Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring Practice Questions, WSU Football Blog Style

So with spring ball upon us as of today, the optimism is there. Some great comments out of all of you the last few days, so the enthusiasm for football is still alive. They just couldn't kill it after 2-11! Now it's not overflowing with talk of "we're going to open multiple cans of whoop ass", but still, there does seem to be a good feel that things are about to get better.

Paul Wulff intimated as much yesterday in the WSU chat
. While he didn't roll out the pom-poms and lead everyone in the fight song, you could tell in his own, understated tone that he likes the direction. He really went into great detail about his feelings on these here "internets" and such:

Allen (Covington): Coach- in your opinion do Internet recruiting services help or hinder your recruiting process as a coach? There's quite the debate online and offline (see Meat Market by Feldman).
Paul Wulff: They do both.


Well OK then.

Due to the lengthy responses from coach Wulff, I'd like to warn our affiliates we'll be going over...
To repeat, warning our affiliates, we WILL BE GOING OVER our allotted time....

But back on topic, there are questions. MANY questions for this team, and what's to come. Not to TOTALLY RIP OFF Vince Grippi from yesterday....by the way, Vince, "JC Levenseller"? We love you, and you won that phony election last year...but come on man.

Anyway, here are three super-terrific questions that we thought were relevant to what needs to be addressed, cleaned up, fixed, blown up, whatever....


1) WHO IS GOING TO THROW IT??



We WANT to be thrilled with Marshall Lobbestael's potential. Seriously thrilled. And let's face it, the kid did show some major moxie in his limited time last year. Oh, he didn't go out and lead a titanic upset or anything. He had a few shining moments against Oregon, but how excited can you get over a 63-14 loss?

But in looking at Lobbestael, you almost have to just throw out the win/loss type stuff and realize all that was working against him last season. Such as a patchwork offensive line that had a different starting lineup throughout the first seven games, an ineffective running game, and an offense in general that lead the solar system in giveaways. Combine that with a massive malaise that overtook this team the first half or so games of 2008 with the flip-that-culture program running into some, uh, resistance, it is now pretty apparent that he simply wasn't going to succeed. But to Marshall's credit, he came in under said circumstances and held his own, leading the team in passer rating (103.7) and TD passes (4) in five games.

Wow, think about that for a second. A redshirt frosh QB played in just five games, and LED the team in TD passes with FOUR?? Who the?? WHAT THE?? Ryan Leaf used to have that many in one game, heck, one HALF. Mike Price is rolling over in his palatial El Paso estate (I didn't say rolling over in his grave because coach Price isn't actually dead....it's just his career that has flat-lined). But those team-leading four TD passes is a real eye-opener isn't it?

The biggest worry about Marshall is that knee.


I mean the kid did just blow that thing out on October 11th of last fall. It might feel like a long, long time ago, but that's less than six months from right now. We hear that he's made a ton of progress, enough so that he'll actually participate in seven-on-seven skeleton drills this spring. Encouraging? Absolutely. But will he REALLY be ready for game action this fall? Not only do we have to hope for a full recovery in his knee, but will this injury rob him of his ability to move effectively? He's not a Jeshua Anderson-type sprinter, but the kid could move pre-blown knee. Will he be able to do so post-injury? And how long will it take him to not only survive, but actually thrive on that knee? Mentally will he build up his confidence? I don't know what you think, but he can wear the yellow no-contact jersey all fall camp and look great doing it. We aren't really going to know until the season opener vs. Stanford. And we can be assured that the Cardinal D isn't going to take it easy on him either. He will get hit, hard, for the first time in a long time. We just won't know until that moment if he is all the way back.

So if Marshall just isn't ready, what are the other options? JT Levenseller showed some spunk. But he has thrown just 34 passes in very limited time. He was tied with Kevin Lopina for 3rd on the team in TD passes. Of course, that number is ZERO. Young Levy has good feet, and from the looks of it, his arm passes the eye test. His skill-set appears to be a good match in the Todd Sturdy offense.

I know I'm excited as can be about this kid's upside and reported intangibles from all who have been around him. But again, a bushel full of questions with him.

Finally, Kevin Lopina. What can we say? He evolved into a leader in the locker room, calling out the quitters and bad apples when things were falling down around him. For that, he gets points. And that throw to Jared Karstetter was enormous, a throw that will go down in AC history as one of the biggest plays in the series, pro-WSU style. And he is tough as can be, coming back off a fracture in his back to give it everything he had. But all that said, is it enough? How can we ignore his zero TD/11 INT ratio? Is that a starting QB in the PAC-10? You hate to be harsh on the kid, as he gave every ounce of sweat he had for this program last year. But I think many can agree that we might be best served if Lopina is the backup.

