan Pu'u-Robinson
, middle linebacker Darren Markle
, tackle Justin Clayton
and cornerbacks Nolan Washington
and Anthony Carpenter
"They're all in the two-deep already," Wulff said. "They're very talented. They've got a bright future. I think all of them will press for starting positions."
Co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears
seconded Wulff's opinion and also offered lofty praise for three other redshirt freshmen in particular: safeties Jamal Atofau
and Casey Locker
and weak-side linebacker Arthur Burns
. The latter was moved from running back late last season.
"From a defensive perspective, we're very pleased where we are with those kids (all the redshirt freshmen)," Sears said. "They bring an element of athleticism, speed and some energy and passion that is very well welcome.
"I'm extremely pleased with a couple kids -- pleasantly surprised. Like Burns and Atofau. Those two in particular. Kaufusi.
"I knew those kids were going to be good. They had the talent; you could see it oozing."
Sears and offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy
offered analysis on the 13 freshmen scholarship players who redshirted at WSU last season.
Sears on the defensive players:
Andre Barrington, strong-side linebacker, 6-1, 231, Federal Way: "He might be the best of that whole redshirt freshmen group. He might be the most talented and most natural player. He's very good. Very fast. Very athletic. He's a little bit raw, but he's got it."
Arthur Burns, weak-side linebacker, 5-11, 218, Corona, Calif.: "We have been very, very proud of him in the transition (from running back)."
Sekope Kaufusi, end, 6-3, 236, Palo Alto, Calif.: "A little undersized coming out of high school (Kaufusi played outside linebacker last fall), but he had the frame. He looked very athletic, and he's added 20 pounds since he graduated from high school. He's got some play-making ability. He's going to be a great football player."
Jordan Pu'u Robinson, end, 6-3, 265, Wailuku, Hawaii: "I'm very, very pleased with him. He's another one of those guys we're pleasantly surprised with. The stronger he got this winter, the more you could start to see what he's capable of doing. He's got a lot of passion. He's tough. He'll fight ya."
Darren Markle, middle linebacker, 6-1, 225, Meridian, Idaho: "He had a great week of practice ... after we got him to (middle linebacker after playing some strong-side early in the spring when others were absent), he kind of settled in."
Justin Clayton, tackle, 6-4, 271, Napa, Calif.: "Really, really pleased with him. He's a fundamentally sound football player. He does a great job of using his hands. He plays with great pad leverage. He gets every single ounce out of everything he does. He's a really good football player. Very coachable."
Nolan Washington, cornerback, 5-10, 180, Burien: "He's very, very conscientious of his assignments. Heck, he could run our meetings. He's a mature kid. He's a good leader."
Anthony Carpenter, cornerback, 6-0, 190, Los Angeles: "I'm very, very happy with (Washington) and Carpenter, too. Carpenter's got a lot of good skills."
Jamal Atofau, safety, 5-10, 190, Bellevue: "He's a free spirit. He's got a lot of passion. Great energy. Love his enthusiasm."
Casey Locker, safety, 5-11, 195, Ferndale: "Really good football player."
Sturdy on the offensive players:
Tim Hodgdon, guard, 6-3, 275, Ladera Ranch, Calif.: "He has some good skills. He's got good feet. He's got an opportunity to be a player. He's obviously got to develop, but I'm liking the potential I see out of him."
Sebastian Valenzuela, center, 6-2, 312, Burbank, Calif.: "He came in too heavy (Sturdy said Valenzuela has dropped 45 pounds since last year and is now at 320, despite his listed weight of 312). He's got more to drop. We'd like to get him down there under 310, 305, 300."
William Prescott, tackle, 6-5, 261, Riverside, Calif.: "He's progressing. He lost a ton of weight; he did a great job. He took all this weight off, and now we're just trying to put good weight back on. He's got to bulk up a little bit."