Coug LBs have speed, high upside this spring

SPEED AND NEW FACES are among the storylines at linebacker headed into Wazzu's spring football session kicking off this week. The Cougs lose Andy Mattingly and Jason Stripling to graduation but return the team's top tackler from '09, get a player back from the injury list who is expected to have a big impact, have a trio of 'backers who redshirted last year ready to roll and more.

Note: After this article was published, Wulff was quoted in an interview as saying Hoffman-Ellis will move to the weakside linebacker spot, with Bland moving to the middle in the fall when healthy.

Alex Hoffman-Ellis, a junior-to-be who logged a WSU-leading 84 tackles this past season, returns in the middle when spring ball kicks off on Thursday. The other two starting spots, particularly with Louis Bland (knee) out this spring, aren't as clear cut headed into the 15-practice spring session.

Hoffman-Ellis was, at a listed 6-1, 233-pounds, a physical specimen last year but reports from Pullman are that he's gotten bigger and better. It might not be accurate to expect a large weight gain given his frame and how big he already was, but strength gains in the right places could translate to even bigger tackle numbers for him this season.

LB/S Tyree Toomer was expected to be a key contributor -- in large part because of his aggressive mentality 00 both in the defensive backfield and in the box last season but was lost to a torn pectoral muscle. It will be intriguing to see if he's used the same way this spring, or if he gravitates more towards linebacker, or defensive back, now that he's 100 percent.

Bland started the '09 season injured and ended it the same way, playing in only six games. He'll miss the spring (knee) but Paul Wulff earlier this year projected he'll be ready to go July 1. Bland's absence hurt the Cougs last year, he was expected to play a major starting role. Provided he's 100 percent headed into fall camp, expect him to factor in heavily.

MEANWHILE THIS SPRING, expected to see plenty of action are Darren Markle, Andre Barrington and Arthur Burns.

All three redshirted this past season and Markle took it right up to the final days prior to the opener before the WSU coaches decided to keep his redshirt on. Markle appears tailor made for the middle but he did run some on the outside last fall camp.

Mike Ledgerwood also is a MIK-type but he is quick over short distances and has surprisingly good lateral movement, as was evident in last year's 14-tackle Apple Cup performance. He had three starts last year and amassed 51 tackles.

Barrington is a guy who has all the tools but needs to put them into action on the field. He is good in coverage and has great lateral movement. Also possessing great lateral movement is Burns. He moved to linebacker in the latter half of the past season, though the official WSU roster still lists him at running back. Assuming he doesn't move back to running back this spring, he will make for a very speedy linebacker.

KEEP AN EYE out for Myron Beck. He's a smart player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and it's not by coincidence. Beck is seemingly always working on his coverage skills, and he's always prepared because he works hard behind the scenes.

Hallston Higgins has yet to reach his full potential as a Cougar. The senior-to-be did stand out on special teams last year however, and Cougar fans will be watching to see if his next step is to enjoy some of the same success position-wise this year.

POST-SPRING, the Cougar linebacking corps is expected to get a boost when highly touted C.J. Mizell arrives for fall camp. Also in the 2010 class is LB/RB Eric Oertel, the state of Wisconsin's Gatorade Player of the Year.

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