2010 Cougar outlook on defense

WASHINGTON STATE's 2009 defense finished last or near-last in the Pac-10 in most statistical categories, yet optimism abounds among those close to the program that the 2010 Cougar D will be downright fun to watch. Only time will tell, but the reasons for that hopeful outlook are clear. In the first of a three-part series previewing the 2010 Cougar football team, CF.C today breaks down the defense.

There are three reasons, say Cougar coaches and other observers, for optimism on defense next season.

First, the 2009 unit featured a ton of youngsters who gained valuable experience and now will be a year bigger, stronger and smarter. Second, there will be a huge infusion of speed and talent that was sitting on the sidelines this year in the form of redshirting freshmen. And third, a load of WSU defenders had their 2009 seasons undone in whole or part by injury and they look to be back at full speed in 2010.

Here's the complete defensive rundown on 2010:

Notable losses: S Xavier Hicks, LB Andy Mattingly, LB Jason Stripling DE Jesse Feagin

Top returnees: DE Travis Long, DE Kevin Kooyman, DE/DT Dan Spitz, DE Casey Hamlett, DE Jessy Sanchez, DT Bernard Wolfgramm, DT Josh Luapo, DT Toby Turpin, DT Anthony Laurenzi, S/CB Chima Nwachukwu, CB Brandon Jones, CB Terrance Hayward, CB Aire Justin, S Easton Johnson, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LB Louis Bland, LB Mike Ledgerwood, LB Myron Beck, LB Hallston Higgins

Up-and-comers: DE Brandon Rankin (expected arrival in January), DL Quayshawne Buckley, (expected arrival in January), DT Justin Clayton, DE Jordan Pu'u-Robinson, DE Adam Coerper, LB/S Tyree Toomer, LB Andre Barrington, LB Darren Markle, LB Sekope Kaufusi, LB Arthur Burns, LB Josh Garrett, S Jay Matthews, S LeAndre Daniels, S Jamal Atofau, S Casey Locker CB Daniel Simmons, CB Nolan Washington, CB Anthony Carpenter

Look for: A major boost of speed in the secondary could be in the offing with all the redshirts from this season who will be crackin' pads for real in 2010. Washington and Carpenter, in particular, figure to bring instant impact. Both showed off top-flight cover skills on the scout team this season and earned practice turns with the first string. Moreover, Toomer, Simmons, Justin, Hayward, Daniels and Nwachukwu -- all of whom missed some playing time in 2009 -- are athletic gamers who could make waves together if injury free.

Key to the season: The 2009 Cougars were out-muscled in the trenches and lacked overall team speed. The speed in the secondary and at linebacker will be up-to-snuff in '10; Kaufusi could make a real splash at linebacker or even rolled up to the line and exploding off the edge. Paul Wulff has not been shy about saying this upcoming season will see the defense upgraded hugely with the youngsters who will be second-year freshmen.

The key to the season will be the defensive line. The tackles need to plug up the running lanes and the ends need to get pressure on opposing QBs. At DE, Long, as a true freshman, showed glimpses of greatness in 2009. Mind you, he was playing around 245 pounds by season's end and he was just three months removed from the Greater Spokane League when the season started. If his weight and strength progress as expected, he will contend for honors in 2010. Kooyman, a wily veteran, missed darned near all of 2009 and will be back at end as well. So too might be Dan Spitz if he doesn't move inside. He is another young Spokane kid who looks to have a bright future. Also at end is the scrappy Hamlett, and Sanchez. The wild card here is going to be JC All-American Brandon Rankin. If he takes care of his work in the classroom, he'll provide instant -- potentially explosive -- help at end. As for the tackles, everyone is back. But is that a good thing given how over-matched they were in 2009? Likely yes, because Wolfgramm will be that much farther removed from the back woes that have slowed him since arriving in Pullman in 2008, and Luapo, who missed more than half the season, Turpin, and Laurenzi will be a year bigger and stronger. As mentioned earlier, Spitz might move over here full time after a second offseason in the weight room. It might be expecting too much for Buckley to make a big impact as a true freshman, but he has huge hands and may surprise early. Clayton could be one to watch for next season. Wulff earlier this year told CF.C of the reshirting freshman; "...he's going to be a good football player. He's tough, he has a very physical presence. I see him as having an impact."

Bottom line: Don't expect to see the second coming of the Palouse Posse, but the Cougar defense should be dramatically improved in 2010. The 2009 unit was loaded with youngsters and they played with a lot of heart all season long. They also got a ton of experience, in part because the Cougar offense rarely provided any assistance, in part because injuries were omnipresent. Couple that core of returning young talent with the speedy redshirts and outstanding coaching from Chris Ball and respectability should be restored.

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