Speed rating going way up for DBs this spring

IF WASHINGTON STATE is to make a prophet out of Paul Wulff this season -- the head man says the Cougs will be one of the most improved teams out there in 2010 -- the defense will need to become considerably faster than the 2009 vintage. Nowhere this spring should that speed differential be more apparent than in the secondary. And with that change comes an expected battle royale.

The starting corners at the end of last year's injury riddled campaign were Aire Justin (2 starts, [1 at safety]) and Terrance Hayward (5 starts). Both have more upside before they reach their potential but all indications this offseason are that they're going to have to battle this spring to turn back challengers to their starting roles.

Any pre-spring discussion at corner begins with Daniel Simmons. He was labeled midseason by the coaching staff as having become the Cougs' best corner, but he was lost after four starts and six games played to a broken leg. He is back at 100 percent this spring.

Simmons, says Paul Wulff, is fast, and that he sees him becoming "one of the bright young corners in the Pac-10." He's expected to be pushed this spring for the title of Cougs' best corner by a fleet footed freshman who redshirted in '09.

Nolan Washington, says Wulff, has legit 4.4 speed.

The 40 time has become diminished in the dot-com world, with everyone and their cousin self-reporting a 4.4, or better. The reality is that a 4.5 time in the 40 is flying. And 4.4 is something to cherish.

But speed alone doesn't make a great corner. Fortunately for Cougar fans, Washington did things on the scout team last year in coverage and run support that would indicate he can be good, very good, at the Pac-10 level, according to Wulff.

THE SPEED RATING of the Cougar defense will also be noticeably improved at safety this spring. The Cougs lose Xavier Hicks to graduation and his experience and savvy will be missed. But the Cougars will be faster there.

Anthony Carpenter, like Washington, is also a legit 4.4 guy who redshirted this past season. He's listed on the official WSU roster at corner but according to a recent report on espn he'll be at safety this spring. Carpenter this past season on multiple occasions looked very good on the scout team in coverage against the 1's.

Both LeAndre Daniels and Jamal Atofau play fast and hit hard. Daniels was lost in Week 2 to a broken leg and his return this spring will be welcome indeed. Atofau has been among the standouts this offseason in workouts and the weight room and was also a top performer last season on the scout team. Atofau has also been cleared by the Whitman County prosecutor's office recently of a charge following an off-field incident last month. After Wulff gathered all the facts back in February, Atofau had continued to fully participate in all team-related activities and he should hit the ground running in the upcoming spring session.

The Cougs also return Chima Nwachukwu. He's not as fast as some others listed here -- but there are also reasons why he has 28 career starts in the defensive backfield headed into his senior year.

Casey Locker is also a burner, his biggest need this offseason is to put on weight and muscle. Tyree Toomer, a LB/S type who lost the entire '09 season to a torn pectoral muscle, is expected to challenge after his emergent freshman season in 2008.

Jay Matthews also returns. He's not as fleet as many in this group but he's a smart player and there's no questioning his toughness -- last year at one point he asked (and was denied) to have a painfully injured shoulder strapped down tight so he could get back on the field.

MATTHEWS COULD eventually develop into a linebacker type but he's also, right now, perhaps illustrative of the Cougar design in the secondary. WSU comes into the spring with widely different kinds of players at the position -- both run stoppers/rolled-up safety types as well as guys who can flat out run and cover a lot of ground quickly.

With the corners and safeties expected to be a defensive strength this spring, and questions surrounding the defensive tackles, the Cougs may choose to play a 3-3-5, or some variant of it, by choice this year -- unlike last year when it was out of necessity due to massive injuries across the board.

As far as this spring goes for walk-ons in the defensive backfield, keep an eye out for Kyle McCartney. He was a 6-0, 192-pound special teams standout who played in nine games last year, and he brings the hammer.

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