Archive for the ‘'09 WSU positional previews’ Category

The Magnificent Front Seven? Or Something Else Entirely?

July 28, 2009


Time to glance at the defensive front of our beloved Cougs. But instead of doing just the D-line or just the linebackers, I thought what the heck, do the entire front seven. And for good reason, I guess. I mean really, both sets of positions rely heavily on each other for success. The linebackers rely on the defensive line to plug up holes and/or occupy blockers long enough to fly to the ball and make plays. And the d-line, if they do their job? They still need competent, strong-tackling linebackers who are capable of getting to the ball and making the play. Both positions need each other, and together they complete the heart of any defense. They are almost one with each other, one feeding off the other’s success. But will it be a “Magnificent Seven” up front? Or something else entirely?? Let’s see…

First of all, it better be said now, and let’s just get this out of the way – the defense was abysmal last year. I mean how else do you explain the 43.9 points per game allowed, 118th in the country? The 247.6 rushing yards per game allowed, 119th in the country? Hey, passing defense wasn’t too bad, at 195.8 yards per game allowed, or 44th in the country. But let’s be honest, I mean the team was buried so deep and so early that many games saw teams doing nothing but student-body-right/student-body-left for half of their possessions. USC even took a knee at the 15-yard line of WSU before the half…..things were THAT bad.

I don’t think any Coug fan who watched them all season would argue against that statement, and many inside the WSU program would probably agree. Of course there were many circumstances as to why they were so bad, such as a madly ineffective offense, injuries, suspensions, blah blah BLEH! The list is too long to accurately point out every single thing that was wrong, so, you get the gist. In a nutshell, what could go wrong, did go wrong in ’08.

So let’s get to it. We’ll start from the inside out, meaning defensive tackles, defensive ends, and then the linebackers.

D-tackle rotation:
Some starting combo of Bernard Wolfgramm, Toby Turpin and Josh Luapo. If Wolfgramm is healthy, he will start alongside Turpin to form a thick, talented interior. Wolfgramm is pushing 290 lbs on his 6-3 frame, while Turpin checks in at 6-4, 285. The buzz from last year was that Wolfgramm was the best defensive lineman on the team, and Turpin wasn’t far behind. But even as injuries and other off-the-field issues hurt last year’s defensive line, Wulff resisted the urge to burn Wolfgramm’s redshirt. And now that move, hopefully, will pay off!


Other unknown or relatively unproven backups are (potentially) Dan Spitz, Justin Clayton and Anthony Laurenzi.

D-Tackle analysis: Starting to see a little depth develop here. Contrast these guys with what you saw for most of ’08, and it’s a whole different world inside. Wolfgramm redshirted, and Luapo didn’t even enroll until January of ’09, following the gray shirt route. And Turpin came on strong at the end of the year, but he didn’t really play until the last month of the season.


All that said, ’09 could still see this group as not-yet-ready for prime time. While Wolfgramm redshirted last year, and it’s great that he did so well and all that. But we’re talking about practice. PRACTICE!

Seriously though, he still hasn’t had a snap of PAC-10 football. And he had a balky shoulder that kept him out for some action this spring, so who knows what kind of shape he’ll be in by the opener. I know I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for how he does in August camp. While Luapo is big and all that, a fire-hydrant type at 6-0, 325 lb, like Wolfgramm, he hasn’t seen any PAC-10 action either.

Defensive Ends: Kevin Kooyman and Jesse Feagin are projected starters.

Defensive end analysis: Hmmm. Well, we like Kooyman. He has had some injury issues over the years, and started seven games last year. Kooyman is good-sized at 6-6, around 250, but isn’t exactly hell on wheels in terms of getting up field and rushing the passer. He is more of your all-around type of defensive end who isn’t a huge playmaker, with 31 tackles and one sack last year. It’s hard to believe he’s already a senior isn’t it? His career has absolutely flown by. He was regarded as one of the top recruits in the state when he came on board under Doba and company, regarded as a good guy, and last year, there was considerable buzz that he was set for a big ’08 season. It just never happened. He is the undisputed leader up front this season, and here’s hoping he goes out with a bang in ’09.

Feagin is another interesting case. Reportedly adding 16 lbs of muscle in the off-season, now near 270 lbs, he could make an impact right away. There is always some speculation that with the added weight, he could slide inside on passing/nickel situations, as a smaller pass-rushing defensive tackle. But it’s likely he’ll be at the top of the depth chart, opposite Kooyman as a starting defensive end. Feagin, like Kooyman, is also a senior. He played sparingly as a JC transfer in ’07, just three tackles in nine total games, and then missed last year due to academics. We’ve heard good things about Feagin over the last two+ years, so now we will find out what he’s really got in the tank.

