Pac-12: Jordan Puu Robinson

Spring concludes: Washington State

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: Saturday at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT in Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Admission is free

What happened this spring: The offense dominated the first scrimmage, the defense the second. The general feeling coming out of Pullman was improvement on both sides of the ball. While defensive tackle Toni Pole hurt his knee -- severity unclear -- during the final practice, the Cougars mostly stayed healthy, and that's critical for a team that appears ready to rise out of the conference cellar in 2011. QB Jeff Tuel and receiver Marquess Wilson lead a high-quality passing game, while Rickey Galvin offers some explosiveness at running back. Backup QB Marshall Lobbestael turned in a solid spring -- having an experienced, quality backup is a nice luxury to have.

What's ahead: While every team has optimism coming out of spring practice, Washington State's positive feelings have a firmer foundation than at any time during the Paul Wulff era (in 2008 and 2009, the talent void was even something a layman could see while watching practice). Still, both lines will be questions until they prove themselves. The Cougs must be able to run and stop the run in 2011 if they hope to climb in the highly competitive Pac-12 North. Special teams also are a work in progress. Further, the youngsters who will be asked to contribute next fall need big offseasons in the weight room. Finally, there's a lot of talk about better leadership. The proof of that will be a productive offseason that includes no off-field issues.

Spring stars: The defensive line showed up despite the absences of three key players due to injury: Travis Long, Jordan Pu’u-Robinson and Brandon Rankin. Tackle Anthony Laurenzi stepped up, and JC transfers Steven Hoffart and Ian Knight look like they could contribute at tackle and end, respectively. Linebackers Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Mike Ledgerwood had good springs, while the talented but mercurial C.J. Mizell languished a bit. Galvin and redshirt freshman receiver Kristoff Williams sparked the offense.

Washington State spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
Washington State

2009 overall record: 1-11

2009 conference record: 0-9 (10th)

Returning starters

Offense: 8, Defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Jared Karstetter, DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, P Reid Forrest

Key losses: C Kenny Alfred, RB Dwight Tardy, FS Xavier Hicks, LB Andy Mattingly

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Tardy (417)

Passing: Tuel* (789)

Receiving: Karstetter* (540)

Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis* (84)

Sacks: Travis Long*, Toby Turpin, Casey Hamlett*, Anthony Laurenzi* (2)

Interceptions: Xavier Hicks (3)

Spring Answers

1. Solid at QB: Both sophomore Tuel and junior Marshall Lobbestael played well this spring. Both are more skilled, more mature and better versed in the offense than when they were prematurely forced into action the previous two seasons. Tuel is the heavy frontrunner to start, but it's always nice to have two quarterbacks with starting experience.

2. Offensive line improvement: A big area of concern the past two seasons, the Cougars added a pair of JC recruits midyear and the additions greatly enhanced the competition and depth up front. Also, the addition of offensive line coach Steve Morton and his 35 years of experience, which includes five Morris Trophy winners, already has made a big impact. The line lost one starter from last season (center Kenny Alfred) but the return of four starters, along with the JC additions and return of Andrew Roxas, who missed 2009 due to illness, could make this one of the most improved units in the conference.

3. There's some depth: Everyone around the program insists this is by far the best spring for coach Paul Wulff since he took over a beleaguered program two years ago. Part of that success is legitimate competition for starting spots and playing time. Players who redshirted the past two seasons, in particular, made an impact during the 15 practices

Fall questions

1. Confidence? The Cougars have won just three games over the past two seasons -- just one Pac-10 game. Many of their defeats have been blowouts. While the talent looks better heading into 2010, the Cougars have to believe they can compete -- and win -- in the Pac-10. That belief will drive players to work out hard during the summer. That belief will keep games close into the fourth quarter. That belief might even help them steal a few games. But that belief has to be real, which means it will have to block out all the talk about another dreary 10th-place finish.

2. Will the D-line step up? Sophomore end Travis Long should take the next step. JC transfer Brandon Rankin lived up to his considerable hype at tackle. Senior end Kevin Kooyman is back from injury and had a good spring. That's the good news. The bad news is three of the top four or five tackles are either gone -- or close to going -- before their time. Toby Turpin was kicked out of school over an undisclosed academic incident, while tackles Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Luapo are struggling to remain academically eligible (coaches are more hopeful about Wolfgramm getting back on track). That means youngsters such as Justin Clayton, Dan Spitz, Jordan Pu’u Robinson and Anthony Laurenzi will need to be ready -- and be better than they were in 2009.

3. Receiver depth? The Cougars went through spring with just four scholarship receivers (Jeffrey Solomon, Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone and Daniel Blackledge). The incoming recruiting class features five receivers. JC recruit Isiah Barton is probably the most ready, but at least a couple of freshmen will need to earn spots in the rotation.