LINEBACKER: WSU Fall Camp Preview

PULLMAN -- Washington State's linebacking corps comes into 2012 as the focal point of a scheme that wants to blitz, blitz and when all else fails, blitz some more. And how well the linebackers communicate pre-snap may dictate just how effective the entire defense is in 2012. In previewing the WSU linebackers, one thing immediately jumps out.

They, and therefore the Cougar D, may well live and die by their youth.

Travis Long: Fourth year senior. Started all 12 games last year while logging 42 tackles. Long led the defense last year with 12 tackles for loss and four sacks. By-and-large the most experienced linebacker of the 3-4 unit. Long has 140 tackles in his WSU career to go along with his twelve career sacks. Long has also recorded three forced fumbles and figures to get more opportunities to get to the quarterback this season playing the BUCK.

Logan Mayes: Second year sophomore. Appeared in seven games as a true freshman last year, tallying two tackles, one being a sack. A pass-rushing specialist who figures to get plenty of time in pass-rushing situations. Mayes logged 4.5 sacks in the Spring Game.

Chester Sua: Second year sophomore. Appeared in all 12 games last year, starting in four of them. Recorded 22 tackles, recovering one fumble in the process. Recorded a game-high eleven tackles in the Apple Cup. Enters fall camp as the starting weakside linebacker.

Eric Oertel: Third year junior. Appeared in 10 games, primarily on special teams in 2011. Recorded 13 tackles and forced one fumble as a sophomore. The junior linebacker was impressive in spring ball. Enters fall camp as the starting strongside linebacker.

Darryl Monroe: Second year freshman. Appeared in only on game in 2011, suffering a season-ending Achilles injury against Idaho State. Very impressive as a vocal leader in spring ball. Slated as the starting middle linebacker headed into fall camp.

Darren Markle: Fourth year junior. Appeared in five games last season. Markle has some of the most experience in the linebacker corps and is expected to contribute significantly if he turns in a strong fall camp.

Cyrus Coen: Second year sophomore. Appeared in all twelve games, started against Colorado. Recorded nine tackles, including one tackle-for-loss. Coen received significant playing time last season and figures to get plenty this season as well.

Linebacker Depth
Tana Pritchard: Second year freshman. Received solid playing time in spring ball and individual workouts. Figures to see the field in 2012.

Corey Laufasa: Fifth year senior. Transferred two years ago from Army. Appeared in twelve games in 2011, primarily on special teams.

Jared Byers: Fifth year senior who has moved over from fullback. Played in all 12 games in 2011, starting two of them at fullback, catching two passes for eleven yards. Has six career tackles in 21 career games.

Dylan Rabinowitz: Second year freshman from White Salmon, Wash.. Moved from TE to defensive line in Spring 2012 and posted a sack in the spring game.

FR. Jeremiah Allison 6-2, 210
FR. Keith Ewing 6-0, 225
JR. Justin Sagote 6-2, 225
FR. Kache Palacio 6-2, 212
FR. Khalil Pettway 6-3, 213
FR. Jacob Tuivaiave 6-4, 250 (Expected to greyshirt)

The Cougar linebacking corps is tasked with communicating the pre-snap reads throughout the defense. They are also expected to try and apply extreme pressure on the quarterback in 2012. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske wants to bring the blitz from all sorts of different angles and positions, from 'backers, safeties and corners. The blitz in turn will give the quarterback less time to find his target, theoretically leading to more success in the secondary.

BUCK linebackers Travis Long and Logan Mayes have both shown the capability to wreak havoc on the quarterback. The defense will rely on all four linebacking positions to be able to drop back and play the zone, as well as occasionally matching up in man coverage.

The Cougar linebackers are young. Very young. Apart from Long, Chester Sua is the only No. 1 with any starts under his belt, (and Long has not started a game at the linebacker position). The linebackers will have to learn and adjust on the fly, but their speed and athleticism should help and linebackers coach Jeff Choate did some big-time work this spring in terms of development. But for Breske's scheme to work, pressure must be put on the quarterback, something Washington State has had little success with in recent years.

Quick Hitters:
Long is a member of the pre-season Bronco Nagurski watch list. This honor isn't limited by position, but is instead given annually to the best overall defensive player each year by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

Mayes and Monroe were two of the biggest gainers this offseason, checking in at 23 and 15 pounds heavier, respectively.

The battles:
Long, Monroe, Sua and Oertel were mainly mainstays at the position in spring ball and during voluntary workouts.

But newcomers such as Allison, Sagote and Ewing could see the field this season, and WSU's lack of depth may be the tipping point. Markle and Coen appear second in line headed into fall camp for any immediate playing time.

Although Long will see a majority of the playing time this season at the BUCK position, Mayes have shown incredible potential. Breske and Leach will most certainly explore several options to get the high-motor linebacker on the field this season.

Final thoughts and intangibles:
Right when you think you know where the defense will be coming from, Breske and the Cougar defense want to come from a completely different angle. Breske wants to create absolute pandemonium in the backfield this season, (if he has the horses to do it) and the linebackers are a big part of that.

While it's an exciting scheme, it can also be a double-edged sword and especially so this season given the youth, inexperience and personnel that in some spots is not ideally suited. With more linebackers blitzing, less defenders will be available to cover the pass. It will be imperative for WSU to knock the quarterback around, or else the Cougars may be giving up their fair share of big plays this season.

The blitz may also rush some throws by opposing quarterbacks this season, resulting in more plays made by the secondary. If the linebackers perform as hoped, expect the defensive backfield to intercept more passes this season.

As this linebacking corps grows, so will the entire defense. They're very young, and very athletic. You can expect this squad to have its highs, but undoubtedly it's occasional lows.

How much work there is to do at linebacker will start to become apparent Aug. 2, as fall camp opens and the true countdown to kickoff begins. The linebacking corps, and the defense as a whole, look to unleash it's new scheme August 30 at BYU.

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