POST-SPRING EXAM: Building the d-line

PULLMAN -- Among the projections and what ifs, the spring session at Washington State revealed at least one known truth with regard to the defensive line. A comprehensive breakdown of the defensive ends and d-tackles coming out of the spring ball session follows..

The Cougs simply need to be bigger in the middle.

While the defensive ends as a group performed fairly well, the defensive tackles, on balance, got pushed around at times. It would be remiss not to mention, however, that the two DT's projected to start, Toby Turpin and Bernard Wolfgramm, missed either most or all of the spring, respectively, with injuries.

Among the six d-tackles listed on the spring depth chart, not one of them is a senior and five of them weigh under 300 pounds.

Key to the Cougars' success on the inside in '09 is Wolfgramm (back) getting and staying healthy, something he was unable to do during his redshirt year this past season. And then he'll need to be the d-tackle Cougar fans hoped he was when he signed with the Cougs as a 4-star prospect in the 2007 class.

Turpin, the Cougars most experienced d-tackle, made solid strides towards the end of last season. He'll need to continue on that upward path and become a consistent, every down performer.

A key piece of the puzzle could fall into place if Josh Luapo can assimilate the Cougar D quickly after arriving on campus in January. Luapo has the tools to be a starter or key reserve who makes big plays and fills gaps. But he also needs to get in better football fighting trim to make those plays in the fourth quarter. But there was no doubt about it this spring, Luapo looked a legit Pac-10 run stuffer in limited reps.

Jessy Sanchez (6-2, 259) and Jesse Feagin (6-2, 266) are both somewhat tweeners, seemingly oversized on the end and undersized at d-tackle. Sanchez was injured this spring. Feagin is listed at d-end on the depth chart but spent the spring working on the inside and Wulff has said he thinks he can develop this year into a playmaker -- and he did get better there this spring. Offseason strength and conditioning will be important for both.

Dan Spitz still looks a bit like a d-end playing d-tackle although he's steadily adding weight to his 6-7 frame and is now up to 260 pounds. A redshirt freshman, he had a few moments this spring and could end up being very good after more physical maturation. Another redshirt freshman, Anthony Laurenzi, is also in the mix but looks to be behind some of the others on the depth chart.

OUT ON THE edge, the Cougs this spring looked improved from last season. One big reason why was the play of Cory Mackay and it seems trite to lament his expected loss this season when he's battling for his health following the recent car accident that left the redshirt freshman with numbness below the waist.

The surprise of the spring, on either side of the ball, was Casey Hamlett. Either every Pac-10 school missed on him the first time around or he developed fiercely over his two years at Western -- probably a case of a little bit of both.

In any event, Hamlett showed this spring he's clearly in the mix for a starting job. He didn't always look pretty, he's not wickedly athletic, but he made plays when others blessed with more athleticism did not. Bottom line, he played this spring like a legit Pac-10 d-end.

Kevin Kooyman missed much of the spring with injury but he made very good use of his time when he returned. He's the most experienced among the Cougar d-ends and came out of the spring on a roll. Adam Coerper is also in the mix.

THERE ARE ALSO a couple incoming signees who might well see the field this year on the d-line. Travis Long has tremendous upside. Whether he plays at d-end as a true freshman remains to be seen, redshirting has it's advantages, but it also wouldn't be a shock to see him start by the end of the year -- he has that kind of potential.

Brandon Rankin has an uphill battle to qualify. If he does make it in, however, the highly regarded junior college transfer could be an instant force.

Quayshawne Buckley will arrive at camp as a defensive tackle, though Wulff might want to redshirt the 6-4, 270-pounder his first year.

WHAT THE COUGS need to do most on defense this year to improve off a season where they surrendered 570 points in 13 games is be more physical against the run.

With the strength and weight gains across the board this offseason, and the increased pop seen this spring, that's a virtual certainty. But how much improved remains to be seen, and continued strong work this offseason will be critical for a number of players on the d-line.


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