As for backups, I would speculate heading into camp that Casey Hamlett, the transfer from Western, and Adam Coerper, the redshirt frosh who was the scout team defensive player of the year last year, will be the first d-ends off the bench. Hamlett was profiled in the spring as to opening some eyes with his high-energy approach. The opportunity is right there in front of him, and to go from playing at Western WA to being a regular in the defensive end rotation on a BCS school in one year has to get his heart racing! Coerper, meanwhile, is another kid on the rise, a youngster who has drawn praise since he arrived in Pullman. One of those nice, athletic frames at 6-4, 250, in the versatile mold who could play tight end or defensive end, the redshirt frosh has a real shot at regular playing time.

For a real young sleeper/long shot for ’09, Travis Long must get mentioned here. Long was one of the top recruits signed in February, and while he hasn’t yet put on the pads, there are some that believe he could see action as a true frosh. Long is, yet again, another one of those tall (6-4), athletic build-type kids at 245 pounds who can play tight-end or defensive end. He projects more at defensive end at this level, so, it’s at least possible he’ll open enough eyes in August to potentially get on the field in September.

Sadly, this is where we must mention Cory Mackay. Mackay had a big spring on the field, and was looking like he was headed for a lot of PT this fall. Then the terrible car accident a few months ago, and his life has changed for the foreseeable future. I would encourage you all to go check out the Cory Mackay fund group at Facebook, which has now grown to over 1500 members. They have done some good fund-raisers, such as car washes and even a hair-cutting service for donations, and the news has been positive there. Still, he has a long road ahead, so all our thoughts and prayers go out to Cory Mackay and family.

OK, that’s it for the d-line. Now, the linebackers.

Starters: You can book Andy Mattingly at strongside linebacker and Louis Bland at the weakside position, provided they are healthy? Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Mike Ledgerwood will battle for the inside. As for backups, we would do a lot worse than Myron Beck. Nine starts last year at strongside backer, now pushed to backup status with the Mattingly move back from defensive end. Hallston Higgins is in there as well, likely backing up Bland at the weakside.


Mattingly on one side and Bland on the other could be one of the best OLB tandems in recent times for the Cougs. They are both recognized as two of the best players on the defense, and it will be interesting to say the least at the idea of seeing them both starting from day one. However, injuries area already an issue here, as Cougfan broke a story the other day that said Bland is still nursing a bum knee, to the point that it could cause him to miss the season opener (damn). And Mattingly missed time this spring, and now has a lot to prove as he moves back to linebacker after a failed move to defensive end last year.

This is it for Mattingly, a player two years ago some pegged as a can’t miss star at linebacker. I include myself in that group who thought he was going to be the “real thing”, but last year was a loss on many levels. They finally moved him back to linebacker at the tail end of the season, and the defense overall did perform better vs. ASU, UW and Hawaii to close out ’08. Most of all, Mattingly simply looked more comfortable, almost like going home again, and should have a nice finishing kick to his up-and-down career at the strong-side position. Bland, if he can keep that knee right, looks like an absolute player on the rise. Sized like a strong safety at 5-10, 205, Bland has the heart of a lion and hits like a truck. 55 tackles, nine for loss as a true frosh last year in nine starts had him on some frosh All-American teams. The kid is a real bulldog and should be a strong leader for years to come.

The youthful match-up at middle linebacker is going to be something to watch. Mike Ledgerwood played in 10 games last year, and logged 14 tackles with 2.5 for loss in limited time behind Greg Trent. We like the looks of Ledgerwood, a solid 6-0, 225, and appears to be another young player on the rise. But Hoffman-Ellis is going to give him everything he can handle inside. The JC transfer who arrived last year, he and Ledgerwood are going to be in for a real fight for the honor in replacing Greg Trent in the middle.

As for some younger breakthroughs, it’s hard to say. Maybe a super-strong Darren Markle will emerge in the middle? Markle is a high school weight-lifting legend, with a 605-lb squat video making the Youtube rounds. 605 lbs!?!? That’s ridiculous strength. I would imagine trying to move him out of the middle is akin to trying to take down the Martin Stadium goal posts, complete with cement reinforcements. Good luck.

It is a younger group of linebackers, no question, and losing Greg Trent, Cory Evans and Kendrick Dunn thins out the depth. But if they can stay relatively healthy, they will be fine. And of course, the better the play is in front of them along the line, the better this group will do overall.

