Countdown to Spring: Linebackers Preview

THE LINEBACKER POSITION is likely to be controlled chaos this spring. Washington State is moving to a base 3-4, they dismissed two starters and another former starter hung up his cleats. Simply put, it's going to be highly intriguing to watch all the activity back in the box unfold over the 15 practices -- the first of which gets underway just a few hours from now.

First, a quick primer. The four 'backer positions in the Cougs' 3-4 are generally referred to as the SAM, MIK, WIL and BUCK. Jeff Choate is listed by WSU as the linebackers coach, while Paul Volero is listed as the inside linebackers coach. Choate has told CF.C he will primarily work with the SAM, MIK and WIL, while Volero, who has a d-line background, will work with the BUCKs. The BUCK is generally around 255-260 pounds and will both rush the passer and play out in space, with area responsibilities that extend to the sideline. Some BUCKs will at times put their hand down, some won't, it depends on the player.

Which Cougs line up at the BUCK this spring is one of the more intriguing questions -- defensive ends in the Cougs' past 4-3 scheme who could fit that criteria, and/or at least see reps there, include Travis Long, Adam Coerper, Ian Knight, Darryl Paulo and Jordan Pu'u-Robinson and Lenard Williams.

At SAM, the Cougs want a physical run stopper who has athleticism, quicks and good coverage skills. Ideally, he would weigh between 225-230, and Chester Sua would seem to fit all those attributes nicely. At the same time, Cyrus Coen, listed at 205 pounds last year, could also make some noise at this spot. Tana Pritchard will also line up at linebacker this spring and how ready he is for Pac-12 play in the box could be critical. New walk-on John Taylor Altomare could also get some looks.

But this spring, a natural SAM might also line up at either WIL or MIK, and vice-versa -- the Cougs are simply low on traditional linebacker numbers this spring. Gone are Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell, with both being dismissed from the team this offseason, and Louis Bland retired due to chronic injury. That's three potential starters gone, and that's a big hit for any linebacking corps.

On the inside, Darren Markle should get a long look over the 15 spractices. The redshirt junior-to-be has all the strength and work ethic you could ever want. But playing linebacker is also about making the correct reads, reacting quickly and wrapping up securely, and this spring should give Markle every opportunity to show how much he's improved in those areas. Logan Mayes in his short career has been mostly seen as an outside linebacker or d-end -- but depending on if he's put on mass this offseason, could one of the inside linebacker spots be not only his spring destination but ultimately his best college position?

Promising Darryl Monroe (Achilles surgery) won't be a full participant this spring, and a number of walk-ons in addition to Altomare, including Anthony DeMatteo, Curtiz Selz and Phillip Brandt, figure to get a lot of snaps this March and April.

WITH THE EXCEPTION of the BUCK, the Cougs are light on the linebacker numbers this spring and some of the bigger safeties could move up into the box -- Tyree Toomer is one possibility that comes to mind. Whether a bigger safety sticks there, though, is the question. Ultimately, the spring figures to be about development at 'backer more than about finalizing the two-deeps. There are five promising linebackers coming in this summer.

But the Cougs would be well served if at least some of the linebackers on the field this spring emerged as legitimate starters and high Pac-12 quality rotation players -- counting on too many freshmen linebackers to start, or at least challenge for starting positions, is a bad way to fly in the Pac-12.

That's why, regardless of any potential impact on the depth chart, this is a very important spring for, among others, Markle, Sua, Pritchard, Mayes and Coen.


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