Happy Humpday Cougs, and as always we hope things are well in your world. Today we keep things moving with OldSavage's mega-WSU previews, as he looks at the back of the defense (that's the linebackers and defensive backs, FYI). How do the LB's, CB's and safeties look heading into the season? Let's let OldSavage fill us in…
LINEBACKERS AND DB's
This linebacking corps was the strength of the defense last year (after considerable hand wringing when CJ Mizell, Sekope Kaufusi and Louis Bland were lost and Mike Ledgerwood and Alex Hoffman-Ellis graduated). Choate and Volero did a masterful job integrating players from other positions, freshmen and a JC transfer into a solid unit. One telling statistic is that, after Bucannon, the four leading tacklers last year were linebackers. This is how a 3-4 is supposed to work. There are two losses from 2012, the irreplaceable Travis Long and Coach Jeff Choate. While new coach Ken Wilson has great credentials, it is yet to be seen if he can match Choate’s success and it will be hard to replace Long’s high revving motor and 9.5 sacks from 2012.
The good news is that Long was the only senior and there is a long line of candidates to replace him. The youngsters have had a full year in the 3-4 and should be significantly better prepared this year. I expect that coach Wilson will take the summer break to analyze his personnel. He has a lot of quality players backed up at a couple of positions and may wish to make adjustments so that the best players see the most playing time.
I would note that while there does not seem to be a depth problem this year, three of the top players are seniors and only one LB was recruited. Consequently, the staff may be looking at moving players from other positions to prepare for next season (safeties Fred Davey and Taylor Taliulu are likely candidates).
Logan Mayes, 6-3, 241, Junior
Kache Palacio, 6-2, 217, Sophomore
Ivan McLennan, 6-4, 238, Junior
Logan missed all of spring practice, which gave his back-ups plenty of chances to play with the ones and twos and both demonstrated they will be challenging come fall. Playing behind Long (who never wanted off the field) last year, Mayes still ran up 26 tackles and 2.5 sacks and led the team in quarterback hurries – one of which sealed the Apple Cup. Palacio played mostly on special teams last year but seemed to win the number one spot this spring with Mayes out. I would think that he could fit well at one of the other linebacking spots as well. McLennan had observers’ mouths dropping early in the spring with his speed getting into the backfield. He is a little behind on other aspects of the game but should adapt by fall. Like Mayes, he may also appear as an end in passing situations.
Cyrus Coen, 6-0, 213, Junior
Eric Oertel, 6-1, 200, Senior
Max Hersey, 6-3, 233, Sophomore (RS)
Coen started the last eleven games in 2012, he was the 5th leading tackler and had 12 tackles for loss, three sacks and three interceptions. He plays the pass better than any of the other linebackers and is often mistaken for a safety by ill-prepared broadcasters. Wulff tried to red-shirt Oertel and then he tried to make him into a running back – neither worked out. Choate found his proper role and moved him back to SAM. While he only started one game last year, he improved as the year went on, ending with 6 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. If both are healthy, Coen and Oertel will use up all the playing time at the position. I have Max Hersey here because he has demonstrated the ability to play and all the other linebacker spots are taken. He is a better fit at MIKE or WILL and was listed at BUCK in the spring.
Darryl Monroe, 6-1, 235, Sophomore (RS)
Jared Byers, 6-0, 219, Senior (RS)
Jeremiah Allison, 6-2, 218, Sophomore
Monroe wasted no time coming off his red-shirt year, moving right in at the middle and becoming the leader of the unit. He was second team All PAC-12 and the second leading tackler on the team. My only concern with Monroe arises from his response to one of the “Five Questions” that appeared in the Review. His choices for dinner partners included Rickey Williams and Bob Marley – thankfully, he did not say “brownies” when asked what he would serve. Byers is another of Wulff’s tight-end/ H-backs that found a new home in the Leach system. He ended the season with 34 tackles and provided much needed relief for Monroe. Allison is the linebacker of the future and appeared in eleven games as a true freshman. He has the personality and talent to play Mike but may have trouble displacing Monroe so he will likely pop up elsewhere in the future.