One nugget from the Paul Wulff chat yesterday is that the door is NOT closed on Lopina starting.

David California: On a recent radio show you stated there would be only one senior starting on offense in 2009. Would it be safe to assume that person is Kenny Alfred?

Paul Wulff: At the time, what I meant was there could be only up to one senior starting, the only proven senior being Kenny Alfred. But obviously, Tony Thompson has a clear shot at starting, as well as Kevin Lopina and Dwight Tardy.


Oh.

2) WHO'S GOING TO CATCH IT?

Gone is Brandon Gibson, who led the team in catches (57), yards(673) and TD's (2). All numbers down across the board when you look back at how productive a player Gibson was in his career, but given the overall state of the offense, not too shabby either. Jeshua Anderson is back, second in catches (33) and yards (305), but yeah, there's this whole track thing to think about. Hard to know exactly what he'll be able to do by this fall after missing another spring practice session this year. Can't exactly fault the kid either, I mean he's clearly special in track and field, Olympics-type special. But there is also no doubt that he's missing some valuable practice time to mesh with the updated offense, potential new QB's, etc. It is what it is.

But the youngsters, while they didn't pop with blazing numbers last year, are intriguing. Kevin Norrell played a lot as a true frosh, and while not a big physical presence, he did show some upside averaging 11.3 yards per catch. He'll get a huge chance to shine this spring/next season. Daniel Blackledge was a little beat up last year but he too showed something, and has drawn some recent praise from Wulff. And Jared Karstetter was pretty overwhelmed as being force fed into the lineup as a true frosh last year, but there are some things to be excited about with him. Like, oh, I don't know, a certain 48-yard catch in a certain game last year?


Most of all, these youngsters all got their first season out of the way. If anything, they've learned what it is like to line up across an all-conference talent like USC, Oregon or Cal rolls out every week. They shouldn't be as overwhelmed by the moment this year. But boy, they will need to step up and be ready, asap. Plenty of opportunities available!

3) WHO WILL LEAD THE DEFENSE?

Gone is the "triangle" of Greg Trent at middle linebacker, A'i Ahmu at defensive tackle, and Matt Mullennix and his 1.5 knees held together with scotch tape at defensive end. All three gave what they had, each and every week, to help shore up a porous D that gave up tons of yards per game(443+) and points per game (43.8). While the world crumbled around them, they did what they could to try and hold things together.


So who shall lead them? My money is on Louis Bland, Xavier Hicks and Andy Mattingly. Bland, of course, burst onto the scene as an undersized true frosh who slid to outside linebacker. Next thing you know, he's all-frosh with 55 tackles, nine for loss, including a couple of sacks, an INT return for a TD, and some huge knocks in the Apple Cup victory. But Bland has exuded "special" since he set foot in Pullman, and there was already talk LAST YEAR about Bland possibly being a team captain!



Xavier Hicks meanwhile has really turned it around. A big hitter with some meathead moves off the field, he appears to have taken well to the leadership of Coach Wulff. Even missing the first three games of last season didn't keep him from finishing second on the team in tackles (78) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (2). Hicks might be the best all-conference candidate of the entire defense, and the timing might be right for a huge senior year.

Finally, Mattingly. A huge 2007 season as a breakout force at linebacker with the well-documented tackles (91) and sacks (8), 2008 was a lost year. Mattingly's move to defensive end resulted in almost HALF the tackles from 2007 (44) and his sacks were trimmed from eight to just one in '08. The good news is it appears they have seen the light, and Mattingly actually moved back to strong-side linebacker the last couple of games in 2008, and sure enough, the move is now permanent with the release of this spring's depth chart. Very nice.

So that's it. The three biggest questions (with possible answers?) to this team. There are many more, of course, ones that we didn't even scratch the surface on. What do YOU think are the biggest questions facing this team? And what answers might you have to fix what's BROKE?!?

That's it for a Thursday. ENJOY YOUR DAY, and GO COUGS!

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I didn't say rolling over in his grave because coach Price isn't actually dead....it's just his career that has flat-lined."

Line of the year. Congrats hawk. Any chance to re-start the election? I smell a landslide victory.

Sedihawk said...

Thanks Anonymous. Line of the year, no. Line of the morning on this blog? Maybe?

CW said...

No, I'd say this is the line of the morning..."Matt Mullennix and his 1.5 knees held together with scotch tape at defensive end."

The guy wore a double helping of knee braces on his way to class and approached a stair case like it was his last. That being said, I'll sure miss the guy.

Sedihawk said...

Couldn't agree more on Mullennix. Sad that injuries ran him down, because I sure remember how hard he played in the limited time we saw him. The fact he came back and gave what he did in a down year is a real indicator of that kid's character.

kaddy said...

