Countdown to Spring: Cougars LB Preview

PULLMAN -- The Cougs return their entire starting linebacking unit this spring with the exception of Travis Long. The squad thrived at times last season in Mike Breske's blitz happy scheme but the Cougs are looking for a giant leap forward in 2013. The biggest question may be who's going to fill the enormous shoes left in Long's wake?

A crowded bunch of linebackers should prompt robust competition this spring as the Cougs only presumptive ‘lock' would be redshirt MIKE Darryl Monroe.

Senior Justin Sagote has received rave reviews for his leadership abilities and defensive prowess, and should also be favored to recapture his incumbent WILL spot.

Cyrus Coen figures to come in as the leading SAM starting candidate, while Logan Mayes and Ivan McLennan are expected to battle it out at the BUCK.

Beyond those players, several candidates could step in and immediately vie for extensive playing time. Returnees include seniors Jared Byers, Eric Oertel and Darren Markle, as well as junior Chester Sua and sophomore Tana Pritchard -- they could all earn extensive playing time.

Those upperclassmen will also have sizeable competition from some redshirt freshmen that opened some eyes in scout team drills and Thursday Night Football sessions last season. Jeremiah Allison (on the inside), Kache Palacio (at the BUCK) and Keith Ewing (outside) all made their impact felt on a regular basis last season, some even drawing significant praise from defensive coordinator Mike Breske.

At one point last season, Breske was quoted as saying "If these kids participated in the spring, a couple might be starting."

Regardless, Breske is a huge proponent of a rotation-based defense and a handful of guys will undoubtedly get extensive run throughout the season.

The BUCK position is where the largest questions loom. With Long's departure a void both in experience and leadership exists.

Mayes lacked in coverage skills last season, but he excelled in the pass-rush department. Mayes has been regarded as a situational player to this point, but Long is gone now. Still, if he hopes to gain a stranglehold on the position, he'll need to shore up his ability to drop back and protect against the pass.

Mayes and McLennan figure to be the headliners this spring here but keep an eye on Palacio too. Allison has seen some run at the position but because of his balance and ability he figures to be destined for an inside job.

McLennan has great speed, and has the ability to drop back into coverage as a BUCK linebacker. McLennan held offers from schools all across the country due to his outstanding athleticism.

Allison's sheer athleticism is intriguing. He's a heady player, a guy who can go out and make the routine plays with ease. He's not the kind of player who will often hurt the team with mistakes.

Palacio is a streamlined pass-rusher, a guy who can get to the quarterback with great straight-line speed. From what could be observed last season, he's still working on his technique, but his explosiveness may vault him up the depth chart in 2013.

Several walk-on candidates should figure into the equation this spring as well, including redshirt freshman Parker Henry. He's listed as a defensive back on the official roster but looked good in practice in 2012 with the ‘backers, albeit suffering through injury problems for most of the season.

The Cougs didn't make linebacker a huge emphasis during the 2012 recruiting cycle, but many are looking forward to seeing what Peyton Pelluer might do in his first season at Wazzu.

Pelluer, out of Skyline High in Sammamish, Wash., is your prototypical middle linebacker. He was a tackling machine in high school and has good size and lateral agility. But because of the crowded cast of candidates at linebacker, Pelluer is likely to redshirt -- unless he makes his impact known immediately.

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