SORENSEN: Nosing around the Cougar D

THE IMPORTANCE of the man in the middle can't be overemphasized, says Mike Breske. In a 3-4 defense, the nose guard must – MUST – be "a road grader," the Washington State defensive coordinator told me the other day in a post-spring review of the Cougar D.

"We want a guy in the 6-3, 300-pound range who plays the A gap (between center and guard), and can handle a double team on every play, which keeps the opponent's linemen off our linebackers," said Breske. "They have to be able to chase backs down the line of scrimmage, too."

Good hands and feet are critical, with a background in wrestling optimal.




Enter fifth-year senior Anthony Laurenzi, who checks in at 6-3 and around 290 pounds, and incoming JC transfer Ioane Gauta, who is 6-3 ½ and 310.

"In those two guys we have what we want at the nose guard position," Breske said.

Laurenzi started all 12 games for the Cougs last season and posted 6 1/2 tackles for loss. He just turned in a solid spring season. Gauta, who is slated to arrive in Pullman in June from Fullerton JC, turned down offers from Kansas State, Oregon State and others in order that, in his words, he could help Leach and Breske "blow down the doors" of the Pac-12.

After 11 spring practices and four scrimmages, Breske likes what he has on the front line. Laurenzi will start at the nose, backed up by Gauta, while senior Lenard Williams (6-2, 250) will be at one end and second-year freshman Xavier Cooper (6-4, 278) at the other. (Travis Long, a second-team All-Pac-12 defensive end this past season, is now a BUCK, which is hybrid position that falls somewhere between an outside linebacker and defensive end.)

WASHINGTON STATE IS NOT the first program in which Breske has converted a predominately 4-3 defense into a predominately 3-4.

When he arrived at Wyoming with Joe Glenn in 2003 they switched the Cowboys to the 3-4. In 2006 the Pokes were ranked ninth in the nation in total defense and the year after that 22nd.

"Wyoming only had a population of about 500,000 people and finding 6-3-plus, 300-pound guys was very hard, It's easier to fine linebacker/DB types, so that's why we made the switch to match personnel we could recruit," he said. "That's a similar situation to what we have at WSU.

And how he does like his linebackers.

"Look at ‘em!" he says. "We are better off at linebacker than I thought we would be, and I give (LB coach) Jeff Choate a heck of lot of credit for coaching these guys up in our scheme this spring … Chester Sua will be our starter at WIL backer. He has an outstanding more and had a great spring. Eric Oertel is our starter at SAM. He has great quickness, a motor, and is a heck of an athlete. Darryl Monroe is the starter at MIKE. He gets it. He's an explosive player, great leader, quick, and tough – he's coming off an Achilles injury he suffered versus Idaho State in the first game last year."

The "rock star" position, as Breske calls it, is the hybrid BUCK position which will be manned by Long, a true senior, and backed up by Logan Mayes, a true sophomore.

It's a great role if you have the right guys to handle it. BUCKs have to be big enough to rush the passer, and fast enough to cover in passing situations.

"Travis is our best guy, and he has a chance to have a fantastic year," Breske says. "He could be a (Pac-12) player of the year-candidate if he stays healthy! Mayes had a great spring, tons of sacks. He's very athletic. We need to get him on the field."

One way to get Mayes on the field will be in third-down passing situations. Look for the Cougs to sub out the nose tackle and put Mayes on the edge opposite Long.

IN THE SECONDARY, Breske says the Cougars have a star in the making in 6-1, 190-pound junior safety Deone Bucannon. He led the Cougs in tackles as a true freshman in 2010 and finished just a few stops behind Alex Hoffman-Ellis for top honors this past season.

"He's a very unique player, a great Cougar – he practices very hard all the time – and has stepped up as a leader on the backend. I think he is set for a monster season," Breske says.

The Cougs only had three fully healthy cornerbacks to work with during the spring – senior Daniel Simmons, junior Damante Horton and sophomore Tracy Clark. Nolan Washington and Brandon Golden were injured.

Breske said he saw flashes of excellence in his corners over the spring. In August, he wants to turn the flashes into a steady stream of light.

"I want consistency in the secondary, great, tight coverage, and the ability to support on the run," Breske says. "Corners are the key to our defense. If we can find lock down coverage corners this defense will dominate, and we can do the things we want to create havoc on the opponent."

Breske is a high-energy guy who is in-your-face firm with his players while at the same time encouraging. He makes no effort off the field to contain his excitement about where the program is headed.

"As a defensive staff we are still identifying strengths and weakness, so we can game plan to our strengths and limit what we don't do well and coach them up," Breske says. "I want our defense to set the tone with down and distance, like we did at the start of the spring game at Albi. It was third-down and 17 after the first two plays. Our corners are in press coverage on third down and we give up an 84-yard touchdown pass. Back up, give them (the offense) the short ball, don't get beat deep – that's football 101. Good things will happen when we know down and distance and play to our strengths."

NOTABLE:
  • Looking at both sides of the ball, Breske says the biggest surprises this spring were receivers Andrei Lintz and Drew Loftus, kicker Miek Bowlin, and linebackers Eric Oertel and Darryl Monroe.

  • Attention Cougar and Red Raider fans living in Texas. Travel agent supreme Linda Finch has put together all-inclusive travel packages from Dallas and Houston to Cougar Country to see Mike Leach's first game in Martin Stadium, Sept. 7 vs. EWU. Among the highlights: Two nights at the Northern Quest Casino, game tickets, transportation to and from Pullman, and a tailgater before the game. For more information, drop Linda a line at Linda.Finch@gmail.com or call 1-800-682-2251.

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