As an overall, I would say this group of front seven is in much better shape than last year. In ’08, they were too young, too light, and too few in numbers to compete against BCS talent. While six of the top eight projected in the two-deeps at defensive line are new faces for ’09, normally that isn’t a recipe for success. But I think this is a unique situation. Last year they had lost Andy Roof before the season started, so backups like Matt Eichelberger were thrust to the forefront. The personnel just wasn’t up to the challenge. Now, there is talent that is new, sure, but still it’s talent that has been on campus and in the system for a full season up until now. Bernard Wolfgramm, Jesse Feagin, both guys who should start, both guys who red-shirted last year, both older guys who have had that initial year to get used to everything. So while they are new, they aren’t exactly nervous true frosh who are overmatched from the beginning.

The best news around is that Wulff continues to recruit the big, lean frames out of high school and then have them grow and mature in the strength program, some of whom will ultimately end up on defense. It’s the old Mike Price philosophy – recruit speed and athleticism on defense, and let them develop and grow up in the program. And build it for speed, from the “outside-in”. So safeties become outside linebackers, outside linebackers become middle linebackers, middle linebackers become defensive ends, and defensive ends move inside to defensive tackle. All in a natural progression as their bodies add strength and “the right kind of weight”.

The downside to this approach, well, it’s a strategy for the long haul, not the quick fix. No 6-4, 325-lb SEC-style behemoths are walking through the Bohler Gym doors, ready to start from the day they arrive. Obviously Josh Luapo is the exception to this rule. But fear not. This developmental approach will start to bear fruit, and I bet we start seeing some of the changes this year, but really witness the evolution in 2010. Just not yet.

At linebacker, the loss of Trent and all those tackles will hurt. But moving Andy Mattingly back there gives the defense an entirely different personality. He is their big, experienced playmaker who gave the defense some extra energy when he first started getting regular PT over the last half of 2007. And it will be great to see Louis Bland take the field after his initial learning season is now out of the way. Instead of trying to survive, now we can see him attack and lead a little bit more?

Most of all, both units are going to need the other to up their game in ’09. The defensive line is going to have to do a better job of putting pressure on the opponent’s passing game by applying a consistent rush, and of course, plug up holes and occupy some space up front. But that’s just half the battle. The linebackers are going to have to play fast and physical, and take advantage of what the defensive line can give them, which is an opportunity to make plays.

So, will it work? Is the front seven in better shape in ’09 vs. last year? Can they not just survive, but thrive? What do YOU think?

That’s it for now. Enjoy your morning, and as always, GO COUGS!

Who’s Going to Block?

July 20, 2009


Happy Monday Coug Nation. Hope you all enjoyed a sunny, relaxing July weekend. But don’t get TOO relaxed….training camp is coming, now just what, three+ weeks away? Time sure is flying by.

First of all, one last quickie on “lil’ Romeo” Pellum. We apologize if the untrustworthy part of the headline on Friday was misinterpreted by any of you. It could be a bit misleading, or even thought of as calling the coaches out as not being trustworthy, etc. Or, it could even be taken as giving too much credence to Pellum and what he thinks of the WSU program. None of these things were the intent. And to make things worse, we heard a few things about Romeo over the weekend that, uh, let’s just say him leaving Pullman is the best thing for everyone. But it’s over and done with, and we all will now move on.

That said, it’s still a slow time in the Coug universe. So we’ll plow ahead with a peek at the O-line for ’09, WSU Football Blog style.

First of all, the ’08 line was, well, battered. How’s that? Battered to the extent of a seemingly never-ending shuffle of linemen, in and out of the lineup. All told the offensive line started eight different combinations last year, with players in and out of the lineup on a weekly basis. The good news is that some young players got their feet wet, and, towards the end of the season anyway, things started to settle down. The last three games of the year saw the exact same starting five up front, and even all in their regular positions! How about that!? But it was THAT fluid up front.

With that revolving door came the best teacher of all – in-game experience – but it also came at a steep price. We saw the beatings that the QB’s took last year, where Gary Rogers, Kevin Lopina, and Marshall Lobbestael all dealt with major pain. Of course, Rogers and Lobbestael were knocked out for the season, while Lopina missed several games in the middle of the year with the vertebrae fractures.


Even Dan Wagner, the fourth QB, was hobbled a bit later in the year, and although J.T. Levenseller barely played, HE TOO was beat up when he was in there! All told, the WSU QB’s ate it to the tune of 42 sacks (PAC-10 worst), plus numerous hits on the QB that might not go down in the stat book. It was a group that was trying to learn new schemes, from new coaches, with new players in and out. Doesn’t exactly add up to success, does it?

But that’s ’08, and it’s in the rear-view mirror (thank God). Time to look forward to a new era. And there is, potentially, some positions to feel really good about. Live in the past, stay in the past, right? So let’s see how the ’09 line might look….