Can't deny the love for Mullennix - the kid basically agreed to be in pain for the next 50 years, just so he could play another year or two for the Cougs.

I thought Z-Williams was going to play LT?

calebcherry said...

I really hope that with Hicks, the youth of Bland, Mattingly returning to LB and what sounds like ACTUAL DTs our defense plays some defense that not only performs... but looks good watching it.
Especially on TV.
I don't think we'll ever have 'no hope' of signing some offensive talent being in the Pac10, but I've got to figure that some of the guys now, and especially those such as Mullennix grew up watching Derting, Truf & Co. play defense that isn't typical to the Pac10... re: USC of the past 6 years.

I'd love for us to be the other place to go for roughneck gritty defense on the west coast. To me it just fits our school to see skinny WRs getting blown up over the middle and fast undersized palouse farm boys chasing down pretty boy quarterbacks.

sedihawk said...

You are 100% right Kaddy (or Kaddy2?). I whiffed on Williams. I was 99% sure he was going to play tackle, but sure enough, he is listed as a starting guard. My bad. That's what you get for believing the un-un-unofficial wsu football blog! :)

sedihawk said...

Oh, and Calebcherry, yeah, would love to see a major change to the D. Would love to see some swagger and attitude, even just back to the 03 Will Derting days. Those guys brought it every week, and played with some sizzle. Someday??

I remember one of Wulff's radio shows last year, where he spoke of how he learned from Price to recruit speed and athletes on defense and how important that was to their success. Price always had offense but it isn't a big shock to look back at his best teams to see the D made the difference (92 with McLanahan, 94 Palouse Posse, 97 with Bender and Boose, 01 with Lamont among many, 02 with Trufant, Long, etc, etc, etc!).

calebcherry said...

I agree!
For us out here, I think if we are going to have one side of the ball dominate heads and shoulders above the other... especially in our conference, we stand a far better chance of getting to a bowl game with an offense that puts just enough points on the board and a defense that is our foundation and what keeps us competitive and turns peoples heads.

It seems like the most effective use of our time given we're still a couple years into an completely new offensive philosophy.

There shouldn't be any reason we can't supply some demand for local (even west coast) guys who only have USC (and maybe oregon?) to look to when they dream about playing some pin-your-ears-back defense.

The best way I can say it is... I'd love to have the same feeling I get when cougar basketball plays ANYONE! I know it's not out of the question that our defense will keep us in the game with literally... anyone.

You nailed it though. I'd love to see those all Crimson uni's from the most recent Apple Cup playing with some sizzle and some swagger.

Anonymous said...

With the receivers, I think that is Chantz Staden could be a nice slot receiver with the added depth at rb, assuming that he gets over his injury. Also, Simone might have a chance to make an impact right away much like Karstetter did last year.

'03CouveCoug said...

Alright Sedi, you asked what’s broke, and how do we fix it…so here goes. What’s broke is simple…both lines.

Until the Cougs can send out Pac-10 caliber lines, they will not win many games. It all starts up front on both sides of the ball. We need DT’s that:
1. Clog the middle and allow the linebackers to make plays when offenses run and
2. To occupy as many opposing OL’s as possible on passing plays so that the DEs and/or blitzers can tee off on the opposing QB. Remember Long, Tupai, and Williams? Or Sasa and Eaton? THAT’S why those defenses were so good!

We need DEs that:
1. Can not only pin their ears back and rush the backfield on passing downs
2. That have the strength and quickness to turn running plays back inside toward their friends. Does DD Acholonu have younger brothers or cousins?

The only way to fix this is to continue to recruit “big frame” guys with good feet that we can put weight on to become DTs and to recruit “strong motor” linebacker types that also have the frames to put on weight in order to make them ferocious DEs.

Do we already have guys like this on the team? I believe the answer is yes, we fans just need to give them time to develop. I also believe that it is slightly easier to make quick improvement on defense because playing D does not require as much precision and execution as offense and can be played with more instinct and emotion.

On the offensive line, we need more “big frame” guys that have great footwork, good agility and great smarts. Not to say that every player doesn’t need smarts, but it is my opinion that besides the QB, the o-linemen need to be the smartest guys on the field. I really think that these types of o-linemen are already on the roster. I think health and cohesion will promote a vast improvement amongst this group this year (fingers and toes crossed). Let’s just keep recruiting the TE type out of high school and make them big boys!

I think a great example of this is down the way in Corvallis. The Beavs have developed a very good program because they have the ability to throw out waves of good, if not great lineman on both sides of the ball, which they have the ability to do because of great coaching and redshirting. If we develop our lines like OSU (easier said than done) over the coming years our beloved Cougs will perennially be a team to be reckoned with.

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