Wulff said two defensive linemen -- redshirt freshman Toni Pole and senior Brandon Rankin -- are in better position. He said Pole now is "100 percent clear," while they are just waiting on some paperwork for Rankin. Wulff feels confident the latter will be eligible to compete in camp.
As a whole, Wulff said the Cougars were strong academically in the spring and summer semesters. He reiterated a frequent discussion point that WSU coaches needed to improve several aspects of the program, including character, and "the last thing you're going to get is wins. I think we're in position to do that now."
WULFF ENTERS HIS fourth season with the Cougars and the wins have been few and far between the first three seasons. He feels the 2011 campaign, beginning with fall camp, will be different, though. Wulff said only five players remain in the program that his staff did not recruit, (although his first class was put together when he was hired in December and in the final six weeks before that LOI Day.)
Still, in addition to better talent, Wulff feels the team's character and work ethic have improved dramatically. He said players also now know his expectations and system, which he believes will translate into superior execution on both sides of the ball.
While he stopped short of using the word veteran to describe his team, Wulff noted that several players on both sides have significant experience -- while at the same time many Coug players are still on the young side. On offense, he cited senior offensive lineman B.J. Guerra, senior wide receiver Jared Karstetter and junior quarterback Jeff Tuel as players who have multiple years of starting experience. He named senior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, junior defensive end Travis Long and junior safety Tyree Toomer as players with similar levels of experience on the other side of the ball.
Tuel is regarded by many analysts as the program's best player and Wulff fielded several questions about him Thursday. One asked if Tuel, who completed 219 of 366 passes for 2,780 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last year, could be the second best quarterback in the conference behind Stanford's Andrew Luck, who is projected to be the top pick in next spring's NFL draft.
Wulff said he could not rank Tuel, but expects him to perform even better this year after his first full season of starting in 2010. He said Tuel could be more efficient this season if the offense is more balanced behind an improved running game. The Cougars averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in '10 and ranked 117th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 91 rushing yards per contest.
Redshirt freshman Rickey Galvin, who is listed at 5-foot-8, 162 pounds, returns after breaking his right arm on his first collegiate carry last September at Oklahoma State. If he stays healthy, Galvin is expected to see significant playing time this fall.
"He needs to develop into an explosive force for us," Wulff said.
Logwone Mitz, who rushed for 263 yards and four touchdowns on 74 carries last year, also returns for his senior season.
"We need Logwone Mitz to play his best football and what he's capable of doing," Wulff said. "If he does that, he should have a fine year."
Junior Carl Winston, whom Wulff said has battled an assortment of injuries, also is in contention for playing time along with walk-on sophomore Leon Brooks and incoming freshman Marcus Mason.
"I do believe those guys can be very solid," Wulff said.
TO ACCOMPLISH THAT, WSU also will need improvement on the offensive line. The Cougars lost some depth in that area when junior Tyson Pencer recently left the program to pursue a career in the Canadian Football League. But Wulff feels the depth along the offensive line is better than some suspect. Senior tackles David Gonzalez and Wade Jacobson and guards Guerra and sophomore John Fullington all started several games last season. Perhaps the only new starter on the offensive line will come at center, but senior Andrew Roxas has played with the first team in the past.
Wulff said others with past playing experience, including redshirt freshman Jake Rodgers and junior Dan Spitz and sophomore guard Elliott Bosch, provide depth. He expects others, such as Junior Taylor Meighen, a possible starter at center, redshirt freshman Brent Anderson and Matt Goetz, to compete for playing time, as well.
The depth at wide receiver is more developed, but Wulff stopped short of calling it the team's strongest position. He said that is because he feels a number of positions, including wide receiver, could evolve into the Cougars' biggest strength in fall camp because of the team's youth.
But Wulff was effusive in his praise of sophomore Marquess Wilson, who had 1,006 yards and six touchdowns on 55 receptions, and senior Jared Karstetter. The latter had 658 yards and seven touchdowns on a team-high 62 receptions.
"When you say Jared Karstetter and Marquess Wilson, you're starting with two fine players," Wulff said.
Wulff noted that several other players, including senior Isiah Barton, junior Gino Simone and redshirt freshman Kristoff Williams, also could emerge. Repeating a common discussion point from veteran wide-receivers coach Mike Levenseller, he said blocking will be a key component when determining playing time.
"They've got to play tough," he said. "We need them to block."
ONE SCENARIO WULFF hopes to avoid this fall on both sides of the ball is playing too many true freshmen. In addition to Mason, he said defensive lineman Darryl Paulo and linebacker Chester Su'a could play this season. Wulff said other true freshman could emerge during fall camp, but he added that it will be more about those athletes excelling than playing them out of necessity.
Perhaps the most competitive position on the defensive side will be linebacker, where Wulff praised the leadership of seniors Hoffman-Ellis and Mike Ledgerwood. He said sophomore Sekope Kaufusi also "has shown some really impressive things." Sophomore C.J. Mizell, who had 57 tackles last year, had an inconsistent spring but Wulff said he had a "good summer" and performed well academically.
Wulff said sophomores Darren Markle and Eric Oertel and true freshman Darryl Monroe also will compete for playing time.
THE COUGARS' SPECIAL teams also have undergone some transformation with the graduation of punter Reid Forrest, who signed with the Buffalo Bills after averaging 45.4 yards per punt last season, but Wulff said he is confident that senior Dan Wagner can handle the position. Sophomore Andrew Furney, who shared kicking duties with Nico Grasu in 2010, returns after converting 3 of 5 field goals and all 18 of his extra-point attempts.
"I think he'll do an excellent job," Wulff said.
He said they still are looking for "a legitimate long snapper" to replace graduated Zach Enyeart, but is confident they will find one.
It is a way he feels about every position on the roster as he expects WSU to play in a bowl game this season.
"If you look at our football team, every position should be greatly improved," Wulff said. "I think all of them are going to take a big step."
He said the bye after the Sept. 17 game at San Diego State comes at a good time.
"That will be a great time to reevaluate where we're at," Wulff said.