Season Outlook: Defense

PULLMAN -- Washington State has lost nine starters from its potent 2003 defense, but to call the 2004 unit inexperienced as they head into the start of two-a-day drills next week would be a colossal understatement. One big reason for the Cougars' dominating defensive play over the last two seasons was depth. That depth is now poised for a turn at center stage. Today, in the second of a three-part season preview, we take a look at the 2004 Cougar D position-by-position.

Defensive Line
WSU led the country in takeaways in 2003 with 48. To approach that achievement this fall, four new starters along the defensive line will have to maintain the pressure that departed stalwarts D.D. Acholonu, Isaac Brown, Tai Tupai, and Jeremey Williams applied on opposing quarterbacks.

Steve Cook

Senior defensive tackle Steve Cook will be the anchor for the revamped line. Cook capped the 2003 season with the best outing of his career, recording six tackles against Texas. The Kirkland, Wash., native has played in 34 games over the past three years.

"Steve is an instinctive player. He is kind of like a Will Derting on the defensive line. He finds the ball, gets off blocks and makes plays," says head coach Bill Doba.

Three underclassmen will vie for playing time alongside Cook. True freshman Ropati Pitoitua, a grayshirt that arrived in Pullman last January, made a strong showing during WSU's spring session. Sophomore Odell Howard, who saw action in five games a year ago, and redshirt freshman Aaron Johnson also figure into the mix.

"The thing that concerns me the most at that position is that they are young," Doba said. "If those guys can stay healthy and continue to improve as the year goes on, I think we will be pretty good."

Adam Braidwood

On the ends, Canadian import Adam Braidwood and sophomore Mkristo Bruce established themselves as the starters during the spring. Braidwood, a 6-5, 264-pound junior, started against Arizona in 2003 and has played in 25 games over the last two seasons.

Mkristo Bruce

Bruce is expected to bring a pass rushing presence to the unit after recording a pair of sacks in limited action a year ago.

"Adam is a guy that is big enough and strong enough to play on the interior if we were to need help there," Doba said. "Mkristo plays the game with a lot of passion and brings energy to our defense."

Junior Adam West, a converted tight end, give position coach and defensive coordinator Robb Akey additional options. Second-year freshmen Matt Mullenix and Reyshawn Bobo will be looking to contribute after redshirting in 2003.

Junior Will Derting will be the focus of opposing offenses this fall in the Cougar linebacking unit, but veteran Pat Bennett and playmaking sophomore Scott Davis could make it difficult to devote full attention to the preseason All-American.

Will Derting

A first-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2003, Derting racked up 86 tackles, including 12.5 behind the line with 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. The Okanogan, Wash., native will make the switch from outside to middle linebacker this season and was named defensive co-captain by teammates.

"Will Derting is special. He just finds the football. If you went by the numbers as far as 40 times, height and weight, he probably wouldn't be highly recruited or be looked at as a high draft pick," Doba said. "But if you look at the video, he is a Sunday player. He has a great mental attitude and he is a competitor. He competes at practice and he probably competes at the dining hall to see who can eat the fastest. He competes everywhere."

Pat Bennett

Bennett, a senior from Forks, Wash., has played in 35 games with five starts through the first three seasons of his career. Bennett made the key play in WSU's win over Arizona State in 2003, intercepting an Andrew Walter pass and returning it 39 yards for a touchdown.

"Pat has been with us for four years and knows his way around the football field. He played as a true freshman and if he can get over the injury bug, will be very solid for us," Doba said.

Scott Davis

Davis recorded 29 tackles, including four behind the line and a sack playing behind Derting as a freshman. The Kennewick native started at Stanford.

"Scott Davis amazes me. He is very intelligent. He doesn't look like your typical linebacker when he walks in the room. The only thing he does is make plays all over the place and he is an outstanding football player," Doba said.

Sophomores Steve Dildine and Brian Hall are versatile backups who saw action in every contest last season. Alex Hamill could be a candidate to play as a true freshman.

Five Cougar defensive backs – Lamont Thompson, Marcus Trufant, Erik Coleman, Jason David and Virgil Williams -- have earned spots on NFL rosters over the past three seasons.

Karl Paymah

The next to do so could be senior cornerback Karl Paymah. The Culver City, Calif., native is the most experienced returnee in the WSU secondary and will be relied on to provide the attitude and the shutdown ability that Trufant and David have brought to the unit in recent seasons.

"Karl Paymah has all the size and speed that Marcus Trufant had," Doba said. "Whether he has the ability to break on the ball like Marcus did is something that with more experience and practice he may have. He has the ability to be a big-time corner."

Paymah has started 16 games and was the team's fifth-leading tackler a year ago with 55.

Junior Alex Teems is the projected starter opposite Paymah entering fall camp, but sophomore Don Turner, junior Omowale Dada, and junior college transfer Tyron Brackenridge will push for the job.


Hamza Abdullah

Departed seniors Coleman and Williams, now with the New York Jets and Chicago Bears, respectively, will be replaced by another pair of seniors in Hamza Abdullah and Jeremy Bohannon.

Jeremy Bohannon

Abdullah, who will serve as defensive co-captain, has been a mainstay on WSU's special teams units throughout his career. At 6-3, 209 pounds, Abdullah will help maintain the Cougar's reputation for physical play in the defensive backfield.

Bohannon has also been a valuable special teams player, returning blocked punts for touchdowns against Oregon last year and Stanford in 2001. The Richland native recorded his only career interception against the Ducks at Autzen Stadium in 2003.

"Abdullah is an intelligent player and is becoming an excellent leader. Bohannon can really hit and is quick," Doba said.

Husain Abdullah, Hamza's younger brother, and physical sophomore Eric Frampton will see time behind the senior starters. Junior Aaron Joseph, a contributor in 20 games over the past two seasons, and redshirt freshman Christian Bass will be looking to earn a spot in the rotation.

COMING TOMORROW: Sizing up the specialists
YESTERDAY: Season outlook on offense

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