Countdown to WSU spring ball: Linebackers

THE COUGS HAVE a nice mix of veteran talent and promising youth at the four linebacker spots headed into the spring. One of those spots in particular is most likely to produce the biggest battle royale among the 'backers in the continual fight for starting jobs and playing time.

From a sheer numbers standpoint, the BUCK spot arguably holds the most competition. Any of the three listed on the depth chart – Kache Palacio, Ivan McLennan, Emmitt Su'a-Kalio -- could potentially be the starter there on opening day.

Then again, WSU might instead choose to rotate liberally here.

Palacio impressed last season and posted 49 tackles. At 6-2, 224-pounds he's not the prototypical size at the BUCK but standing up, the QB has to account for him in both coverage and as a pass rusher. With his hand down, the quarterback has to be concerned about Palacio's burst and speed.

McLennan (6-4, 240) was the Cougs' scout team defensive player of the year this past season and he brings a run-stopping presence to the table. What kept him off the field on Saturdays last year was mostly the tendency to over-commit - a good play was followed by a mistake. The WSU staff is high on the fourth-year junior's potential.

Su'a-Kalio (6-4, 253) is the future. The question is if the future is now. Mike Breske's defense allows the BUCK to make plays all over the field and a versatile, solid BUCK allows for multiple looks and the ability to bring effective pressures out of a three-man front. Su'a-Kalio has the potential to bring all that to life.

THE SAM LINEBACKER features starter Cyrus Coen (6-0, 211). The senior has been a mainstay for the Cougs and figures to only improve in 2014. Behind him, though, could get interesting this spring.

Walk on Mitch Peterson (6-1, 214) is clearly a staff favorite. He's listed as an "OR" with Paris Taylor (6-3, 206) on the depth chart. Whether Taylor or Peterson separates themselves from one another this spring will be important to watch. The Cougs need a reliable backup and/or rotation player behind Coen. Both were one time Cougar safeties but Taylor's athleticism could give him an edge.

IN THE MIDDLE, fourth-year junior Darryl Monroe (6-1, 230) is the clear No. 1. When Monroe is on, he's one of the more impressive MIK's in the Pac-12. But like any player when he's dinged up, as Monroe was in the latter half of 2013, he's not nearly as conspicuous out on the field.

This spring at the MIK will be in large part about finding out about a pair of freshmen. Is second-year freshman Peyton Pelluer (6-0, 216) ready to go here? Is true freshman Dylan Hanser (6-4, 211) the best fit at middle linebacker, or elsewhere?

AT THE WIL, Tana Pritchard (6-3, 228) is the No. 1 and has gotten better each season (and bigger). He's also coming off a great offseason, having been awarded more black shirts in Midnight Maneuvers than any other defenseman.

But he could face a stiff challenge from Chester Sua (6-1, 227), who missed all of last year to injury. It's been projected that Sua will be 100 percent when drills kick off on Thursday but until he goes through the 15 practices, it remains to be seen. Jeremiah Allison (6-2, 224) is also in the mix here and is listed as the backup to Pritchard, with Sua after missing a year listed as the third-string WIL. It also won't be a surprise to see Sua get reps at the other ‘backer spots this spring.

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