Justin Sagote, 6-0, 223, Senior
Tana Pritchard, 6-3, 217, Sophomore (RS)
Chester Su’a, 6-1, 224, Junior
It didn't’t take Sagote long to assert himself after he showed up last fall. He started the third game of the season and every one after that. He tied in number of tackles with Travis Long and had 2.5 tackles for loss. He was challenged this spring by Tana Pritchard, but I think he will retain his starting spot when game time rolls around. Pritchard played mostly on special teams last year but did get into defense on a couple of occasions. His motor runs at a speed similar to that of Travis Long’s and, if it comes down to who works the hardest, he will win. Su’a was the only linebacker last year who had starting experience at the position, but he just never seemed completely comfortable in the new sets. He certainly has the talent to return to past form, if he can get it all together.
With Hersey plugged in at SAM, there just are not a lot of others. Should injuries or other circumstances require help I would expect to see the players moved from one linebacker position to another – Allison, Hersey and Su’a are all good candidate for moves. There was a Chris Boachie, who was on the spring game roster, but I haven’t got a clue as to who he is or where he came from. The only incoming freshman at the position is Peyton Pelluer, 6-2, 225, (Son of Scott Pelluer – linebacker during the Walden era.) but he’s definitely a keeper and….. who knows……
With the possible exception of the offensive line, this was the most roundly criticized unit during last year. In addition, they lost their best cover guy (Daniel Simmons) and safety Tyree Toomer to graduation and will have to depend on some untested players in key positions, so prognosticators are pointing to this as a weak area again this season. I am not sure that all the criticism is justified or that the prospects for the unit are as bleak as those picking the Cougars for the bottom of the PAC-12 would have you believe.
While the defense gave up a whopping 330 yards passing per game, not all of that can be laid at the feet of the DBs. This defense is designed so that, even when functioning well, it allows for the occasional big play and seems to encourage some gambling by the safeties – which leaves the corners vulnerable. At times it seemed like downfield help was sacrificed and focus was on stopping the run. However, there is no doubt that the secondary play was not the strength of the team last year and a winning season will require significant upgrade in performance.
For once the depth in the backfield seems to lie with the corners, but the experience and talent would seem to be in the safety positions. With only one safety recruited this year I have some concern for that position in the future – but it should not be a problem this year, particularly with the late addition of a JC safety.
This is also the only unit which is heavily senior laden and I am plugging them in as starters, however, before the season is over I expect them to be challenged, if not displaced, by underclassmen at all but one position. I also expect a couple of incoming freshmen to be used if there is not sufficient improvement on the part of the veterans, but will not place them in the three deep as yet.
Anthony Carpenter, 6-0, 196, Senior (RS)
Rahmel Dockery, 5-10, 171, Freshman (RS)
Nolan Washington, 5-11, 190, Senior (RS)
I have Carpenter as the starter come fall, due to his performance last year (48 tackles, with 2.5 for loss and an int.). However, he has played safety as well and can fit in there just fine if need be. He has upped his game each year and, if that trend continues, any concerns at the position this year will be greatly reduced. Dockery brings the most physical ability to the position of any of the candidates. He had a hard time dealing with his move from receiver, but this spring he seemed to put it all together – although he is still a work in progress. In the end he could be another of the great Cougar DBs, but he just needs to focus and gain experience. Washington was my most difficult call – I initially had him as a one. He has been a starter for three years but last year was a struggle (he only started three games but got three break-ups in the time he was in). If he can return to his form of 2010 he will grab a starting spot but, no matter what, he will see lots of playing time if healthy.
