Spring football is upon us and Washington State head coach Paul Wulff gave a state of the program address, of sorts, on Friday afternoon. Wulff is looking at the spring as an opportunity to figure out the makeup of the team while solidifying his depth chart and evaluating the players in a practice setting as the new year begins. With fresh faces and returning starters throughout the depth chart, Wulff has his work cut out for him piecing together the team ahead of a 2011 season the coaching staff hopes will be a marked improvement.
On the injury front, the Cougs are relatively healthy, but a few players will be limited or will miss the spring practice sessions. Travis Long is still recovering from shoulder surgery, Jordan Pu'u Robinson is dealing with his knee injury and Jared Byers is also recovering from a knee injury. Arthur Burns injured his left wrist in the weight room, sustaining ligament damage while doing power cleans. Dan Spitz is also still dealing with a shoulder injury.
On the legal side of things, Tracy Clark has been reinstated after his arrest for theft, though Wulff added the team was still in the process of dealing with him. James Montgomery is taking some time away from the team -- not because of legal trouble -- as he decides whether to even apply for a sixth year. Montgomery is one class away from graduating and will be done by the end of the semester. Louis Bland is still suspended as the investigation is ongoing.
At this point in the year, almost every position is wide-open -- the type of coach-speak you'd expect to hear ahead of spring practice. Wulff is looking to get a better idea of the makeup of the offensive line, the running back spot, the defensive line and which players will be involved in the linebacker rotation.
At quarterback, it's clear Jeff Tuel is still the man in charge, but Wulff expects him to take a step forward and continue to progress this season. Tuel has more room to grow, Wulff said, and he expects his junior quarterback to keep pushing.
Behind him, it's a muddled mess, with Marshall Lobbestael, David Gilbertson and Connor Halliday in the second-through fourth-string spots respectively. Halliday has been getting some work done in the weight room, but still needs to bulk up. Wulff also wants to see if he's grasped the system and can run it at a fast-pace and with efficiency this spring.
Ian Knight, a first-year junior college transfer is listed as the starter at one defensive end spot, a sign of how young the position is right now. The listing is only because he's the most experienced of the bunch, Wulff said, and the competition is open. Brandon Rankin's spot hasn't been determined, though he's listed as a starting defensive tackle, and he may bounce between the inside and outside this year.
The center spot is also wide-open, with Andrew Roxas and Taylor Meighen listed as the starter and backup. Any number of guys -- including David Gonzales, B.J. Guerra and Elliott Bosch -- could step-in and the team is looking for a capable starter in the spring. With plenty of options, Wulff may move guys around to find the right offensive line grouping.
Remember, this is just spring practice. It's all about competing against one another and finding which guys slot where. If the team can grasp the system, show leadership and run efficient practices, Wulff said he'll be happy. The goal, as always, is to get better as a team and begin to assemble the depth chart.
Practice kicks off on Monday, March 7 in Pullman. We'll be back with more, including the full schedule, later.