Archive for the ‘Toby Turpin’ 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 Fourteen

November 25, 2008

A light-hearted radio show last night, as you could probably imagine. I’ll keep it brief and to the point, at least I’ll try to. Here we go:

  • Right out of the chute, of course, they talked about the feeling of winning the Apple Cup. Wulff said it was simply a “great day for everyone” and that he was so happy that they found a way to win the game. It wasn’t pretty but they found a way. Wulff said it was great for the fans and that they deserved to celebrate when you consider all they have been through this year, and he thanked them for their patience. But he was especially happy for his seniors. All they had been through in their career and then this season, to go out and win their last home game vs. UW is very special, and a moment that will live with them for the rest of their lives.
  • Bud asked him about the dance, compared by some to the Tommy Lasorda dance when Kirk Gibson hit that famous home run. Wulff said he honestly couldn’t remember what he did at that moment, and that he doubts he could re-create it! All he cared about was getting to the middle of the field to get to his players, and it was just a blur.
  • Wulff was asked about Hawaii this week. Wulff said that they are extremely tough at home, one of the best home field advantages around and they get up for BCS opponents. He said sometimes you feel like you are already down 14 points before you even take the field against them at Hawaii. But he said he is excited to see how his players handle it. He especially wants to see how his young players bounce back after such an emotional win, and that no matter what, it will be a good lesson for his young players. However it’s NOT like a bowl game to them. They are not getting there until mid-day Thursday, so they will literally have one day, and then it’s Saturday. They are approaching it as a business trip, and they are going to play a good game.
  • A caller asked about the progress the team has made lately, and suggested they watch tape of the Cal game, and then watch tape of the UW game to compare the efforts. Wulff said without question, as a staff they have felt that they were playing better. He stressed again that the scoreboard hadn’t been showing it lately, but there were areas that they were coming along. It’s hard to see it when the end-results have been so poor, but they finally took a step last week.
  • A caller asked about Jeshua Anderson’s chest injury, and noted that he seemed to stay in a few plays after it happened and didn’t look very good. Wulff said that Anderson thought he could shake off the injury and tried to play through it, but he just couldn’t and had to leave the game. They will re-evaluate him this week. The caller also asked about getting another QB for this year’s recruiting class. Wulff said right now they have one verbal commit at QB (he didn’t name him but it’s Jeff Tuel, a 3-star QB from Fresno). Wulff did mention that they MIGHT look at another QB for this class, but they have so many areas they want to address with their scholarships that they will likely just take one.
  • A caller asked why the PAC-10 has destroyed the tradition of rivalry week at the end of the season, and noted that all those games are now spread out over multiple weeks. Wulff said he agreed and wished it was like it used to be, and then hinted that something might be in the works? One thought was that the PAC-10 would move all the rivalry week games to the week of “championship week”, when the BIG 12 and SEC have their title games. Jim Sterk was in the room and Bud yelled out “what’s the deal Jim?” and Sterk just kind of shrugged and said “no comment”. Maybe the cat is out of the bag? Anyway, they also mentioned that the WSU 2009 schedule hasn’t been released or finalized in any way, so there might be some movement there.
  • A caller asked about the offensive line for next year, and how they are looking. Wulff said he was pleased with how the youth has played this year, thrown to the fire so to speak, and they are looking better and better. But he also pointed out that they only have ONE senior in their entire 12-man offensive line rotation, so 11 out of 12 will all be back next year. They also have some young players redshirting right now that they are really high on who will step right into the mix next year (Zach Williams?). Personally I’m excited to see how that o-line looks next year with another off-season of lifting and eating right, and a season of game experience under their belts. They might really take a big step next year.
  • The same caller asked about Gary Rogers and his attempt at a medical redshirt. Wulff said that Rogers has applied for it, but they really won’t know until this spring if they allow it. They really don’t know how it will go, but Wulff said he believes right now that it’s a long shot at best. The rule is that if you lost two full seasons due to injury, you could apply for that sixth year, but that isn’t exactly the case with Rogers. We’ll see. On a side note, Jake Locker applied already for an extra year of playing time and UW sources said he was denied the extra year, based on the fact that he played a full month of this season, plus his other year he missed was due to a redshirt, not an injury.


