Archive for the ‘Jamal Atofau’ Category

Rookie Watch – Checking in on Morning Practice

August 13, 2009


Hello Cougar Nation,

Longball here to give you an update on what I saw at today’s AM practice. As you may know coach Wulff has split the squads into two sessions each day, rookies in the morning and veterans in the afternoon. It’s all about reps, according to coach Wulff, and it’s a good chance to get as much work as possible for everyone. This morning I got a good glimpse of the future and my first impression…two words:

Jeff Tuel

If anyone watched Tuel’s highlight reel you know the kid shows a great arm to go with some live feet. Check it out here, by the way…

The highlights pretty much alternate between 60 yard TD runs and 60 yard TD passes. I can tell you that in person, he looks great, comfortable and in command leading the rookie offense up and down the field against the rookie D. He showed an easy throwing motion, strong arm and good accuracy, but also a great instinct for when to tuck and go. I was really excited by what I saw. He still looks very young and has a lot of filling out to do on his 6’3″ frame, so lets drop any talk of him playing this year right now. But the future looks very bright for this young man.

On defense I was really excited to see Darren Markle, the highly touted middle linebacker and serious power-lifter(400 bench, 600+ squat!?!), but it was another linebacker who really stood out to me.

Sekope Kaufusi

Good luck pronouncing his name. But however you choose to say it, Sekope stands out on the field not only because of the rock star mane of hair flowing out the back of his helmet, but also because of his size. He lines up at middle linebacker, but has defensive end size. This kid looks like he could be a lot to handle in years to come.

For the most part the O line seemed to have the upper hand, giving Tuel decent time and opening nice holes for the running backs, but whenever a running back found a nice seam up the middle they were met with a pretty loud pop in the defensive backfield followed a lot of cries of “Nice hit Jamal!” That Jamal I speak of? Safety Jamal Atofau, already making a name for himself out there.

Add Jamal to the list of young Cougs you can be very excited about for the future.

Other notes – It was interesting to see former wideout Anthony Houston running with the defense this morning as a cornerback, albeit a very large cornerback. It will be interesting to see if he can develop into a serviceable corner. With his size it would definitely help the defense match up against big receivers. Anyone who was at the Okie State game last year knows what I’m talking about?!

I had a brief chat with Co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears this morning and he succinctly reiterated what we’ve been hearing a lot about this team… bigger, faster, stronger and tougher. Sure sounds good!

That’s it for this morning folks. I will be at the afternoon session too get my first impressions of the guys we will be counting on to make a return to being competitive year. Check in later to see if there is any truth to this talk about gettin’ tough. Until then…

GO COUGS!

Young Secondary a Primary Concern?

August 4, 2009


Good morning Coug Nation. Hope all is well in your corner of the world. As you may or may not be aware/care, we’ve looked at the ’09 Cougs among the positional previews, and so far, so good. Now we come to the last group to check out, and that is the secondary.

Err…maybe not. Some of you already saw it, but, WSU has put out their own pre-camp depth chart, complete with an analysis of the candidates to start at each position. And new and improved, NOW WITH comments from coach Wulff! It’s a really good read, so if you haven’t already clicked over, check it out.

That said, we’ll still weigh in and offer up our own opinions. Hey, we’re a blog. It’s what we do. So let’s scan the secondary, and see if things are going to be better in ’09? Or, are we doomed for more struggles in the last line of defense? Let’s see….

To get the obligatory “2008 was a disaster” out of the way, yeah, the secondary had their issues too. But it’s not as bad as you might think, at least on paper anyway. They finished 6th in the PAC-10 in passing yards allowed per game, just a couple of yards per game more than 5th place Cal. But they gave up the 3rd-most TD passes in the conference(22), and at 7.8 yards per attempt, were just ahead of UW for ninth place.

While this isn’t good, well, I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of the secondary. The sack totals were really down, just 16 as a team, tied with UW for dead LAST in the conference. Can’t get any pressure on the QB, give him time to set up, make a ham sandwich, and still deliver the ball wherever he wants? Not good. And then you consider the lack of takeaways, where the Cougs averaged one takeaway a game (13 for the entire season), and you can see it wasn’t exactly an opportunistic group.

