WSU fall camp preview: Defensive backfield

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a year makes. Washington State’s defensive backfield has been a perennial fall camp question mark the past several years. That is no longer the case in 2016, as the Cougar corners and safeties have become a team strength headed info fall camp.

Returners: CB Darrien Molton (So., 5-10, 173, pictured above); CB Charleston White (R-Jr., 6-0, 195); Safety Shalom Luani (Sr., 6-0, 198); CB Marcellus Pippins (Jr., 5-10, 170); CB Deion Singleton (R-Fr., 6-2, 184); CB Treshon Broughton (Sr., 6-0, 174), Safety Kameron Powell (R-Fr., 6-0, 194); Safety Darius Lemora (R-Jr., 6-0, 193); Safety Hunter Dale (So., 5-10, 203);  DB Willie Roach (R-Sr., 6-1, 207, walk on) DB Dakota Sinchak (R-Jr., 5-9, 178)

New faces: Safety Jalen Thompson (6-0, 176); Safety Robert Taylor (Jr., 5-11, 180); DB D’Jimon Jones (Fr., 5-11, 175); DB Marcus Strong (Fr., 5-11, 170); DB Skyler Thomas (5-11, 175)

Departed scholarship players: Taylor Taliulu, Suli Hameed, Calvin Green.

What to like: On paper, there is talent and depth at all four spots. Indeed, the Cougs’ defensive backfield rivals the running back corps as the deepest position group headed into WSU’s fall camp.

The conventional wisdom before the spring was incoming JUCO transfer Taylor would be the likely top candidate to earn the starting job at safety opposite Luani. He still figures to get plenty of chances to earn a starting job but Thompson’s star turn this spring as a true freshman (having enrolled in January) has shaken things up.  The competition between those two at safety figures to be intense in fall ball and on into the season.

Meanwhile, Luani is a ball hawk who can also bring the lumber. The former JUCO transfer is a Pac-12 postseason honors candidate and squarely in the conversation as to the Cougs’ best defensive player. And Molton is arguably WSU’s best corner after starting 11 games as a true freshman.

Charleston White excelled this spring at safety, showing off his takeaway skills, and can also play corner. Deion Singleton is also on the rise coming off a redshirt year -- he’s listed as a safety on the roster but we expect him to compete for turns at corner.

Pippins can be like a sine wave – there are times when he dips down (like he did at times this spring) but just when you think he'll be listed as a backup he comes storming back in practice, makes big plays on Saturday and earns the starting nod again. Broughton is the sleeper here. Don’t be surprised if he earns his way into the rotation and is employed in varying packages.

Dale is not the fastest safety on the team but showed advanced technique for a true freshman last season and picked up the defense quickly. 

Biggest question: How much will defensive coordinator Alex Grinch tinker in fall camp and during the season?

Grinch, who also serves as the defensive backs coach, has a lot of tools and moving parts at his discretion headed into fall ball. If someone gets dinged up, or if someone is simply performing better that game week, Grinch has the versatility to tweak things.

Beyond the question of who gets the starting nods, Grinch figures to have the ability to run more subpackages in his second year out on the Palouse, with so many of the above players capable of earning Saturday reps.

With the depth on hand, plus Thompson figuring in the mix, it would figure the other true freshmen could be best served by a redshirt year. Then again, few predicted ahead of the spring that Thompson would emerge like he did and for Jones, Strong and Thomas, their first opportunity to show something similar comes Saturday in Lewiston.

Isaac Dotson (R-Jr., 6-1, 214);  Kirkland Parker (R-Jr., 6-1, 182) and Colton Teglovic (R-Sr., 6-0, 188, walk on) are listed at safety, corner and safety, respectively, on the official roster but are being projected by CF.C at the linebacker and nickel positions.

RELATED STORY: Piecing together WSU fall camp depth chart


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