New WSU defensive line coach Jeff Phelps has the Cougars homed in on little details

Jeff Phelps has a reputation as a technician, and his attention to detail is already rubbing off on the WSU Cougars’ defensive line

It’s a subtle change, but one new Washington State defensive line coach Jeff Phelps hopes will help his linemen get off the ball faster and get to the quarterback more effectively.

This Saturday, when the Cougars put on their annual Crimson and Gray Spring Scrimmage at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, watch how the defensive linemen position themselves on the line of scrimmage before the snap.

Instead of lining up directly across from opposing offensive linemen this season, WSU’s defensive linemen will start off lined up in gaps in between the opposition instead.

Washington State hired Jeff Phelps from Minnesota in January to replace Joe Salave’a as defensive line coach

“It’s something a little bit different from what they did in the past. In the past, they’d be ‘head-up’ on the offensive line, and then they would have to make a movement to get to a certain gap,” Phelps said. “What we said was, ‘Let’s have them line up in the gap and go from there. It allows them to get a great take off, which is one thing we try to coach, and can help with undersized linemen.

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“When you get that vertical push and you get that pad level down, you have more control over the line of scrimmage and have more control of your body. And it’s easy to change direction and finish the tackle.”

Getting good vertical push and maintaining low pad level throughout are two things Phelps has stressed repeatedly this month in his first spring with the Cougars.

Phelps joined WSU in January to replace the much-beloved Joe Salave’a, who left to join Willie Taggart’s new staff at Oregon.

The 40-year-old Chicago native is known for being a stickler for details, and that’s precisely why WSU head coach Mike Leach hired him off Tracy Claeys’ recently fired Minnesota staff after the Cougars lost to the Golden Gophers in the Holiday Bowl

“He’s a real good technician, just a great technician with a great presence out there,” Leach said. “That’s the thing I think is really impressive. Technique-wise, there’s lower pads, more violent hands. He’s a really good teacher.”

Phelps’ teaching talents and technician nature were on full display all spring as he got acquainted with his new players and introduced a variety of new drills designed to coach details and break up monotony.

“He wants us to work more technique than anything. Most of our practices are all about technique. He feels like if we master the technique, we’ll be better defensive linemen,” says sophomore defensive end Derek Moore. “Last year, I would say we were focused on getting off the ball and being in the right place and playing one play at a time.”

For instance, in one drill Phelps likes, the linemen get into three point…

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