PULLMAN – You can't have a great defense without at least one top notch defensive tackle. The Cougs might just have that covered. Indeed, new Wazzu d-line coach Todd Howard made note of one Cougar DT following the spring, a fourth year player he said is well capable of being one of the conference's best interior defensive linemen in 2011.

There were two d-tackles who made plenty of noise this spring for the Cougs -- Anthony Laurenzi and Kalafitoni Pole.

Laurenzi, a redshirt junior, really emerged down the stretch – he was strong, explosive and showed good handfighting technique. He had numerous sacks as well as tackles for little or negative gains by Cougar running backs during camp.

Having spent the last five years as UCLA's d-line coach, new Coug assistant Howard was so pleased with Laurenzi's performance, he said towards the end of camp that he think with proper off-season preparation, Laurenzi could be one of the top tackles in the Pac-12 in 2011.

What remains before he can reach that level? Laurenzi has improved his footwork, but he still has more offseason work to do in that area before he can be among the Pac-12's best. He needs a bit more strength too, though he's made good gains in that department as well from this past season.

Next to Laurenzi on the line was redshirt freshman Pole. He's a big body and he was able to consistently fight his way through the offensive line this spring. He's got great balance to go with his quick feet.

And Pole saw all of his action this spring running with the 1s – it's clear the coaches love his potential and talent. The only concern is his ability to stay healthy. He went out late in the spring with a knee injury and he battled the injury bug last year while redshirting. He won't need surgery on his knee, which is great news. It will be even better news if he can stay injury-free, or relatively so, in '11.

Brandon Rankin got in three spring practices before going under the knife for shoulder surgery. Assuming he's 100 percent by fall, and stays at d-tackle and doesn't shift back to d-end, the 281-pounder should be able to build off a 2010 season that saw him start eight games. With Rankin, Laurenzi and Pole, the Cougs have three legit starting candidates. Is there more in the DT cupboard to where WSU can field a solid, productive rotation?

Two other notables are Steven Hoffart and Justin Clayton. Both saw virtually all their time this spring running with the 2's, but can't be overlooked. Both worked hard this spring and led the way for the back-ups. Hoffart and Clayton are similar in their speed and strength. With the 2's lined up against the 2's, I recall both notching a good number of QB hurries and tackles for loss.

An influx of three others, David Davis, T.J. Poloai and Demetrius Cherry, arrive in August. It would seem likely Davis and Poloai would be redshirt candidates but no one can really know until fall camp gets underway and the Cougar coaches get a handle on how far along they are as true frosh.

Cherry is an interesting case, some think he not only can play d-end at 270 pounds, but that he could challenge for a starting role right away. But what if he comes to camp at around 280 or more? After graduating high school in 2010, will he be ready to contribute now, and on the inside?

Overall the defensive line was considerably dinged up this spring, but the unit was still able to have a positive spring. That couldn't be said in previous years and speaks to the improvement in depth. It's clear the tackles, and the defensive line overall, is an area where more players are ready to contribute. The run stop for WSU has been downright anemic in recent years -- that changed some this spring. And if WSU can get everyone, or at least most of the DTs, in place and healthy when August rolls around, it could be an enjoyable year for d-tackle fans.

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