SAFETY: WSU Fall Camp Preview

WASHINGTON STATE'S DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD headed into fall camp is going to give up some big plays. And it's going to continue into the season. But that is not only a product of design, it just might not be a bad thing. In previewing the safety position, here's why.

Free Safety
Tyree Toomer: Fifth year Senior. Started all 12 games last year logged 60 tackles (43 solo). The most experienced WSU defensive back, with 28 career starts while playing in 37 games. He has 162 tackles over his career, with 112 solo stops and four sacks.

Casey Locker: Fourth year Junior. Has two career starts but played a good amount at safety in 2011, logging 46 tackles (37 solo). He has played in all 24 possible games over his WSU career and is listed as an "or" at starter with Toomer on the post-spring depth chart.

Strong Safety
Deone Bucannon: Third year Junior. Started 19 of possible 24 games in his first two seasons. Posted 80 tackles in 2011, 84 in 2010. (164 total, 125 solo.) He has five career interceptions.

Anthony Carpenter: Fourth year Junior. Has appeared in 23 games for WSU, 0 starts. He's posted 29 tackles over his two years of playing time (2010, 2011) with 22 of those solo stops. Has also played corner.

Safety Depth
Matt Simmons: Third year sophomore. Primarily a special teams player in his first season on the field in 2011. Posted 1 tackle in 2011.

Tyrone Duckett: Third year Sophomore. Primarily a special teams player in his first season on the field in 2011. Had four tackles (2 solo) in 2011.

Mitch Peterson: Third year sophomore. Walk-on safety out of Spokane's West Valley High, earning WSU Scout Team Defensive POW honors twice in 2011.

(have not yet been officially designated by WSU as a strong or free safety yet)
FR. David Bucannon: 6-0, 190
FR. Feddie Davey: 5-10, 190
FR. Taylor Taliulu: 5-11, 184

The Cougs are going to take more chances in the secondary this season under defensive coordinator Mike Breske. That in turn will lead to more big plays by the opponent. The goal, naturally, is to limit those types of plays enough to where WSU still comes out ahead.

The philosophy makes sense. In looking at ways to improve the defense in 2012, Breske settled on turnovers as the best option and if WSU gives up more than they get in any one particular game, so be it. The Air Raid may still hold more than enough punch to give WSU the win.

And when the Cougs do win the turnover battle, when the Cougar D does put the offensive in position and with a short field, that's when WSU's chances to win going away and/or pull off the upset increase significantly.

Quick Hitters:
All three safeties who started last season – Bucannon, Toomer and Locker – are back in 2012.

Bucannon is a potential honors candidate. It remains to be seen how he carries those extra 12 pounds but if he's able to play even more physically without sacrificing much speed, look out. He didn't shine as brightly as a sophomore as he did a true freshman but the knowledge he gained his first two years should be apparent in Year 3.

Toomer got beat in pass protection last year, but he is an excellent run stopping safety. If Breske uses him more in that role, and if he improves even slightly in some areas against the pass, he could be in line for a very good senior campaign.

Locker, like Toomer, does not have elite athleticism but he can bring the thunder. That said, his big hits last year turned into negatives when they drew the flag (justified or not). Locker must eliminate those penalty-drawing hits, no ifs or buts about it -- they're defensive killers. Beyond the crowd pleasing hits, Locker will be looking to show more overall improvement to his game in order to challenge for the top slot on the depth chart.

The battles:
Deone Bucannon is about as sure a position lock as there is at strong safety. Toomer appears the odds-on favorite at free safety but it must be noted that Locker is listed as an "or" as the starter on the PSD.

Do not discount the newcomers this fall camp. It might not be probable, but any of the three could potentially challenge at the free safety spot and/or move into a strong No. 2 behind Bucannon.

Davey might be the most ready to potentially play his freshman year out of the incoming freshmen. Mike Leach loves his him, especially his ability to hit and close. "Reckless" is how Leach describes Davey, and he meant it in the most positive sense of the word. Taliulu caught WSU's eye because he's one of the smoothest DB athletes Leach said he's ever seen – it's all going to be about how well he reads and reacts in his first fall camp on the Palouse. Bucannon gained attention for many of the same things his brother did during his star prep turn.

It can't be ignored that the coaches have not yet been able to coach these guys, down on the field, and to see how they perform against advanced competition. And arguing against their playing (or challenging for a starting role), it is a rare safety who can come in as a freshman and play at a high enough level in the Pac-12. Safety is a thinking position that requires advanced read and react skills, and that comes from experience.

Final thoughts and intangibles:
WSU is going to take more gambles and risks this season at safety and in the secondary. They might not always guess right, but indications are they will be an entertaining unit to watch. The ideal situation this fall camp is if 1-2 of the newcomers, at the least, push the veterans to raise their games to a higher level.

Good defensive backfield play is also dependent on pass rush and lane integrity -- the best safety in the world will lose contain at some point or try to cover for someone during other times. Conversely, a stout pass rush and/or proper gap control on a certain play can cover up a number of deficiencies over the Back 40 and against the run.

That said, the secondary needs to focus on what they can control and to stay focused on Breske's scheme, and that means turnovers and effective pick-your-spots blitzing.

Fall camp for the safeties will also be about better pre-snap communication. WSU worked hard on that in the spring but more work remains and not just for the linebackers, who are charged with the bulk of calls and adjustments. The safeties have to communicate better, too.

The secondary, and the defense as a whole, have plenty to sharpen and hone if they're going to accomplish their goal of surprising a good number of teams this season. That endeavor truly switches to high gear starting on Aug. 2, the first day of fall camp.

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