2011 Washington State Preview – Defense
Washington State DE Travis Long
Washington State DE Travis Long
Posted Jun 25, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Washington State Cougar Defense

Washington State Cougars

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The glass-is-half-empty guy will remind you that Washington State was once again one of the nation's feeblest defenses. A positive individual, however, will point out that the Cougars employed a ton of underclassmen in 2010, lending hope for the future. Flanking DE Travis Long and LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, a pair of standout Pac-12 defenders, are a handful of exciting kids hoping to transform the recent tattered reputation of the D. Cougs, such as linebackers C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi, and safeties Deone Bucannon and Tyree Toomer, have a chance to become household names in time, beyond just the Palouse. All four cut their teeth in 2010, showing flashes of becoming outstanding players for the next few seasons.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Deone Bucannon, 84
Sacks: Travis Long, 4
Interceptions: Deone Bucannon, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Aire Justin, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Travis Long
Players who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Ian Knight
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB C.J. Mizell
Best pro prospect: Long
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Long, 2) Senior LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, 3) Sophomore S Deone Bucannon
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, the safeties
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, pass defense, red zone D, sacks

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: Two starters are gone. Two starters return. Too many holes to fill in one offseason. Much like its beefy brethren on the other side of the ball, the D-line has struggled with the basics, tackling and beating the man across the line of scrimmage. The Cougars were last in the conference in sacks and run defense, allowing 220 yards a game and an unacceptable 5.6 yards a carry. While the holdovers are quality players, two producers won't be nearly enough to produce markedly better results.

The star of the line—if not the entire D—is 6-4, 258-pound junior DE Travis Long , who has started every game of his Cougar career. A repeat honorable mention All-Pac-10 performer, he produced 51 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss, and four sacks in 2010. A non-stop competitor, with a healthy appetite for the backfield, he's expected back at full strength after sitting out the spring to recover from shoulder surgery.

Because of the graduation of Kevin Kooyman, Long's partner at defensive is a work-in-progress. One Cougar who's sure to get reps in the fall is 6-2, 244-pound junior Ian Knight , a first-year transfer from Butler (Kans.) Community College. Pure speed and explosiveness off the edge, he impressed the staff in the spring, routinely getting around the edge. On the inside, there's no paucity of experienced players.

Senior DT Brandon Rankin was impressive in his first year out of Butte (Calif.) College, starting all but three games. Surprisingly quick at 6-5 and 281 pounds, he made 19 tackles, five stops for loss, and three sacks. Junior Anthony Laurenzi started the three games Rankin didn't and is the favorite to be next to him in the fall. He posted 18 tackles on the year and used the offseason to add more power.

Sophomore Justin Clayton is more of a 'tweener up front, quick enough to get penetration, but undersized at 6-3 and 272 pounds. He started three games last September, making a dozen tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack.

Watch Out For .... redshirt freshman DT Toni Pole . Listed as a third-stringer before spring, he'll be tough to keep off the field in the spring. A classic space-eater at 6-1 and 291 pounds, he plays with good leverage and has consistently made plays during the offseason. He's now in a position to start if he can build on his breakout spring performance.
Strength: Long. The brightest star in an otherwise cloudy sky, he's the rare Cougar defender who could be playing in the NFL someday. He's quick off the snap, plays with a good motor, and makes those around him better. If only the program could find a way to clone him, there wouldn't be so many long faces about this unit.
Weakness: Stopping the run. There are plenty of experienced tackles at the staff's disposal, but can they keep opposing backs from getting into the secondary? It didn't happen last season, which is why the Cougars had one of the most generous run defenses in the country.
Outlook: Up front, there's Long and then there's a mess of uncertainty. After a solid debut, Rankin flashes potential on the interior, but it's imperative that the staff mines another contributor or two, especially at defensive end. If opponents feel comfortable doubling Long, Wazzu's best pass rusher could be neutralized.
Rating: 5.5


State of the Unit: The Cougars will be without just a single starter from a year ago, giving the linebackers a chance to be the strength of the defense. As long as the defensive line continues to struggle at the point of attack, this is going to be an active group, one that's forced to make a ton of plays in space. If the linebackers are unable to make stops consistently, an already shaky run defense becomes downright toothless.

As expected, 6-1, 241-pound senior Alex Hoffman-Ellis emerged as one of the team's top defenders in 2010, making 81 tackles, five stops for loss, two sacks, two picks, and six pass breakups. One of the best all-around athletes on the entire squad, he adjusted well to weakside, showcasing a combination of speed, size, and toughness. One of the vocal leaders of the defense, he also carries a big stick and is one of the hardest hitters in Pullman.

In the middle, Wazzu is buzzing about the future of 6-2, 225-pound sophomore C.J. Mizell , who spent the second half of his rookie as a starter. A premier prospect from 2008, he originally committed to Florida State before being declared academically ineligible. A terrific athlete with a high ceiling, he wound up fourth on the team with 57 tackles, six stops for loss, two sacks, and a pick.

Sophomore Sekope Kaufusi is the frontrunner to round out the starting unit from strongside. He had a productive first season of action, making 22 tackles and starting the Arizona game. Well-sized at 6-3 and 233 pounds, he has good instincts and can deliver the payload, needing to become a more consistent tackler.

There's a veteran presence on the depth chart provided by 5-10, 221-pound junior Louis Bland and 6-1, 231-pound senior Mike Ledgerwood. Both have starting experience, though injuries have been a stumbling block for each. Ledgerwood started four of the first five games last year, but lost traction after hurting his neck and falling behind Mizell in the middle.

