WSU post-spring position battles: Defense

NO MATTER WHAT level of the Washington State defense one considers – d-line, linebackers, secondary – heated position battles remain in play after the Cougars’ spring football session.

We picked the brain of Tyler Baker, the former WSU wide receiver who covered every spring football practice for Cougfan.com, to get the scoop on how the position battles shape up coming out of the spring session.

Nose tackle
Fifth-year senior Robert Barber is your No. 1 and more than that, Baker says Barber played better than ever before and on a consistent basis this spring.  Meanwhile, Ngalu Tapa did a nice job and had a great spring game -- he could be on his way to establishing himself as a viable 1A. That would benefit WSU significantly late in games, and in the latter half of the season, if d-line coach Joe Salave’a could liberally rotate Tapa in and keep Barber fresh.

Tackle
Daniel Ekuale missed the vast majority of the spring but he’ll still go into fall ball as the starter. That said, Baker says Garrett McBroom took advantage of his time and made good gains in his transition from junior college to the Pac-12 level. “We’ll have to wait and see how Ekuale does but that could actually turn into a battle in fall camp,” says Baker, which should only help spur on both players.

End
Hands down, it’s Hercules Mata’afa as the starter. There was quite a bit of experimentation as to his backup with the Cougs even rotating some guys between here and the Rush position. Baker said based on the spring as a whole, Nnamdi Oguayo looks like the No. 2 d-end coming out of spring.

Rush
One of the best battles of the spring is at the Rush, with Logan Tago (pictured above) and Dylan Hanser duking it out. Hanser has more experience, with Tago having more wow factor.  Tago came on strong at the end of the spring at the Rush, with Hanser showing steady consistency. This should be one of the top spots to watch in fall ball.

WIL
Frankie Luvu comes out of the spring as the leading starting candidate, Baker says, with Paris Taylor backing him up. Luvu looked to be covering more ground this spring, a sign of how he’s simply reacting and getting more comfortable in the scheme.

MIK
Incumbent Peyton Pelluer was never seriously challenged this spring. Aaron Porter showed he’s a capable backup and figures to get more time this season than last but Pelluer is the clear starter coming out of spring ball.

Nickel
Quietly, Parker Henry finished the spring as the clear starter, Baker says, with Kirkland Parker backing him up.

Strong safety
Shalom Luani has the starting job on lockdown.

Free safety
The surprise of the spring, Jalen Thompson showed he is not only likely to play as a true freshman, he’ll be a strong starting candidate in fall ball opposite Luani.  The wildcard here is Charleston White, who ably shuffled between safety and corner this spring. Hunter Dale is becoming a sold No. 2, walk on Willie Roach showed some good improvement here as did fellow walk on Colton Teglovic, providing depth at the safety spots.

Cornerback
Darrien Molton is the Cougs’ top corner.

Cornerback
The corner spot opposite Molton was interesting this spring.  Marcellus Pippins came in as the starter and probably ended the spring in the same way. But he didn’t have a banner session, and White figures to push him here if he’s not lining up at safety. Plus, Deion Singleton did some very good work and has emerged as a starting candidate. Indeed, Baker said in his view he would probably tab Singleton ever so slightly ahead of Pippins at spring’s end. Treshon Broughton also made the most of his opportunities this spring, said Baker.

NOTABLE NOTES:
Hunter Mattox didn’t emerge on the d-line this spring as I thought he might. Still, given his athleticism and frame, he’s one to keep an eye on.

Nick Begg posted some good sack numbers this spring but keep in mind most of that came in 3’s vs. 3’s. Still, he’s working his way into the 2’s and bears watching in fall ball to see how quickly he continues to assimilate the d-end position.

Safety Suli Hameed, DE T.J. Fehoko, N/S Isaac Dotson and DE Jeremiah Mitchell didn’t practice all spring.

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