Archive for the ‘Josh Luapo’ 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!

Reason For Hope?

March 24, 2009


So spring ball is set to begin Thursday, and everyone appears excited to wash the feeling of ’08 right off their dirty, smelly bodies. And for good reason. But it’s a new season, with new faces, and the hope of all hopes that the ugliness of last year is just that – left to linger where it belongs.

But ask yourself this….have you prepared yourself for the idea that what happened last year just MIGHT carry over into 2009? What if we see this team talk of change and overall improvement all spring and throughout fall camp, then gets drilled by the usual round of injuries, a few suspensions, and they still haven’t figured out how to win? What if they get blown out to open the season vs. Stanford? Even though last season was a three-month extended scene of crawling through a tunnel of sewage, what if THEY NEVER GOT OUTTA SHAWSHANK??

Look, last year was tough on everyone – fans, alums, bloggers, your general ticket-buying public. I don’t need to tell you that. It is hard to imagine a worse season, in terms of blowouts, poor health, and just some lousy football that is so painful to relive that we won’t even bother….unless of course you are Ty Willingham…..but I digress. But seriously, how accepting will you be if you have to witness frustrating losses, week after week, in 2009? Are you “out” as a Coug fan, ready to start up firewulff.com, tear up your season tickets and rail against it all on this here site? Or will you ride out the storm, hoping coach Wulff can navigate this thing home and turn the program into another Oregon State?

Not to get all GLOOM here. I mean hey, it’s SPRING! The thaw is officially upon us. It’s light until after 7 PM. MLB’s opening day is just a few weeks away. And every college football program in America is undefeated right now. There IS always hope!

So to get us started for spring, here’s three new faces to be excited about for 2009, WSU Football Blog style…OK, actually four new faces to get excited about, two of which are playing the same position….but you get the idea. And we’ll look at other things this week, but this is a good place to start.

EXCITED ABOUT NEW FACES

It was said repeatedly for much of 2008 – especially towards the end of the year – and that is there is talent here that isn’t even playing, and according to coach Wulff, “We will be instantly be a better football team the moment the 2008 season ends.” But is he right?

Well, yes, probably. There are some big-time new faces who will be on the field this year, faces we have only heard about. But keep your eyes open and ears perked this spring for running back James Montgomery, offensive tackle Zach Williams, and D-linemen Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Luapo.

1) First of all, Montgomery. A fabulously talented young back with moves and speed, Montgomery is a big-time talent. With injuries and other issues haunting Chris Ivory, and Dwight Tardy a solid-if-unspectacular ball carrier lacking that extra burst of speed, Montgomery’s skills should be a delightful fit into OC Todd Sturdy’s offense.

Montgomery, you may remember, was once the subject of a heated recruiting battle between UW and Cal, where the kid ultimately chose Berkeley. But there were rumors back in the day that Montgomery actually liked WSU quite a bit.


Montgomery played in every one of Cal’s games as a frosh in 2007, and even in limited time, still averaged almost five yards per carry (4.8). The future looked bright, but also crowded in Cal’s talented backfield. Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen ring a bell? Those two form the young two-headed running back monster for Cal and they aren’t leaving anytime soon. Combined with some personal issues, Montgomery made the move to Pullman. After practicing and sitting out all of last year, he’s finally ready to make his mark. Don’t be surprised if he works his way to the top of the depth chart by the end of spring or at the latest, the conclusion of fall camp.

2) Zack Williams (or “Zach”, or even Zachary) has been impressing folks since his first practice in Pullman. While not a prototype NFL-type tackle, he does have decent size at 6-4, 300. Regarded by many who’ve spied him as the most talented lineman in the program, he was often mentioned as also being the best one on the team…and that was LAST YEAR, just as a scout team guy during his redshirt season.


Given the upcoming full spring and fall practice sessions where he will now “run with the ones”, he should slide right into the vacated left tackle spot from the departed big fella/quote machine, Vaughn Lesuma. A redshirt junior, Williams will start and should be a fixture on the line for his few seasons of eligibility.

3) Finally, Wolfgramm and Luapo might be the two biggest keys to any hope of an ’09 turnaround. Recall a season ago – if you dare – and what do you remember from the Cougar D? Not good, is it? Obviously the conference-worst turnover margin had smething to do with the weekly thrashings. However, I don’t know about you, but the ease in which opposing offenses waltzed up and down the field on a weekly basis was alarming at best, absolutely BRUTAL at worst. The Cal game or Oregon game, I mean turnovers or not, either team could have skipped the whole huddle thing and simply yelled “OK, WE ARE RUNNING IT AGAIN!” And there was absolutely nothing the defense could do about it.

Now things did get a little better later in the season, once the switch to the 3-4 defense was complete, combined with a return to health from Toby Turpin, a welcome playmaker at nose tackle. But I even go back to the Okie State game and watching big Matt Eichelberger getting his 320 lbs driven 5 yards off the ball repeatedly, and you knew that was going to be a long, long season!

Adding Bernard Wolfgamm and Josh Luapo, both JC transfers who have some girth and ability behind them, will go a long way to shoring up the defensive front. Wolfgamm is the smaller of the two, coming in at 6-3, 275, but he’s regarded as a real playmaker up front. Look for him to slide between tackle and end, depending on the scheme or situation. But Wolfgramm will be on the field as much as possible.


Meanwhile Luapo is more of your traditional tackle in the run-stuffing mode, at 6-0, close to 300. He just enrolled in January, so he has a lot of road to cover in a short period of time. But one could expect he will either start at one tackle in the 4-3, or be a huge part of the rotation in the 3-4 to keep the bodies fresh up front.

Keep your eyes and ears open for how these guys do this spring. Their performances could be the difference between a huge step towards respectability….or a huge step towards the hot seat for coach Wulff.

Oh yeah, and thanks for the Facebook friend stuff. Some of you have become friends, and that’s cool. You are welcome to sign on, as we will keep the Facebook site updated every time a post hits here on the blog. Plus some other stuff as the season approaches. Check out the Facebook “badge” on the right sidebar for a link to our page.

Enjoy your Tuesday, and as always, GO COUGS!