Watch Out For .... the sophomores to begin soaring. Mizell and Kaufusi were wet behind the ears in 2010, but still were able to make plays on raw talent alone. With a full year and a spring session behind them, they have a chance to become two of the playmaking cornerstones of the future in Pullman.
Strength: Range. By design, all of the Cougar linebackers move very well laterally and have the quickness to go from sideline to sideline in a hurry. They play with fresh legs and a ton of energy, employing the flexibility to blitz the passer or drop into coverage.
Weakness: Consistency. Hoffman-Ellis is a rock on the outside and Ledgerwood is a steady producer, but the kids are, well, kids. As talented as Mizell and Kaufusi are at such a young age, both still make youthful mistakes, missing tackles and getting a lost in coverage.
Outlook: There'll be mistakes, for sure, but Washington State has good reason to be excited about its linebackers for the upcoming season. Hoffman-Ellis is a legitimate all-star contender and a foundational figure. For Mizell and Kaufusi, the sky's the limit. The sophomores are set to become local favorites and the kinds of playmakers this defense is craving.
Rating: 6.5


State of the Unit: The Cougars went with a lot of youth in the secondary in 2010. It was rough on that squad, but should prove beneficial to future teams. The unit was forced to grow up on the fly, ranking 104th nationally in pass defense and allowing twice as many touchdown passes as interceptions made. Fingers are crossed that the kids will begin growing up and the opponents will have far less success through the air.

Wazzu is perfectly content with its up-and-coming safeties, 5-11, 194-pound junior Tyree Toomer and 6-1, 186-pound sophomore Deone Bucannon. Bucannon was a revelation in his debut out of high school, leading the team with 84 tackles, four stops for loss, two picks, and two forced fumbles. An agile and all-around gifted athlete, he plays much bigger than his size and shows a genuine passion for playing the game and dishing out punishment. Toomer ranked third on the Cougars with 68 tackles, six stops for loss, and two sacks.

Another aggressive tackler, who earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention, he's a genuine asset to the program's run defense. Sophomore Casey Locker is an improving backup behind Toomer at free safety. The 5-11, 186-pound cousin of Jake Locker, he has excellent field awareness, making 20 stops and a pick in his first year.

Sophomore Nolan Washington was a surprise starter in his first season of action, playing in every game. A speedy 5-10, 180-pounder, he had 32 tackles, a pick, and four breakups, but needs to improve his cover skills. Since Aire Justin has been ruled ineligible, the other corner job has been thrown wide-open.

Sophomore Damante Horton seized the opportunity in the spring, holding off 5-10, 187-pound junior Daniel Simmons . The 5-10, 160-pound Horton has good hips and the superior cover skills. Simmons returns after holding the starting job for 10 weeks a year ago. He's had some injury issues that have impeded his progress, but has the requisite physical skills to be in the opening lineup. He had 30 tackles, a pair behind the line, before being sidelined.

Watch Out For .... progress. Like so many position on this team, the coaching staff went with youth in the secondary in 2010. It should begin to pay some dividends this fall in the form of fewer blown assignments and more deflected passes.
Strength: The safeties. Washington State is home to two good ones, both of whom have all-conference upside potential. Toomer and Bucannon are a pair of hitters, heavy-handed defensive backs who'll step up to stop the run and make opposing receivers wish they didn't cross their path.
Weakness: Softness in coverage. Not only did the Cougars yield too many yards in 2010, but they also give up too many big plays. Quarterbacks completed more than two-thirds of their passes on Washington State and for 8.2 yards an attempt, which ranked 106th in the country.
Outlook: The future is bright in the defensive backfield. The present? Still a little scary. While Bucannon, Toomer, and Washington all have potential, their struggles in coverage will continue to be exposed, especially against the league's better passers. Count on improvement here, but not as much as the staff would like.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Special teams has been a house of horrors in Pullman for a number of years. This season may be no different, as the Cougars search for replacements at both punter and placekicker, while trying to fine-tune the coverage and return games.

All-star punter Reid Forrest has exhausted his eligibility, but at least there's a veteran waiting in the wings. Senior Dan Wagner is in his fifth year with the program, and has made cameos from time to time. Lacking consistency, he needs to tighten up his overall game, specifically his flexibility and ball drop, in order to fend off the competition.

The graduation of Nico Grasu has created a kicking competition between sophomore Andrew Furney and junior Alex Gauper . Furney is the favorite, going 3-of-5 after replacing Grasu last fall, and showing better leg strength and overall consistency.

Watch Out For… Wagner to finish strong. A former walk-on and model of perseverance, he's earned his opportunity to be the front-runner at punter. Also a fine all-around athlete, he's been an emergency quarterback in the past, which will open up opportunities for high percentage fakes.
Strength: Covering kicks. In a dramatic turnaround from previous seasons, the Cougars led the country in kick return yardage defense, allowing just 17 yards an attempt. The program puts a lot of quality young athletes on coverage, and Furney might have a stronger leg than Grasu did on kickoffs.
Weakness: Punt coverage. Even the experience and hang time of Forrest couldn't help this group in 2010. Not only was Washington State a middling 70th nationally at covering punts, but it allowed a pair taken back for touchdowns for a second straight year.
Outlook: At best, the special teams unit will strive to be average this season. Wagner should lessen the blow of losing Forrest, but the situation at placekicker will remain unsettled until Furney or Gauper can prove otherwise. Someone needs to step up for a return game that had very little pop a year ago.
Rating: 5

- 2011 Washington State Preview | 2011 Washington State Offense
- 2011 Washington State Defense | 2011 Washington State Depth Chart
- Washington State Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006