Projected starters:

LEFT TACKLE: Steven Ayers – Sophomore

Decent size for tackle at 6-4, now up to 315 lbs, the sophomore-to-be should be a mainstay on the line for the next several seasons. He played in eleven games last year as a red-shirt frosh, including five starts, shuffling between guard and tackle. He played more guard than anything last year, in fact he had just one start at tackle for the entire season. So, starting left tackle will be a new deal for Ayers. Of course, brand new left tackles can make people nervous, you know, with the whole protect-the-QB-blindside stuff? But Ayers has that rookie season out of the way and sounds as if he’ll be ready for the challenge.

LEFT Guard: Zack Williams – Junior

Originally thought of as a potential heir-apparent to Vaughn Lesuma at left tackle, instead Williams will roll with the starters at left guard. Williams has been regarded as one of the most talented linemen on the team since he set foot in Pullman for his redshirt season last year, and was often mentioned by Wulff during radio shows and interviews that Williams looks like he could be a real player. He’s also mentioned as having a real tough streak to him, something this offensive line could really use in bunches right now. It will be awfully interesting to see how Williams does out of the chute. Not your typical JC transfer in that he actually has a red-shirt season at WSU under his belt, but still, this will be his first BCS action of his career. It’s one thing to do it in practice, but let’s hope his early buzz continues into September, and beyond.

CENTER: Kenny Alfred – Senior


The best lineman on the team, heck, probably the best player on offense to line up next year, Alfred has it all. Smarts (All-Academic team), experience (32 career starts coming into ’09), and toughness(winner of the Mike Utley lineman of the year award last year), he’s pretty much everything WSU could hope for at center.

He’s been pegged as being a good one since he first came to Pullman under Bill Doba’s watch, who once predicted Alfred would be a four-year starter back in ’05. And here we are. He’s on all the pre-season watch lists for offensive linemen, and rightfully so. A little worrisome is the hip injury that forced him to miss the entire spring practice session, but word is he is A-OK and will be ready to go next month. As center is really the quarterback of the offensive line, there is very little doubt that Alfred is the one guy they need to have out there on a weekly basis.

RIGHT GUARD: B.J. Guerra – Sophomore

Guerra has been up-and-down a bit, hasn’t he? Thrown to the wolves in ’07, he held his own as a backup, and then saw a lot of action last year, starting five games. Those five starts included the last three games of the year, when the WSU line had the same starting five for three consecutive games, the longest stretch of the season where the same five started a game. Originally a d-tackle when he came to WSU, he was switched over to the offense his red-shirt season and hasn’t looked back. He’s got some size (6-3, 311) and a little nastiness to him, a quality needed for this group.

RIGHT TACKLE: Micah Hannam – Junior

Similar to Alfred, Hannam is the other leader up front. Another brainy guy, named to an All-Academic team in each of the last two years, Hannam has some major experience as well. He has now started 25 consecutive games, all at right tackle. While not your NFL prototype tackle at 6-4, 284, he’s still strong and moves pretty well. Also like Alfred, Hannam missed all of spring drills due to injury, but, everything sounds good for the start of camp.

BACKUPS:

The backup offensive tackles will likely be Joe Eppele and Tyson Pencer. Both are enormous Canadians, hailing from the great white north province of British Columbia.


Eppele’s at 6-8, 306 and Pencer at 6-6, 297. But they are green, Eppele with two starts, Pencer with none as he is just coming off his red-shirt frosh season this year. Eppele is another smarty pants, placing on the second-team All-Academic PAC-10 squad for two straight years. While he only started two games last year, he did see action in 10 games total.

Inside, you will likely find Brian Danaher and Andrew Roxas as the backup guards. Danaher is a lunchpail-n-hardhat type, not a spectacular athlete but gives you all he’s got. He’s perfectly slated as a backup, but he still started EIGHT games last year. That’s some good experience to have in there, and he’ll be ready when called upon. Andrew Roxas, like Danaher, is also experienced, starting eight games himself last year. Roxas made a name for himself in 2007, when he stepped in as a frosh and started for the injured Kenny Alfred vs. UCLA. The result was a 27-7 victory at home that saw the Cougs run for 274 yards on the day, by far the season high in ’07.

Roxas has basically been a backup at center and guard ever since, and that’s where he’ll open up ’09.

So that’s a look at the starters, plus some key backups. Now here’s something else to think about – remember that NO HUDDLE OFFENSE we heard so much about when Wulff was hired?!? No? Neither do I. That’s because we barely saw the thing after the first game of the year. Once the injuries started to mount, forget it. But it wasn’t anybody’s fault, really. The whole idea was just too much, too soon, for everyone on offense to handle. But not anymore. It’s been said repeatedly that 2009 will see the “real” WSU/Todd Sturdy offense, and that involves a fast-paced, no-huddle scheme that is aggressive from the get-go. Now that we’ve seen a season in the books for all these guys involved, all in this new scheme, we’ll finally get a chance to see the real deal. Will the no-huddle give everyone a chance to show what they can really do? Is the O-line up to the task? The beauty is that we are going to find out!