    The caller asked about how Marshall Lobbestael is doing. Wulff said that he is doing really well in his knee rehab right now, and they are pleased with his early progress. However, he said that he will very likely not be available this spring as they want to take it easy. But they are confident that he’ll be OK by fall camp. That is one of the hard parts of this season, losing Lobbestael so early in the year when it looked like he was going to get an excellent opportunity to learn on the fly. They really like him, and the kid has showed something to be excited about in the future.

  • A caller asked about the worst play in the playbook right now, the “jailbreak screen”. Even Jim Walden howled about it during the broadcast, and why they were still running that play was beyond him. Wulff said he agreed, and the timing has to be perfect on a play like that. However “we didn’t actually call that play this week.” Turns out Lopina checked off into the jailbreak screen play, and it obviously didn’t work out. It was a good read, as the defense was coming on a blitz, but it just didn’t work. Wulff said that play is great against the blitz, but we honestly haven’t been blitzed a whole lot this season.
  • A caller asked about the impact of having Dick Bennett talk to the team, and does Wulff use him at all as a resource? Wulff said that he does talk to him, and they talk about all sorts of things. But mainly they talk about the tough seasons in rebuilding, and what Bennett’s experiences were compared to what Wulff has gone through thus far. Wulff then went out of his way to say that “when you are rebuilding, there are tough things that all programs go through. And you can’t really listen to the outside criticism that always comes with it. Only people on the inside of the program REALLLY know what is going on.” Kind of some sharp criticism from Wulff for all the crap that has been written about them this year? But Wulff said that’s just part of the deal when you are trying to turn it around, and there will be some things they do that aren’t popular. Wulff also said that Bennett has given him some great advice, as far as doing things the right way, staying on course with his plan, don’t veer too far off the right path. But also don’t be afraid to re-evaluate what you are doing, and always think about the things you are doing and their impact on others.

    Most of all, Wulff loves and respects Bennett because of who he is and what’s he’s been through. The guy is a “program builder” and has been through exactly what Wulff is going through right now. He’s a tremendous resource. Look at where the hoops program was when Bennett showed up? Look at it NOW? I know it’s apples and oranges, hoops to football, but it’s still about turning around a culture and changing the way things are done, from the ground up. The road isn’t always a smooth one.

  • A caller asked about the D-line play, and how they seem to be stepping up their game a little bit. Wulff immediately pointed out the impact of Toby Turpin, and how well he’s played at nose tackle for the third straight week. He has been a big part of them playing better. Not that they dominated, of course, and UW’s offensive line was pushing on them all game long (and had about 50 pounds per man on each guy), but the line hung in there and fought hard all the way to the end. Wulff also said Ahmu, Mullennix and even Eichelberger did OK out there. Wulff also said that they really seem to like the 3-man defensive front! The players like it, and it also gives them a chance to get a little extra rest as they can rotate bodies in and out a little more by simply not having four defensive linemen on the field at once. Wulff did say that they will likely go back to a four-man defensive line next year, but they have taken to it pretty well this last half of 2008.
  • Bud asked about going for it on fourth and one and a half in the first OT. Wulff said that they not only wanted to get the first down, but they really believed they would get it. He wanted to keep staying aggressive in that situation and the sideline was happy they chose to go for it. Wulff wouldn’t say for sure if that was the defining moment, but he did mention that it could be, and that all programs have that “moment where you can build off an experience like that, something they can look back to and think about in the future as to how they went for it and got it in a tough situation.” Besides, Wulff also said “there was no guarantee UW was going to make their field goal, even if they didn’t make it!” and that brought a few howls from the crowd at the radio show!
  • A caller asked again about recruiting. Wulff said that it’s going well right now (they just got a new top-100 offensive line commit). But Wulff said that no matter what, he’s never seen a coaching staff work so hard at recruiting. These guys are giving everything they have to find some new talent, and there isn’t a coaching staff around who will outwork them in recruiting. They do believe there are some special players that they will get in this class, and that the hard work is going to pay off.
  • Nameck brought up “Cougar Pride” and how even in this tough year, it’s still out there. There was a story of a soldier in Afghanistan who got up at 3 AM to try and listen to the game online. When the Internet connection dropped, he called a friend in Washington and sat on the phone with him for the last hour of the game! Very cool. Nameck also brought up how this is the first-ever time in the 101-year history of the Apple Cup that WSU has won four out of five in the series, and that Matt Mullennix is the first-ever WSU player to be on the team that won four Apple Cup games. No other WSU player has ever won it four times. Very cool. Mullennix’s dad called into the show and thanked Wulff for the win, and that he was proud of Matt. His dad also said that it helped ease the sting of the 1975 game that WSU blew, where UW came from a couple of scores down late to win. That was a game in which Mullennix’s dad played in. Ouch.
  • One last look at the UW game – Wulff said the two biggest things were 1) they stuck with the run in the second half, and they knew they had to do that or else they couldn’t win, and 2) they didn’t lose the turnover battle! Wulff said again that they talked at halftime and decided no matter what, they were going to stick with the run. And of course, the run was a huge reason they won. The big TD by Mitz, but there were other times where they ran effectively with Dwight Tardy in the second half and even in OT. The 171 rushing yards were the most since the Portland State game.


