Archive for the ‘Jesse Feagin’ 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!

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Paul Wulff Radio Show Recap – Week Eleven

November 6, 2008

Yes, another week, another radio show. This one on Wednesday due to the historic election on Tuesday, but still, the show goes on. They actually cut the show short 15 minutes early and brought on the soccer coach, so I turned it off at 7:45. Also note that the next few weeks will also be on Wednesday, due to the hoops season firing up, so we’ll have our usual recap on Thursday. Anyway, on to this week:

  • Bud in the host chair again. He asked Wulff first about the election and what the players thought. Wulff said they didn’t discuss it a whole lot but knew it was being talked about by a lot of them. He also said that at the end of their team meeting on Tuesday, they always wrap the meeting by chanting “1-2-3 GO COUGS!” This time, he said at least half of them said “1-2-3 GO OBAMA!” Kind of funny. Wulff didn’t say a whole lot about the election or politics or anything, clearly not an area they were going to go.
  • Once again, Wulff said they have had some very good practices this week. But he was quick to point out that he thought they practiced really well the week leading up to Stanford, and that didn’t work out. Wulff did say that they did, in fact, do some OK things against Stanford early on, and it’s actually true. They were within about 50 total yards of offense from Stanford in the first half. But the mistakes continue to drag this team down, and as soon as a couple of them happen early, it becomes an avalanche.
  • Nameck asked about the strength of the PAC-10 compared to the SEC, and how it’s hurting USC’s BCS rating. Wulff said that he still thinks that the PAC-10 is a brutally tough conference, and that the SEC might not be all that. BLASPHEMY, I know, to many NCAA fans! But mainly Wulff pointed out that in the SEC, you only play seven conference games, total, and that’s it. You can stock up on some weaker out-of-conference teams to pad your stats and victory totals. Personally I can’t support that argument myself, as we’ve seen enough of the SEC to know that it’s pretty bad-ass while this might one of the weakest PAC-10 conferences, outside of USC, that we’ve ever seen. But whatever.
  • Arizona was brought up pretty quickly. Wulff is hoping for a decent crowd, and that is usually the case on Dad’s Weekend. But Arizona is having their breakthrough season, and Wulff said they are easily in the top three teams in the conference in terms of overall talent. They have a lot of speed, they are very physical up front, and hey, they’ve been pretty HEALTHY this year! We know how important that can be.
  • A caller asked if Wulff could cool it with being so negative on his players, and then went into another question about recruiting in-state talent. Wulff didn’t acknowledge the negative question, and instead said they are working hard on some in-state kids and will continue to do so all the way up until signing day. The caller than slipped in a “how are you dealing with this nightmare of a season?” Wulff said that it has been tough, clearly the toughest situation of his career. But he said the good news is that this situation is something that can be fixed! He admitted he’s been through a lot in his personal life, but at least this situation can actually be fixed (hard to argue with that logic when you think about his mother and first wife). Wulff said that you can’t always grow without some adversity and/or the real tough times, and he still believes that this team is growing as he speaks. Wulff finally said that there are some very good pieces here, and that they are taking some decent steps forward.
  • Another caller asked about some of the younger players in the program that we aren’t seeing right now, players who will be on the field next season (Kaddy mentioned this in comments the other day). First Wulff brought up James Montgomery.

    Wulff said that Montgomery is an exceptional talent and will be a HUGE BOOST to the running game next season. You could hear it in Wulff’s voice, but he can’t wait until Montgomery can play. While we’ll only get Montgomery for two seasons of on-field playing time, it should be worth it. The next name brought up was Brandon Jones. Another Cal transfer as a defensive back, he has looked really good in practices this year. Like Montgomery, we’ll see him for two seasons of playing time starting in ’09. Bernard Wolfgramm was next, and Wulff said he has played extremely well in practices. They are excited to get him in games next season and will really add something to the defensive front. Another defensive tackle brought up was Jesse Feagin. Feagin played in ’07, but is redshirting this year. He will be back in the rotation at tackle next year and they really are hopeful about him. Finally, Zach Williams, an offensive tackle, is another guy they are thrilled about. A “gifted” guy who is strong and light on his feet, he will be in the offensive tackle mix next year. He even stood in at times last week at running back to try and simulate Toby Gerhart, so you can imagine he’s pretty athletic.

