Spring preview: Cougs have intriguing LB mix

PULLMAN -- The linebacker corps at Washington State returns three starters and six of the nine listed on the final 2014 depth chart. But the starting jobs and two-deeps headed into spring look anything but set. Indeed, the Cougars have a mix of players young and old who should make for spirited competition when spring ball kicks off March 26 out on the Palouse.

Senior-to-be Jeremiah Allison (6-2, 224, pictured above) is among the Cougar leaders on D and would seem to be the closest thing to a starting lock headed into spring drills. He has experience, talent, and a highly competitive nature. Allison had the second-most tackles (78) on the team last season, including 8.5 tackles for loss.

The coaches also like Allison because he fires up the defense and plays hard every single down.

During game week last season, in a practice drill where the linebackers hit a series of sleds, there was a different sound when Allison stepped in. It's a drill the linebackers do countless times over the course of a season and human nature in doing something over and over again can be to relax. But each time Allison hit the sled he went about it as if it was his first time -- focused, hitting the sled hard and making sure his technique and pad level were spot on.

Assuming Allison lines up at the WILL, the Cougars need a new SAM to replace the graduated Cyrus Coen (6-0, 208) who recorded 62 tackles last season. Last season's depth chart listed 6-3, 206-pound Paris Taylor as the No. 2 (along with graduating senior Mitch Peterson).

Taylor, who will be a redshirt-junior, played sparingly in '14, registering six tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery in 12 games.

But Taylor often made plays in practice, whether it was a strong tackle in the backfield or an interception on the edge. He also showed increasing value as a pass-rusher. That said, he figures to have plenty of competition this spring.

Frankie Luvu (6-2, 219) got his feet wet last year, playingin eight games as a true freshman. The spring figures to be big for him -- how much polish has he accumulated?

One of the young linebacker wildcards this spring is Greg Hoyd (6-1, 225). Big hits were also often associated with his name in Thursday Night Football as he spent the 2014 campaign redshirting.

Meanwhile, Chandler Leniu (6-0, 250) could challenge at one of the inside linebacker spots if he continues to show the kind of improvement he did late in the year in TNF, particularly in his increasing ability to use his hands to shed blocks.

It would not be a surprise for Luvu, Hoyd and/or Leniu to make a charge up the depth chart this spring. Hoyd in particular was regularly singled out for praise by the coaching staff for his work in the Thursday Night Football sessions. But potential, until it's realized, is just that. This spring should provide some answers on the trio.

Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan at the BUCK figure to renew their battle under new outside linebackers coach Roy Manning. And how they (as well as all the linebackers) adjust to any tweaks in the scheme by new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will begin to loom large starting later this month.

Grinch has said the Cougs will continue with the 3-4 as their base. But the Cougars will also be multiple and there will undoubtedly be changes in how they employ their linebackers from the first-time defensive coordinator.

Peyton Pelluer enters spring as the incumbent starter at the MIKE. But he'll need to produce on a consistent basis this spring to fend off challengers. When he moved past Darryl Monroe on the depth chart in Week 7 he had 17 tackles. The 6-0, 224-pounder finished the year with 39 tackles, 5.5 TFL in 12 games. He will be a redshirt-sophomore and has a good feel for the the system. Granted, things could change with Grinch taking control.

Dylan Hanser (6-4, 214) spent much of the second half of last season as the backup WIL but did not see a whole lot of =action on Saturdays, playing in only four games. Hanser can help himself on special teams, where Eric Mele told CF.C he believes the sophomore can make an impact.

Walk ons Drew Griffin (5-11, 218) and Kyle Newsom (6-2, 230) each displayed occasional aptitude for pass defense and would either break up passes or intercept them on their best days. Walk on Parker Henry (5-11, 205) is also expected to make his mark on special teams. If Henry were able to harness that energy and transfer it to producing at the linebacker position, he could have a shot to contribute there as well. Reggie Coates (6-0, 246) will be a walk on redshirt senior who showed flashes in Thursday Night Football with a couple of sacks and pass breakups. The Cougars also list walk ons Taylor Comfort, Nate DeRider and Nathan Hundeby on the roster.

WSU recruited two linebackers in this recruiting class who will arrive later this summer, Aaron Porter (6-3, 230) and Nnamdi Oguayo (6-4, 215). They also added athlete Logan Tago (6-3.5, 205), who Mike Leach says can play just about anywhere on the field, including at any of the linebacker slots. Leach isn't afraid to play freshmen, either, and don't be surprised if Tago makes a bid for early playing time at linebacker once he arrives in Pullman.

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