In 2017 Alex Grinch expects 3 young Cougar DBs to rise up, and for the 3 returning starters to be bigger playmakers

IN HIS TWO SEASONS at Washington State, defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Alex Grinch says one thing has been missing most in the Cougar secondary. But he’s also optimistic that change is coming, both in the form of crimson youth and returning starters.

Playmakers. The Cougs in 2017 need more playmakers in the secondary than they’ve had the past two seasons, said Grinch.

“It’s probably one of the same things we’ve been lacking the most," said Grinch. "(It) really puts stress on your defense. You’re going to be raked a lot of times if you’re not making plays on balls and you’re not making the negative plays defensively.”

Playmakers equals takeaways, and Grinch wants (at least) two takeaways per game. In 2016, the Cougs fell shy of that goal with 23 in 13 contests  (12 INTs, 11 FR). Having playmakers in the back end also means pass break ups and getting the ballcarrier down on the ground quicker. 

And while any secondary is dependent on the defensive front getting consistent pressure on the quarterback, in going back over the tape since Signing Day, Grinch didn’t sound very satisfied with how the defensive backs played vs. the pass. 

“We didn’t finish sacks, we didn’t finish TFLs -- we didn’t finish opportunities on the back end when the ball was in the air,” said Grinch. “It’s fine to ‘cover’ a guy but if he’s coming down with the ball at a much higher rate than we’re getting the ball on the ground, then we’re not doing what’s necessary to be successful.”

The returning DB experience should give WSU to be more successful in 2017.  WSU returns three of four starters in the secondary in safety Jalen Thompson and cornerbacks Darrien Molton and Marcellus Pippins.

“Jalen Thompson is going to be better as a sophomore, and he needs to, all of them do. Darrien Molton and Marcellus Pippins are experienced guys at corner. Robert Taylor is coming back as a second-year starter at safety. And we’re going to filter young guys up and through that,” said Grinch.

Grinch didn’t name all of the “young guys” or Cougar rookies who may flash in spring ball and beyond, but he did mention three.

Marcus Strong ended up (getting dinged) but we started playing him Game Four or Game Five at corner and on special teams,” said Grinch. He possesses those attributes that we like at that spot but he ended up having the (injury) and missed the rest of the year unfortunately. So he has limited experience but he has the skills set I think to do the things we need him to do there.

"D'Jimon Jones (pictured above) is an athletic kid that we redshirted last year that we expect to be a big part of our defense … Sean Harper you bring in junior college players to play and we expect him to contribute … They’ll have to grow up quick but we expect all those guys to be playmakers.”

Meanwhile, safety Shalom Luani, headed to the NFL combine in a few weeks and who started the past two seasons at Wazzu, was a key part of what success the Cougar D did have in 2016. We asked Grinch how he replaces that production. To be determined, was the answer.

“I think it’s going to be up for debate and discussion,” said Grinch. “And some of that is going to be how do we increase the productivity, and the things we can do (as coaches) to help our guys to fill that void. And that’s at every position. At every layer of our defense, we need more production, we need guys to be better finishers. 

“As you evaluate the film I think Shalom was one (finisher) and he also had more plays that were available to him.  The whole point to everything you do is to finish, tackling the ballcarrier to the ground for a limited gain, a tackle for loss, getting after the quarterback.”

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