  • Some true frosh redshirting right now who Wulff brought up were Cory Mackay and Andrei Lintz, as well as a big safety in 6-2, 200 lb LeAndre Daniels, who has looked really good in practices recently (As a listener, one can hear it in Wulff’s voice when he says he believes they are going to be better with some of this younger talent on the field next year).
  • ON that same tone, a caller asked about how he’s dealt with knowing that he has some good young talent, yet has held off with redshirting many of them. Wulff said it’s been tough, but it’s a necessary thing. The only true frosh who are playing right now are purely out of necessity, but if he had his way, all recruits would redshirt that first year (we’ve heard this before). But then Wulff went deeply into why – he wants to do this thing THE RIGHT WAY. He understands that people don’t have a lot of patience these days, and at times, neither does he. But he also understands that the quick fix can be the worst possible thing when you are trying to build a program. He said sure, you could go with the quick fix and play all the youth immediately or get a bunch of JC guys and put them out there right away. But with a quick fix can come a quick fall, and the slower way to build and sustain success is to do it the right way. Wulff brought up some of the recent successful WSU teams, and how those teams were built. It was done the right way, built from the ground up, and that is what they are going to try and do here. But a big part of that is to avoid the quick fall after a successful group comes through, and that’s where the building with layers and layers of depth comes into play (Oregon State is the perfect example of building depth with Mike Riley’s approach, vs. the Erickson way which is to interject JC’s and youth immediately to win now, and worry about tomorrow some other day).
  • Arizona was brought up again. Wulff mentioned that the biggest difference he’s seen from them is that they are running the ball this season so much better than last year. A big reason is because of Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin, two smallish, faster backs who have really given them a nice balance to what they are trying to do. They are the complete opposite of what they had seen out of Stanford’s power running game, so it will be quite the contrast. But they can kill you through the air, with WR Mike Thomas and TE Rob Gronkowski both big-time players. And of course, the senior QB element here with Willie Tuitama.
  • Their offensive line got some good mention as well, regarded as strong and physical. But again, even with Sonny Dykes coming from Texas Tech as the OC who created this “Air-Zona” passing attack, it’s the running game that has been the biggest reason why they have had success this year. In fact, Arizona has actually run the ball more times than they’ve thrown it in 2008! That’s not something that you would think, given their reputation.
  • Wulff was also impressed with their defense. It is better than people think, and very impressed with their back seven, with four seniors and three juniors among the starting linebackers and secondary. They are athletic, fast, play hard, and again, they’ve been healthy this year. Wulff said he was very impressed with how they played against USC, holding the Trojans to their lowest point total of the season.
  • Injuries were quickly brought up. Wulff said BJ Guerra is very questionable this week, and he was disappointed because he thought Guerra has been showing a lot of upside lately. Both Micah Hannam and Vaughn Lesuma are still dinged up, but they should both play. Wulff also mentioned that Lopina is getting better and better, and didn’t really address how that will affect J.T. Levenseller’s playing time (Boo! WE WANT JT!).
  • A caller asked about the workouts during the season, and just how much these kids are able to lift during the actual year. Wulff said that players who travel will get two to three lifting sessions in per week. But the redshirts go in at least four days a week – Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. And the redshirts are up at 5:30 in the morning hitting the weights! Wulff said that builds discipline and chemistry, and it’s a good time for them to be together as a unit. But they are working hard to get bigger and stronger.
  • Finally, Nameck reminded Wulff that they haven’t scored a point in 10 quarters now, not since the 2nd quarter of the Oregon State game. Wouldn’t it be nice to get some points early and put this behind you?? “ABSOLUTELY.” Wulff would love to get off to a quick start, get some points, and try to build some momentum and confidence. It is very important to what they want to do this week (and every week).

So there you have it. A bit of a lighter recap, as I’m trying to just touch on the highlights of what you, the reader, would give a rip about. But they cut it short for 15 minutes, so, this is about it.

Enjoy your Thursday, AND GO COUGS!