Defense shaping up

PULLMAN -- No One's ready to start drawing comparisons to the famed Palouse Posse, but the 2002 Cougar defense -- despite the graduation loss of four giant contributors from a year ago -- is picking up where it left off in April and looks solid through three days of workouts.

The line, as expected, has been turning heads, with ends Fred Shavies, D.D. Acholonu and Isaac Brown and tackles Rien Long and Jeremey Williams all playing like dominators.

Williams has been working with the first unit as Tai Tupai, a would-be all-conference contender, works to shed some of the Big Macs he apparently devoured over the summer. He came into camp at 343 pounds -- a good 25 lbs heavier than he was in the spring.

Given the immense (pardon the pun) talent the Cougars have at end and tackle, one question begs as the Cougars prep for their season opener in Seattle against Nevada: Will the 5-2 scheme that worked so well late last season be back to a greater degree in 2002?

With a pair of lock-down corners as talented as Marcus Trufant and Jason David, the thinking among arm-chair D-coordinators is that the Cougars may be tempted to stack the line of scrimmage and force opposing quarterbacks to beat them by air.

Alas, real-life defensive coordinator Bill Doba has been offering up a steady diet of the standard 4-3 so far. Still, let's not forget that Onterrio Smith's return to town is a ways off, so there's plenty of time to tinker with the notion.

FRESHMAN Adam Braidwood, the pride of Delta, B.C., continues to impress at DE but with the depth at that position, he may not get a lot of reps. Still, with the way he has wowed coaches so far, it'll be tough to keep him off the travel squad.

The linebacking corps is shaping up much like it did during spring ball, with Pat Bennett and Ira Davis starting on the outside and Al Genatone in the middle. Among others looking good in drills are middle-man Kevin Sperry and outsiders Will Derting and Donnie Jackson.

Sperry has great speed, and flows very well from sideline to sideline. He also has a bit of a crazy streak, getting pumped up in a way that reminds folks of Curtis Holden's inspiring efforts in Spokane at the 2001 spring game. Derting, who blew his knee out against Idaho last year and received a redshirt, will be pressing Davis on the strongside. While he's got the talent to be great, he doesn't appear quite strong enough against the pass to move past Davis.

The entire LB unit, although inexperienced, is talented. The biggest question will be whether they can learn on the fly as the season starts. This is definitely the main question mark for the entire team.

As previously mentioned, the cornerback position is all but locked up with Trufant and David. But sophomore Karl Paymah is drawing some attention, and could be this year's David -- a young corner who comes out of nowhere to make a big splash. His only problem may be finding playing time.

At safety, Erik Coleman is solid at the free, and Virgil Williams, recently granted a medical redshirt and now listed as a junior, is coming in strong at the strong. Williams' problem has never been talent -- he played as a freshman in '99 when the Cougs had a guy named Lamont Thompson in front of him. He just needs to prove he can stay healthy. Waiting in the wings in case he can't are Hamza Abdullah, Jeremy Bohannon and Aaron Joseph. Joseph, by the way, put on as much muscle over the summer as any other player in the program.

NOTABLE NOTES:

A few nagging injuries have taken their toll on the team, which is pretty normal for two-a-days. Split end Mike Bush, who is still recovering from an injured ankle, is just one of several notable players who has missed out on practices. Flanker Jerome Riley sat out Monday morning's practice, as did guard Derrick Roche and running back Jermaine Green. Green is working on strengthening his knee, and is only practicing once a day for now.

Tight end Eddie Robinson is expected to arrive on campus this week, and will hopefully be eligible by next week.

The team will hold its first scrimmage at 9 a.m. Saturday in Martin Stadium.

JC running back Chris Bruhn is said to still be working on his academics and could enroll in January.


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