So what do you think of the O-line? It looks pretty good…today…on paper. But we’re still quite a ways away from Stanford on 9/5.

That’s about it for a Monday. Enjoy heading back to the grind, and as always, GO COUGS!

So Who’s Going to Pick it?

July 16, 2009


So we’ve taken a peek at who we think is going to chuck it, and who we think is going to carry it. Now let’s look at who, exactly, will be picking balls out of the air for the WSU offense in ’09.

Right away, it must be acknowledged who WON’T be picking it in ’09, and that is of course, our lead photo guy of the day, Brandon Gibson. For the first time since 2004, the WSU receiving corps will be sans #4 (2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 all saw Gibson in the WR rotation). One of the all-time greats in WSU history, Gibson finished his career as the school leader in receiving yards (2,756). He was second in total catches with 182. His 17 TD’s placed him in the top six in school history. Gibson will be missed, there is no denying that. Gibson, as you are probably aware, was a sixth-round draft choice of the flying Philly Eagles, ready to make some noise back east.

We salute you Gibby, and wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

But the page must be turned, so with that, we look ahead. And who shall lead them? Let’s see….

While 2008 was, overall, a lost season for many WSU WR’s, the raw numbers are a hard thing to comprehend. It seemed like nobody, and I mean NOBODY, improved at WR in ’08. After all, the superstar game-breaker in Brandon Gibson saw his numbers shrink considerably, going from a 67-catch, 1180-yard, 9-TD campaign in ’07 to just a 57 catch, 673-yard, two-TD campaign in ’08. But, believe it or not, there was someone who improved last year, even with an offense that struggled so terribly for the bulk of the season. The one guy who did improve, at least statistically, was none other than the track star – Jeshua Anderson. Wait, you mean the amazing hurdler who flirted with making the 2008 Olympic Team, and then missed all of August with an abdominal injury? THAT Jeshua Anderson?? It’s true.

After catching just 12 balls as a true frosh in ’07, Anderson emerged with 33 catches in ’08. His yards-per-catch was down in a huge way, at 9.2, but after ’07 there was nowhere to go but down. Anderson averaged an unrepeatable 31(thirty-one!) yards per grab in ’07, but that was on just the 12 catches. There was virtually no way he was doing that again, not as a starter after playing the deep threat role the year before.

I guess our concern with Anderson is the same one that a lot of people have for him, and that is has the track time taken away from his chances to get better on the football field? After all, he missed spring ball again this year to compete in the NCAA championships, where YES, he did repeat as NCAA CHAMP in the 400 hurdles. So as great as he is on the track, nobody can really blame him for missing practice time on the gridiron.


He is super-special in the hurdles, and a lucrative career may await on the track-n-field circuit once his NCAA days are behind him. Anderson does possess some good tools for the WR position, aside from just the great speed. He is cut at 6-2, 188, and shows good hands and excellent body control. But is he good enough at his craft to be THE MAN this year? He could be on the brink of a major breakthrough, or the load could be unbearable for a guy who may not exactly be ready to roll as the number one WR. But without question, Anderson is the fastest, most talented WR of the bunch coming back in ’09. Here’s hoping a healthy, productive practice session in August will see him ready for the rigors of a 12-game gauntlet in ’09.

Now it gets a little challenging, as what you have left is a real mash-up of young, somewhat experienced WR’s, but none of whom has really had a shot to make some noise. Of course, we love Jared Karstetter, and he will always live in Apple Cup lore for his 48-yard grab that saved the 2008 game.

But aside from that catch, he made just FIVE others the entire ’08 season. But that was his true frosh year, and he did only start three games on the season. Excellent size at 6-4, 203, and pretty athletic as well, he could evolve into a difficult match-up for whoever he faces on a weekly basis. Last year we hoped he could turn out to be another Jeff Samardzija of sorts, the former Notre Dame great turned MLB reliever? Samardzija was your bigger, possession-type target with good hands, but also good enough quicks to break one here and there. Karstetter is going to be an interesting guy to watch this year as we see if he’s taken a step forward in his development. The opportunity is there, no doubt about it. But the jury is, as they say, still very much out on Karstetter.

Another kid with a year of playing time now under his belt is Kevin Norrell. On the smallish side at 5-9, Norrell showed a little something with 11 catches last year. He’s perfect for the slot, and should be able to use his quickness in space against linebackers or safeties who line up across from him. But still a youngster as a true sophomore, like Karstetter, a long way to go before he’s a complete product.

