Countdown to Spring: Cougars DB Preview

PULLMAN–The defensive secondary has arguably the most question marks of any position group on D this spring. The Cougs return every player with the exception of Daniel Simmons, but the question begs -- who's going to raise their game? The secondary struggled in 2012 and nothing seems concrete for 2013. There are reasons for optimism but will a true gem or two emerge and if so, whom might that be?

The Cougs ranked 98th out of 120 teams in 2012 in pass defense. When you combine the fact that WSU ranked 14th in the country in sacks last season, that pass defense ranking is inexcusable. Quarterbacks often didn't have a ton of time to pass against the Cougs with the blitz packages sent forth from Mike Breske.

If the Cougs can establish some consistent play in the secondary, especially at the cornerback position, it will go a long ways toward putting this defense over the top.

The cornerback position was tumultuous in 2012 as four different bodies rotated starting on the outside for the Cougs. Senior Damante Horton was the best corner in the spring, but was then exposed early and often for the Cougs resulting in a spot on the bench. Horton continued to get consistent playing time, but it was an extremely disappointing year for a guy who snagged four interceptions during his sophomore year.

Senior Anthony Carpenter, considered a safety during fall camp, was inserted into the starting lineup at cornerback for his hard-nosed attitude. And he was arguably the Cougars' best corner by year's end -- Carpenter excelled in pass defense, especially coming into the box to make tackles. Although he only played ten games, starting just five of them, Carpenter notched 48 tackles.

Senior Nolan Washington, also underwhelming in 2012, played sparingly due to injury and performance issues. Washington's faulty knees and shoulders got the best of him in 2012, resulting in lackluster numbers and scant playing time. Given the youth at the position, Washington will be called upon to step up in 2013.

Beyond those three, depth at the cornerback position is thin, and furthermore, unproven.

Arguably one of the most important players for the Cougs in 2013, redshirt freshman Alex Jackson will be expected to battle for immediate playing time and from this chair, he has an excellent opportunity to step in and claim a starting job for the Cougs.

Jackson is incredibly fast and has the closing speed needed to play the cornerback position in such an athletic Pac-12 conference. Jackson's talent was almost too much to keep off the field in 2012, but coaches can now reap the benefits of giving the youngster another year in the system.

Rahmel Dockery seemed to sulk after being moved from receiver to corner. He showed flashes at times this past season on the scout team, but at other times turned in uninspired play. He's fast, there's no doubt about that. But he'll need to turn it on and keep it on if he wants to make an impact at corner this year. Given his speed and quicks, he could also be a return man option.

Junior Tracy Clark is the fifth and final scholarship corner on roster, and his ability to contribute on defense remains in question. Clark had a few days in camp last season where he looked like a top-tier, lockdown corner but other days, due to a lack of focus or what have you, were cringe-worthy. Clark gains more notoriety for his trash talk than his play on the field, and if he hopes to take leaps and bounds in 2013, he'll need to settle in and focus at the task at hand.

The safety position, while a little more predictable, still has voids that must be filled in order to put a quality defense on the field this season.

Senior safety Deone Bucannon is an all-conference playmaker who will surely be drafted next April to play on Sundays. He's a tackling machine, and a ball-hawk to boot. He's been one of the most consistent players on a spotty defense for three years now, and his play shouldn't go unheralded.

Playing next to Bucannon at the free safety position in 2013 is the real question.

Senior Casey Locker and freshman Taylor Taliulu seem to be the most likely of sorts.

Locker is great in run defense, but has had his share of issues in pass coverage. Taliulu on the other hand earned a starting gig out of fall camp last season but after becoming homesick, as detailed in this article on CF.C, his play deteriorated and his playing time took a nosedive. Now, a year older and more comfortable in Pullman, Taliulu says he's never felt better and is ready to reclaim his starting position.

It won't be easy.

Freshmen David Bucannon and Feddie Davey will come and battle for time as well -- both had some excellent practice sessions last season.

Unfortunately for Davey, the injury bug took his knee early in 2012, but his performance before that point was so strong he was getting time on special teams and with the 2's.

Bucannon was a little small for the position last season but has visibly put on good weight. He had a knack for making big plays during scout team drills last season, and if he takes another strong step forward, may just end up taking after his brother in roaming the secondary.

Not since 2007 has there been a brothers tandem in the WSU defensive backfield. Could 2013 reintroduce that notion?

Due to a lack of serious depth this spring, the defensive backfield may see some walk-ons get some run with the 1's and 2's.

Juniors Mitch Peterson and Mike McAdie, as well as redshirt freshmen Konnor Kafentzis, Joe Njoku, Beau Glover and Parker Henry (assuming he's not running with the linebackers) should all see some run with the defense this spring.

Fall Impact
This summer will introduce the Palouse to cornerback Daquawn Brown, quite possibly the future at one cornerback spot for the Cougars. Brown is an explosive athlete with speed and quickness to kill. His leaping ability and sheer ability to make big plays is undeniable when evaluating his game film. If uncertainty looms at the cornerback position following spring practices, don't think for a second coaches haven't considered Brown as a starter out the gate – if he proves to be ready.

Fellow freshmen Marcellus Pippins and Markell Sanders are both reportedly grayshirting. Sanders is rehabbing a shoulder, while Pippins is going to spend an offseason looking to get bigger.

Running back/cornerback Jamal Morrow may get a look at corner this fall as his position is yet to be defined without the coaches seeing him in action. Wideout Charleston White is also pegged to get a look at corner -- his blend of size and fluidity would play nicely on defense.

At the safety position, hard-hitting Darius Lemora is the prize. Lemora was lost to injuries for most of his junior campaign and because of that, saw his recruitment simmer. The WSU coaches believe they have found a diamond in the rough in this Texas product. Don't be surprised if Lemora cracks the two deeps out of camp.

Quarterback Isaac Dotson will also get looks at safety, as his ability to play the signal caller position at the Pac-12 level remains to be seen.

Prediction Time
This unit has not been good in recent years, and a complete overhaul may be in the works in the coming weeks and months. As spring practices get underway, I believe Carpenter and Jackson will get the nod at the cornerback position, while the elder Bucannon and a mixture of Taliulu and Davey will man the free safety position.

It's hard to count Locker out here but my take, before the first spring practice gets underway, is that youth will be served at the safety spot opposite the elder Bucannon.

Come fall ball, Brown could unseat one of the incumbent cornerbacks if the veterans don't bring their A-game. In the coming years, the duo of Jackson and Brown look to be the future bell cows of the secondary.

Cougfan Top Stories