Spring faceoff: D position battles plentiful

PULLMAN – When it comes to position battles this spring, the defensive secondary at Washington State looks wide open. It's a theme that holds true across the Cougar D.

Safety and senior-to-be Taylor Taliulu (5-11, 206) has to be the favorite for one of the spots because he has the most experience. Arguing against that is that none of the starting safeties or corners last season excelled.

From this chair, based on watching practice all last season and on Saturdays, the frontrunners are Taliulu and Darius Lemora (5-11, 182) at the safety spots, with Charleston White (5-10, 176) and Marcellus Pippins (5-10, 163) on the corners.

Lemora has the experience playing alongside Taliulu last season and was a mainstay on the depth chart. White showed his potential last season in the win over Utah while Pippins made a late season surge and followed that up with an excellent Midnight Maneuvers session.

Sebastian LaRue (5-10, 181) and Sulaiman Hameed (5-10, 182, pictured above) could shake things up at corner and safety, respectively, this spring. Leach said LaRue might have been starting last year had he been eligible after transferring from Texas A&M and Sulaiman is extremely athletic. Once they get enough seasoning, they both have the potential to be difference-makers.

Safety David Bucannon will be a redshirt-junior. He’s been unable to climb the depth chart during his Cougar career but now has a new DBs coach (and DC) in Alex Grinch and he and everyone else is starting from scratch to try and make an impression and impact over the course of 15 spring ball practices.

And then there's safety Isaac Dotson (6-1, 218). He was thought to be in prime position this past season for a starting role as a true sophomore but was sidelined by injury and wound up redshirting.

For cornerback Pat Porter (5-9, 163), the big question is how much he learned last season after being thrust into action and struggling as a true freshman. But sometimes what you see the next season is a player who ultimately benefits from those early lessons. We should learn a lot about that by whether Porter’s name is mentioned often or not over the course of the spring. The same holds true of Jeff Farrar, though he spent this past season redshirting.

The safeties this spring would do well to put their best foot forward, with touted Shalom Luani (6-1, 200) out of City College of San Francisco arriving later this summer. Cornerback Treshon Broughton (6-1, 175) of Riverside CC will also join the Cougs this summer. Both could make strong bids for starting jobs, depending in part on what happens this spring in the secondary.

On the defensive line, the Cougs have a lot of bodies but with them, questions on where everyone might line up. At the nose, Robert Barber (6-3, 305) figures to face competition. Barber has been plagued by injuries over his WSU career but he has all the tools. Ngalu Tapa (6-2, 314) could challenge after spending this past season redshirting.

Look for Daniel Ekuale to make a strong play at the T spot vacated by Xavier Cooper. And keep an eye on Jeremiah Mitchell this spring, whether that’s at the E or T on the d-line. The Riverside CC product is a 6-5, 260-pounder who tore it up last season in the JUCO ranks. How he makes the transition this spring could, in addition to earning him turns, spur others on to new heights. Mitchell might not be ready to star his first spring on the Palouse, but he has huge potential coming in as a four-star prospect.

Destiny Vaeao (6-4, 295) is the lone returning starting d-lineman at the End spot, though both he and rising Darryl Paulo (6-2, 261) boast experience and will be seniors. Assuming he doesn’t move to the T, or possibly even the nose, Vaeao should enter the spring as the starting E. But he hasn’t had the kind of individual career that matches his talent level and the Cougs need more from him this season than just filling the gaps. Both Vaeao and Paulo logged two sacks last season.

Vaeao, extremely versatile, has the benefit of being able to play on the inside and outside, and anywhere on the line. He filled in at nose tackle when Pole was injured last season, speaking to both his athleticism and WSU’s depth concerns in the middle of the line last season.

Hercules Mata’afa (6-2, 225) was the most talked about true freshman who spent last season redshirting. Now he gets to make his play for playing time. Kingston Fernandez (6-2, 254) will also get a long look. A spring roster is expected to be released sometime next week before spring ball kicks off on Thursday, and the updated weights could provide (at least a hint) of who might play where.

There figures to be a spirited battle at two of the three traditional linebacker spots. Jeremiah Allison (6-2, 224) has the WIL position on lockdown entering the spring. Two other outside linebackers, Paris Taylor (6-3, 206) and Dylan Hanser (6-4, 214) have the experience of playing last year but they figure to be challenged this spring, as does incumbent MIK Peyton Pelluer.

Frankie Luvu (6-2, 219) got his feet wet this past season while Greg Hoyd (6-1, 225) and Chandler Leniu (6-0, 250) both project to challenge the starters this spring.

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