    And the turnovers, finally, they didn’t lose the turnover margin battle! They only “tied”, giving it away once, but they took one away themselves. It can be a drastic difference when you aren’t giving the thing away three or four times a game, isn’t it? That’s one thing that was kind of lost in all the excitement, that they didn’t play hot potato with the football.

  • JT Levenseller – he WILL PLAY this week. Wulff said they “want to get him as many plays as they can this week” and get him some solid game experience. They also brought up the idea of a redshirt in the future, and Wulff said that is certainly a consideration. Unfortunately he didn’t get enough snaps this year and it wasn’t an ideal scenario for burning his redshirt, but we’ll see how that all plays out. He didn’t flat-out say it, but I kind of got the idea that we’ll see a lot of JT this week?
  • Finally, one last thing on Hawaii – Wulff said they have been running the same offense this year, and while they’ve played a few QB’s, they are still doing pretty well on offense. But where he said they have improved is their defense. They start nine seniors on defense, and they have a very strong, experienced, active defensive front. Some of their key backups are also seniors, so there is a lot of experience there. Hawaii also has a lot riding on this game. Even though they are 6-5 right now, they have to win this game to be bowl-eligible. If they lose it, they will likely miss out on a bowl game, even though they would be at six wins. So Wulff knows they will be highly motivated this week.

That’s about it for this week. A light-hearted show and a very appreciative crowd, and lots of congrats from the callers. Wulff still kept it in check, but you could tell he’s still on a high from that game. And in a year like this, who can BLAME THE GUY for being happy with how that game went down? Like Wulff said last week, the day he took this job and the whole “Cougars hunt and kill” comment, well, that was said for WSU fans, and deep down he’s a fan as well as the coach. He played at WSU and his Cougar pride runs as deep as anyone. So imagine how you would feel if you beat UW in double-OT?

ENJOY YOUR TUESDAY, and GO COUGS!

Is the 3-4 the WSU Defense of 2009?

November 11, 2008

So the three-man line got a lot of ink from Saturday’s game. Basically some injuries had cut down Andy Mattingly and Kevin Kooyman, and with the continued ineffectiveness of Matt Eichelberger, well, the lads up front were awfully thin. Factor in the loss of d-end Mike Graise for missing practices and workouts? They were basically down to FOUR healthy defensive linemen against Arizona. Not good, not good at all. As Wulff said in the Times:

“We got to a point where we’re so thin where we can’t even line up four players that have a legitimate amount of experience at all on the defensive line,” Wulff said. “So if you go to a three-down-line look, it at least helps us there and gives us at least an extra backup that we wouldn’t have in a four-down-line look.”

And at least they aren’t burning redshirts on the likes of Bernard Wolfgramm to shore up the weakness. This is such a lost year, that to do something like that would be foolish….almost Willingham-like in it’s ineptness….

But I think it begs a bigger question. Is the three-four for WSU here to stay? Given the way college football offenses have evolved, and the overall lack of depth that this program has had for a long time now on the defensive line, wouldn’t it be a good idea to just go to a 3-4, or, even, a 3-3-5!?!

For some background, yes, we have tinkered with the 3-4 from time to time. Remember down the stretch of the 2006 season? With injuries destroying that team, and even Mkristo Bruce heroically playing on one good leg, losing Ropati Pitoitua, Aaron Johnson and A’i Ahmu just crippled the depth inside. They had no choice but to scrap the 4-3, and go with the 3-4 during the year-end fade.


