SPRING PREVIEW: Will DL return to roots?

THE DEFENSIVE LINE this spring holds intrigue galore. Will the Cougars run more of their 4-3 base this season on defense? Or will it be a situation similar to recent years, where the Cougars make liberal use of the 3-4?

The career of Chris Ball, WSU's defensive coordinator, suggests a 4-3, cover-4.

But WSU has not had the depth, due to both talent and injury, to be bale to stick with their base the past three seasons -- hence Ball and the WSU staff's adjustment to playing more 3-4 in an attempt to get the job done. Will 2011 be different?

Nobody can predict how injuries might play out but looking at the talent on paper does provide some clues.

ON THE INSIDE, WSU loses DT Bernard Wolfgramm to graduation in 2011 but gains Kalafitoni Pole, who spent last year redshirting. If he had been healthy, he might well have played last year as a true frosh. Big things are hoped for from him in ‘11.

Anthony Laurenzi and Brandon Rankin both return. Laurenzi made strides last year, and had season totals of 18 tackles, 2 pass break-ups, 2 passes defensed and a block. If he can take another step he's likely to increase his starts from last year (3).

Rankin had 8 starts this past season. Junior college players often spend that first season adjusting to the speed and talent of D-IA competition and Rankin experienced some of that. He also moved inside in 2010 after starring in the JUCO ranks as a d-end, though he still logged 19 tackles, 5 TFL and 3 sacks. He'll miss the bulk of the spring with shoulder surgery. Among his best attribures on the field, he has a quick first step.

Don't forget about Justin Clayton, a DT/DE type. He had three starts last year as well, and Steven Hoffart is also in the mix.

ON THE OUTSIDE Washington State has Travis Long returning, though he's sitting out this spring following surgery (shoulder). Long has star potential, but he'll need to a) heal up and b) get some help from those around him before he truly shines.

Ian Knight and Xavier Cooper are two newcomers -- Knight from the JC ranks, Cooper as a January enrollee -- who could make some of the most noise this spring at defensive end.

Knight on tape is wicked fast, and Cooper's combination of strength and speed has impressed in his short time since arriving at Washington State.

With Long out, Wazzu needs contributions from both this spring.

Jordan Pu'u-Robinson (knee) is sitting out the spring session as well, but one of the storylines to follow is if Adam Coerper can make a move in his redshirt junior season on the edge.

IF WSU STAYS healthy up front, and assuming some developmental gains from key individuals, WSU's ability to field a rotation and go with more four-man fronts gets a boost. But that doesn't necessarily mean the Cougs won't run some 3-4 with a nickel package, or some variation. That's what this spring is about in part, for new d-line coach Todd Howard to find out where they're at in terms of personnel.

The top priority this spring on defense (and this fall and on into the season) is clear -- stopping the run.

Whatever approach best gets that done – be it a 4-3, cover-4, or a 3-4, nickel where that fourth ‘backer is an adjuster type, or some other variation, then that's what they'll do. In the end, WSU wants to get a hat on a hat and be gap-sound. This spring, even with some notable absences due to injury, will start to provide answers to those questions up front on the d-line.

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