Well, as well all know, we are nearing the dawn of the 2010 version of Cougar Football. And with training camp drawing ever so near, I thought I’d offer you a few questions I’ve been launching from NY into the Cosmos.
With that in mind, want to check out Sutra’s pseudo What 2 Watch 4—Fall Camp Style? Then read on….
Followers, by now we all are aware of the happenings and non-happenings of the Paul Wulff era at WSU. As you recall, when Wulff was hired, we here at the WSU Football Blog were ecstatic at the prospect of what Wulff would bring to the program. Chief among those promised features was an up-tempo, no huddle offense. “Awesome!” we all thought.
Unfortunately, we all have PAINFULLY witnessed how that promise has turned out—at least so far. The first painful signal of our woes-to-come became evident when the once promising Gary Rodgers was BENCHED after less than 6 quarters of action (presumably because he did not fit the style of what Sturdy wanted to accomplish). From there, things went increasingly south. As the already dinged up O-Line continued to deteriorate, we quickly found ourselves down to our emergency quarterback—including, if you remember, a mid-season campus wide tryout to try to find a 3rd string QB who could complete the practice squad.
Fast forward now to the Spring of 2009. With Ocho Rojo back at practice and Kevin Lopina returning from a number of starts in 08, we heard that we were ‘FINALLY’ able to install much of Sturdy’s playbook. Unfortunately, the first few games of the year brought out our biggest nightmare: Again, the offensive line was besieged by injuries. What’s more, not only did Lobster show that he was still not ready for Pac-10 football, Lopina showed himself incapable of making necessary reads. As a result, the reigns were quickly handed over to young Skywalker (Jeff Tuel),who, while immensely talented, had minimal time to learn the intricacies of Sturdy’s system.
From there, the story is just too ghastly to re-hash in detail. As we know, Tuel got injured and the battered offensive line wound up ranking among the worst in Pac-10 history.
So, as we near the start of a real bell weather year for Cougar Football, we hear glimpses of what amounts to the same old same old. Indeed, with a returning nucleus of offensive lineman, a new O-line coach, as well as the return of very smart and savy Tuel, we have been made to believe that the true unveiling of Sturdy’s system is forthcoming.
While not quite as bad as the offense, the defense has also appeared to follow a similar “say one thing/do another” type path. From the early days of the Wuff tenure, Coach Sears preached the importance of putting together a physical 4-3 that would, above all else, stop the run, stop the run, and then, STOP THE RUN.
Unfortunately for us, each year since has proceeded along a similar trajectory: We start in a 4-3, show initial promise in game one, and then get blitzed every week for the next half of the season. Then, following an incomprehensible brash of injuries to the Defensive Line and Linebacking corps, we find ourselves making a switch to a 3-4 or 3-3-5. And, each time, the result has been surprising: AT THE END OF THE YEAR, WE HAVE GIVEN THE CLEAR SIGNAL THAT WE COULD BECOME A PRETTY GOOD DEFENSIVE TEAM THE FOLLOWING YEAR.
So, fast forward to spring camp 2010. More speed is present all over the defensive side of the ball. Kids are stronger and more physical. Wolfgramm seems healed up for the first time, well, ever. Brandon Rankin seems like he could develop into a terror. And did we mention how much faster and stronger we are?
In short, as we head into camp, it sure appears that the “System” everyone wanted to see is about ready to be implemented in full. And with that, here is the lead question for Fall Camp 2010:
FOR THE FIRST TIME, WILL THIS STAFF MOVE FROM TRYING TO INSTILL THEIR “IDEAL” VISION OF THE PROGRAM TO KEEPING IT “REAL” (for a change)?
Cuz, let’s face the music folks. This team is still young as all hell. It’s also still dangerously thin at key positions—particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. So, as we embark into this crucial Fall Camp and camp-pain, let’s all hope and pray that Wulff and company realize that we are still a year away from realizing all of our “ideal” visions for the program. So, here are my keys:
For the Offense:
And no, I’m not talking about the rock band. I’m talking about the old adage we all know and love: “Keep It Simple Stupid.” Cuz, folks, with an O-Line is that is untested, has a new coach, a new center, and a QB that has only one year in the system, maybe we can set a more realistic expectation that they will master only a handful of sets and accompanying wrinkles this fall, instead of the entire play book. So, from that, it seems important that the camp focus on the following:
2) Establishing an Identity. Last year, SeanHawk noted over and over and over again what had become a painful question for our offense: What are we trying to do? Who are we trying to be? And frankly, I don’t think that anyone outside of the program knows the answer to that question. Cuz let’s face it, if the idea the coaches have is simply to be “balanced” then we will find ourselves at the bottom of everything once again this season. Simply put, I have never seen an offense be balanced simply because they are. Teams become balanced on offense because they lead with a KILLER jab, and then follow with the BIG ONE. In short, it’s the ability to lead from strength that makes one “balanced.” We need to find that strength early in Fall Camp.
3) Establishing a Deep Threat. This key flows from the previous two. Less complicated schemes reduces the learning curve for run blocking. It also minimizes the number of formations that Isiah Barton, Marquess Wilson, and company have to learn. Moreover, where Wilson is concerned, fewer schemes means more time focused toward learning how to get off the line and less time trying to figure out where to line up. Cuz if we have ANY chance to beat Clay Bennett State or SMU, then a deep threat MUST emerge. And quickly.
For the Defense:
1) 3-4, SHUT THE DOOR. So, for the first time in recent memory, we have two DT’s that look like they can actually play. On one hand, that sure seems like an invitation to bring back the ole 4-3, try to mount a legit pass rush, stop the run, blah, blah, blah. So, suppose we line up against Clay Bennett State in a 4-3 and then Wolfgramm gets hurt in Game 1. Now, we have Rankin and Backup #1 (Laurenzi, Clayton?) in for games 2 and 3. So, let’s suppose that, after drawing a quadruple team all day in Dallas, Rankin twists a knee in the SMU game—leaving us down to Backup 1 and Backup 2 for our game against SC. And then we get them hurt, just in time for Wolfgramm to come back for Game Five. So, against UCLA we line up Wolfgramm at NT, and then play a 3-4 against the Bruins…… Sound familiar?
Followers: Three out of our first six games—and two of our first three—are against spread offenses. So, given that our D-Line is still thin—and given that our linebacker corps that looks like it has nice depth, why not just start the season in a 3-4?
Further, why not use our limited depth at DT as a strength? Why not split Rankin and Wolgramm’s reps early on and keep them fresh AND HEALTHY for the rest of the year? Then, once we get into October, if we want to throw the 4-3 out there for a first down or two, then GREAT. But please, can we just come to grips that, at least for this year, we have personnel for a 3-4 and not a 4-3? PLEASE?????
So there you have it. As they say, the great coaches, as needed, change their styles according to their personnel. Hopefully, the program/the coaches have grown enough to focus in on a few areas in camp, instead of trying to revolutionize the world as manifest in year’s past.
Thankfully, we now do finally have the horses to run with the Big Dogs, albeit in the years to come. So, now’s the time to adopt a toughness that is best learned when you’re not thinking, but playing. And that becomes especially crucial when two of our first three games are on the road—in the sweltering heat and humidity nonetheless.
And, as all former athletes now, execution does NOT come not from saddling young, talented teams with too much complexity. It comes from young players feeling that they are competent and capable enough just to let it all hang out for 60 minutes.
So, keep it simple this camp, Coach Paul and company. And, we’ll know if you accomplished that simple goal during the second half of game 1 at Clay Bennett State. That, my friends, is quickly becoming a very, very winnable game.
Have a great weekend. And Let’s go Cougs!