Wow, 16 sacks and 13 takeaways for an entire 13-game season. Just thinking back to the early part of the decade, WSU’s defenses used to pride themselves on two things – SACKS AND TAKEAWAYS! Think about that great run from ’01 – ’03. In ’01, they had 40 sacks and grabbed 26 INT’s, second only to Miami in the country. In ’02, they had a school-record 55 sacks(!), and led the PAC-10 in rushing defense. In ’03, Doba’s boys led the nation in takeaways (48), tops in fumble recoveries (24) and second in interceptions (24). They were also in the top 10 in rushing defense and pass-efficiency defense.

So you can just take a peek back into our own history to remember and realize how important sacks and picks are to a defense, hell, to an entire football team overall. And the Coug D in ’08 didn’t do much sacking or taking away of the football!

The lack of pressure up front really trickled down. Even the best defensive backs in the country can only be expected to hang with the coverage for four or five seconds, but after that, even the best are going to give up plays. It’s the nature of the beast, but the secondary without a pass rush really has no chance to thrive…let alone survive.

Obviously the numbers can sure be skewed, too, can’t they? For example, Oregon gave up nearly 1,000 MORE passing yards on the ’08 season than WSU, and they surrendered 25 TD passes, the worst in the conference. In fact, Oregon gave up 270 yards per game in the air, also worst in the entire PAC-10! Not what you would assume, just thinking of their strong pass-rushers like Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu, and a stacked secondary with Jairus Byrd, Patrick Chung, Walter Thurmand III, etc. But as you know, Oregon won 10 games last year and were Holiday Bowl champs. So, trying to swallow the entire stack o’ pure passing D stats and justifying things isn’t the best route to go. Just look at WSU’s rushing defense, or lack thereof, and you can see there’s always two sides to the argument. The Cougs, after all, allowed SEVEN opponents last year to rush for at least 317 yards a game! Why should the opponent do anything but run the heck out of the ball, especially when staked to early lead after early lead?

Anyway, that was last year. Let’s just leave it where it belongs. There was a problem. But it’s gone. And there’s nothing we can do about it….

Cornerbacks
Starters: Aire Justin (soph) and Brandon Jones (redshirt junior).
Key backups: Daniel Simmons(redshirt frosh), Anthony Hayward (redshirt frosh), Anthony Houston (junior, switched from WR last couple of years), Shane Thomas (junior).
New faces: Nolan Washington, Anthony Carpenter.

Analysis: Well, right off the top a pair of experienced starters – Devin Giles and Romeo Pellum – are gone. We won’t rehash all that. But clearly the door is wide-flipping-open for any of these youngsters to run right through. Justin (previously known as Tyrone) got a lot of PT last year, six starts plus other action. Justin’s on the light side at 156 pounds on a 5-11 frame, but he did alright in his first shot at playing time as a red-shirt frosh last season. His three pass-breakups are the most among all the returning players contending at corner…..but that’s because, uh, NOBODY else in the mix for cornerback besides Justin actually played a single down of football last year! Brandon Jones has PAC-10 experience, playing in 12 games from his ’07 season at CAL, but that’s about it. Everyone else is brand new to this caliber of play, coming off redshirt seasons or even true frosh right out of high school in Carpenter and Washington.

I guess the corners are similar to what we saw along the defensive line – the faces are new, but, it might not be too big of an issue since the newest kids may be better/more talented than those they are replacing anyway? We won’t really know until things get serious, but it’s an awfully young group of corners. While the PAC-10 might not be what it once was in the air-it-out department, the lack of game experience could be an issue out of the chute. I know, for example, SMU wasn’t very good last year, nor are they thought of as any type of breakthrough candidate for the upcoming season. But they throw the heck out of the ball in that June Jones run-n-shoot, and you better believe these inexperienced corners are going to be tested.

Now, Wulff did mention when talking about the corners that Chima Nwachukwu has some starting experience at the position, and could possibly move back there this year if necessary. I guess it wouldn’t be a shock to see Chima slide over if some of the young guys aren’t quite ready, or we see some injuries pile up.

I know a lot of people really like Nolan Washington, the true frosh. A highly rated kid coming out of Kennedy high school, the early buzz on what he could become has been extremely positive.


