Corners a pressing issue, Doba tells faithful

WSU HEAD FOOTBALL coach Bill Doba says it's imperative that a pair of bona fides emerge at cornerback between now and the season opener in order to return the Cougar defense to the blasting and blitzing variety that wreaked havoc from 2001-03. Both of last year's starters, Tyron Brackenridge and Don Turner, were seniors so the island is wide open as the Cougs gear for spring workouts next month.

Doba, speaking Friday in Bellevue at the annual Westside coaches dinner, said a top priority this spring and again in fall camp, will be to solidify the corners.

The Cougars will have a plethora of candidates come August, but look to be a little light in spring ball. Four players -- seniors Brian Williams, B.T. Walker and Markus Dawes, and junior Ryan Kensok (a one-time walk on recently awarded a scholarship) -- will be competing next month.

Of that quartet, Williams saw the most action in 2006, playing in 12 games and collecting 15 tackles and three pass deflections. Kensok and Walker saw most of their duty on special teams. Dawes was expected to play a major role in the secondary in 2006, but went down with a leg injury in the season opener that shelved him for most of the campaign.

The new recruiting class will add four more contenders in August in JC transfer Devin Giles and prep products Chima Nwachukwu, Tyrone Justin and Romeo Pellum.

Doba said the linebacking corps is developing and has solid new talent arriving in the fall. If the unit progresses as hoped, it will give the Cougars leeway to play more "cover four" in the secondary -- a zone alignment in which each defensive back has territorial deep responsibilities from the line of scrimmage all the way back to the endzone. Sometimes called "quarters," in this coverage's most basic alignment the safeties handle the entire middle and the corners all of the sides.

Consistent and reliable cover four was a hallmark of the solid defenses WSU put on the field over the years when Doba was the D-coordinator under Mike Price.

With Robb Akey now the head coach at Idaho, Doba is taking on defensive coordinator responsibilities this season. In addition, Doba will coach linebackers -- an extra role, he says, that works seamlessly with being DC because the 'backers have both run and pass coverage duties.

WSU OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Mike Levenseller said at the dinner that quarterback is the most solid position, top to bottom, on the entire team. "This is a great group," he said. "In Alex Brink, we have a quarterback chosen by other Pac-10 coaches for second-team All-Pac-10 honors. Gary Rogers has shown the ability to lead this team. Kevin Lopina, a transfer from Kansas State, is very solid and Cole Morgan has great promise. These guys are going to push each other hard. We're very fortunate."

Brink will be a senior in 2007, Rogers a junior, Lopina and Morgan third-year sophomores. Barring something unforseen, new QB recruits Marshall Lobbestael and J.T. Levenseller will redshirt and grayshirt, respectively, this season. Arkelon Hall is no longer in school after running into academic problems. He told CF.C last month that he will not attempt to return to WSU and is looking into other schools. He didn't say if those schools were Divsion I-A or I-AA.

Another Cougar who ran into academic challenges and no longer is in school is DeMaundray Woolridge, WSU's No. 1 running back last season before being slowed by injury in the season opener at Auburn. He's now in a community college and Levenseller said the Cougars are hopeful he'll be able to get his grades back to the point he can return to Pullman in the fall.

Sophomore-to-be Dwight Tardy, who piled up 667 yards in 2006, will be the No. 1 back heading into spring workouts. Also competing for serious PT will be three kids Levenseller is high on: Senior Derrell Hutsona (379 yards in 2006), second-year freshman Marcus Richmond and sophomore Chris Ivory.

Levenseller said Hutsona, a running and pass-catching threat, has the potential this season to elevate his game the way former Cougar dual-threat standout Jonathon Smith did between his junior and senior seasons.

NOTABLE NOTES:

* Asked in a radio interview last week with KJR's Ian Furness how the Web has changed the face of recruiting, Doba quipped, "I think the guys at Cougfan.com know more about our new class than I do."

* Speaking of Furness, he was the emcee at Friday's "Night with Cougar Football" in Bellevue. By all accounts, he did a masterful job, and offered some chest-thumping examples of why it's great to be a Coug. When Doba took to the podium, he opined that he might want to hire Furness for pre-game pep talks.

* The Cougars' new defensive ends coach, Marty Long, joined Doba, Levenseller and recruiting coordinator Greg Peterson at the dinner. Long has an impressive track record as a coach, recruiter and instructor at national coaching clinics. However, Doba cautioned, don't expect him to jump as high as his predecessor (highly excitable and high-flying Robb Akey) coaching defensive ends.

* Legendary Cougar quarterback Jack Thompson's checkbook was lifted of a heavy load last week and the person who made it possible, his son, Cougar sophomore tight end Tony Thompson, forgot to phone home with the good news. Jack said he learned that Tony, a walk on from Ballard High, had been awarded a scholarship by Doba when a friend called to say congratulations after reading a Hot News note about Tony on CF.C.

* Doba said former Cougar standout cornerback Jason David, a three-year starter with the Indianapolis Colts, is a classic case of why the intangibles are so important when recruiting for college and scouting for the pros. "Here's a guy who's 5-foot-8," Doba said, recounting how David, as a prep senior, told him his goal was to one day play in the NFL. "He weighed 150 pounds," Doba noted. "Now he's got a Super Bowl ring -- Jason is going to be walking around with a smile from ear to ear for the entire next year."

* Among the attendees at the Bellevue dinner were former CouGreats Jim Walden, Steve Wolfe, Erik Coleman (now with the New York Jets), Don Schwartz and Bret Carolan.

* Between coaches dinners held in Bellevue on Friday and Olympia on Thursday, an estimated $60,000 was raised for the WSU Athletic Foundation via auction and raffle items. This was the first year the South Sound Cougar Club hosted a coaches dinner, and given the success of the Olympia event they'll be back again in '08.

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