WSU spring ball preview: Battles await on D

SPRING WORKOUTS commence on the Palouse late this week, with the Cougars looking to fill six big holes on defense by the time the proceedings end on April 14. Among the team's needs are two new starters each at cornerback and outside linebacker. Corner figures to be the most exciting position-watch on either side of the ball this spring -- and the dust there may not truly settle until late August.

WSU must replace Tyron Brackenridge and Don Turner at the corners. Seniors Brian Williams, B.T. Walker and Markus Dawes, and junior Ryan Kensok (a one-time walk on recently awarded a scholarship) will be fighting it out this spring. Courtney Williams also was expected to be in the mix but ran into academic hurdles and no longer is enrolled at WSU.

Regardless of the outcome this spring, the battle for playing time figures to become even more heated in August when the new recruiting class brings in four more corner contenders in JC transfers Devin Giles and Tyrone Justin and prep products Chima Nwachukwu and Romeo Pellum.

Of the corners who will be strapping it up this week, Brian 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.


DeWAYNE PATTERSON

At safety, Eric Frampton is off to the NFL but Husain Abdullah is back for his third season in the starting lineup. The leading contenders for Frampton's old spot are sophomore Xavier Hicks, seniors Christian Bass and DeWayne Patterson, and freshman Cornorris Atkins. Come summer, JC All-American Terry Mixon will join the fray.

Patterson saw extensive action in 2005 but for academic reasons was ineligible to play in games last season and earned Scout team defensive player of the years honors in the process.


JASON STRIPLING

At linebacker, the Cougars lose three-time All-Pac-10 honorable mention performer Scott Davis and two-year starter Steve Dildine. But there's outstanding, and moderately experienced, talent back in the fold with third-year sophomore Jason Stripling, who missed last season with injury, junior Cory Evans and sophomore Andy Mattingly. Fourth-year junior Alex Hamill also looks to stake a claim on PT this spring. Junior-to-be Greg Trent returns to anchor the middle.

Head coach Bill Doba said earlier this year that the linebacking corps is developing and has solid new talent arriving in the fall with JC transfer Wyman Alexander and freshmen Marshal Pirtz of Boise and Hallston Higgins of Houston. If the unit progresses as hoped, it will further give the Cougars leeway to play more "cover four" in the secondary -- a zone alignment in which each defensive back has territorial responsibilities from the line of scrimmage all the way back to the end zone. Sometimes called "quarters," in this coverage's most basic alignment the safeties handle the entire middle and the corners all of the sides.


MATT MULLENNIX

The Cougars lose one starter from the defensive line in second-team All-American end Mkristo Bruce. If fully recovered from the knee injury that ruined his 2006 campaign, senior Matt Mullennix would be the likely heir apparent, though not without a fight from junior Mike Graise and sophomore Kevin Kooyman. Lance Broadus, the starter last year opposite Bruce, is back in 2007.

A SUMMARY OF POSITION BATTLES ON OFFENSE IS COMING SHORTLY

NOTABLE NOTES:

* Defensive tackle Fevaea'i Ahmu, who broke a foot last spring and again in the fall, will not participate in spring drills this season and may be forced to redshirt. He started 11 games for the Cougars as a true freshman in 2005.


ROMEEN ABDOLLMOHAMMADI

* The Cougars return two starting kickers in 2007. Loren Langley was the man from 2005 through most of last season, until his inconsistencies prompted Doba to hand the job to Romeen Abdollmohammadi. Langley and Abdollmohammadi waged a spirited battle last August that figures to be just as heated this spring.

* There will be two new faces on the coaching staff this spring. Marty Long replaces Robb Akey (Idaho head coach) as defensive ends coach and Steve Broussard takes over for Kelly Skipper (Oakland Raiders assistant) as running backs coach.

* Spring workouts will conclude April 14 (Mom's Weekend) with a Crimson & Gray contest that at this point, figures to be more scrimmage than game with the thinking being instead of the 1s and 2s going against the backups and running up a lopsided score, the players will ultimately get more out of it by having the starters go against starters.


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