Projecting WSU's 2014 depth chart: Defense

SPRING FOOTBALL AT Washington State begins next month, on March 27 to be exact. But at CF.C, we're not waiting until then to put out an early analysis of what the Cougars' depth chart could look like heading into the spring session. Last week, we published the offense. Now it's time to delve into the Cougar D…

First, a quick caveat: this isn't an opus that breaks down every single player on defense. It's purely an educated guess on who will be at or close to center stage this spring.

Xavier Cooper / Darryl Paulo / Gerald Sterling
Comment: There are two things the Cougs would like to accomplish at T this spring. One is for Cooper to gain more consistency and lay the groundwork to become a dominant edge player in the Pac-12. The other is for the depth behind him to develop to the point WSU can sub in Paulo and/or Sterling regardless of down, distance and situation, and to do so with confidence. WSU simply must get more of a pass rush from their down linemen than they did last season, from the T spot and others. And rotation may be the key to unlocking that puzzle. Cooper was the Cougs' leading tackler on the d-line last season, with 50 stops (34 solo). But there were also stretches where he and others simply got stood up. A great spring from Coop, Paulo and Sterling here would be a big positive.

Toni Pole / Daniel Ekuale / Robert Barber
Comment: Pole started his WSU career at the nose, moved outside much of last year and is now back in the middle with the graduation of Ioane Gauta. Pole is capable of big moments, his play during the USC win last season was difference-making. But no one on the line, Pole included, finished the back end of the season on a roll. The Cougs are high on Ekuale's potential, he did some very good work on the scout team as a redshirting freshman this past season. Barber, who will be a third-year sophomore, has been oft-injured and this spring figures to be the first one he's gone into fully healthy.

Destiny Vaeao / Lyman Faoliu
Comment: Vaeao moves full time here from the BUCK and this is a critical juncture for him this spring. He's fought through some injuries his first two seasons and the Cougs did not have the luxury of redshirting him. From this chair, he still has all the potential in the world. But he also hasn't broken through his first two season to the level we thought he would. (And again, injuries have played a good part in that.) The best reason for optimism: You just don't see many his size (6-6) with his kind of athleticism. Meanwhile, Faoliu is one of only two seniors on the line, along with Pole, and provides the Cougs good flexibility and experience.

Kache Palacio / Ivan McLennan / Emmitt Su'a-Kalio
If things work out the way we expect, it should be a battle royale here between Palacio and McLennan. Palacio isn't the prototypical BUCK at 6-2, 225 but he simply stood out last season, (49 tackles, 26 solo, 6.5 for loss, four sacks.) McLennan, though, is expected to give him a run for his money. WSU redshirted him last year to slap the polish on him and they're expecting big things from the 6-4, 244-pounder this spring and beyond. Su'a-Kalio has the potential to be a good one but he's still developing (and at some point he may outgrow the BUCK position.) If Su'a-Kalio were to show he's ready to make an impact in his second collegiate season here at the BUCK, that will be a bonus as the Cougar defense often funnels so many plays to the BUCK. A solid rotation of playmakers emerging here this spring would pay big dividends down the road -- but they have to emerge first.

Cyrus Coen / Paris Taylor / Mitch Peterson
Comment: Coen is the clear starter but keep an eye out for Taylor this spring. Taylor began as a safety but moved, an experiment at the time, to the SAM midway through last season. That experiment is over, and he's firmly at the SAM headed into spring. Updated heights and weights aren't out but we're hearing Taylor is up to around 215 pounds, about 10 pounds heavier than he was listed at by WSU last year. Peterson is another former safety. WSU traditionally has their SAM lined up to the wide side of the field so being able to well cover ground is a must, and that's something Coen does quite well.

Darryl Monroe / Chester Sua / Peyton Pelluer
Monroe is your bell cow but he also got beat up last season and his production fell in the back half of 2013. Sua, who missed all of his last year (ostensibly to injury) could be at either the MIK or the WIL this spring. Pelluer has good potential and could be a valuable component here. You also know what you've got in Monroe, so will the Cougs use this spring to get Sua and Pelluer a lot of reps? Or do you want to have Monroe in here most of the time and look to get him clicking on all cylinders? We'll see.

Tana Pritchard / Chester Sua / Jeremiah Allison / Dylan Hanser
Pritchard got a good deal of playing experience last year and should be the starter headed into the spring. But the expected battle between him and Sua, assuming Sua is here and not at the MIK, could provide some of the best theater on defense in March and April out on the Palouse. Indeed, if both of these guys being their A-game, grab some popcorn, it could be a lot of fun. Allison continues to develop and Hanser could line up here or somewhere else – he's 6-4, 215 and has a lot of speed.

Charleston White / Tracy Clark
Daquawn Brown / Marcellus Pippins
It's wide open at corner for the Cougs this spring, including who lines up at the boundary spot, who goes to the field position. For guys like Brown, Pippins and White, a strong spring is badly needed if much of anything is going to be settled at the corner. WSU is very young in the secondary and the questions are many. How many? A likely scenario here is the competition will begin anew and be just as wide open when the 2014 guys arrive prior to fall camp. Indeed, our take is that there is so much is unclear at corner pre-spring, that unless something unexpected happens, the starters and rotation might not be set until late August headed into Rutgers week. Yes, from our chair, things are just that unsettled at cornerback headed into the spring.

Isaac Dotson / David Bucannon / Markell Sanders
Taylor Taliulu / Darius Lemora / Beau Glover
This isn't quite as unsettled as corner, but it's close. Taliulu is the most established but it's certainly not a given that he'll be a starter coming out of spring much less on opening day. Lemora lit things up late in the season in TNF – he's a huge hitter. At the same time, he needs to rein things in at times and not always look to load up. Still, he could well seize the lead for a starting job this spring -- he has the potential to be special and likely would have played if not started opposite Deone Bucannon at some point last year had he not gotten dinged up last season and redshirted. Dotson offered some flashes last season that he might be ready to make some noise. David Bucannon has yet to show he's ready to rise to the top and Sanders is an unknown quantity having just joined the Cougar program in January.

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