Another WR to watch is Daniel Blackledge. Blackledge had a semi-good start to the ’08 season, but after eight catches in his first four games last year, he only had ONE catch the rest of the way. Built similar to Jeshua Anderson at 6-2, 179, Blackledge obviously doesn’t have the take-your-breath-away speed of Anderson, but he’s still a very good athlete with decent wheels. Hard to believe he’ll already be a junior this year, but they really could use his ability to get the ball down the field. Outside of Anderson, he is probably the second-best deep threat on the team.

Finally, the newcomers. Johnny Forzani, the Canandian prospect; Gino Simone, the heralded recruit; and Jeffrey Solomon, the transfer from Eastern.

First, Forzani. Who knows, really, what they got here. Most likely you know the back story already – but if you forgot, check out this link. He didn’t play high school ball, has some family CFL ties, and even though he was known more as a hoops player, he ultimately makes the practice squad of the Calgary Stampeders. Decent size at 6-1, 195, and really good speed as well, reports are he still has quite a ways to go before he is ready to make an impact. He is rough around the edges, but given some solid practice time with WR coach Mike Levenseller, anything can happen. Maybe they’ll catch lightning in a bottle? If anything, split him out opposite of Jeshua Anderson and send him deep with that 4.4 speed!

Simone is well-known in these parts. Regarded as the top player in Washington last year, he has a chance to get some real PT in ’09. Not huge, but big enough at 6-0, 170, Simone’s game is all about precise routes and excellent hands.

NOT a big highlight reel guy and he’s not a speed demon, but he was as productive as can be in high school, where Skyline won the 4A state title in a pass-happy offense.

Solomon is a real under-the-radar type guy, but could be something when the dust settles. Another six-footer, and 196 lbs, he sat out last year after coming in from EWU. He had an injury that forced him to miss the ’07 season, but ’06 as a true frosh he was somewhat productive under Wulff at EWU, playing in nine games that year. He only caught seven balls as a true frosh, but definitely showed enough to follow Wulff to Pullman. Keep an eye out for him in practice reports next month.

That’s about it for the WR spot. It’s kind of a weird position, where the superstar is gone, but there is young, somewhat experienced guys waiting in the wings? But that said, there are an awful lot of “IF’S” here to hang your hat on. IF Anderson is healthy and improves; IF Karstetter continues to get better and learns how to use his size and athleticism as weapons against smaller defensive backs; IF Norrell is used properly in the slot and they can take advantage of mismatches with his quickness. Etc, etc, etc.

But I do believe this position will be better in ’09 compared to last year. At least it looks like it has that proverbial “upside” tag, as long as health doesn’t become an issue (quick, knock on anything resembling wood!). Just remember, last year at this time, yeah, they had Brandon Gibson. But Jeshua Anderson was hobbled with an injury, Daniel Blackledge had ONE career catch coming into ’08, and both Karstetter and Norrell were true frosh! Those four – Anderson, Karstetter, Norrell, and Blackledge – will be the biggest factors in the passing game this season. And all four now have another year under their belts. So they should be a stronger, deeper, better unit in ’09. But it may still not be enough to stop another tough season. Now for 2010, wow, can we talk?? But for now, we’ll settle for improvement and consistency on a weekly basis!

That’s it for a Thursday. ENJOY IT, as always, and GO COUGS!

Who’s Carrying the Mail?

July 10, 2009

First off, a hearty WELCOME BACK to Sir Vincent Grippi, the best of the best Coug sportswriter in these here parts! Grippi has returned from a several-week hiatus, back to provide the fantastic coverage in ways only a champion can do. As many folks have already commented on the Spokesman-Review site, he’s a welcome sight for these sore eyes….

And in the usual fashion, back from vacation and some big news breaks. You probably heard already, but WSU’s budget information is making the rounds as of yesterday afternoon, and guess what? Per Sir Grippi, it ain’t bad. The gist: No sports have been cut, as all 17 men’s and women’s programs will continue to soldier on. But still, when you are dealing with nearly a million in revenue shortfall, you aren’t going to get off totally unscathed:

The athletic department, according to Sterk, had already instituted cost-cutting measures – “We’ve got a hit list about a page long of things we’ve done,” he said – and those will continue. They include leaving open positions unfilled, cutting back on travel for international recruiting and professional development, using ground transportation to competitions within 400 miles of Pullman (including Seattle football games), limiting the number of athletic publications and possibly cutting travel-squad sizes.

All sound, responsible decisions in these tough times. But you know what? Even in tough times like these, it’s those who have been fiscally responsible all along who will survive. And WSU is no stranger to being responsible, per the article from the AP in late June. We are used to doing more with less, so this shouldn’t be THAT big of a deal??

