Sears saw a d-line this spring ready to hunt

IT WAS ONE of the bigger concerns on defense pre-spring drills, and with two d-tackles lost to attrition over the course of the spring, you might think things would be trending towards dire shape. So why, post-spring, is co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears beaming over the Wazzu d-line headed into summer and fall camp?

The main goal this spring for the Cougs was to find about eight legit, quality players who could play up front without significant drop-off between the starters and depth. Did the Cougs accomplish that?

"Boy, I sure think so," said Jody Sears. "We moved (Sekope) Kaufusi down there, and he is a good football player. He is really athletic and he can run. I think that position alone might be our most improved, the defensive line."

Even with the loss of d-tackles Toby Turpin and Josh Luapo, the Cougs had two impact-type of starters who stood out this spring in Brandon Rankin and Bernard Wolfgramm, said Sears.

Behind them, Justin Clayton and Anthony Laurenzi played ably and Dan Spitz is also in the mix. At DE, the Cougs' best player on defense a year ago, Travis Long, is just a true sophomore, while fifth year senior Kevin Kooyman is on the other end. And Kaufusi is pushing hard, says Sears.

"So you've got the addition of Rankin and there's some depth starting to take place there. There's a size difference from the last two years -- I think you're going to see it come together when fall rolls around," said Sears.

OPPOSITE RANKIN, Wolfgramm's play was noteworthy this spring, though he didn't participate the entire 15 practice sessions. Wolfgramm was busy hitting the books and he has some academic work to do but unlike Luapo, Wolfgramm's situation looks promising. Out on the field, the d-tackle simply looked like a different guy, said Sears.

"Wolfgramm looked absolutely awesome. He's healthy again. He was moving like he did when he was in junior college. He just looks so much more explosive and athletic," said Sears.

"Rankin, he hadn't played football in a year and a half and he was a little rusty at first. But he lost some weight and he definitely got the rust knocked off him. He's a very, very good football player. And Kevin Kooyman had a great spring," said Sears.

SEARS SAID HE expects Clayton will be among the redshirt freshmen who will make significant contributions this season.

"Clayton had a great spring and met all of our expectations. When he first got here he needed the redshirt, the weight room and the time to physically mature. He gets every single ounce of his energy and strength out there. He's a neck up kid, he's tough and he's coachable. That kid is going to give us some quality minutes next fall, there's no question. He has a tremendous upside," said Sears.

ONE D-LINEMAN to keep an eye out for is Jordan Pu'u-Robinson. He's still developing and will likely help the Cougs more down the road. But depending on how his summer goes, and then fall camp, he could conceivably make some noise this year, said Sears.

"He is going to be a fine football player," said Sears. "He got nicked up early (slight concussion) and missed some time, but he ended up finishing strong.

"The thing is, coach (Malik) Roberson, he's done an absolutely phenomenal job with those guys. And our defensive GA, Jason Belford, he's done great with them. They've got those dogs huntin'."


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