You hate to throw out any type of expectation for true frosh, but this could be a different story. He was labeled “a divison I prospect with outstanding speed and great instincts” by the Seattle Times, and it isn’t a stretch to think he could see some early PT. You would hope a talented true frosh like Washington could redshirt that first year, then you cut him loose in 2010, but his performance in camp and the subsequent performances of those in front of him may dictate that he see the field this year.

Safeties
Starters: Xavier Hicks (senior) at strong safety, Chima Nwachukwu (junior) at free safety.
Key Backups: Tyree Toomer (soph), Jay Matthews (redshirt frosh) at strong safety; Eric Block (redshirt soph) and Leandre Daniels (redshirt frosh) at free safety.
Newcomers: Jamal Atofau, Casey Locker

This area looks pretty strong. Hicks is set for his senior year, and maybe this is the season it all comes together for him. Big hitter and the leading returning defensive player on the entire team in terms of tackles (78), interceptions (2) and pass breakups (5), this is it for Hicks. There never has been much doubt that the kid could play the position. We all remember the de-cleater vs. UCLA where he absolutely destroyed WR Brandon Breazell over the middle….


He has a nose for the ball, and even in just three starts back in ’07 he logged 60 tackles primarily as a backup. That’s taking advantage of limited playing time and making the most of it, no question. Nothing else to really say about his off-the-field stuff, so we’ll leave it at that. They MUST get a huge season out of Hicks – HUGE – to have a respectable defense. Every good secondary needs an intimidating presence of sorts, someone to set the tone with aggression and strike a little fear for those who dare to venture over the middle. Hicks has that ability.

Chima is an interesting player. I still can’t believe he’s only a junior, as he’s been starting since he arrived in Pullman. He already has 25 starts under his belt and he’s still got a couple of years of eligibility left! Smart, strong, and not afraid to get his hands dirty with 57 tackles last year, he will be a crucial piece for the entire secondary. It’s not too crazy to say that the combo of Hicks and Nwachukwu could be one of the best safety duo’s we’ve had in some time, and maybe one of the better sets in the conference?

Eric Block is a guy to keep an eye on. Especially if Chima has to slide over to corner to provide some veteran experience and leadership, but Block, if healthy, could be a rising member of the secondary. Just a redshirt sophomore coming into this year, he’s dealt with some injuries and illness in his time in Pullman, but it sounds as though he’s ready to go. As to the other new faces, I would bet Wulff has designs on redshirting both Atofau and Locker if he can help it. There is depth at the safety spots, but with Hicks graduating after this season, it would be wise to preserve some future eligibility on the talented youngsters. Let’s hope they aren’t forced to play out of desperation.

That’s it for the secondary, and our ’09 pre-camp positional previews are now complete. I hope you enjoyed them. After all those smelly spring fishwraps, it was fun to kind of dig in and see how things are looking for the crimson and gray lads, right on the eve of camp.

I have to admit, overall, I’m encouraged and excited to see what happens next week. We’ve heard so much about the improvement in size and strength, all the gains made by so many, all that noise. They should be a much better equipped football team to handle the rigors of the PAC-10. Look for some first-hand coverage of fall camp from our own Longball in the weeks ahead. Here’s hoping for a productive, HEALTHY, high-energy month of practices, and a mentally and physically prepared football team ready to hit Stanford with all they have on 9/5.

Enjoy your day, and GO COUGS!

Super Sunday or, EH?; Best of Lists Continue

February 1, 2009


Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Ready to watch Pittsburgh and Arizona settle things on the field? And as a Seahawks fan, this is a tough one, and a question that has been sportstalk-fodder the last two weeks – who do YOU root for today? Do you root for your divisional rival in Arizona, a team that was a complete joke until just a few years ago, often times compared to the LA Clippers in terms of losing as well as ownership ineptness? But as Hooty wrote recently, do you really want to see the Arizona Cardinals with a Lombardi trophy before our beloved Seahawks??

Meanwhile, as Matt Hasselbeck said in a radio interview this week, how can Seahawks fans root for Darth Vader in the Pittsburgh Steelers? I stumbled upon the 2006 NFL Films production of the Seahawks – Steelers Super Bowl last night on ESPN2, and about 30 seconds was all I could stomach before flipping it off. I forgot about how sour that game tasted.