It didn’t really work, and the reasons were many. It was a brand new scheme of course, as the defensive linemen had different gaps and responsibilities that go with a three-man front. But even the linebackers had to adjust to having an extra linebacker out there, and it was too late to plug the hole in the dam. But the other reason was, mainly, they just didn’t have the proper personnel to run it effectively.

While we loved Mkristo Bruce, he was a better pure pass rusher than a run-oriented defensive end. Too many times he faced double teams, and it just didn’t work out. He was at his best coming around the edge, one on one with a tackle. But the other side was much, much worse, where Lance Broadus, all 215 pounds of him, was the other end. He was basically engulfed by the opposing offensive line, so badly out of position that it was a disaster on his side of things. Not his fault, but the man simply wasn’t built for the 3-4. They just didn’t have the personnel to run something like that

To be successful in the 3-4, you have to have a legit nose tackle who can take up space and occupy blockers, and he has to be big. Why? Because on about 95% of all defensive plays in that 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle will be expected to take on the center AND a guard, all at the same time. But it’s not just the nose tackle who needs size and strength. The defensive ends need to be a little different style as well. They have to be much larger than your Isaac Brown/DD Acholonu mold, you know, the converted 225-lb linebackers who rush wide and up the field? You need defensive ends with some girth, at least in the 255-260 range in college, to hold up and handle their gaps.

All three of the defensive linemen have what is called two-gap responsibility. They are expected to hit the offensive linemen head on, and watch the play to make sure the running back doesn’t come through on either side of them. It’s almost a read-n-react defense as opposed to a one-gap scheme you often see in a 4-3, where the defensive linemen simply chooses a gap and shoots it at the snap.

But a 3-4 defensive lineman is also expected to hold their block so that the offensive linemen can’t get free and to seek out a linebacker. Simply put, the linemen play a more physical game as they are taking on one or two offensive linemen directly, play after play. And the glamour? Forget it. The 3-4 linemen aren’t your stat hounds in any way, shape or form (how many great defensive ends in the 3-4 make headlines?).

The big plus to a 3-4 are the linebackers. Basically two inside linebackers who you want in the 240-range and also with some athleticism. But the outside linebackers can be in that Louis Bland/Myron Beck mold, at least in the NCAA, and you can get away with having 210-215 lb speedsters on the outside. They can blitz from different angles, of course, but they are also on the outside as much as possible, able to use their speed out in space. And against the spread-style offenses of today, that asset of speed on the edges is CRUCIAL if you want to survive something like Oregon throws at you. You have speed like that outside, and it makes it all the more difficult for the QB to scramble or roll out effectively.

I look at how Cal has handled Oregon in recent times, and it’s really no coincidence that Bob Gregory, the Cal DC, has evolved the defense. Cal used to claim to be a 4-3 defense, but they consistently threw 3-man fronts at opposing teams. But today, they finally DO claim to be a true 3-4 team, and it has really done well against the one-back offenses you see so much of in the conference. Against the true spread, which is thriving today in the Big 12 and you now see Oregon and Arizona running versions of it every week, Cal has the scheme to deal with it.

Now, can this work for WSU next year? I think it can, and here’s why.

1) Andy Mattingly is already being talked about as moving back to linebacker for next year. Paul Wulff has mentioned this at least a month ago on his radio show, and it’s been highlighted in other articles over at least the last month. And Andy Mattingly, we remember, was a 90-tackle, eight-sack guy as a linebacker in 2007. With Greg Trent, Cory Evans and Ken Dunn all graduating next year, the need for a linebacker with experience will be gigantic. Mattingly could slide right into an inside linebacker spot next year, with his 251 pounds a perfect fit back there.

2) The other inside linebacker might be a bit of a reach, but Mike Ledgerwood has played well this year as a true frosh backup to Greg Trent in the middle. But weight is an issue, as he’s only 215 pounds.

I would think he would need to get to AT LEAST 225 to handle it, but it’s possible. Marshall Pirtz is also an option, at 6-0, 231, but Pirtz may not even be a linebacker anymore, potentially moving to running back. We’ll see what happens there.

