WSU Chalkboard: Breske breaks down T

XAVIER COOPER, as a third-year sophomore this past season, put some crooked numbers up at the tackle spot in Washington State's 3-4 defense. In looking ahead, Cougar d-coordinator Mike Breske drew a parallel to that tackle spot and the 2014 Cougar d-line as a whole: On one hand it's a young group with only two seniors at the three down lineman spots. But although young, it's not inexperienced.

Mike Breske is well known for making starters continually earn their job and fostering competition throughout the ranks -- he's loathe to bequeath a starting job in the offseason to just about anyone.

"Well, at the tackle position, you've got Xavier Cooper, obviously," is about as close as Breske tends to get.

Cooper's production in his second season was noteworthy – he was the d-line's leading tackler with 50 stops (34 solo). He led the Cougs in tackles-for-loss with 13.5 and in sacks (5). He tied for the team lead in QB hits (4) and in fumble recoveries (2). And he forced two fumbles on his own.

But Cooper, like the Cougar d-line as a whole this past season, wasn't consistent and towards the end of 2013, the Cougs just didn't have nearly enough of a pass rush. Will things be different in 2014? Two reasons (beside Cooper) to think they might be are also found at the T position: Darryl Paulo and Gerald Sterling.

"Darryl Paulo played a lot for us there last fall, and then you also have Gerald Sterling -- we've got a nice core of guys there, and some good experience," said Breske.

Sterling redshirted this past season but that could also end up being a plus in 2014 if Sterling shows he's ready to contribute. He figures to get his chance to show just how ready he is this spring.

What it adds up to is the Cougs might be able to rotate more than they did last year.

One can make an argument the lack of a pass rush in the latter half of 2013, including the bowl game against Colorado State, was because the Cougar starters got too worn down over the course of the season and that the depth behind them wasn't quite ready.

Breske points out that in 2014 and beyond, the Cougs will be in better position up front not only at the tackle spot but across the defensive line because of who wasn't on the Saturday playing field in 2013.

"The nice thing, as a group, we were able to redshirt our entire freshman defensive line – Gerald Sterling, Daniel and Emmitt (Su'a-Kalio), they were all able to redshirt… we weren't able to do that two years ago," said Breske.

Further, from an overall d-line perspective, the Cougs will be young in 2014. But not necessarily untested.

"Toni and Lyman are the only seniors... So we've only got two seniors at those three positions – yet we've still got some good experience there," said Breske.

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