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Washington State has turned to alum Paul Wulff to try to turn around the program after a slow decline into the bottom of the Pac-10. Wulff, who replaces Bill Doba, won Big Sky coach of the year honors three times at Eastern Washington, and is installing a spread, no-huddle offense. Wulff also inherits a veteran lineup with 13 projected senior starters. But the Cougars have only seven juniors returning. Spring begins with the task of finding a replacement for Alex Brink, the school's leading career passer Alex Brink. Senior Gary Rogers will have the first crack at the job after serving three seasons as a backup. Here's a look at the Cougars as they prepare for spring drills.
Paul Wulff will install a new offense at Washington State this spring.
Defense?8: T Fevaea'i Ahmu, LB Kendrick Dunn, LB Cory Evans, CB Devin Giles, SS Alfonso Jackson, E Andy Mattingly, CB Chima Nwachukwu, LB Greg Trent.
Offense?6: C Kenny Alfred, WR Brandon Gibson, T Micah Hannam, T Vaughn Lesuma, G Dan Rowlands, RB Dwight Tardy.
Special teams?1: P Reid Forrest.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Wulff's first offense has the luxury of operating behind an experienced offensive line. The Cougars lose left guard Bobby Byrd, but return both starting tackles and a guard. Washington State will return two All-Pac-10 caliber players on both sides of the ball. Wide receiver Brandon Gibson, who led the conference with 1,180 yards, returns as does linebacker Andy Mattingly, who had eight sacks in six starts.
HELP IS NEEDED
Washington State needs more punch on the defensive line for a team that allowed a Pac-10-worst 32.4 points per game. Andy Roof, once projected as a starter at guard, will return at defensive tackle after his suspension last season following a DUI arrest. The Cougars added three junior college transfers along the line, but none will arrive until the fall. The secondary needs work, as well.
KEEP AN EYE ON
WR Daniel Blackledge: The sophomore is a projected starter along with Gibson. He'll have every opportunity to curry favor with Wulff, whose Eastern Washington team was one of the best in Division I-AA in pass offense.
LBs Hallston Higgins and Marshall Pirtz: Pirtz, a redshirt freshman, and Higgins, a sophomore, could push for playing time despite three returning senior linebackers. The two should keep Evans and Trent on their toes during the spring.
G/C Andrew Roxas: Roxas started one game as a true freshman, a 27-7 win over UCLA. He started at center in that game but will have a chance at his natural position at guard with Byrd gone.
HIS TIME IS NOW
TE Devin Frischknecht played his junior season as a backup to Jed Collins, who finished with 535 receiving yards. Frischknecht, who will be a senior this fall, emerged as a threat in the passing game with 88 yards and two touchdowns in the finale against Washington last season.
Wulff returns to his alma mater with a rebuilding project ahead of him. The Cougars have been passed in the Pac-10 by several programs, and that likely won't change this season. Washington State is heavy on seniors but thin on juniors. This spring will be a critical period for Wulff to evaluate what he will have to work with in 2008 and '09.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.