Big questions at DT for Cougs this spring

WHERE THE COUGAR defensive ends should be much improved, Washington State's defensive tackles will come into WSU's spring ball with loads of questions. Here's the rundown -- we're talking players, leverage and pressures, fronts and gap control. From 1-techniques and 3-techniques to hand fighting and hand position, plus things to look for over the course of the spring ball session and more..

THE NEWS ISN'T ALL BAD at d-tackle headed into the 15-practice session that begins March 25. For starters, Dan Spitz and Anthony Laurenzi return. And highly lauded Brandon Rankin might line up at DT, too.

Rankin was a junior college terror, racking up 24 sacks in a JC All-America senior season. He reminds Wulff of Dorian Boose, and he has both speed and is very good at hand fighting.

Whether Rankin lines up in a few different spots, at DE, or at DT, Cougar fans will breathe a little easier at DT if he hits the ground running this spring.

Spitz started three games at defensive tackle and two more at d-end last year. He'll play with some nastiness to him at times, but he's still learning. He does use his hands very well, something critical at the position.

A good DT will always try to have his hands above his eyes and even though Spitz is 6-foot-6, he does that nicely.

Laurenzi has great hips, he understands flow and that allows him to slip off blocks. But in order to take that next step, what Cougar fans are hoping to see this spring is more nastiness and for him to be more violent with his hands.

Laurenzi has been so good at flipping people in the past, he's not as physical with his hands. But if he wants to be a complete DT, he'll have to improve in that area.

Justin Clayton plays with a sense of urgency and with great leverage. He just gets after people.

For d-tackles, it's not just about speed and strength. It's also about understanding leverage and pressure. In other words, when a DT needs to fight pressure -- and when they need to go with it and then redirect. That most often comes with experience over a college career but Clayton is advanced at that aspect now, despite being just a redshirt freshman-to-be.

ONE OF THE biggest things in co-defensive coordinator's Chris Ball's d-line scheme is having a hat on a gap. In the Cougs' four man front, the two d-tackles are the 1-technique (typically plays the guard-center gap), and the 3-techique (typically plays the guard-tackle gap). The Cougs this spring are short on 1-technique players.

They're typically your pluggers -- the shorter, more powerful guys. The more successful ones really understand how to use leverage to their advantage.

Josh Luapo is a good example of a 1-technique, but he's out this spring, one of only four Cougars expected to miss spring with injury (ACL). While he's expected back at the start of fall camp, how ready to go he'll be for 2010 won't be known until he gets out there.

Many of the other Cougar DT's have more of the 3-technique type of body -- fluid, more athletic. It doesn't mean they can't play the 1-gap, just that it might not be their optimal position.

Will the Cougs instead employ an odd-man front in 2010, similar to what they did in 2009 when injuries hit? Or will they use a combination off 4-man and odd-man fronts? Or will they do something new?

Could be, to any of the above. And the spring probably won't decide that. Because the Cougs might be missing more pieces than just Luapo.

Toby Turpin was suspended for the last two games of the '09 season for an undisclosed violation of team rules. An unrelated incident, an academic issue could end his WSU career, according to a report in The Spokesman-Review. Turpin is reportedly in the middle of an appeals process.

TURPIN IS THE Cougs' most experienced DT and a senior-to-be. Bernard Wolfgramm is also a senior-to-be. Wolfgramm didn't live up to his billing last season coming out of junior college, and there was a reason for that.

Wolfgramm played in 10 games with seven starts but even when he played, he was playing at less than 100 percent. Will Wolfgramm's lingering back issues clear up, or will he just be functional, his WSU career marked by lost time and playing at less than full health? The Cougs are hoping for a positive answer to that question starting with this spring.

WASHINGTON STATE HAS some good underclass d-tackles in the system -- Spitz and Clayton have high ceilings. Laurenzi could too, if he turns it up a notch. Ideally, however, you'd have some stud senior DT starters ahead of them right now, and then use the trio liberally in rotation.

But with Luapo out this spring, Turpin in limbo and Wolfgramm's past injury problems, the younger guys could end up being front line guys in 2010. Rankin was a star at the junior college level but can he do it at the Pac-10 in his first year, and potentially at a new position?

One thing is for certain, the defensive tackle position will be full of intrigue beginning on March 25.

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