Breske eyes significant gains on Cougar D

SEATTLE – Arguably the best player on the team is graduating, but Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske isn't fretting over the loss of Travis Long. Instead, he's eager to preside over what figures to be a rollicking, multi-player battle this spring to succeed Long as the Cougars' starting BUCK linebacker.

Junior-to-be Logan Mayes, coming off his overtime heroics in the Apple Cup, is the headliner of the group. He saw significant action in all 12 games last season and started three of them -- two at defensive tackle and one, the Apple Cup, at BUCK in place of the injured Long. He tallied 26 total tackles and 3 1/2 tackles for loss.

He'll be challenged by junior-college transfer Ivan McLennan (6-4, 225), who spurned Miami and Oregon to sign with the Cougars, and enrolled in classes at WSU in January.

"He blew up," said Breske, referring to McLennan's recruitment.

He calls McClennan "highly athletic" and "explosive."

"Coug fans are going to love him," Breske told at the recent "Night with Cougar Football" gathering in Seattle.

In addition, Breske said 6-2, 270-pound Darryl Paulo and 6-2, 230-pound Kache Palacio will be in the mix at BUCK.

Paulo will be a third-year sophomore in 2013. The former high school linebacker in is moving to BUCK from defensive end, and the foot problems that sidelined him last spring and in fall camp are behind him, Breske said.

"[Palacio] played the position as a true freshman (last season)," he said. "He's limited size-wise, but he's very explosive."

Palacio played in all 12 games last season, mostly on special teams. He posted eight total tackles and 1/2 a sack.

ELSEWHERE ALONG THE COUGARS' DEFENSIVE FRONT, one guy who figures to contribute in a major way come fall won't be available for spring practices.

Destiny Vaeao, who suffered an unspecified arm or shoulder injury late last season, will be sidelined for the spring, Breske said. As a true freshman last season, the Pago Pago product appeared in seven games and started two. He had five total tackles and a forced fumble.

"Destiny was having a great year," Breske said. "We would like to redshirt a kid like that, but we weren't in position to do that. He'll be back this summer, ready to go."

He said another defensive lineman from America Samoa, Robert Barber, was set to play last season as a true freshman before a knee injury required surgery in September.

"He'll be ready this spring," Breske said. "I'm excited about those two young men. [Barber and Vaeao are] going to contribute a lot to the d-line."

Two veterans back in the fold at DT this spring are Matthew Bock, who walked on in 2009 and started four games last season, and Xavier Cooper, a true freshman in 2013 who started nine games.

Cooper had 34 total tackles and 8 1/2 sacks last season while Bock posted 24 total tackles and 3 1/2 sacks.

Breske said Cooper, a Wilson High/Tacoma graduate, was slowed last season by a high-ankle sprain. His talent and work ethic, coupled with being fully healthy, portends a big upside, he said.

At the nose tackle spot, the Cougars return a load this spring.

Back in action will be 6-3, 305-pound Ioane Gauta, a JC transfer who started every game last season, and 6-1, 280-pound Toni Pole, who became an Apple Cup icon following his rumbling overtime interception of Keith Price.

"We were just in the press box going nuts," Breske said of the big man's INT. "If he would've scored -- what an ending to an Apple Cup. It probably would've been in the top five forever for Wazzu."

Unseating Gauta as the starter, however, will be no easy chore for Pole, who posted 22 total tackles and 3 1/2 sacks last season.

Gauta was a load in the middle, and registered 34 total tackles and tied for third-most on the team with 8 1/2 tackles for loss.

In the fall, the depth at the nose position will grow significantly with the arrival of 6-4, 290-pound freshman Daniel Ekuale, another import from Pago Pago.

"He's physically already where he needs to be to contribute," Breske said.

Bottom line up front, says, Breske, is this: "We're going to have much more depth on the D-line than we did a year ago."


WSU RETURNS ALL OF ITS STARTING linebackers from the Apple Cup. But Breske sees plenty of competition shaping up for those spots.

Justin Sagote, who will be a senior, figures to claim the starting position on the weak side after he finished tied for third on the team with 61 tackles last season. But Breske expects redshirt sophomore Tana Pritchard to make a run.

"[Pritchard's] healthy, athletic and has had a great offseason in the weight room," he said.

Chester Sua, considered by to be the most highly touted member of WSU's 2011 recruiting class, started the first two games at WILL linebacker last season but Breske said there are concerns about his health (back) and dedication.

The Cougars feature experience at both other linebacker positions, with Cyrus Coen at SAM, where he started 11 games last season, and Darryl Monroe at in the middle, where he started all 12 games last season.

Jeremiah Allison, who was listed at 6-2, 210 pounds as a freshman, has "gotten way too big" for the outside and will move inside, Breske said. "That's a good thing."

Also figuring into the linebacker mix this spring are Jared Byers, Darren Markle, Keith Ewing and Eric Oertel.

NO UNIT FEATURES MORE EXPERIENCE than the secondary. WSU conceivably could start seniors at all four positions this fall with Anthony Carpenter and Nolan Washington at the corners and Deone Bucannon and Casey Locker at safety.

"We've got a lot of age on the back end," Breske said.

Bucannon, he noted, is the only one who is a stone-cold cinch to start. The strong safety was a second-team all-Pac-12 selection last season.

Among the youngsters those who figure to challenge for starting roles are corner Alex Jackson, who turned in great work on the scout last fall, and free safety Taylor Taliulu, who started the first two games last season as a true freshman before a tough case of homesickness reared its head and slowed his progress.

Breske said Taliulu looks ready to knock heads now.

In the fall, two incoming freshman -- corner Daquawn Brown and safety Darius Lemora have the talent to contribute immediately, Breske said.

Carpenter offers intrigue as the Cougs gear for the start of the spring season.

After moving between corner and safety during his career, he settled in at cornerback last season and came on strong the second half of the year.

"We put him into the boundary position and he did a good job for us," said Breske. "He's a good-sized corner that we can get pressure with."

The latter is significant for Breske, whose defense ranked 11th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs with an average of 2.92 sacks per game last season.

"We're going to get sacks, tackles-for-loss and hopefully takeaways," Breske said. "That's what Coach Leach wants. He wants to get his offense on the field. The best defense in the world is on the sidelines. That's kind of our deal."

Breske said the Apple Cup "set the tone for the offseason."

"That's what we can do," he said. "Now we've got to have that consistent effort each week."

The building blocks for improvement are clear, Breske said.

First, the players have a year under their belts with the new coaches and new system.

"Now we don't have to deal with that," Breske said.

"It's our second go-around now. The kids know what's going on."

Second, the roster is full of experienced personnel. While the Cougars lose Long to graduation, the only other departing starter is cornerback Daniel Simmons.

Compare that to a year ago when the entire linebacking corps had to be replaced.

In addition, Breske said the team is healthier than a year ago.

While Leach does not discuss injuries, Breske noted he should have most returners available for spring practice, which begins March 21.

"When we came into this program there were a lot of surgeries," he said. "There's not a lot now."


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