3) The outside linebackers might be the perfect fit. In reality, both Myron Beck and Louis Bland started out as safeties anyway, both in the 205-210 range in weight. Give both guys another year of putting on weight, and they could be 215-220 next season while maintaining their quickness and speed, with the ability to be stout against the run yet able to get out on the edges and make plays.

4) The defensive line might be much better suited for this defense as soon as next year. Toby Turpin is already 6-6, 280, and with another 10 pounds or so he could be just fine as a nose tackle. He started at NT vs. Arizona, so who knows what he might do. Add in Kevin Kooyman at one end, where he’s already around 250 pounds, and he could be just fine. The other end is interesting in that the top recruit from 2008, Bernard Wolfgramm, will be ready to play.


He’s already 6-3, 275, and has a ton of experience as a defensive end from his JC days. Also, Josh Luapo will be enrolling in January, and he’ll likely be a 300-pounder by September next year. He could be a fit as a backup nose tackle.

The other angle to this is the lack of depth on the defensive line. It would be much easier to get by with 5-6 defensive linemen if you only have three on the field at once. But if you are running four of them out there every play, the depth gets that much thinner. Add in the usual injuries, etc, well, you get the picture.

Finally, the spread offense – we’re only going to see more and more of it as it continues to thrive. Already Oregon and Arizona have fine-tuned their attacks, but there will be others to follow suit. It’s just too successful, what’s happening in the Big 12, to ignore it anymore. If Gary Pinkel or Mike Leach get the UW job, there’s another team that will instantly be running the spread. And you can already see some wrinkles with it at Oregon State, where they run a ton of one-back, but love to do some read option where the WR goes in motion to take handoffs from the QB, and they do a lot of shotgun as well.

I would hope that they will seriously consider it for next year. Not only is it effective against the spread/multiple offenses, but if you have the right personnel to run it effectively, it could actually be a strength of the team. I’d love to see Andy Mattingly absolutely cut loose his senior year, blitzing from the linebacker spot next year instead of with a hand down as a defensive end. With the thin defensive line set to lose Matt Mullennix, A’i Ahmu and Matt Eichelberger next year, the lack of experienced linemen could be a big issue. Take one lineman off the field, and you can handle that lack of depth in a much more effective manner. And for once, we might actually have the correct personnel to get away with running the 3-4 at the college level, with some decent size at defensive ends and some real speed at the outside linebackers.

What do YOU think?? Should we go to a 3-4 next year? Or are we better off with the traditional 4-3?

ENJOY YOUR TUESDAY, and GO COUGS!

Eye Witness Report: Longball Visits Fall Camp

August 6, 2008

Greetings Cougar Nation!

Since I live in Pullman, the center of the WSU Football universe, the good folks here at the WSU Football Blog have asked me to provide some eye-witness reports of the action taking place as the Cougs kick off Fall camp. I’ll be their boots on the ground, as it were, and I’ll do my best to make sure that Coug fans in Yakima, Bozeman, San Antonio, Baghdad and anywhere else the Crimson faithful have settled get the up close and personal Coug news they crave. I’m glad to be of service and as my first order of business I trekked up to campus with my coffee and camera for the morning practice. Here’s what I saw…

I am sure most of you have been following the stadium construction here, but I thought I’d share what I saw today as I made my way to the practice field. First of all…


Huh? Who hired these guys? Maybe the Vandals pay their rent for using our stadium in cement. After the whole Big Papi jerseygate in the new Yankee Stadium, I think someone should check this pour for shenanigans.

Moving on, I am sure you are all excited about our giant new video screen, and while I promise you that pictures do it no justice, its the best I can do…

The entire red area is the screen, but you won’t understand how big and beautiful it really is until you see it in person. As you can see to the left the Cougs were assembling for their morning drills so I made my way down to the field to see who was knockin’ heads this morning.

Above you see CPW and Coach Sturdy guiding the QBs and RBs through some drills.

I was disappointed to see that Rogers and Lopina weren’t out for the morning practice. It was definitely not the A squad, but a few notables were there. Number 8 is Lobbestael (not 12 as some rosters have him) and also of note in this picture is 22, Chantz Staden. He is the smaller, quicker, scat type back as advertised, but he is solidly built and looks to be strong for a smaller back, much like J-Smooth and Jerome Harrison were. As you can see they’re not in pads, so I didn’t get to observe him in a full contact situation. However, they did line up for some run plays against the D and he showed he can beat our backers to the outside. My first impression of Mr. Staden was a good one and I’ll keep my eye on him throughout camp.

