The Washington State Cougars completed their first fall practice on Sunday afternoon, but before they did, Paul Wulff answered questions and gave his own outlook on what the season may hold, speaking to reporters on a conference call on Thursday. After recording just two wins in 2010 -- a squeaker against Montana State and a surprisingly dominant win over Oregon State -- the Cougars have some work to do this season, and Wulff knows it. Of course, the WSU head man is conscious of what's hanging over his head, though he did his best to deflect questions about job security and his future with the program, should the Cougars fail to improve.
Wulff got things started with the good, bad and ugly while talking about grades. The good news: Brandon Rankin and Toni Pole are both fine after completing the necessary requirements. The bad: Rahmel Dockery, Wendell Taiese and Alex Mitchell are all cutting it close with grades and eligibility. The "ugly," though it's not too ugly at all: Two incoming players, Brock Lutes and Demetrius Cherry, both appear to be headed for a junior college. WSU had a plan in place and had junior colleges lined up for all the players cutting it close with the expectation some may not make it.
With the grade talk out of the way, Wulff shifted to the leaders on both sides of the ball, with Travis Long, Tyree Toomer and Nolan Washington earning praise on the defensive side, and Jeff Tuel, B.J. Guerra and Jared Karstetter singled out on the offensive side. These are the names one would expect to step-up and take the lead, and Wulff praised how each has handled themselves in the spring and summer.
So what's changed and why could this team take a step forward in 2010? The Cougars have turned heads already, Wulff said, with many opposing coaches complimenting the team on its improvement, which shows on film. The attitude of the team is on the upswing, as well. Players have bought in, according to Wulff, and are positive heading into camp.
The team belongs to Wulff now, and only five players remain as hold-overs from the previous regime. With his own recruits and system, this group will be the one that reflects on Wulff, both now and in the future.
For those wondering, Wulff praised C.J. Mizell, saying he's been drawing positive reviews in the last three months. Mizell took care of his work in the class and did well in the summer conditioning program, perhaps a good sign for the future. He was absent from Sunday's practice, but is expected to be in camp on Monday. With Mizell in the mix, Wulff felt the linebacking corps had tremendous potential and upside, and he was quick to label Alex Hoffman-Ellis as the leader, Sekope Kaufusi as a player who was continuing to improve and Mike Ledgerwood as a guy who had a great offseason.
And if you were wondering, Kaufusi has not cut his hair and it "might be below his butt now," according to Wulff.
While it's plain to see the receiver corps has the most promise, and the potential to be the best unit on the team, Wulff stopped short of giving it a label. Instead, he said "time will tell," before calling Jared Karstetter and Marquess Wilson "great players" and saying Gino Simone and Isaiah Barton had shown great improvement. If there's a unit that carries the Cougs in 2011, it should be the receivers.
"I think we got a legitimate chance to get to a bowl," Wulff said before adding conditions to the statement. "Things gotta evolve. Who knows what can happen with your program. The right guys gotta stay healthy and you gotta keep chugging along."
It's not a guarantee, and it comes with stipulations, but it's clear there are some expectations attached to the Cougars heading into the season. For now, Washington State hits the practice field for about a month of preparations in advance of the season and season-opener against Idaho State.