Damante Horton, 5-10, 178, Senior (RS)
Alex Jackson, 510, 168, Freshman (RS)
Tracy Clark, 5-11, 185, Junior (RS)
Like Washington, Horton’s progress came to a screeching halt last year. After being named All PAC-12 honorable mention for his work in 2011, he seemed to have trouble adapting to the new 3-4 defense. His interception total went from four to zilch and the rest of his stats went the same direction. There is no doubt he has the talent, it is just a matter of putting it all together after a down year. I must say that my confidence in Jackson is based more on gut than evidence. He has a skill set similar to Dockery’s and was red-shirted last year after moving from wide receiver, where he excelled in high-school. He missed all of spring with one of those mystery injuries that occur to players in the Leach system. Tracy Clark has been moving up for three years and showed improvement this spring. His asset is experience and he will be competing with more talented players for playing time.
Deone Bucannon, 6-1, 198, Senior
Mitchell Peterson, 6-1, 200, Junior (RS)
David Bucannon, 6-0, 187, Freshman (RS)
What Breske really needs is a couple more Deone Bucannons. The leading tackler on the team last year (106, with the next closest at 80), the most interceptions and even a sack, Bucannon didn’t miss a beat in the conversion to the 3-4. I am not sure where he can improve, but he has done it every year. Mitchell Peterson is in the 2 spot based on a pretty good spring but he has seen virtually no game time experience and will be pushed by the “up and comers”, like Deone’s young brother David Bucannon. David was the Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year last season and went from not even being on the depth chart at the start of spring practice to starting at strong safety in the Crimson and Gray game.
Casey Locker, 5-11, 195, Senior (RS)
Taylor Taliulu, 5-11, 202, Sophomore
Fred Davey, 5-10, 193, Sophomore
Locker and Taliulu have been competing for this job since Taylor arrived as a true freshman last year. Locker is notorious for his big hits (being sanctioned by the conference at one point) and is generally better against the run, but is improving with his coverage. Taliulu came on strong at the start of last season but then ran into the freshman syndrome, once schemes started getting more complex. Either one will be a good complement to Deone Bucannon. Davey did not red-shirt his freshman year and saw play on special teams. I take that as an endorsement by the coaching staff and he could probably see action at either safety spot (rumor has it that Davey was scheduled to move to SAM, but Breske put the kibosh on that after Choate left).
One of my hopes this year is that freshman Daquawn Brown (6-0, 175) arrives this June, jumps right in and joins RS freshmen Jackson and Dockery as the lockdown corners of the future (including this season, once they get some experience). Then this winter they would be joined by Marcellus Pippins and Markell Sanders to create set of corners to rival any of the Cougar past. This fall Brown will be joined in camp by freshman Charleston White (6-1, 170), who starred in Amarillo as a receiver but was also league first team DB.
As indicated, safety position may be a little short on depth this year and to remedy that Leach made a couple of moves. He brought in a really good looking safety from Florida this May in Paris Taylor, a 6-4, 220 pounder and could make a tremendous impact if he is ready to play and kept at safety (note that Taylor has 4 years to play 3 seasons). Also, Leach moved senior Bennett Bontemps, 6-0, 191, from wide receiver to defensive back. Bontemps was unlikely to see much playing time at receiver and made good progress with the switch during the spring. He is a quality athlete who excelled on special teams and saw some time at receiver. In the fall Darius Lemora, 6-0, 185, will join the team and has the potential to provide immediate help at safety.
Otherwise, there are a few players on the roster listed as DBs. Red-shirt sophomore, Mike McAdie, 6-0, 191 got a lot experience this spring at safety. Mike Fields is a 5-7, 175 lb sophomore, and total unknown, out of Nathan Hale and Beau Glover, 5-9, 173, is a RS freshman from Gig Harbor. Parker Henry, 5-9, 203, hails from Vancouver and is also a RS freshman.
So there it is, the linebackers and defensive backs for the Cougs heading into 2013. In case you missed OldSavage's previews from earlier in the week, you can check out the offensive skill positions here and the O-and-D lines here.
All for now. Enjoy your Humpday, RISE 'N' GRIND AND GO COUGS!