Besides, there isn’t a rooting interest from a WSU angle, as neither roster has a WSU player to be found, not even on practice squads or injured reserve. So it might be a weird feeling today.

But whatever. Enjoy the unofficial national holiday today, wherever you are.

Anyway, with signing day nearly upon us, some more “best of the west” recruiting lists have hit cyberspace. Where does WSU fit with these new lists? How about the “other” BCS school in the state?

Leading off with the good news, Scout.com has released their final Best 150 in the West list. Good news because WSU weighs in with ten recruits on this list, good for third in the PAC-10 behind UCLA and USC, seven of which are in the top 100.

Gino Simone – 44
Darren Markle – 57
Travis Long – 70
Arthur Burns – 84
Nolan Washington – 89
Jamal Atofau – 97
Chris Mastin – 100
Anthony Carpenter – 117
Jeff Tuel – 137
Andre Barrington – 141

As Scout.com says, all are three-star players, except for Simone’s four star rating.

I think this list says it all. Not so much that we’re getting the best of the best talent ala USC. But it speaks to the depth of this class and the potential it has to really build a strong foundation going forward. Getting seven of the top 100 alone speaks volumes for the kind of progress Wulff and the staff are making out on the trail. And the high-character stories on a lot of these kids is probably the best thing of all.

UW landed seven verbals on the list, but not a single one in the top 100. The highest-rated kid is none other than Desmond Trufant, coming in at 108.

Moving on, the News Tribune has their 2008-09 Western 100 out today. As the TNT says:

The Western 100 are the top 100 high school football recruits in the West (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming), as selected by The News Tribune, which polled college coaches and various media outlets.

WSU finished with only THREE players on this list – Gino Simone, Darren Markle and Travis Long. Quite a difference compared to Scout.com. Washington? Um, zero. Even in a transition year with the new coaching staff, a zero? Really? I don’t remember the last time they didn’t even have one player in the top 100 in the western states.

The TNT also had this comp article with Wulff and Sarkisian. It’s a good look at the different states of the recruiting process for both coaching staffs. Wulff’s staff appears to have their footing, while Sarkisian is still scrambling to cobble something together before Wednesday.

One thing I found interesting about Sarkisian in that article is the idea of them selling the players on playing in the NFL. That somehow his system is going to prepare them for playing in the league, better than the other schools around. That’s an easy thing for him to sit in living rooms and tout all the players he’s helped coach up to play on Sundays…..while wearing a USC sweatsuit. Will he be able to say the same thing after a few years in Seattle? We’ll see. But somehow I doubt he’s going to have the same success in getting kids into the league…ya THINK?

Now I don’t want to sit here and tout a whopping three players for WSU either. While we do believe this WSU class is looking strong in terms of overall depth, filled with high character, high-ceiling types, it’s safe to say we still have a ways to go before we are challenging the upper half of the conference. But it’s been preached since Wulff was introduced in December, and that is that this thing is going to take a while to build. As Wulff himself said all season long, we have to build layers upon layers upon layers of depth, so you aren’t forced to throw the young out into the wild. But I am also confident in saying that IF Wulff can sign at least two more recruiting classes like this one, the ideal program Wulff is shooting for will be much closer to reality.

That’s it for a super Sunday. ENJOY YOUR DAY, and GO COUGS!

Who is Your "Must Have" For This Year’s Class?

December 17, 2008

So there has been a lot of recruiting news of late (’tis the season). Of course they are only verbal commitments until they sign on the dotted line, but it is hard not to curb a little enthusiasm? The latest news has coach Wulff landing a commit from a big-play safety in CA of the 3-star variety, who sounds like a solid kid all the way around (check Cougfan for more).

I heard from a source who follows high school football closely in the state, and he was very impressed with what our coaches have done thus far. This source is big into UW, but he has an open mind when evaluating prospects. He had very good things to say about our top commits and still can’t believe it as to how Wulff is doing it coming off a 2-win season.

I think the reality is they are doing a strong job in the living room and with the state’s high school coaches, an underrated aspect of recruiting. They are selling a unified message of a strong, structured system, a good education, a chance to play early at a BCS school and most of all, to be a part of the foundation of the turnaround of the program.

