Countdown to Spring: Question No. 4

THE COUGS HAVE a pretty good base defensively from which to build on this spring – they return nine starters on defense. But is the starting lineup on D for 2013 settled? Not a chance. There is one, just one defenseman, who is a virtual lock. And what Wazzu needs to establish this spring on defense centers around two areas that complement one another…

4. Apply pressure, man the corner
There is only one player on defense pretty much guaranteed a starting job, Mike Breske tells CF.C, and that's safety Deone Bucannon. Everyone else could have a battle on their hands, be it this spring or on into fall camp.

This article isn't meant to mention every player on defense and their prospects. But it will mention a few.

Whatever the reasons, WSU's pass rush was not up to snuff in 2012. Too many times the opposing QB took off and gained good yardage. Too many times, the opposing QB had time to find someone late in the play.

Junior-to-be Logan Mayes had 2.5 sacks in limited snaps, and figures to be a large factor here in likely replacing Travis Long. But Mayes cannot log 7-8 sacks, as impressive as that might be, and then be a non-factor the rest of the plays and/or against the run. His overall play and development this spring will be crucial.

The interior of the WSU d-line played better as the 2012 season went along, but there were still far too many areas of inconsistency. A healthy Robert Barber should provide some extra oomph to a mix that includes Toni Pole, Xavier Cooper and Ioane Gauta. (Also, he'll only be a second year sophomore but big things have been expected of Destiny Vaeao since he stepped foot on campus.)

But beyond any of that, the Cougs need improved corner play. That will allow them to bring more bodies, more heat, more pressure. And that more than anything else was what was missing on D in 2012.

NOT A LOT has been written about Anthony Carpenter this offseason but all he did was rack up 48 tackles despite playing in only 10 games – and gaining only seven starts. The best thing about watching Carpenter after he wrestled for good the starting job from Damante Horton in Week 7, was how well he tackled out in space. No WSU corner did it better last season.

Alex Jackson spent the past year redshirting and no young corner has received more praise from Leach over the past year than has the speedy Jackson.

A whole lot can change between now and a couple weeks into fall camp but in trying to read the tea leaves, Carpenter and Jackson look like the guys to beat at corner heading into the spring.

Horton and Nolan Washington lost their starting jobs by last season's midway point. Both will be trying to reclaim them starting this spring. That could mean for some seriously spirited competition in spring ball next month.

Many a crimson partisan is also looking at redshirt freshman Rahmel Dockery to fill the void at corner. He has skills but he hasn't come close to showing the required consistency yet. After being moved from wide receiver last year, his play suffered and his interest seemingly waned from those in attendance at practice. And the bottom line is that no one on a Mike Leach team is going to play if they're not putting forth maximum effort and focus. Dockery can be a good one, but he'll need to display a major change in mental focus this spring.

WHO ELSE might claim a starting gig, or at least a good number of turns on Saturdays?

Breske says incoming true freshman Daquawn Brown is almost certainly going to come in and make an impact at corner -- high praise indeed.

Cornerback is one of the few spots a freshman can come in and play right away. Brown won't arrive until the summer, so the Cougar corners on the roster would be well advised to put their best foot forward this spring.

Elsewhere in the secondary, Casey Locker is on pace to graduate in May but will need to up his game on the gridiron and lose the personal foul calls if he's going to make a decided difference on the field. It's not all his fault. That's the way he was coached to play, that's the way numerous players have been coached to play. But the game has since changed and Locker has now had enough time to revamp his style and to wrap up, rather than leading with his shoulder and drawing the flag.

Locker beat out Tyree Toomer last year in large part because he can cover a lot of ground and plays the run well. But there are another two safeties Breske mentioned to CF.C as ones to watch and who will compete with Locker.

CF.C has oft-mentioned that incoming freshman Darius Lemora is a fantastic athlete -- because he broke his leg he missed out on a world of junior recruiting attention. Brekse told CF.C this past week that Lemora, like Brown, is almost certain to come in and make waves from the get-go. Safety is a tough gig for a true freshman so that speaks volumes as to Lemora's potential -- both immediate and future.

But Lemora also doesn't arrive until fall, which will give Taylor Taliulu a head start at a comeback.

Taliulu started the first two games last year -- and then all but disappeared. Breske told CF.C Taliulu was horribly homesick his first year in Pullman, and his play deteriorated due to that. (Sometimes we forget some of these kids are only 18 years old.) But a lot of on- and off-field development takes place between the first and second year in college, physically and mentally. Is Taliulu, now with a year under his belt, ready to reign supreme?

Spring ball will give us our first glimpse of that, and whether the WSU stop corps is ready to apply more heat.

Countdown to Spring: Question No. 5

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