CF.C Spring Summary: DEFENSIVE END

PULLMAN—With a starter and expected key contributor missing the entire spring football session, what questions about the Cougar d-ends were answered this spring, and which ones remain? Do the Cougs have quality depth out on the edge, and just how does the position shape up headed into voluntary offseason workouts and the start of fall camp, now less than four months away?

Indeed, the defensive line was thin coming into camp with DEs Travis Long (shoulder) and Jordan Pu'u-Robinson (knee) out. Things only got more complicated up front when DT Brandon Rankin shut it down after the third practice with a shoulder injury that required surgery. However, even with bodies missing, there were plenty of players who contributed and answered questions. Here's what stood out most to this reporter from the d-end position this spring.

Ian Knight, who arrived from Butler CC in January, saw the entire spring with the 1s. He was the top defensive end on the field for the Cougars this spring.

When you think of Knight, think "speedster" – he had great speed off the right corner and was consistently plowing his way into the backfield over the course of the spring. Knight's also athletic and he's put together -- seeing him several times at the Student Rec Center confirmed that.

What might be best for the Cougs, however, is that Knight, always respectful and humble during interviews this spring, appears to be a quick learner. If Knight's performance was any indication, Knight and Long, assuming the latter's shoulder is 100 percent, figure to be the starters headed into fall camp. But this year is shaping up to be different that the last few at d-end. Specifically, that means the possibility of a quality rotation.

Another defensive end who enjoyed plenty of success this spring was grayshirt freshman Xavier Cooper of Tacoma's Wilson High. With Long out, Cooper spent the majority of the spring lined up opposite of Knight with the 1s.

Cooper is listed at 6-4 and 265 pounds but the way he flies all over the gridiron, you would think he was a lean 220-pounder.

Coming into the spring Cooper was listed as the third option behind Knight and Justin Mann at one of the DE spots but post-spring, that's a different story. Cooper is a big-bodied, physical player whose battles with the offensive line didn't always end at the whistle. I recall a practice when he and tackle Rico Forbes (6-6, 290) had one of the best duels of the camp.

The two went back and forth in full contact action, and then got into a bit of an altercation after a play. After, the two continued to go at it, and it looked like Cooper's engine was fueled more with each snap.

Towards the latter parts of spring ball, the coaches wanted to experiment and Cooper started seeing most of his reps with the 2s at DT. However, I expect Cooper to be lined up at DE in fall camp. Assuming Long and Knight still start, expect Cooper to rotate in and see the field plenty in his first year.

With Cooper playing mostly DT towards the end of camp, it opened the door for Skylar Stormo to jump in and run extensively with the 1s alongside Knight. Stormo was moved from tight end to the defensive side this spring and appeared to make a quick adjustment.

Although Stormo does not have the speed or agility that Knight and Cooper showcased, he certainly made strides throughout camp. Paul Wulff said that the move was made to provide some more depth at the position, and there's no questioning the attitude and determination Stormo brought to the field.

Mann saw late, limited time with the 1s but only after Stormo got poked in the eye one practice, and rolled his ankle in another. He spent most of his time with the second team, as did Adam Coerper and Matthew Bock.

But WSU looks fairly solid, and certainly better than last year at this point, out on the edge with Long, Knight and Cooper. There's more speed and athleticism off the edge, which Cougar fans are hoping translates into many more sacks and QB hurries in 2011. But if injuries strike during the season at d-end, WSU likely needs some new arrivals to emerge if they're going to field a rotation without too much dropoff.

The two top candidates in that regard, the guys who would seem most ready to contribute, are a pair of JC transfers – Niko Aumua (6-6, 225) and Lenard Williams (6-2, 245).

NOTABLE:
Darryl Paulo is listed as a linebacker by WSU but he's gotten bigger and bigger, and in a good way, and so much so that Wulff has said he expects him to play d-end when he arrives at WSU this summer. Brock Lutes is listed by Scout.com as a defensive end but he'll be a tight end or linebacker in fall camp and will be listed accordingly by CF.C at that time. Eli Edwards, another JC transfer, is expected to delay enrollment until January as he rehabs from a knee injury suffered late last season.

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