POST-SPRING EXAM: Safety most consistent on D

PULLMAN--I watched every minute of every spring practice and in gauging position starters, it was probably the most consistent position on the Washington State defense, the safety spot. Xavier Hicks was an enforcer. Chima Nwachukwu continued to improve. A second year Cougar also solidified his position on the depth chart with his spring play. After those three, that's where larger questions begin.

Xavier Hicks this spring regularly laid out a number of receivers and ball carriers when the Cougs went full contact. Hicks is 6-0, 211 pounds but he hits like he's got at least another 20 pounds to him.

Big sticks are great but they don't mean much if they come at a price. Fortunately for the Cougs, Hicks showed a solid grasp of the defense this spring and always seemed to be in the right position.

Like Hicks, Chima Nwachukwu has worked hard this offseason to improve, each has assumed a leadership role and it was evident over the spring.

The Washington State coaches will likely stick to the mantra that no starting jobs are assured, in part to foster more competition. But based on their play this spring, it's hard not to pencil in the two at the safety spots unless something were to change dramatically.

BEHIND THE DUO, Tyree Toomer made a strong case this spring for being the primary backup at both safety positions.

Toomer filled in at corner as well when a phalanx of players were sidelined.

But beyond Toomer this spring, injuries were the story. How so? There were times this spring Hicks was actually running with the ones and twos in certain drills.

Eric Block, a heady athlete, missed almost all this spring, and is still trying to shake the chronic stomach ailment that sidelined him last year. Jay Matthews was also out injured and LeAndre Daniels was saddled with an ankle injury most of the spring.

That's valuable depth sidelined, and that meant Kyle McCartney, a walk-on, saw a lot of turns in with the backups when Toomer was with the corners.
br> And while McCartney worked hard and made some plays, it's still usually going to be an issue trying to win in the Pac-10 when injuries have coaches turning to walk-ons in the two deeps.

STILL, OVERALL, THIS WAS the position that turned in the sharpest play all spring on the crimson stop corps. And that's not unexpected given the veteran leadership and talent of Hicks and Nwachukwu.

The problem of course is that injuries can pop up on any given play during the season, in games or practice, and when you're thin to begin with it only takes one ding -- just one before it goes from looking at the depth chart and feeling comfortable, to concern.

The Cougs have a number of safety-types coming in this recruiting class with Anthony Carpenter, Jamal Atofau and Casey Locker among them. The problem there is the safety position usually isn't one that lends itself to a freshman being ready to immediately step into the breach without growing pains.

But if Hicks, Nwachukwu and Toomer stay healthy this season, the Cougars look to be in pretty good shape at the safety spot based on the spring.


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