Countdown to WSU spring ball: Defensive Line

FANS AND MEDIA tend to get caught up in player weights when it comes to college football and that especially holds true on the defensive line – bigger is better, right? Not always. And that only adds to the WSU defensive line intrigue this spring.

Pad level and leverage are far, far more important in the trenches than sheer weight. Despite featuring a three-man front boasting two players over three bills and averaging 297 pounds per man, the Cougs simply got stood up at times in 2013.

It's not a huge difference but the Cougs are lighter up front this spring – the three listed as starters on the depth chart average 292 pounds. But what's perhaps most interesting about that is players tend to be their heaviest now after a winter of lifting. That's followed by players tending to lose pounds as the offseason program turns to conditioning.

So will the starting Cougar d-line be quicker this spring and have more stamina, and will that in turn lead to better leverage and a better pass rush? And will their current weights decrease by a few more pounds over the coming months, leading to an even faster unit crashing the gates against Rutgers in the opener? We'll see.

One thing to watch for this spring on the d-line: WSU won't be shy about moving players around on the line this spring. So the players listed on the depth chart (and below) might be elsewhere along the line on any given day.

FOURTH-YEAR JUNIOR Xavier Cooper (6-4, 298) is seemingly entrenched at the T spot but there are also a pair of Cougs listed on the depth chart behind him who could earn playing time -- and that could help Cooper. Darryl Paulo (6-2, 272) was one of the surprises last year, and Daniel Ekuale (6-3, 271) was one of the standouts during the bowl practices. Ekuale in particular figures to get a lot of reps this spring.

Cooper was the leading tackler on the d-line last year (50 tackles) but the d-line's production fell off considerably down the stretch. The argument can be made that WSU simply needs more quality rotation players up front with offenses going faster and faster. If Paulo, Ekuale and/or someone else begin to prove this spring they can hold their own and then some this season, that could make a rested Cooper better in 2014.

THE E POSITION could hold the most spring intrigue. Destiny Vaeao (6-4, 288), who started 10 games at the BUCK last season, also got in some turns at defensive end. This spring, he'll be working exclusively at the E.

The Cougs didn't have the luxury of redshirting Vaeao and he's been learning on the job his first two seasons -- and he's also been dinged up at times.

Vaeao has done some good things his first two seasons but he has a ton of potential and athleticism -- more than Cougar fans have seen from him on Saturdays. They might get a better look at it this spring. The expectations for Vaeao this year are far greater than they were last year, defensive coordinator Mike Breske told CF.C earlier this year.

But that's not the only reason to keep a close eye on the E. Breske calls 6-3, 265-pounder Lyman Faoliu "special" because of the flexibility he brings to the table. He can play either here or at the BUCK. And so might Emmitt Su'a-Kalio. He's listed at the BUCK on the depth chart but don't be surprised if he gets turns at the E and turns some heads.

AT NOSE TACKLE, Toni Pole (6-1, 290) is one of only two scholarship seniors up front for the Cougs in 2014 (Faoliu is the other). Pole has trimmed up this season, perhaps following the lead of Ioane Gauta last year. He was listed at 302 pounds last season. And he had the best Midnight Maneuvers of the d-linemen, Breske told CF.C back in February.

Pole, with a combined 15 starts at the nose and d-end positions over the last three seasons, is backed up by Robert Barber (6-3, 292). The third-year sophomore has battled injuries his first two years, but he did see action in four games last season. Barber has a ton of potential and this spring is likely to be the first time he truly shows the explosion he had before a knee injury his freshman season.

Walk on Moritz Christ (6-5, 321) is listed third on the depth chart at NT but depth charts sometimes defer to upperclassmen and redshirt freshman Gerald Sterling (6-3, 295), listed as fourth-string on the chart, could make some noise here once practices get underway Thursday.

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