Pac-12: Tyson Pencer

Washington State notes: Who's in, out, up and down

March, 22, 2010
Will have lots more from my visit to Washington State, which starts spring practices Thursday, but here are some notes from a conversation with coach Paul Wulff.
  • The Cougars are much healthier this spring than last: 24 players missed offseason workouts last year. This year, just four will sit out spring practices: running back James Montgomery (knee, calf), defensive tackle Josh Luapo (knee), linebacker Louis Bland (knee) and cornerback Anthony Houston (knee).
  • As for Montgomery, he had knee surgery in addition to his scary episode with "acute compartment syndrome" with his calf. Wulff said he won't be cleared to start full-speed running until June. As for the depth at running back Wulff listed Marcus Richmond, Chantz Staden, Logwone Mitz, Carl Winston and Leon Brooks, a walk-on who's made a positive impression.
  • Wulff said there's no hope for receiver Johnny Forzani returning to the program: "He's going to try to play in the CFL." The Cougars have four receivers back who caught at least 20 passes: Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone, Jeffrey Solomon and Daniel Blackledge. Wulff said he expects JC transfer Isiah Barton and perhaps a couple of the four incoming freshmen receivers to contribute, most particularly Marquess Wilson. "Most everybody in the Pac-10 was trying to go on him," Wulff said. "He's a big-time, big-time player."
  • Offensive lineman Brian Danaher, a 12-game starter over the past three seasons, won't be back because of recurrent concussions.
  • Starting defensive tackle Toby Turpin's status is questionable due to an academic dispute, which Wulff said should be resolved -- positively or negatively -- within the next week or two. Turpin will be allowed to practice until his case is resolved.
  • Wulff, perhaps surprisingly, said he believes the offensive line will be the strength off the offense. Andrew Roxas, who missed all of last season due to illness, will step in to fill the void at center due to the departure of stalwart Kenny Alfred. B.J. Guerra, Zack Williams and Steven Ayers will compete at guard. At tackle, two JC transfers will be in the mix this spring -- David Gonzales and Wade Jacobson -- along with Micah Hannam, Tyson Pencer and Alex Reitnouer. Wulff also said the he thinks incoming true freshman John Fullington might be ready to immediately contribute. "I think he was one of the best [high school] offensive linemen in the country," he said.
  • Tight end Zach Tatman was granted a sixth year of eligibility, which means the Cougs will have three experienced tight ends with Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz.
  • Redshirt freshman Sekope Kaufusi will see time as a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end. Wulff said he's been impressed by redshirt freshman end Jordan Pu'u Robinson during the off-season.
  • Touted JC transfer Brandon Rankin -- he was offered a scholarship by Alabama -- will play both end and tackle.
  • Defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm continues to struggle with back problems, but Wulff said he was "moving around and participating in drills better since his back surgery. So that's promising." Still, it's likely his action will be limited this spring.
  • Depth at defensive tackle is a question, but sophomore Dan Spitz, who started five games at tackle and end last year, redshirt freshman Justin Clayton and sophomore Anthony Laurenzi are promising prospects.
  • Wulff said the defense will be much faster at linebacker. When he's healthy in the fall, Bland will move to middle linebacker. Mike Ledgerwood also is a top candidate in the middle, along with redshirt freshman Darren Markle. Alex Hoffman-Ellis will move from middle to weakside linebacker. Arthur Burns will move from running back to "Will" linebacker. Myron Beck and Andre Barrington will man the strongside. Incoming recruit C.J. Mizell also could be in the mix.
  • The secondary, hit hard by injuries a year ago, should be much improved with LeAndre Daniels, Tyree Toomer, Chima Nwachukwu, Jay Matthews and redshirt freshman Anthony Carpenter, Casey Locker -- Jake's cousin -- and Jamal Atofau competing at safety and Daniel Simmons, Aire Justin, Terrance Hayward and promising redshirt freshman Nolan Washington at corner.

If you look hard, Washington State has hope

October, 15, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Back in 2000, the weekly Pac-10 coaches conference call took on an amusing sameness when Washington State coach Mike Price's turn came up.

Remember that scene in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" when the teacher -- "Anyone? Anyone? ... the Great Depression, passed the ... Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill?" -- was desperate to get a student to participate in his class?

That was conference call moderator Jim Muldoon, the Pac-10's associate commissioner, trying to get reporters to ask Price a question.
 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 Paul Wulff and the Cougars have won just one Pac-10 game in their last 13 tries.

Price was a good quote and one of the nicest guys in coaching, but his team was in the midst of winning just three conference in the three seasons since it had played in the 1998 Rose Bowl. His Cougs weren't terribly relevant.

"Anyone with a question for Coach Price?" Muldoon would plead.

"There are no questions in the cue," the operator would reply.

What then happened most weeks was Bob Condotta, now with the Seattle Times but then with the Tacoma News Tribune, then would hit the "*1" to ask a question. Condotta covered Washington, but he was a Washington State graduate and he felt bad for Price, he'd later explain to me.