Above is a nice moment for the Cougar family scrap book. The gentleman in the foreground is Orville Sears who made the short trip from the family ranch on the Johnson Road to watch his son, co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears (background) leading the DBs through their drills. Jody and his older brother Cotton are both Pullman High grads, local rodeo legends and former Cougar wide receivers. No doubt Orville is proud of his boy and as Coug fans we all hope he can help turn our defense into the bloodthirsty wrecking crew we used to be so proud of.

For Mr. McBoob, the fat guys…

Much to my delight they got together for some light scrimmaging so I could observe some matchups. In the middle is my main man, Toby Turpin, 90. More on him in a moment.

One guy I was on the lookout for was Bernard Wolfgramm, 99. You can easily spot him above sporting the Don Sasa/King Kongaika hairstyle. He faced double teams most of the time and was able to hold his ground, not getting pushed off the line. He did a workmanlike job of keeping the middle clogged. He held his own in there, but didn’t show me a whole lot, though I do dig the hair. As a contrast, when my main man Toby Turpin was in, he was splitting the double teams, getting his big old paws into the offensive backfield and generally raising hell. Just to the right of Wolfgramm above you see Staden, 22, who is about to bust one around the edge.

A closer look at Mr. Wolfgramm…

Of course any time you are watching your own defense and offense against each other every positive play for one side bodes poorly for the other. So while you are thrilled to see a D-tackle wreak havoc in the offensive back field, or a RB break off a big run, you worry that what you are really seeing is a vulnerability in your offensive line, or a weakness in your rush defense. What I did observe that looked good for both sides was energy and an emphasis on hustle and effort that the players have been alluding to. There was constant yelling from the coaching staff, imploring the guys to go 100% all the time. Like I said, this was not the A squad, but they still looked good. I’ll hope to catch this afternoon’s practice as well and bring you some images of some of our big guns.

Until then, Go Cougs!

Thursday Stuff, D-Tackle Style

July 31, 2008


Lots of links inside and outside of the WSU universe, so we’ll jump right in.

First of all, a huge thanks to a reader and fellow Coug Kristopher Jones. Kristopher is pretty gifted as a video guy, and sent me a few new creations. These are from the glory days, going way, way back….all the way to 2001!

Great work Kristopher, and thanks again. The videos are an eye-opener for three big reasons: 1) We were really good back then, and Gesser was just a total winner; 2) I don’t know about you but it gets me pumped up for some WSU football; and 3) We have a LONG way to go to get back to this level don’t we??

One can at least have hope with some of the 2003 highlights. You know, a team that not many people thought was going to do much after losing their senior record-setting QB, and the understudy who was taking over was a senior with limited playing time over his career (and some rough playing time spots at that). But 2003 was a special, special team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball with three starters in the secondary who have played in the NFL.

That brings us to today. The biggest difference compared to where we were in 2003 vs. today isn’t just the overall talent on that defense. We remember the flash-n-dash speed of Acholonu and Brown off the edges. We remember the speedy, physical linebackers with Derting and Don Jackson and either Scott Davis or Al Genatone. But the one spot people forget? The defensive tackles. The most underrated aspect of that great run from 2001-2003 are the defensive tackles. Rien Long, of course, the big-time force inside as a first team All-American, Outland trophy winner, etc. But it was the presence inside with guys like Jeremy Williams and Tai Tupai and even Steve Cook rotating inside with power and energy that allowed the defensive ends to fly up the field in one-on-one situations and make plays. It was those guys on the inside that helped occupy the center and guards on the opposing offensive line, allowing the linebackers to flow to the ball and make plays.

Now look at what our tackles look like today. Well, there’s A’i Ahmu.

