Where do Cougs stand at defensive tackle?

DAN SPITZ'S nine-game suspension from the NCAA is just the latest chapter in Washington State's revolving-door depth chart on the defensive line. Counting Spitz, three steak eaters have been lost since the spring season. On the flip side, two others – both late additions out of the JC ranks -- have come on board. So with the start of fall camp looming, where, exactly, do the Cougs stand at DT?

As long as health doesn't become an issue, Paul Wulff won't be pleading poverty at DT despite the losses and despite the remaining inexperience.

There are two reasons why: Bernard Wolfgramm and Brandon Rankin.

Wolfgramm, a 6-3, 288-pound fifth-year-senior, is finally healthy after ongoing back troubles that have plagued him since Day One, and he showed in the spring what he can do when he's feeling good. He was outstanding.

Rankin, a 6-5, 275-pound JC transfer, enrolled in January and then proceeded to turn heads in a big way in the spring -- so much so he actually exceeded the lofty expectations that came with him. He is a major talent who could give fits to opposing offensive lines.

Those are the two starters. And if they stay healthy the Cougs will be in solid shape in the middle of the defensive trenches. Ultimately, however, for them to truly be their tip-top best, WSU needs a quality rotation at d-tackle.

Immediately behind them are third-year sophomore Anthony Laurenzi (6-3, 286), who saw considerable playing time last season, and 6-4, 271-pound Justin Clayton, a second-year freshman who redshirted a year ago. Both had solid spring seasons and will be counted on to spell Wolfgramm and Rankin -- without significant drop off.

THE TWO NEW PLAYERS IN THE the mix are JC transfers Stephen Hoffart and Al Lapuaho. Hoffart, who prepped at Paul Wulff's alma mater (Davis High near Sacramento), signed with the Cougs in May and checks in at 6-4 and 270. The 6-3, 295-pound Lapuaho is brand new to the crimson fold, having come on board to WSU last month. He's from Snow College in Utah, by way of Granger High in West Valley City, Utah.

The versatile Hoffart will be tried this month at both tackle and end. Lapuaho, despite his 295 pounds, told CF.C he may even get some snaps out the edge, too. The recent attrition at DT may be skew the deck that direction, but the Cougs aren't drowning in depth at DE either.

The top two ends – Travis Long and Kevin Kooyman – are bona fides. And Sekope Kaufusi has had tongues wagging this offseason about the impact he might have in 2010. But after them things get a bit murky with Casey Hamlett, Adam Coerper and Jordan Pu'u Robinson.

Hoffart, who has been enrolled at WSU since June, has 3-to-play-3. As a redshirt freshman last season at Butte College, where he played with Rankin, he posted 31 tackles in 10 games and had 13.5 tackles for loss.

The scoop on Lapuaho is that he's a technician with an excellent motor and a very high ceiling. His dad played at BYU in the 1980s and his brother will be a freshman offensive linemen there this season. Lapuaho has four years to play three at WSU, but given his size and the Cougars' immediate need, look for him to be crackin' heads this season.

As a true freshman last season at Snow, Lapuaho played at 270 pounds and was credited with 22 tackles, including 2 for loss and a sack.

The Cougars will also have true freshman Kalafitoni Pole (6-2 1/2, 275) in the DT fold when camp opens but he might be a redshirt candidate this season.

THE ATTRITION THAT HAS TRANSPIRED at DT for the Cougs is notable. The 6-6, 275-pound Spitz, who can practice with the Cougs but can't play until early Nov. 6 after testing positive for a banned substance, likely would have seen notable time coming off the bench. His situation was percolating for quite some time, which explains why WSU coaches continued to burn the midnight recruiting oil that resulted in the acquisitions of Hoffart and Lapuaho.

Meanwhile, would-be senior – 6-0, 331-pound Josh Luapo -- hit the academic skids and is out. The biggest loss in the trenches is 6-5, 301-pound Toby Turpin. He also ran into academic problems and is done. Turpin was a would-be fifth-year senior who was the Cougars' No. 1 right tackle going into spring ball -- albeit that was before Wolfgramm's resurgence and Rankin's emergence.

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