And you can’t forget the journey of Paul Wulff. He has been through some incredibly tough, character-building experiences in his life. Nothing was ever just given to him, and he has had to go out and get everything he has achieved. He is the genuine article, and what you see is what you get. No phony BS or empty promises here. How can a parent or coach not respect the path he has traveled and at least listen to what he has to say?

It’s not a typo or misprint. This class is shaping up to be one of the highest rated in school history.

THAT said, looking at the current commits (and you can see the link on the right to the current commits) plus some other rumored commits on the way (Travis Long of G-Prep?), who do YOU consider your “must have” of this year’s class?

Tuesday Ramblings – What Could Have Been

August 19, 2008

It’s easy to do, pondering what could have been. We do it all the time, in every walk of life. You often don’t realize the most significant decisions in your life at the time you make them. Like the line in Field Of Dreams, you realize them later on in life. You think “ah, there’ll be other days” but what if that was the only day?

So when you think about Gary Rogers and Alex Brink, it’s easy to think “what if”. What if Rogers would have been given more chances against Auburn in that 2006 opener? We remember that great drive that seemed to lift the entire team. Here’s your obligatory YouTube of that glimpse at the upside of Gary Rogers.

So young back then, a mere sophomore with so much playing time ahead of him. Anyway, Jim Moore asks the question in a very good article today, and it does make you wonder. Jack Thompson didn’t exactly hold back in his assessment of the, uh, situation:

“That could go down as the most mysterious choice ever made,” said Jack Thompson, a WSU quarterbacking great who has mentored Rogers. “God forbid if he’d stayed in and led us to a couple more scores and we had a full-blown quarterback controversy.”

Good point Jack. But not just saying the decision was a mystery. But through the throwin-Samoan’s sarcasm, you get an idea of what he’s saying in the “God forbid” part of the answer. And therein lies the problem.

I remember listening to Doba’s weekly radio show during the 2006 season, and so many times the QB question would arise, one way or another. Is Gary going to play? Why or why not? And much to the chagrin of the old man, he would quickly dismiss the idea, saying “Alex is our QB” and gives us a better chance to win, etc. Fair enough. But he would also go out of his way, several times, to point out that he really hated the idea of a QB controversy. He didn’t want to rock the boat, didn’t want to see the team divided, didn’t want to deal with it.


Why? Why should the QB position be exempt from a younger challenger who shows more upside? What if a wide receiver or an offensive tackle was doing on OK job, but another younger prospect had a much bigger upside and seemed to elevate his play and provide a major spark when he got into games? Why shy away from controversy, in lieu of taking a chance on making the team better at the end of the day?

Who knows why it turned out like it did. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Some tagged Rosey as a “Brink Lover” and point out the whole Brink-Swogger controversy as proof. And the same controversy was probably on Doba’s mind when the whole Rogers question came up. How could he, in his mind, abandon Brink when they chased Swogger off the team to begin with in favor of Brink? Doba’s of the generation where you don’t flip-flop, so to speak. You make a decision and you take it with you, you see it through all the way. Even if those around you can see the faults, you are dug in on your own belief that you are doing the right thing. And you can’t blame Alex for all those yards, TD’s, and of course, losses that kept us out of the post-season. It wasn’t his decision to make. He just did his job, the best that he could, and that was it.

One more element to the story, and then we’ll move on. Remember the Cal game in 2006? It was a warm afternoon in Pullman, and the 10th ranked Berkeley Bears were in control in the first half. We couldn’t do anything right offensively, and it looked like we might get run out of the building. But in the second half, on comes none other than Gary Rogers. Of course, a few series in, he dislocates his left shoulder and he’s done. Brink is put back into the game and we go on to lose 21-3.

But what happened after the game is the most interesting part of the story. When asked why they went with Rogers, Rosey was very coy in his response. It wasn’t the usual “we just were looking for a spark” but there was more to it, more like “we were looking to make a change and give Gary his chance”. In this story from Glenn Kasses in 2006, it’s clear that there was something else going on.

“He wasn’t playing poorly at all. But we had three points,” quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach said. “So the bottom line is, we’ve got to get in the end zone.”

