WSU's pass defense in 2015 was third-best in the Pac-12 (223.5 ypg). The previous season, they were one rung out of the cellar in the Pac-12 (11th, 296.6).
The Cougar D picked off 13 passes this past season. The year before, just three.
A lot of different things go into that obviously, not the least of which is the pass rush. But it’s worth focusing on the defensive backs in looking ahead to the spring, how all but one starter (Taylor Taliulu) in the secondary return, and how many underclassmen will still pepper the DB ranks in '16.
Of the safety, cornerback and nickel back positions, only two of the expected key players headed into spring drills are seniors: safety Shalom Luani and nickel back Parker Henry.
At corner, Darrien Molton will be a second-year sophomore and Marcellus Pippins a third-year junior. Looking to challenge the incumbent starters this spring will be fourth-year junior Charleston White (3 starts in 2015) and third-year junior Kirkland Parker, who played more and more as the season went along. And they're not alone.
Deion Singleton (6-2, 190) certainly has the size to play safety but indications are the Cougs want to see what he can do at corner this spring after redshirting his first season at WSU. And Jalen Thompson, who just enrolled at WSU in January, figures to be busy this spring as a true freshman.
At safety, Luani is a starting lock, the only question is whether he's a strong or free safety. How the underclassmen in the group perform figures to help answer that question.
Isaac Dotson, who will be a third-year junior, is an obvious candidate. But he could also play the nickel - particularly if incoming JUCO safety Robert Taylor performs well after he arrives in Pullman for fall camp. Regardless of whether Dotson lines up this spring, the Cougs have plenty of young, intriguing safety types in the mix this spring.
That group includes third-year sophomore Suli Hameed and second-year freshman Kameron Powell. Third-year junior Calvin Green is a wild card: he's probably a corner but he got looks at both safety and nickel in practice last season. Meanwhile, Hunter Dale saw playing time his true freshman season in 2015. Now that he's gotten his feet wet, is he ready to step into a larger role?
It will be interesting indeed to see what WSU does at nickel this spring. Does Dotson play the majority of his time here, or is he running at safety alongside Luani? Does Henry build on his breakout 2015 season and make a strong claim to the starting nickel job by spring's end?
There are others who could also move up the ladder, including Darius Lemora. He'll be a third-year junior and, remember, he spent the majority of last year's fall camp running with the 1s at nickel before being surpassed. Treshon Broughton will be a senior and spent a good part of last season in Thursday Night Football working at nickel.
True, the pass rush figures strongly into any secondary's success. But it's not insignificant that all the safeties, corners and nickels competing this spring at WSU, save for Thompson, will be entering their second year in defensive coordinator/DBs coach Alex Grinch's system.
It's also hard not to put stock into just how much the Cougar secondary improved in Grinch's first year, and just how many of them are back for 2016.
David Bucannon is no longer listed on the official WSU roster. Bucannon is the brother of CouGreat safety Deone Bucannon but was never able to climb the defensive backfield deoth chart at WSU. David was a fourth-year junior in 2015.