COUNTDOWN TO 2013: Cougars LBs Preview

PULLMAN -- The Cougs return three-fourths of their starting linebacking unit in 2013. The squad thrived at times last season in Mike Breske's blitz-happy scheme, but they weren't always consistent. That consistency level should tick upwards in 2013. And perhaps the biggest question of all – just how good can Darryl Monroe 2.0 possibly be?

Last year, the Cougs devised complex blitz packages that had the opposition off balance. Now under new direction from inside linebackers coach Ken Wilson, the Cougs will look to cause even more disruption the backfield.

The ‘backers still have some work to do, particularly in defending the pass, but all signs this spring pointed to positive gains.

A lot of those gains can be attributed to redshirt sophomore Darryl Monroe (6-1, 235).

AFTER LOSING HIS freshman season to a torn Achilles tendon, Monroe came back last season with vengeance. One of the top WSU storylines this season is expected to be how much better he could be in 2013.

After posting 80 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, three sacks and a forced fumble in 2012, Monroe looks to be an honors candidate already.

After spring ball, Wilson wasn't shy about Monroe's potential.

"He's got every intangible you need to be a great linebacker," said Wilson in an earlier interview with CF.C. "He's got all the ability in the world and can be as good as absolutely anybody in this conference."

Wilson would go on to say Monroe's upside is "huge."

"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."

This spring, Monroe was without a doubt, the physical and vocal leader of the linebacker group.

A CROWDED BUNCH of linebackers should prompt robust competition this fall as the Cougs only presumptive ‘lock' would be the aforementioned Monroe.

Senior Justin Sagote (6-0, 223) has received rave reviews for his leadership abilities and defensive prowess, but should receive extensive competition from sophomore Tana Pritchard (6-3, 217), who had a great spring.

Cyrus Coen figures to come in as the leading SAM starting candidate, but again, Pritchard may by lurking in the shadows.

Junior Ivan McLennan and sophomore Kache Palacio are expected to battle it out at the BUCK. Both Breske and outside linebackers coach Paul Volero said this offseason the Cougs expect to move senior Logan Mayes from BUCK to defensive end.

BEYOND THAT GROUP, several candidates could step in and immediately vie for extensive playing time. Returnees include seniors Jared Byers and Eric Oertel, as well as junior Chester Sua.

Each one of those guys could still conceivably earn a starting gig, though it will be an uphill battle from this chair. Breske runs a rotation-based defense, so each guy that cracks the two-deeps should see substantial time regardless.

There also remain several hungry underclassmen looking to leave their mark this fall. Sophomores Jeremiah Allison and Feddie Davey both have the physical tools to make plays and should compete for spots in the two-deep.

THE BUCK POSITION holds the most uncertainty. With Travis Long's departure, a void exists both in experience and leadership.

McLennan and Palacio figure to be the two leading candidates to fill that voice when fall camp kicks off.

McLennan has great size and good speed, and has the ability to drop back into coverage as a BUCK linebacker. Still adjusting to the speed of Pac-12 play, McLennan faced bumps and bruises for most of the spring session and partly because of that, saw his production tail.

Palacio is a bullheaded pass-rusher, a guy who can get to the quarterback with great vertical and lateral speed. He lacks the size McLennan does, but his explosiveness may vault him up the depth chart in 2013.

Palacio wasn't showcased in too many passing situations this spring, something that will need to be addressed if he hopes to become a more complete player.

Max Hersey was listed at the bottom of the pre-spring depth chart at BUCK, and will have a fight on his hands to push for playing time.

SEVERAL WALK ON candidates should figure into the fall camp equation 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, although he was bitten by the injury big much of the season.

Also, don't forget about true freshman Peyton Pelluer.

Pelluer, out of Skyline High in Sammamish, is your prototypical middle linebacker. He was a tackling machine in high school and has good size. But because of the crowded cast of candidates at linebacker and the stalwart Monroe in the middle, he seems likely fitted for a redshirt this season.

THE 2013 COUGAR linebacking squad has loads of promise and potential. But now they need to go out and get it done.

If Monroe can continue to grow as a leader, and if the complementing pieces can play to their capabilities, Cougar Nation in 2013 may see the best crop of Wazzu linebackers in quite some time.

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