Projecting WSU's Two-Deeps on Defense

PULLMAN -- With a new defensive coordinator comes new defensive schemes and, in the case of Alex Grinch, a new energy that has been the talk of spring practices for players and coaches alike. Now that spring ball is so near to wrapping up, it is clear from this chair that the defense has taken strides under Grinch. So how does the depth chart look? This is our early take.

To be ready for competition, it took several veterans and several young players having great spring practices to complete the defense’s new look that emphasizes speed and getting to the ball on every play. Grinch's mantra (“Do your job!”) has created some interesting battles at positions as well as growth among the returning core.

At this point in spring ball, few things are concrete but 12 practices have yielded enough for me to have an idea of what the depth chart looks like. Of course, players limited due to injury this spring and players coming in this fall are likely to change things up down the road at some spots.

Note: The secondary positions are the most hinged on the summer incomers in my view. S Shalom Luani, CB Treshon Broughton and LB Aaron Porter are among those who could challenge the spring incumbents for the starting job. The secondary personnel may also be shuffled around once they arrive with WSU in a good number of nickel sub-packages this spring.

Free Safety:
Isaac Dotson
Sulaiman Hameed

Injuries plagued Dotson in previous seasons but back on the field and healthy this spring, he's been the top safety this spring and seems poised to become one of the few secondary members this offseason that has a solid grasp on a starting gig. Dotson has made some big plays this spring -- at Tuesday’s practice, he picked off Luke Falk during the 7-on-7 drill and defended a few passes during the scrimmage portion of practice. At 6-1, 218 pounds, he also has the size necessary to be an impending presence on the field. Hameed also spent time with the ones. He could end up in a starting role here or elsewhere in the secondary. This spring he has laid out several hits that have made me cringe and has defended several passes.

Strong Safety
Taylor Taliulu
David Bucannon

After losing his starting job late last season, Taliulu has been running with the ones at free safety for most of the spring and although he hasn’t made any absolutely spectacular plays, he has been consistent in his coverage. David Bucannon has struggled to climb the depth chart in past seasons and that could happen again in '15 as the new players arrive. He has been putting in a lot of effort (perhaps best showcased by his lecture to a walk-on who took himself out of a drill) and has broken up a few passes playing with the twos.

Darius Lemora
Brendan Hay

With the presence of a fifth defensive back occurring more often than not this spring, the Cougars have dipped down into their reserves to cover the position until the new recruits arrive. Hay with the twos is the result of this. He is a redshirt freshman walk on who is getting his moment in the sun before fall camp but has also shown some promise this spring in the reps that he has gotten. Lemora has pretty much cemented his spot at nickelback with his play this spring - at least until fall camp arrives. He is incredibly quick and has been able to anticipate the offense’s moves on several occasions, including Tuesday’s practice, when he deflected a pass that was then hauled in by Jeremiah Allison for an interception.

Peyton Pelluer
Greg Hoyd III

Pelluer, a redshirt sophomore, may still be young but with a season under his belt and the spring he has had, he’ll be hard to displace. One of his best practices thus far also aligned with the first scrimmage. He recorded a sack against Falk and three solo tackles, including one for a loss. Hoyd III has been impressive this spring coming off his redshirt season. In the two scrimmages, he has tallied a total of nine tackles, with one being for a loss. He has all the pieces but lacks the experience of Pelluer.

Jeremiah Allison
Paris Taylor
Allison is one of the shoe-in starters. He is a senior now, a vocal leader of a defense that has continued to develop throughout the spring under Grinch’s new system. He consistently makes big plays in practice, be it a big hit, an interception or a defended pass. Allison has been particularly potent in red zone situations. Taylor is a redshirt junior and has been reliable all spring but it's awfully hard for me to see anyone unseating a leader and player like Allison. Taylor racked up five tackles at last Saturday’s scrimmage.

Kache Palacio
Ivan McLennan

Both of these players have had very productive springs, Palacio’s experience and leadership gives him the edge (no pun intended). Palacio is a senior and started all of last season, recording six and a half sacks and 57 total tackles. He has done just as well for himself this spring, racking up a few sacks throughout. McLennan has been as busy. In the first scrimmage alone, he recorded three sacks while playing with the twos. At this point, you can safely assume that these two will be 1-2 on the depth chart by the time August rolls around.

Marcellus Pippins
Jeff Farrar
Perhaps the most impressive performance this spring within the secondary has come from Pippins. The sophomore cornerback has been able to string together practice after practice of explosive plays, especially in recent weeks. In last Saturday’s scrimmage, Pippins intercepted both Falk and Bender once and in Tuesday’s practice he stripped and recovered a fumble on a pass from Bender. Essentially, he has made a big play in either the 7-on-7 or team scrimmage (or both) in nearly every practice.

The only question will be whether or not he can carry that into the fall. If he does, there is no way he loses that spot. Farrar redshirted last season after arriving at WSU midway through fall camp and has made a few plays in the reps he has received. He could make for a solid back-up, assuming that the incomers and the jostling that will follow doesn’t push him down the depth chart.

Charleston White (pictured above)
Pat Porter

White is a redshirt sophomore and has had a really explosive spring session that has him in prime position to lock down a starting spot at cornerback. He has been able to not only keep up with the ones at receiver, but has beaten them on several occasions with his quickness and sense of what the offense is doing. A sophomore, Porter saw the field during three games last season but has not been as impressive in spring session as White. He has good coverage skills and is quick but needs to continue to develop his technique in order to be able to displace the starter. With improvement, he might still be able to garner some playing time this fall.

Defensive End
Destiny Vaeao
Hercules Mata’afa
Vaeao has stepped up this spring in the absence of Xavier Cooper. He has been a big part of the line’s ability to not only compete with the veteran offensive line, but on occasion overpower the offensive line completely. The senior is the one of the oldest members of the defensive line and will be relied on in fall to continue to pressure quarterbacks. He and Darryl Paulo sacked Falk last practice, a glimpse of something the duo is likely to be doing against opposing quarterbacks a lot this fall. Mata’afa has been very effective with the twos. The redshirt freshman hasn’t had the chance to gain experience in a live game situation yet, but in scrimmages has good technique and is able to be a contributor. Mike Leach continues to sing Mata'afa's praises.

Defensive End
Darryl Paulo
Jeremiah Mitchell

Both of these guys have been creating problems for Falk and Bender left and right. Paulo has managed to get to both Falk and Bender this spring. The redshirt senior played in eight games last season and tallied two sacks, but is likely to see much more of the field this fall based on his performance this spring. Mitchell, a redshirt junior, has also been impressive this spring though he's also missed some time to injury. Whether the transfer can take the starting role from Paulo before fall is anyone's guess but regardless, he is likely to see the field this season.

Nose Tackle
Daniel Ekuale
Ngalu Tapa

Tapa has been limited in several practices this spring, as has Robert Barber, which makes this position battle hard to pin down at the moment. Tapa has been extremely effective in defending against the run when he has practiced and despite being 6-2 and 325 pounds, he is incredibly agile, which is important when facing a running back like the shifty Keith Harrington. But Ekuale, a redshirt sophomore, has been around a little longer and has looked good throughout spring. At this point, he appears more prepared to start than Tapa when the Cougars begin the season Sept. 5 at Martin Stadium against Portland State.

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