Spring: Grinch's priority same for DBs and D

PULLMAN -- How do you even things out on a Cougar defense that held Utah to 357 yards and sacked Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota seven times, while allowing 589 yards and 60 points to Cal? For new Cougar defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Alex Grinch, the primary way to accomplish that is clear.

Speed.

The Cougs simply must play faster if they're going to improve on defense in 2015.

"Overall defensively, our mindset has got to be that we're going to have the fastest defense in the Pac-12 conference," Grinch said. "That's the expectation, and we're not talking 40-yard dash time. We're talking about how we play.

Defensive success is built around short bursts, change of direction and lateral movement. The key to realizing the goal of becoming the Pac-12's fastest defense is found in the knowledge that comes before the snap, says Grinch.

"In order to do that, guys have to know where they need to be, which goes back to us as coaches," he said.

None of the returnees who received playing time last season at corner or safety are above 6-0. But that's less important to Grinch than is something else: athleticism.

"I think overall, we have a fairly athletic secondary, which gives you a chance. I think that's a positive. I think guys move fairly well. I think the 'want-to' factor is there for the group, which is important," Grinch said.

Washington State return corners Charleston White (5-10, 176) and Marcellus Pippins (5-10, 163) who combined for nine starts last year. The Cougs' most experienced corner, Daquawn Brown was dismissed from the program this offseason. Patrick Porter also had two starts. White, when healthy, showed promise and Pippins looked like he may have turned a corner late in the season after his redshirt was removed. Meanwhile, the guy who may make the most noise this spring didn't play last season.

Sebastian LaRue (pictured above) will be evaluated at cornerback this spring, said Grinch. He said LaRue has all the skills to be successful out on the perimeter. Late last year, Mike Leach offered this glowing assessment of LaRue: "Sebastian’s played real well. Sebastian would have had a good shot of starting this year if he was eligible,” Leach said.

Another corner to watch for this spring: Jeff Farrar. The first part of his redshirt-freshman season was spent trying to adjust. The latter half saw him start to gain confidence and make more plays. Farrar is among the most physical of Cougar corners, solidly put together at 5-11, 196-pounds.

At safety, Darius Lemora (5-11, 182) and Taylor Taliulu (5-11, 206) started 10 and nine games, respectively, last year. They assumedly enter the spring on top of the depth chart but neither held an overly strong grip on their starting posts under former DC Mike Breske this past season. Sulamain Hameed (5-10, 182) played in six games and 14 of his 17 tackles were of the solo variety and in '14 he offered both hope for the future and freshman mistakes.

Grinch said the secondary has an entirely clean slate entering the spring. From this chair, that could mean a lot of movement depending on how the first few practices unfold (and because there isn't exactly a glut of defensive backs this spring, a few walk ons such as Skyler Cracraft, Willie Roach and others could see extended turns).

Indeed, Grinch said if a pre-spring depth chart is released, it will mean very little in the secondary and on defense as a whole. There are no real advantages because a lot of the players have some sort of experience, Grinch said.

One big thing Grinch wants from the defensive backs is to keep the ball in front of them, after the Cougs last year gave up a number of big passes downfield. Understanding coverage concepts, responsibilities and run fits are three key areas Grinch highlighted when asked where the secondary needs the most work. And he said if we were to ask him the same question next year, his answer will be the same.

"A lot of it is simple, but not easy. It's simple from the standpoint that it's easy to say but like anything, you're talking about moving parts and guys that are trying to be successful against you. What's hard about it? It's all hard. It's hard to execute. I don't know that it's hard to teach. But with reps, it obviously gets a little bit easier as you go," Grinch said.

Grinch said the spring will also be about building a base, to understand the defense and the scheme. The NCAA limits the time coaches can spend with the players in the offseason but Grinch said the Cougars have done well in starting to learn the new defense and terminology.

Grinch has also set the bar high this spring. He said he expects a fairly high level of execution at the beginning of spring drills, and he wants an aggressive defense that plays fast.

By the end of the spring, Grinch wants to see three things: effort, speed and the ability to finish.

In a nutshell, Grinch's goal for the 2015 season on defense? Play harder, for a longer time, than any opponent the Cougars face.

NOTABLE NOTE:
  • Two junior college players arrive in the summer who could impact the two-deeps and who both could wind up earning starting gigs in fall camp: safety Shalom Luani and corner Treshon Broughton. Grinch said Luani is expected to compete right away at safety, while Broughton will be a primary candidate at corner.

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