Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thursday Stuff, D-Tackle Style

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.


Anonymous said...

Strong analysis Hawk. This is the achillies heel, the middle. Like any great defense in any sport, if you are strong up the middle it's major. shot-blocker at center or power forward, slick fielders at short or second and a great center fielder and a strong front on defense up the middle is what is all about. We can stop people this year if Ai stays healthy and plays up to his potential. if we stop people we can surprise everyone.

Hooty McBoob said...


#1 - That Steelers fan looks like she ate Casey Hampton and then picked her teeth with Cody Boyd (Boyd is on the Steelers roster right now - though he's been issued a number in the 40's - not a good sign for a TE...)

#2 - If we're banking on Ahmu to be a steadying force on our D, we're in BIG trouble. That said, we need some kind of production out of our tackles to avoid being forced to send blitzes through the A gaps and opening up the middle of the field. We need to limit the amount of one-on-one coverage for Trent.

#3 - Is anyone else picturing Ahmu and Wolfgramm sitting in the locker room, braiding each other's hair?

Sedihawk said...

"steeler fan" has been removed due to a few objections. No biggie.

Wolfgramm's hair is something else. But who cares about that. You saw the tape of him Hooty, the kid can make plays. Our best defenses have been about underrated defensive tackles plugging the middle and the trickle-down has been tremendous. You can go all the way back to 1994 and think of Eaton, Sasa and a young Leon Bender and realize how important those guys were to allow those other guys to make plays. Granted 1994 was something else, but you have to wonder what that group would have done if they had nothing in the middle of the line? How would they have done if you removed Eaton and Sasa and replaced them with Ropati and Aaron Johnson and all their nagging injuries?

Hooty McBoob said...

"No Biggie" Pun intended?

I'm not ripping Wolfgramm or Ahmu. I'm VERY excited to see Wolfgramm. Based off what I've seen on film, he's going to be great.

As far as Ahmu goes, there's been very little noticeable improvement since his Freshman year, and while you chalk some of that up to injuries, he just hasn't lived up to the hype. Great article today in the times about Brandon Mebane - that's the kind of guy we hoped for with Ahmu and it just hasn't happened yet. Hopefully he's healthy this year and just blows up. I'm certainly rooting for him.

Sedihawk said...

Yeah, good catch "no biggie". I think she was basically "ladies and gentlemen, pittsburgh in a t-shirt."

I think the majority of Ahmu's problems have been directly related to injuries. And even when he has played the last few years he hasn't been 100%. It's hard to get better when you aren't on the field, you know? I am like you though, I really hope he has a big year. Without him we are in deep!

patrick said...

"We have a LONG way to go to get back to this level don't we??"

Perhaps, but the climb is what makes the roses smell so sweet.

p.s. Thanks for pulling at my heart strings.

Sedihawk said...

You bet Patrick. The pain of the labor is worth it if you get that pretty baby. So maybe when we are good again we can appreciate it more when we think back to some tough times. I know I look back to 01-03 and while I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I should have. It will be all the sweeter when we win again.

Ptowncoug said...

Honestly, we just had a gambler's mentality both on O and D during those years. The last few years we simply have gone conservative, both on O and D.
I am sorry but nothing takes me back to those days better than seeing ole MP smiling on the sidelines. He is a Coug legend, but could have a stadium built after him if he didn't jump to the grandest stage. I don't blame him, but I think about him when I consider moving on to a bigger and supposedly better gig.

Sedihawk said...

Nice to see you again PTownCoug. I think it's been quite a while since we've heard from you.

And you nailed it. Watching MP does bring a smile back to my face. That sure seems like a long time ago (or in Brinkhater Star-Wars nerd lingo: "Now that's a name I haven't heard in a long, long time.....")

ptowncoug said...

Thanks. I have continued to check in everyday, but sometimes don't have any pearls of wisdom to share unless my good ole buddy Longball needs to be taken down a notch or two.
I will be sticking in my Coug highlight video getting ready for the season. I have the JH highlight, man that guy was great and I just love his vision.
I got a crazy feelin' about this year and just have to stay a little low key about it.
I'm also excited about so many home games in September. Perfect time of year in the Palouse!

Anonymous said...

Great Videos.

It is really weird to see defensive highlights...