WSU Football:The Cougs Will Play Better Defense in 2009: Part Two

Lew WrightSenior Writer IAugust 19, 2009

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  A Washington State Cougars helmet showing the initials of Pat Tillman next to the American flag during the Arizona State Sun Devils against Washington State Cougars Pac-10 game at Sun Devil Stadium/Frank Kush Field on November 13, 2004 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Washington State football players practiced today in full pads for the first time in fall camp. Not exactly the life-changing news. Good news nonetheless as it puts us one day closer to the first game of the year against Stanford on Sept. 5.

For the second day in a row light rain has set the mood for coaches and players getting work in on Rogers Field. Thunder showers in Pullman during the month of August isn't much of a shocker, but it is a change of pace.

And for the second day in a row, the early practice session was limited to 'rookies' and players buried on the depth chart. Hang in there. We're getting to the good stuff.

Coach Paul Wulff has to be pleased with the health of his team. The report from Bill Stevens, WSU SID was positive with regard to the injury jinx which haunted the Cougs last season.

Even in the early stages of fall practice last summer, injuries were a problem. 

"As for injuries, we've done well so far." - Bill Stevens, WSU SID

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What a change for the entire football team. Rather than sports writers and fans trying to research injuries online, the focus has been on personnel and who will be at the top of the depth chart through competition rather than attrition.

Stevens did relay word on a few players dinged up.  

Promising offensive lineman Andrew Roxas hasn't been able to get on the practice field all week due to illness. There's no timetable for when he'll return.

Jesse Feagin, a force on the defensive line, was sidelined with cramps for a day but is expected to be wreaking havoc on the line of scrimmage today.

Sophomore wide receiver Jared Karstetter missed practice Wednesday because of a hip, but should be back in action either today or tomorrow.

Instead of three pages of notes on injuries, three players with minor problems is a huge turnaround from a year ago.

So with players only suffering from normal football aches and pains, competition is going to heat up today.

Looking at the group of linebackers competing is a mixed bag going into fall camp. There is a blend of experience and youth.

Andy Mattingly stands out among the linebacker corps in a number of ways. The senior from Spokane is counted on to provide leadership both on and off the field. After a breakout year in 2007, Mattingly moved from linebacker to defensive end last season. A significant factor in making that move was the team's need for able bodies. At 6'4" and 255 pounds, Mattingly is a big linebacker but a small down lineman. His results on the DL were forgettable making the move back to the SAM linebacker slot a welcome one.

Along with Mattingly, Louis Bland is ready to build on his freshman season success. The young man from Modesto, CA, started nine games for WSU last year. Of his 55 tackles, nine were for a loss. He got to the quarterback twice and also picked off a pass he took to the house against Oregon State. After an off season of serious strength and conditioning, Bland looks much bigger than the 202 he's listed at. No way the young man is even close to 202 these days.

Those two players are likely to be the starting outside linebackers. There will be some strong competition to replace Greg Trent in the middle. Staying in pairs, there are two Cougs fighting to be No. 1 in the middle.

Sophomore Alex Hoffman-Ellis is a transfer from Moorpark College where he tore it up for a season. He logged 91 tackles in just 11 games playing outside linebacker. He's familiar with what is takes to be a part of Cougar football having used his red shirt year last season.

Mike Ledgerwood is a sophomore who played in 10 games last year as a true freshman. The experience he gained last year combined with dedicated off season work have prepared Ledgerwood well.

Versatile Myron Beck started nine games last year, six at the outside linebacker position. He began the season at safety, then moved up to linebacker because of... injuries. Beck couldn't escape the injury jinx himself, missing the final four games after breaking his hand. The junior from Ingraham HS in Seattle packed on more muscle and expected to be a major contributor on defense.

One player who might work his way out of a red shirt year and on to the field this year is Darren Markle. The freshman from Meridian, ID is an incredible athlete. The young man is truly an athlete in the mold of what Coach Wulff looks for as a football player. He was just about all-everything in the state of Idaho in high school football. Add to that a measure of success as a sprinter on the track team. There's more. Markle is a national champion powerlifter. On top of all that, he excels in the classroom with a 3.9GPA in high school. He's one to watch.

Last season WSU didn't have the personnel to stop any team's running game. The group of players working for playing time at linebacker have the potential to turn that around in 2009.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the guys in the trenches, defensive linemen.

Originally published on Examiner.com


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