Doba isn't about to predict a repeat performance of 2001, when his stop-troops led the Pac-10 in sacks, turnovers and third-down-conversion ratio, and managed to place fourth in both points allowed and total defense.
No coach who graduates the likes of Lamont Thompson and Raonall Smith to the NFL would make such a lofty forecast.
But by the same token, his unit's lack of experience and depth at linebacker --- Sun Bowl starters Smith, James Price and Alex Nguae are all en route to the Gray W Club --- isn't exactly keeping him awake at nights, either.
"It'll take some work," Doba says matter-of-factly about reshaping the linebacking group. But he likes the talent he has coming back and is chomping at the proverbial bit to see who steps up in spring workouts that begin this week and conclude with the Crimson & Gray game on April 27.
Moreover, the two telltale spots on defense -- corner and defensive line -- have him smiling from ear to ear. The left corner is bon a fide All-American candidate Marcus Trufant and the right corner is returning starter and Sun Bowl star Jason David. On the line, Doba thinks he has a pair of potential All-Americans at tackle.
Junior Rien Long (6-7, 295), a terror for much of 2001, should be a pre-season first-team All-American choice this season, Doba says. And Tai Tupai (6-5, 350) could be a contender in 2003. "When the light goes on and everything starts to click, I think Tai has more talent than anybody we've got," Doba says. Add in Jeremey Williams (6-5, 290) and veteran sack-happy ends D.D. Acholonu, Fred Shavies and Issac Brown and you have the makings of a gridiron version of Murderer's Row.
At safety, there's veteran Erik Coleman and fifth-year senior Virgil Williams, plus a ton of exciting young depth.
AS FOR LINEBACKER, Doba says if the season opener were held tomorrow he'd start junior Al Genatone at weakside backer and former safety Ira Davis on the strong side. Both saw considerable action in 2001, with Genatone starting part-time and winning the UCLA game with his long-distance fumble return to paydirt. The middle would be either true sophomore Pat Bennett (6-0, 225), who also played a year ago, or touted JC transfer Kevin Sperry (6-2, 220) who's been on campus since January.
Genatone runs well. Davis, a big-time hitter from Seattle, is always around the ball. Bennett is a gamer with great upside. And Sperry, from L.A. Harbor College, appears to have all the tools to make an instant impact. He runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds and is very agile going from sideline-to-sideline. He turned down USC to cast his lot with WSU.
But as it stands today, there's precious little room for injury in that foursome because the back ups are unproven former defensive backs -- Derrick Dillon and Wes Patterson-Aumus -- and a wallk on in the form of Ray Bonnell.
"There's no question we're thin," Doba told CF.C in mid-March. "We're going to have to practice smart (to keep guys healthy)."
Two huge shots in the arm, however, figure to be on hand come fall.
One is JC transfer Don Jackson (6-1, 225), who likely will push Genatone for time on the weakside. He earned California JC All-State honors last season and JC Gridwire third-team All-America plaudits.
The other is strongside backer Will Derting, a true freshman in 2001 who played in the season's first two games before blowing a knee. He's still rehabbing so figures to miss spring workouts, but Doba hopes to have him back at full tilt in the fall. "Derting is going to be awesome some day," says Doba. "He has the mentality of a linebacker."
* Two Cougar linebackers who won't be back in the fold for 2002 are Mike Issacson, a walk on from Wenatchee who saw limited playing time the last two seasons, and Lacy McDonald, a redshirt freshman from Denver. Both left the program.
* Former defensive tackle starter Tomasi Kongaika who sat out all of last season with a bum knee, is going to give spring ball a shot but may be in line for a medical redshirt this season, Doba said.
* A new addition to the D-line this spring will be Josh Shavies (6-6, 320), the former tight end who got in Mike Price's dog house and was kicked off the team a year ago is back as a walk on.
* Josh's older brother, senior defensive end Fred Shavies, is being counted on this season for more than his blazing rush from the outside. With Billy Newman and Lamont Thompson now gone, the defense needs a team leader. Doba called Shavies "a natural" for the job. Defensive back Erik Coleman is another guy with those traits. Quiet leaders figure to be Marcus Trufant, Rien Long and Al Genatone.