Moving on, we continue to look at the state of our Cougs on a position-by-position basis. Earlier in the week it was the QB’s. Today, it’s running back. Who’s going to carry the mail in ’09? Will someone emerge from what looks like it could be a crowded backfield? Or will it be a by-committee approach, where everyone will get a chance to do some heavy lifting? Let’s take a look-see….

First of all, we would be remiss if we didn’t look back at the running game from last year. And in 2008, it wasn’t pretty. As in 95.1 yards per game, good for a measly 110th in the country in rushing yards. And in those 95.1 yards per game, they averaged just 2.7 yards per carry.

Not good is it? Generally you want at least three yards per carry (three yards and a cloud of dust?), but something closer to four would be nice.

That said, in a weird way 2008 wasn’t all that bad in that there was some depth that emerged at the position. Dwight Tardy led the team in carries (133) and yards (481), but still averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. But the numbers overall for Tardy were down across the board compared to his pre-knee injury days in ’07. In that year, Tardy had 676 yards and 6 TD’s, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, before going down in the 8th game vs. UCLA. That 3.6 yards per carry is over a full yard less per touch compared to ’07. And looking back to ’06, Tardy logged 667 yards and four TD’s on 4.6 yards per carry.

So ’08 was definitely a down year across the board for Dwight.

So, was his downturn in performance related to the knee injury? It’s hard to say. I think it’s reasonable to look at his performance at times last year and wonder if he had lost some of his explosiveness. But at the same time, there were moments where he ran extremely hard. He had 75 tough yards vs. UW, and the following week vs. Hawaii averaged 4.1 yards per carry, scoring the only TD of the game for the Cougs. But it also must be said that the offensive line woes contributed mightily to the situation. The O-line was a jumbled mess through the first several games of ’08, where the same lineup didn’t start consecutive games until well into the latter part of the schedule. Such a lack of continuity made the running game suffer, heck, the entire offense suffered last year and a lot of the blame can be placed on the “fluid” situation up front. But that’s a post for another day….

The bright spot? Logwone Mitz. The kid is one physical dude, a bruising package at 6-1, 225. And who can forget his huge 57-yard TD run vs. UW in the third quarter of the Apple Cup, a play that seemed to lift the entire team in the second half?

While Mitz was second to Tardy in carries (90) and yards (441), he did tie for the team lead in TD’s with three. But the most impressive thing about Mitz? His yards-per-carry came in at nearly FIVE per touch (4.9). So even just sharing the load, in his physical style of play, he still was effective in moving the pile. Impressive stuff from a redshirt frosh, and a necessary ingredient for a balanced, effective running game. Flash-n-dash is nice, but man, you gotta convert those short yardage situations. Mitz is the lunchpail and hardhat type, unafraid to get a little dirt under his nails during a hard day’s work. Yes, WE LIKE MITZ around here!

The wild-card, without a doubt, is James Montgomery. The heralded transfer from Cal, Montgomery was a Parade All-American in high school, where he ran for over 4900 yards and 82 td’s. Rivals.com had him as the 14th-best running back coming out in ’06, and after a redshirt year, he played in every game for Cal in ’07.

Now after sitting out ’08 due to transfer rules, the junior-to-be is ready for action. More of a home-run big-play type compared to Mitz and Tardy, Monty will be right in line for plenty of carries this fall.

Yes, there are others in the mix, like Chris Ivory and Chantz Staden. But right now, it’s clear that the position is all about Tardy, Mitz and Montgomery. Per the spring depth chart, Tardy was listed as the starter, while Mitz and Montgomery were backups. But I think we can all agree that those three guys bring something a little different to the table. And, no matter who prevails as the starter vs. Stanford 9/5, you can bet that all three are going to get significant opportunities for touches.

So what do YOU think? Does Tardy get the starting nod, based on his experience as the senior returner? Should Mitz get more looks as the feature guy, and not so much the short-yardage type? Or, is it time to hand the keys to arguably the most talented offensive skill position player on the roster in James Montgomery and see what happens? Let’s get your takes on what could be the deepest, most productive position on the ’09 Cougar offense!

That’s it for a Friday. Enjoy it, and as always, FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FOR WASHINGTON STATE!

Is There a Real QB Question in Pullman?

July 7, 2009


Greetings Coug Nation. As usual, we hope you enjoyed a nice, long holiday weekend. But now that it’s behind us, time to start looking ahead. Over the last few months, we’ve spilled an awful lot of ink looking at the upcoming opponents for good ‘ol WSU. But now, with news slowing to a trickle in this historically slow time of the year, what better time to take a closer look, oh, I don’t know….the Cougs??

And with that, what better place to start than at the most important position on the field, the QB? And with some pretty good timing at that, as Cougfan yesterday ran a poll in regards to who should be the QB in ’09, Marshall Lobbestael or Kevin Lopina. Did you vote? Further, have you seen the results? As of 6:30 AM today, it’s Ocho Rojo in a runaway.