Over the next three seasons, though, Washington State won 30 games and finished ranked in the top 10 each year. Price and then Bill Doba got a lot more questions because they were relevant.

This is a long-winded way to make a simple point: There isn't much to say about Washington State right now. The Cougars aren't good and odds are decent they won't win a game in perhaps the deepest conference in college football.

And when a program in a BCS conference is looking at the possibility of winning only three games over a two-year span, it lands that program's head coach on a perceived hot seat, no matter what circumstances he inherited. Perhaps that's why Paul Wulff gets plenty of questions on the conference call.

So it's not completely unfair to call Wulff "embattled" or whatever. The debate over Wulff's two years on the main WSU blogs -- here , here and here -- has been fairly animated, though the always positive Lew Wright has tried to keep the Coug nation bucked up.

Two points, though.

First, the Cougars have been pretty awful for stretches throughout their history. And they have always bounced back.

Second, the Cougars, despite epidemic injuries for a second consecutive year, are better and playing harder than a year ago.

Now, be forewarned that what follows won't be much consolation to Washington State fans. But it's something to think about during the bye week.

In its four Pac-10 games thus far, the Cougars have dramatically reduced their margin of defeat from last year.

Stanford beat the Cougs by 58 in 2008 but by 26 in 2009; USC won by 69 in 2008, 21 in 2009; Oregon, 49 in 2008 and 46 in 2009. A bad Arizona State team beat the Cougs by 31 last year but a decent one only eclipsed them by 13 last week.

Hey, it's tangible progress.

What's a great measure of a team just slopping around? Turnover margin. Last year, the Cougars finished ranked 119th -- last in the nation -- in turnover margin. They forced only 13 and gave away 38.

So far this year, the Cougs aren't even last in the Pac-10 (OK, they're ninth, but still). They've forced 18 and given away 20, which ranks 76th in the country, ahead of plenty of quality teams.

Of course, it's easy to find bad news. They are at or near the bottom of the Pac-10 in every major offensive and defensive statistically category.

With a makeshift O-line missing three starters, they gave 12 sacks last week at home against Arizona State.

"We're playing some guys in there right now who physically, it's tough for them," Wulff said. "They are not ready to play every down in the Pac-10."

Wulff also didn't hide from an obvious area where he, with some validity, could be criticized: Behind that overmatched line, he again started a true freshman quarterback, Jeff Tuel, whom Wulff had planned to redshirt.

Yes, Wulff, said he was concerned that his young quarterback might lose his confidence under such an assault.

“That’s the thing we have to be real careful with,” he said. “We’re trying to grow up some young guys who have got enough potential to be awfully good. But in the process of growing up, we don’t ruin or do any sort of psychological damage, and or physical damage to our players.”

When Tuel, understandably, got out of sync, Wulff sat him down for a bit and inserted former starter Marshall Lobbestael, who's only a sophomore himself. When Tuel came back in the second half, Wulff felt he played much better.

Tuel finished the day completing 11 of 22 passes for 175 yards with two picks and two TDs, one of which went for 99 yards to receiver Johnny Forzani.

The beat up offensive line might get both starting guards -- B.J. Guerra (knee) and Zach Williams (ankle) -- back for the visit to California on Oct. 24. That should help, though there are now some questions at left tackle where Tyson Pencer (ankle, illness) and Steven Ayers (ankle) have been alternating injuries.

The athletic department is cash strapped and attendance at Martin Stadium is down.

There are no significant signs that athletic director Jim Sterk is going to suddenly lose one of his good qualities -- patience -- but who knows.

These are rough times in Pullman, and they may inspire hasty, drastic measures.

But if Coug fans look close enough they might see reasons for hope.

Anyone? Anyone? Reasons for hope? Anyone?

Tuel will make second start for Washington St.

October, 8, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

It appears that true freshman Jeff Tuel will make his second start against Arizona State on Saturday, and the Cougars are probably hoping it will last longer than his first one.

Tuel was knocked out in the first quarter of last week's game with Oregon with a hip/back injury, but he's been running with the first-team offense this week.

The Spokesman-Review reported that Tuel has been helped by "a special pad constructed by equipment manager Josh Pietz and trainer Brian Oelke" that protects his hip.

If Tuel struggles, he'd be replaced by sophomore Marshall Lobbestael. The problem is No. 3. With senior Kevin Lopina out with a calf injury, sophomore walk-on Dan Wagner is the third option.

The Cougars' overall injury situation remains fairly bleak. Overall, the Cougars are down five players from the preseason offensive line depth chart.

Receiver Jared Karstetter (hip), linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis (staph infection), offensive guard Brian Danaher (concussion) and offensive guard Zack Williams (ankle) are likely out, while running back Dwight Tardy is nursing a shoulder injury and that could limit him. The makeshift offensive line that struggled against Oregon likely will remain the same against the Sun Devils, whose defense is as good or better than the Ducks. That line includes a 253-pound true freshman, Alex Reitnouer, at left guard and a redshirt freshman, Tyson Pencer at left tackle.

There is good news. The Cougs get a bye next week, which should help them get at least a couple of injured players back.