Breaking down WSU's 'backers with Ken Wilson

PULLMAN – Washington State sophomore Darryl Monroe has the potential to become the best linebacker in the Pac-12, and fellow 'backer Tana Pritchard's improvement puts him on a glide path to be a 2013 mainstay, Cougar inside linebackers coach Ken Wilson told in a wide-ranging interview this week.

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Wilson, who joined the WSU staff in February after helping Nevada to 11 bowl games in 13 seasons, dubs the 6-1, 235-pound Monroe's upside as "huge."

"He's still a young guy but he's got the ability in there to be a real leader. He's got every intangible you need to be a great linebacker. He's got all the ability in the world and can be as good as absolutely anybody in this conference," Wilson says.

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Last season as a second-year freshman, Monroe earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors after tallying 80 total tackles (second-most on the team behind safety Deone Bucannon). Among his stops were 8.5 tackles-for-loss, including three sacks.

But that's just the start of where the middle ‘backer can go, says Wilson.

"At this point, it's up to Darryl to decide how good he wants to be. If he puts in the work and time, he can do anything."

WILSON SAID another second-year sophomore linebacker, Pritchard, is a guy to keep an eye on this fall. While his position is far from stapled down, Wilson was quick to note that he's put himself in a position to play an awful lot in 2013.

"Tana is the most improved player of any of these guys," Wilson said. "He's got a ton of potential, a ton. He's got to get bigger and more physical, but again it's up to him for how far he wants to go."

Pritchard figures to contend for time at the WILL or SAM spots.

"We have some really, really good athletes in here right now," Wilson said. "In my years of coaching, I've seen some incredible athletes not reach their potential, and some not-so-great athletes be far better than they ever should have been. At this point, it's up to the players to decide how good they want to be."

WHEN HE ARRIVED in Pullman, Wilson said he explicitly asked the coaching staff not to give him any information about the linebacking corps, because he wanted to assess players without any preconceived notions.

Now, with a winter of workouts and a spring season behind him, here are some of the impressions he's formed so far on other Cougar linebackers:

  • Senior Justin Sagote (WILL): "He isn't the biggest guy, but he's probably the toughest guy out there and also probably the most physical."

  • Senior Eric Oertel: "Eric gives us good depth and is good in pass coverage. The SAM position is wide open and he is getting a lot of run there."

  • Senior Jared Byers: "The MIKE position is pretty much set, with Jared being Darryl's backup. He's not the fastest guy out there but he's a very smart football player."

  • Junior Chester Su'a: "Chester is returning from a back injury and we look forward to having him back with us this fall. I've talked with him about playing a little at the MIKE position (as well as his usual WIL) so we'll see."

  • Junior Cyrus Coen: "Again, the SAM position is just wide open and Cyrus and Eric will both be battling for playing time there."

  • Redshirt freshman Feddie Davey (SAM and WILL): "Feddie is coming back from that knee injury but he's more than likely going to come in and compete for playing time right out of the gates."

  • Sophomore Jeremiah Allison (MIKE): "Everybody likes Jeremiah because he is just genuinely a great human being," Wilson said. "As far as football goes, he's a hard-working kid who wants to be good. I've got high expectations for him, but whether he breaks the two-deeps is going to be up to him. He's going to have to work hard."

    FROM A TEAM aspect, Wilson believes the defense is leaps and bounds above what he saw from last season's film.

    He said defensive coordinator Mike Breske's scheme isn't easy to learn as there are a ton of moving parts, but he believes the team is getting to the place where they can react without thinking about it. And when a team gets to that place, they play a lot faster.

    As for life in Pullman, Wilson said he loves it. He grew up on a small farm in the Midwest and would like to make the Palouse his home for a long time.

    "I was at Nevada for almost two decades, so staying in one area has never been an issue for me," Wilson said. "Coach Leach keeps telling me he plans on being here for a very, very long time so as long as I'm welcome, I love it here."

    HOW THE ‘BACKER POSITIONS WERE NAMED: The SAM (strongside), MIKE (middle) and WILL (weakside) names for the linebacker positions started to become commonplace in pro football in the 1990s because they so quickly and easily communicate who is supposed to be where and doing what. According to the Boston Globe, legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry was the person who started the name game. Back in the 1950s, when he was the defensive coordinator of the Giants, he pioneered the 4-3 defense and dubbed his three ‘backer positions Sarah, Meg and Wanda. (Also, some old school types are partial to MIK, rather than MIKE.)

    STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Last season, six Cougar defenders posted 60 total tackles or more, and everyone but Travis Long is back for 2013. Bucannon led the way with 106, followed by Monroe with 80, Long and Sagote with 61 each, and Coen and safety Casey Locker with 60 apiece.


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