The long-maned wild-man is a whirling dervish inside, a ball of power who can shoot gaps and get upfield. He’s a playmaker from the D-tackle spot, and could have a huge senior year. Of course, IF HE’S HEALTHY. Ahmu started 11 games in his true frosh year in 2004, and everyone thought we had a true star on our hands. But oh those injuries. That stress fracture that just never seemed to heal was his undoing, and now, he’s started just 11 games over the last two years COMBINED. We need a hero inside, and Ahmu is our best bet but obviously has to stay healthy.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Ahmu is the only tackle on the roster. I like Eich, as in Matt Eichelberger. But Eich is a senior already, and we pretty much know what we’re going to get there. He can occupy some space with his 6-4, 317-lb frame, but he isn’t exactly a major force inside. He’s been a backup his whole career, so there isn’t a whole lot of hope that he’ll turn into a ferocious beast that cannot be contained. If Eich can be neutralized by one offensive lineman, we might have a problem in helping ease the likely double-teams that either Ahmu will see inside, or Andy Mattingly could see on the outside with a guard sliding out to help the tackle assigned to Mattingly.

Maybe the hero is going to be JC transfer Bernard Wolfgramm? Wolfgramm looks to be Ahmu-like in his playmaking ability on the defensive line. He’s played a lot of D-end, and he really stood out on tape in the recruiting videos that were shown at the various banquets this winter. But Wolfgramm is projected to possibly play, if not start, at a D-tackle spot. He has the size at 6-3, 270, and serious athletic burst to where he could overwhelm some bigger, slower, less athletic offensive guards. Pair him up with Ahmu on passing downs and it could be an inside surge we haven’t seen in a long time around the Palouse.

But of course, there’s always a catch. First, Ahmu needs to stay healthy. Hold your breath there that each day of camp you don’t see the news that you dread. And Wolfgramm might make an impact, but as is almost always the case with JC’s, they need some time to get settled. It’s no secret that even the best JC’s take the first month or so to figure it out and hit their stride, so, we might be into October before we see what Wolfgramm can really do at this level.

The other wildcards in the mix? Toby Turpin, Tyson Pencer and Andy Roof. Turpin had little impact last year, just four tackles as a redshirt frosh in very limited playing time. But he looks the part at 6-6, 270, with room to put on more weight. Given the current depth chart, you have to believe Turpin will see several opportunities this fall to factor into the rotation. Pencer is finally coming after a long journey from Delta, BC, where he delayed enrollment at WSU until this year. Pencer has the frame and is still growing. Originally listed at 6-6 and a still-growing 260 lbs, Cougfan’s latest insider piece has him now a strapping 6-7, 274. He is destined to play inside with that size. But he hasn’t played a down yet at any level beyond high school, so, it’s tough to predict how he’ll do. But the door is open for him to make an impact this fall.

And finally, the ongoing Andy Roof saga. What’s interesting is the nugget Wulff unveiled at media day last week, that charges still haven’t been filed against Roof. Given the firestorm of negative press against him when the story first broke, and to consider that it’s now a few months later and still no charges seems a little odd. Maybe the circumstances surrounding the Roof story aren’t exactly as they appear? I know we’ve had several people tell us that we don’t know all the facts, and that there is a huge side of the story that isn’t out for full public consumption. We’ll see how it plays out. It’s hard to know what to expect from Roof, if he can play this year. He’s moving to tackle after being an O-lineman his whole WSU career, and he missed the entire season last year, so, who knows. If he is eligible and good to go, hopefully he can shake off the rust and cause some havoc.

Moving on, some links for your enjoyment:

Coach Wulff will host an online chat tomorrow at the official site. He did one earlier in March and it worked out pretty well. Get in there and fire away tomorrow.

The scoreboard is coming along. You can get a live look at it on the top-right of the site, but, the official Martin Stadium site updated with a July 30th photo gallery on the stadium renovations with this pic of the scoreboard:

Some people have mentioned that it’s been doing a lot of tests lately, and that it’s hard to tell from pictures but it looks really, really good.

You think we had some off-the-field troubles with 25 “problems” in an 18-month window? Have you heard about Penn State lately? Try 46 offenses over the last several years. It’s so bad that ESPN did an Outside the Lines segment on their troubles. Joe Pa is 81 now, so you have to wonder why he’s still hanging on with all this turmoil. Penn State kicked a couple of defensive linemen off the team yesterday, and it could only be the beginning. What a mess.

That’s about it for a Thursday. Enjoy your day, and as always, GO COUGS.