Defensive rundown on Coug position battles

THE ANNUAL OFFSEASON fight for jobs at Washington State will continue long after Tuesday's final spring practice. And the coaches like to keep the battles open heading into fall camp -- more competition means better results. But here's our take of where things stand on defense with 14 spring sessions in the books...

We checked in with CF.C Correspondent Joe Doyle to get the defensive lay of the land with spring ball about ready to wrap up. The aim isn't to list every player at the various positions, but instead to focus in on the starting job battles…

RE: Matthew Bock and... Logan Mayes?
Bock has done well this spring, logging some tackles-for-loss, recovering a few fumbles and even making a pick. He's not flashy, he doesn't excel in any one area – but he's been consistent and he's proven a serviceable option. But real fireworks could come in fall camp here. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske quietly noted after the Cougs' fourth practice that Logan Mayes will play some defensive end this season. Does that mean he splits time between there and the BUCK, or does it mean he moves full-time to d-end? That might not be officially answered until August but our springtime guess is it will be the latter.

NT: Ioane Gauta, Toni Pole, Robert Barber, Darryl Paulo
The Cougs' top two nose tackles, Gauta and Pole, were both injured this spring and won't return to action until fall camp. Barber, who could play here or on the edge, is also still on the mend from an injury last year. That's opened up the door for Paulo who has made the most of his opportunity, drawing kudos from Mike Leach on occasion this spring. Paulo's play makes the depth here that much better, with both Gauta and Pole of starting caliber and Barber is a player the Cougs are very high on. Moritz Christ has played a little at the nose and was the starter on the Gray team on Saturday but with the players ahead of him, he wouldn't appear to be a serious starting candidate. Austin Brown has been running with the scout team.

LE: Xavier Cooper, Destiny Vaeao
Both Cooper and Bock have been interchangeable this season, switching between the right and left defensive end jobs. But as far as Cooper goes, he's a virtual lock for one of the starting spots. He has a great motor on a big body, something not always easy to find in a 3-4. He's looked very good this spring. Destiny Vaeao has been limited this spring, no contact, but he figures to be a starting candidate in fall camp – it could be a battle royale opposite Cooper at the other d-end spot between him, Mayes and Bock. Or, those guys could end up getting a lot of reps with the Cougs now able to increase the rotation up front. Jeff Waldner has also been playing here but doesn't appear to be a serious candidate. Lyman Faoliu got his feet wet by starting off with the scout team and on special teams but has since worked his way into the 2's. He's not surprisingly still learning and making the adjustment from junior college to Pac-12. But he's a big body and has shown to be a good run stopper.

BUCK: Ivan McLennan, Kache Palacio
McLennan started the spring with a bang but it's been more Palacio of late. He's been playing well off the edge especially in pass rush situations. And Palacio's emergence could ease the way for Mayes to move up in the box at d-end. McLennan is a physical freak and will shine brightly at times. But other times he'll make mistakes and lose lane integrity or take bad angles. He's also been a little dinged up -- not enough to sideline him but not 100 percent. McLennan has been spending time after practice working on different drills to try and improve in the areas he needs to improve. McLennan is a big guy and once he figures it all out, he could be a heckuva BUCK. Meanwhile, Palacio is very fast coming off the edge, a true speed rusher.

SAM: Cyrus Coen, Eric Oertel, Tana Pritchard, Jeremiah Allison
Coen has a slight edge right now but Pritchard is pushing both here and at the WIL. The speedy Oertel has also been making a late push – he was the third leading tackler in the spring game on Saturday and is seemingly always around the ball. Allison has also run with the SAMs at times this spring but he's most likely going to be a backup MIKE. Chester Sua has been in shorts and not practicing apparently due to injury.

MIKE: Darryl Monroe, Jeremiah Allison, Jared Byers
Monroe has this spot locked up. A vocal leader, he's had an excellent spring, has logged a number of big hits and has been flying around the field. Allison is a solid backup here who can spell Monroe as needed, and Jared Byers has seen a small amount of action here too.

WILL: Justin Sagote, Tana Pritchard
Sagote has been bothered by nagging injuries this spring and has missed some time, and Pritchard has been getting the nod of late. A healthy Sagote still looks like the guy to beat but it's becoming more and more of a coin flip in recent days as Pritchard continues to play well and to improve.

CB: Anthony Carpenter, Nolan Washington, Tracy Clark
Anthony Carpenter has played the best of the bunch but it's been decidedly hot and cold at corner overall this spring. If the season were to start tomorrow, Carpenter would be a lock to start. He's also the most physical and is usually a sure tackler. Washington was injured much of the spring but has since been running more with the 1s and 2s. Clark is the most inconsistent of the bunch, he can look great one play and give up a long pass the next.

CB: Damante Horton, Rahmel Dockery, Alex Jackson
Horton missed a little time but has since returned to action, he had six tackles and two pass break-ups in the spring game. Dockery has also made strides here this spring but he's inconsistent and would appear to need more seasoning – he's been at the right place, right time for some picks but it isn't as if he's playing a lock down brand of cornerback. Alex Jackson has been out this spring. The Cougs need Jackson to come on strong in fall camp, and/or some of the others listed above to raise their game because through 14 practices, corner looks to be in need of more consistent, upgraded play.

SS: Deone Bucannon, Taylor Taliulu
Bucannon is a lock when healthy. Taliulu has been getting the reps here with Bucannon sidelined and has done a serviceable job. Walk on Mitch Peterson made some early noise here this spring. He doesn't have great physical tools, but he has a good football IQ and has been consistent. David Bucannon, Deone's younger brother, has been running with the scout team this spring. Can he make a leap come fall camp?

FS: Casey Locker, Taylor Taliulu, Feddie Davey
Locker has been playing well, better in pass coverage and especially in covering short throws. He still gets beat on occasion but he's improved, no question. Taliulu is slowly but surely showing improvement. He hasn't turned heads as much as some hoped, but he remains one to watch. Davey has been out injured this spring. What looks to be in the cards for fall camp is with Bucannon back healthy at the strong safety, Locker and Taliulu are likely to battle it out here, with Davey possibly also in the mix. Locker looks to have a slight edge with the final spring practice yet to come.

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