In talking to WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, it's a new day on the Cougar defensive line

ALEX GRINCH will never say never. Washington State’s defensive coordinator tells there isn’t a d-lineman recruiting profile the Cougs have crossed off their list. That said, when it comes to the typical 6-2, 300-pound nose tackle, the low-to-the-ground guy who eats up space and plugs the gaps, those days are in the rear view mirror at Wazzu.

Spread offenses have ruled the roost for a while now while defenses have tried to catch up -- it's changed the way defenses play football. And the Grinch way, when it comes to the trenches, is to go smaller and more athletic. The Cougs have not signed a prototypically sized high school DT or NT the past two classes. It has only recently become apparent why.

“Obviously, you do want size,” said Grinch. “But we would prefer to have size development -- as opposed to getting into the 300-pound high school defensive linemen and then hope we can develop them quickness-wise and speed-wise. And to a certain extent you can. But it’s also certainly easier to develop that size compared to developing that athleticism.”

But do you still need that 300-pound gap-plugger in the middle at the nose tackle position to make things work?

“We’ll never say that we won’t have one of those (but) we probably trend away from that in terms of recruiting," said Grinch. "But guys may grow to a certain size. We individually evaluate from a size potential standpoint and there are some guys you’ll never stay stop in terms of their progress with size, and there are other guys we’re going to tell them to stay lean in an attempt to not lose any athleticism. So there’s not a profile we’ve completely crossed off the board.

"But to use your words, the ‘plugger’ isn’t necessarily what we prefer in this scheme.”

CF.C asked Grinch to talk a little more in depth about moving in the direction of the quick, athletic, 270-280-pound DL types.

“A lot of it ties into the offense that you face in college football, and specifically in the Pac-12.” said Grinch. “You’re playing some variation of a spread offense most weeks. You’re going to ask your guys to make tackles in space and regardless of position. And the spaces get bigger and bigger as you get further and further away from the football but with quarterback-read game and some of those things, it’s not as much of a ‘downhill’ style of football offensively anymore with the perimeter screens d-linemen have to pursue.

“So that’s the starting point.   There’s the why – having to make plays in space.”

It sounds like the explosiveness off the snap, and that first step, is going to be even more important than it already was on the Cougar d-line. 

And it also sounds like Cougar fans can expect to see the same pre-snap shifting under new WSU d-line coach Jeff Phelps, who replaced Joe Salave’a in January.

“In our scheme, it’s a penetrating style we attempt to play,” said Grinch. “And that’s something we certainly need to get better at. But we allow our d-linemen to play in the gaps as opposed to playing into men. And we move quite extensively, so we’re not a sitting target for offensive linemen. Quickness and speed lends itself into those things, where you’re not trying to get into a wrestling match at the line of scrimmage with a 300-pound offensive lineman.

“The whole idea behind everything that you do (on defense) is to finish the play and hopefully up front you’re finishing most of those plays in the backfield. But again, what we ask our guys to do is quickness, and hopefully speed as well, and that can hopefully lend itself to being more successful.”

The NFL has the draft but college football is about compromise, Grinch said. When faced with a choice, Grinch will go for speed on the d-line and at every other position on his stop corps.

“In college football, you’re not able to draft … so you’re always compromising on some level,” said Grinch. “But what we will not compromise on is the overall athleticism ... we're not a 2-gap in scheme where we're going to play into a center and just take up space and try to free up other people like linebackers or the second level of your defense to make plays. We're going to ask off our guys to do that."

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