Fall camp faceoff: Key position battles on D

IF YOU LIKE position battles, Washington State’s defense this fall camp promises to provide some great theater. The d-line, linebackers and secondary – look for heated competitions from top to bottom.

End: Darryl Paulo vs. Jeremiah Mitchell vs. Hercules Mata'afa

Paulo (pictured above) is like Clay McGuire was as a player for Mike Leach – you keep trying to replace him but he keeps rising to the challenge and comes out on top of the competition. Mitchell did not set the world on fire this spring (though he was dinged up at times). But Mitchell was a big JUCO get for WSU and he’s not only capable of making a big splash in fall camp, WSU needs for him to. Mata’afa (pictured at top of article) isn’t listed here on the depth chart, he’s at tackle behind Destin Vaeao. But Mata’afa was so explosive during his redshirt season and with Vaeao entrenched as the Cougs top returning d-lineman, Mata’afa could potentially challenge here by the end of camp.

Rush: Kache Palacio vs. Ivan McLennan

A repeat of the battle won by Palacio last year. McLennan (pictured above) made more plays this spring and showed more quickness of the snap. Will it result in him claiming the starting RUSH job? We’re not sure but the competition should be entertaining to watch and regardless of who wins the job, we think you’re going to see more of McLennan this season.

Nickel: Darius Lemora vs. Shalom Luani

Luani is going to challenge either here or at one of the safety positions. If he isn’t at least in the two-deeps by the end of camp, it will be both a surprise and disappointment, such are his skills and high ceiling. Lemora (pictured above) has a leg up on the newcomer if indeed Luani is slotted here, having gone through a spring with new DC Alex Grinch. What will be highly intriguing to see early on in fall camp is how well Lemora has assimilated those teachings of Grinch.

Strong safety: Taylor Taliulu vs. Sulaiman Hameed

Taliulu is the wily veteran, Hameed (pictured above) is the rising second-year sophomore. Taliulu started 10 games last season but Hameed was right on his heels and replaced him in two games. Still, it’s a new scheme with a new coach and whoever impresses Grinch most will come out of fall camp as the starter. Hameed was bitten by the injury bug last year and will have to stay healthy.

Middle linebacker: Peyton Pelluer vs. Aaron Porter vs. Chandler Leniu vs. Greg Hoyd

Pelluer (pictured above) is solid, dependable and he shocked a lot of people when he beat out Darryl Monroe mid-season in ‘14. But there’s room for improvement if he’s going to get closer to being assignment-perfect. Porter might play at the MIK or at another linebacker spot but much like Luani, it will be a disappointment if he’s not at least in the two-deeps somewhere by fall camp’s end, and many are counting on the UCLA bounceback to be not only a starter but a key contributor. Leniu and Hoyd each have areas they need to shore up if they want to challenge Pelluer but they’re both capable of getting there this year.

Honorable mention:
Corners Marcellus Pippins and Charleston White figure to be challenged by JUCO transfers Treshon Broughton and Kirkland Parker and others. But our pre-fall camp prediction is the competition will only make Pippins and White better. It won’t be a shocker if someone beats out one or both of the two corners, we just think it most likely that Pippins and White are your starters headed into the season opener. Both showed enough flashes last season that we think they’ll show considerable improvement in their second seasons.

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