At first blush, it seemed a little surprising that this was even being asked of the Coug Nation. After last year, with an extended look at Lopina and just a glimpse of Lobbestael, the consensus was that young Marshall was the QB of choice, provided he could bounce back from the rough knee injury. But is it so clear-cut? Is there a chance that this will be Lopina’s job after all? Paul Wulff has been quoted a couple of times this off-season in saying that Lopina’s the returning senior, but Marshall Lobbestael will get a full opportunity to compete for the job. And what about the young wild card in all this, J.T. Levenseller? Let’s take a look….

First, the senior returner, Kevin Lopina.

2008: 87 for 153, 841 yards, 0 TD’s, 11 INT’s. 56.9% completions. 5.5 yards per attempt. Sacked 23 times, for a QB rating of 88.66.

Really a rough line, all the way around. In nine games played, including eight starts, Lopina only broke the 100-yard mark in passing yards four times. That means the majority of his appearances, he was only in double-digits in yardage. And to never find the end-zone in eight starts is kind of hard to fathom.


But it also must be said that the vast majority of Lopina’s playing time came after he suffered the fractured vertebrae. In fact, six starts came after Lopina was knocked out with the injury. And anyone who watched him play post-fracture could see he wasn’t up to speed. Not that he played “soft” or anything. The guy did play hard, as well as stepping forward with leadership in the locker room when the season was completely unraveling. For as bad as last season was in Pullman? Without Lopina calling out some of the quitters, it could have been much, much worse. As in, probably no Apple Cup win.

And let’s face it, the guy did make ONE big play on the season, a play that will probably live on in Apple Cup lore (check out the throw to Karstetter, about a minute into the video):

I guess the reality is that Lopina has to at least be acknowledged for doing what he could last year. To grit through the bulk of the season coming off the broken back, and to show leadership along the way, says a lot about the young man’s character. One can envision that even if he doesn’t win the job this fall, that he’ll still be there to help keep things together. But who knows. Now that he’s healthy, maybe we’ll get to see the “real” Kevin Lopina? The one that had people excited after he transferred in from Kansas State? The one who was a high-profile QB recruit out of Cali powerhouse De La Salle?

Now, Marshall Lobbestael.

2008: 53-for-103, 571 yards, 4 TD’s, 4 INT. 51.5 % completions. 5.54 yards per attempt. Sacked 12 times. 103.08 QB rating.

Not exactly blow-you-away numbers either. Granted, Lobbestael was a redshirt frosh, and he did only start three games last year. So we never really saw what he was – or wasn’t. The “small sample size” argument has to be made here. While he passed the eye test on a lot of plays last year, and showing some real touch on the deep balls he completed, the jury is still very much out on Lobbestael.

But again, we’re talking about a redshirt frosh dropped into the heat of the battle. For his first-ever game action at such a young stage of his career, he was more in survival mode vs. climbing the superstar ladder. And while the completion percentage is a concern, and the yards per attempt isn’t a good thing, the fact that he more or less held his own under some pretty adverse conditions might speak volumes about what’s to come.

The good news is that the kid seems to have some sort of “it” buzz going for him. The coaches have raved about him since early last year in regards to his leadership and personality. Players appear to really like the kid. So far, everyone raves about what they’ve seen of him thus far. So he’s got that going for him. Which is good.

Finally, young J.T. Levenseller.

2008: 17-for-34, 134 yards, 0 TD’s, 2 INT’s. 50% completion percentage, 3.94 yards per attempt, with a passer efficiency rating of 71.34.

Numbers alone make this one difficult, if not impossible, to really judge. He never started a game last year, appearing in just four for the lost ’08 season. He did show some good mobility, and in his last game vs. Hawaii was 6-for-11 for 53 yards, including a season-high 28-yard completion. But again, still far, far too early to make any judgments here.


Health was an issue for young Levy as well. He missed most of spring ball with a broken tibia, and while he should be recovered for camp next month, well, who knows.

In an ideal world, provided both Lopina and Lobbestael can stay healthy in ’09? With Lopina the senior and Lobbestael the more established young QB of the program, one wouldn’t mind seeing JT get a redshirt season this year. Then, when Lopina graduates after 2009, you could have Lobbestael as the starter as a junior, JT Levy as a RS-sophomore, and the promising young recruit, Jeff Tuel, a redshirt-frosh ready to compete in 2010.

So there you have it. A glance at the QB situation as we roll towards fall camp. What do YOU think? Is it Marshall by a landslide? Should Lopina be given a fair shot, now that he’s healthy and most experienced? Or does Levenseller deserve a long look as well?

Enjoy your Tuesday, and as always, GO COUGS!