Rogers didn’t do much in his two possessions and threw an interception on the second. But, in a dramatic shift from past instances in which Rogers has played briefly this season in a planned midgame switch, this time Rosenbach indicated that Rogers might have had a chance to stay on the field longer.

The sophomore backup had on his helmet on the sidelines after the interception while Brink remained in a baseball cap, usually a sign that Rogers would be going back in.

But, on Rogers’ third-to-last play, he separated his non-throwing shoulder and after warming up with Brink on the sidelines, the two suddenly switched headgear and Brink returned for the rest of the game.

Rosenbach said no decision was made, but talked about the possibility of giving the younger quarterback another chance.

“It never got to that point,” Rosenbach said. “We can be full of speculation and look at it every different way. Maybe we would have let him try to fight his way out of it a little bit.”

In other words, this wasn’t just a one-or-two series deal, ala Auburn. Rogers was most likely going to be given a true shot at this thing. It gets lost in the shuffle now, of course, as Rogers going down with the shoulder injury makes it a moot point. Besides, Brink responded with two of his best performances ever the following two games, dominating Oregon and UCLA that seemingly had us back in a bowl game, and the controversy was avoided. What could have been…

Moving on, we are officially in the “dog days” of practice. Guys are tired, beat up, worn down. The energy and newness of the situation has worn off a little bit, and practicing in 90+ degrees can sap the strength of anyone. This isn’t just a WSU-exclusive type thing. Mike Holmgren talks about it all the time with the Hawks, where tempers start to flare and things get a little chippy about halfway into camp. It’s like being at the 3-mile mark of a 6-mile run. You feel good about the first 3 miles, but you are starting to feel at least a little fatigued. And you know you still have several miles to go before you reach your goal (in this case, the Okie State game roughly two weeks away). But even coach Wulff sounds a little miffed at where things are, with the injuries in particular. Wulff’s quotes came after the second practice on Sunday, and he was probably feeling a little frustrated by seeing so many guys on the sidelines. Sometimes you need to get away from things for a day, and then come back recharged and ready to roll.
Hopefully things look better after the team had Monday off.

That said, one thing we can take from the first few weeks of the official fall practices in the Wulff era? This is a WHOLE NEW DEAL. Gone are the days of “Club Doba”. Heck, with the heat and the injury situation, Dobes might have given the kids a day off from a regularly scheduled practice, or sent the kids to the Snake for some R & R. But not this coach, not this year. These guys are learning now what it takes to get to another level. It’s a whole different approach to the commitment required to try and inch up the ladder. This is big boy football now, not a glorified high school or a JC extension program. Get on board, or they’ll find someone who will take your place.

Finally, recruiting took another step forward by landing a commit from WR Gino Simone of Skyline. Decent size at 6-0, 175, and a Largent-like 4.6 40-time. But the kid makes a ton of plays, soft hands, and gets open. Physical, can break tackles in the secondary and makes people miss. You can’t argue with the numbers either, per Scout.com:

Gino Simone led the Spartans to a perfect 14-0 record and the state 3A championship. He finished the year with 70 receptions for 1,420 yards and 20 touchdowns and was named to the Seattle Times All-Area First Team as a junior in 2007; he benches 225-pounds and squats 345.

Check out the highlights and see for yourself:

Looks good to me. And Simone’s commitment caused a bit of a stir when two other recruits, WR Kirby Moore of Prosser and safety Jamal Atofau of Bellevue visiting for the weekend, were mentioned in a premium story that they were about to commit as well…..however it appears Scout might have jumped the gun on that one. Still no official word that they have cast their lot with Wulff. But Simone is an excellent addition to the class, a top-10 in-state talent and in the top-59 WR’s in the country.

And, uh, not to take anything away from Simone, but checking out the highlights…..look at some of those throws! Not only was Simone open, but some of those balls were just right in the bread basket. QB Jake Heaps was only a sophomore last year but holy cow, what a prospect. Those are some big-time throws. You can understand the hype on that kid. And maybe you can understand why UW hired away his head coach from Skyline, Steve Gervais? Hmm. For what it’s worth, no, Heaps doesn’t have WSU listed in his favorites, listing seven other schools who all, by the way, have offered already. Oh well.

Happy Tuesday, and GO COUGS!