Breske talks about 'Bell Cow' Long and 3-4 D

SEATTLE -- Travis Long is going to be all over the field for Washington State in 2012. Literally. New Cougar defensive coordinator Mike Breske told Cougfan.com on Friday that the 6-4, 256-pound senior-to-be "is our bell cow" and the Cougs are going to move him all around the defense to "take advantage of what we can do."

Long is going to be active, he said, and the best way to exploit his considerable strengths is to move him around.

That means he'll line up at his usual spot -- defensive end -- on some downs. And other times he'll be a linebacker.

The Cougars are moving to a 3-4 defense this season, and Long figures to be a natural at the BUCK 'backer. The BUCK typically lines up on the far weakside, sometimes at the line of scrimmage, sometimes back, but often focused on rushing the passer.

Last season Long led the Cougars with 12 tackles for loss, including four sacks, and was named second-team All-Pac-12.

But Breske isn't necessarily going to limit Long to playing end and BUCK.

He could also take turns at the three other linebacking spots as well -- WILL, SAM and MIKE. So Long could possibly line up at any one of six spots. Think an offense might have trouble trying to account for him and where he's coming from?

IN MOVING TO THE 3-4, Breske was clear during conversation before A Night With Cougar Football on Friday in Seattle that he and his staff need to make sure every player fits right. They won't be jamming the proverbial round piece in a square hole for the sake of filling it.

He said that is what makes spring practice, which begins March 22, so important. And why the multi-dimensional Long is so valuable.

Breske said he has told his unit, which ranked 82nd in total defense last season, that this is not a "three-year" improvement plan.

"We're on a six-month plan," he said. "It's about winning and going to bowl games."

Perhaps the biggest change will come on the defensive line, where there was not a player listed at 300 pounds on the two deeps entering the Apple Cup.

"We've got to have that big nose guard," Breske said. "The 300-pound biscuit. That's where it starts."

He expects sophomore-to-be Kalafitoni Pole, who was listed at 6-1, 292 pounds last season, to get an opportunity to fill that role. Another possibility is 6-3½, 310-pound Fullerton College transfer Ioane Gauta. Breske said Gauta will enroll this summer at WSU.

"He's very active," Breske said. "He's going to compete right away. We've got to get him ready to go."

Perhaps the bigger difference will come at defense end. Former defensive coordinators Bill Doba and Robb Akey, who dabbled with the 3-4 when injuries hit the line late in 2006, often like to plug the middle with large tackles, with undersized speed rushers creating havoc off the edge. But the 3-4 scheme generally dictates that all three defensive linemen feature some girth. Coaches often have been known to move tackles to end for that reason when transitioning to the 3-4.

For example, California switched to the 3-4 a few years ago. The Golden Bears' lightest starting lineman last season, end Ernest Owusu, weighed 270 pounds. That means players such as Long, Ian Knight (6-2, 238), Jordan Pu'u-Robinson, and Lenard Williams (6-2, 250), might be getting reps at outside linebacker.

Breske, who served as Montana's defensive coordinator when it won a Football Championship Subdivision title in 2001, said he shares many of the same philosophies that coach Mike Leach holds on the other side of the ball. Simply put, he wants to attack the offense from a variety of angles.

He said he never met Leach before he received "a phone call from Key West" last year and the two immediately bonded. After serving as defensive coordinator from 2000-02 at Montana, Breske followed coach Joe Glenn to the University of Wyoming, where he held the same position until the staff was dismissed in 2008.

Breske, who is known for aggressive schemes, then spent a season at North Dakota State before returning to Montana in 2010 as coach Robin Pflugrad's defensive coordinator. A San Diego State alumnus, Breske also coached at an assortment of smaller programs during the 1980s and '90s.

"We went through my history," Breske said. "Our backgrounds are very similar coaching at all different levels."

Leach, who also will mentor quarterbacks and serve as WSU's offensive coordinator, was known to give his defensive coordinators autonomy during his 10-year run as Texas Tech's coach.

"He's a busy man," Breske said. "I respect that and I've got to do a great job on defense."

IF NOSE TACKLE IS WHERE it starts on defense for Breske, linebackers cannot be far behind. Outside linebackers must be fast, but their inside counterparts also have to be playmakers.

"We want to become more athletic with more speed on the field," Breske said. "If you can't get there, you can't make plays."

Junior-to-be Sekope Kaufusi, the Cougars' lone returning starting linebacker, figures to be one of those players. Breske said he will look at Kaufusi at multiple linebacker positions.

Barring academic concerns, sophomore-to-be Chester Sua also could make an impact. Sua started once as a true freshman last year.

"He's got to make sure he's doing the right thing in the classroom," Breske said. "He's an explosive player and I'm excited about him."

One player who likely won't have an opportunity to make an early impression is Darryl Monroe, who still is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in last season's opener against Idaho State. Breske said Monroe, who was a true freshman in 2011, is recovering but he does not want to risk aggravating injuries during spring practices.

"When I got here, there were a lot of kids on the sideline," he said. "We had 13 surgeries on defense."

Those injuries might give an opportunity to a quintet of linebackers later this summer -- Jeremiah Allison, Keith Ewing, Kache Palacio, Khalil Pettway and Jacob Tuivaiave -- that the Cougars signed earlier this month. Tuivaiave also has been discussed as a defensive lineman, but Leach identified him as a linebacker Friday. He said Pettway might end up at defensive end.

Breske said all will be given an opportunity to compete for immediate playing time, but doubts any will start.

ON THE DEFENSIVE SIDE, no unit returns more experience than the secondary. Three cornerbacks -- Damante Horton, Daniel Simmons and Nolan Washington -- started at least seven games last year. Both starting safeties from 2011, Deone Bucannon and Tyree Toomer, also return.

WSU ranked 111th in pass efficiency defense last year.

"I'm worried about now," said Breske, who also coaches defensive backs. "I'm not worried about last year and what happened."

NOTABLE:
  • Breske said there are a couple of benefits to switching to a 3-4 defense that are not schematic. The first is related to recruiting. Simply put, identifying talented linebackers is easier than targeting standout defensive tackles. He said when a player at that position features prototypical size, athleticism and academics, they often feature offers from traditional powers.

    "You can pick and choose where you want to go to school," Breske said. "There's a pecking order."

    But even with a short time to recruit after Leach was hired Nov. 30, his staff still was able to sign three-star linebackers Allison, Palacio and Pettway.

    "The list at linebacker is endless," Breske said. "On our board, there's a lot of opportunity there."

  • He said another area where the Cougars will benefit is special teams because the influx of linebackers will add athleticism to that unit.

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