PULLMAN - No sooner did the Washington State Cougars release the depth chart for spring football than Paul Wulff declared the chart null and void.
“This depth chart, at this point, really means nothing, I’ve got to be honest,” the Cougars coach said in preparation for Monday’s first spring practice.
After three long, cold years at his alma mater, Wulff is considered to be fighting for his job. Athletic director Bill Moos waited until the end of last season before issuing a lukewarm statement announcing that Wulff would be back for the fourth year on his five-year contract.
The Cougars return the vast majority of starters and key reserves from a year ago. Of course, they were 2-10 overall and 1-8 in the Pacific-10 Conference – the second consecutive year WSU came in last in the Pac-10.
“Just because someone started a year ago on a 2-10 team doesn’t make ’em a starter going into 2011,” said Wulff. “They’ve all got to get better.”
One of the few returning starters certain to retain his job is junior quarterback Jeff Tuel. A year ago, Tuel completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns, and he also ran the ball effectively behind a shaky offensive line.
“We expect him, and we need him, to take another step,” Wulff said, “because he’s nowhere near where he can be.”
Senior Marshall Lobbestael figures to get pushed for the backup quarterback job by redshirt freshman Connor Halliday.
Wulff said the 15 spring practices will be particularly valuable in helping sort out starters on the offensive and defensive lines and at linebacker and running back.
Running back Logwone Mitz is one of 10 seniors listed as starters (including punter Dan Wagner). Wulff said he does not expect James Montgomery, last year’s rushing leader with 478 yards, to apply to the NCAA for a medical hardship year that would give him a sixth year of eligibility.
Rickey Galvin is a leading candidate to see plenty of time at running back. The 5-foot-8, 162-pound freshman redshirted after going down with a broken arm on his first college carry last season.
Junior defensive end Travis Long, one of WSU’s best linemen, will sit out spring ball while recovering from shoulder surgery. Another talented end, sophomore Jordan Pu’u Robinson, is expected to miss most or all of spring practice as he recovers from knee surgery.
Junior Ian Knight, one of several junior college transfers or freshmen who enrolled in January, is listed as the starting defensive end opposite Long. Wulff said that could change, but coaches like Knight’s athleticism.
All four starters return in the secondary, including team tackles leader Deone Bucannon.
The 2010 Cougars ranked among the nation’s worst defenses, allowing 467 yards and 36 points per game.
In a change from past seasons, the Cougars are starting spring ball prior to spring break. They’ll practice three times this week, then take next week off for spring vacation. Linebacker Louis Bland, a former starter who missed last season due to knee surgery, remains on indefinite suspension after being arrested for domestic violence. Wulff said Bland and heralded freshman wide receiver Kristoff Williams, who redshirted last season with turf toe, are still not 100 percent healthy. Reserve cornerback Tracy Clark, accused of stealing a laptop computer from a dorm room, has been reinstated to the team. Brandon Rankin, a highly touted junior college transfer who struggled last season, continues to suffer from shoulder problems. Rankin is listed as a starting defensive tackle, but Wulff said he could also see playing time at end, where he was a pass-rushing terror when playing with less weight at Butte College in California. The Cougars open the season with home games against Idaho State (1-10 last season) on Sept. 3 and UNLV (2-11) on Sept 10.