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2012 Washington State Preview – Defense
Washington State DE/LB Travis Long
Washington State DE/LB Travis Long
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 12, 2012


CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Washington State Cougar Defense


Washington State Cougars

Preview 2012 - Defense


- 2012 Washington State Preview | 2012 Washington State Offense
- 2012 Washington State Defense | 2012 Washington State Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The Cougars have a very long way to go on defense, but the locals have no choice but to be patient with the Pac-12’s most generous unit of the past few seasons. The first-year staff has already installed a new 3-4 alignment that aims to leverage the program’s speed and athleticism from the second level. Yeah, the linebackers were hit hard by graduation and dismissals, but Chester Sua, Darryl Monroe and Eric Oertel appeared up to the challenge in the spring. And former DE Travis Long is going to be a force at BUCK, a hybrid position that’ll put the senior in a position to make plays all over the field—and capture the attention of NFL scouts. After playing modestly well last fall, the run defense is susceptible to a sharp regression unless Lenard Williams, Anthony Laurenzi and Xavier Cooper can do a much better job of controlling the line of scrimmage. The defensive backfield has plenty of scars after enduring a 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season. It also has considerable room for growth thanks to the return of all four of last year’s starters, particularly CB Damante Horton and SS Deone Bucannon, who both put down the ground floor of promising careers in Pullman.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Deone Bucannon, 80
Sacks: Travis Long, 4
Interceptions: Damante Horton, 4

Star of the defense: Senior BUCK Travis Long
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB Chester Su’a
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NT Kalafitoni Pole
Best pro prospect: Long
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Long, 2) Junior SS Deone Bucannon, 3) Junior CB Damante Horton
Strength of the defense: Team speed, secondary experience
Weakness of the defense: Pressuring the pocket, linebacker, takeaways, defending the pass, third-down D, red-zone D

Defensive Line

By its standard, Washington State has a chance to be rather stout on the first line of defense. The unit will once be paced by senior BUCK Travis Long , who’ll play a hybrid of a defensive end and outside linebacker. After earning honorable mention in back-to-back years, he broke through with a spot on the All-Pac-12 Second Team, making 42 tackles, a dozen stops behind the line and four sacks. He’s a lean and athletic 6-4, 256-pound, with an insatiable appetite for the opposing backfield. Long has a great feel for the game to go along with a work ethic that won’t be lost on NFL scouts making their way through Pullman.

With the shift to a 3-4 alignment, the Cougars are looking for a little more size at the end spots. Senior Anthony Laurenzi , for instance, is a 6-3, 287-pounder who has spent his entire career as an interior lineman. The blue-collar veteran of 21 career starts is coming off his best season, making 25 stops and 6.5 tackles for loss. He uses his hands well, and won’t quit on a play until the whistle blows.

Laurenzi is likely to be joined on the outside by 6-4, 278-pound redshirt freshman Xavier Cooper who likely would have played in 2011 had he been academically eligible. He uses his hands and his feet well, displaying the versatility and multi-dimensional skill set to contribute in more than one area in his debut on the field.

Challenging Cooper for playing time will be 6-2, 250-pound senior Lenard Williams , the second-year transfer from Iowa Western Community. He earned six starts at defensive end in his debut with the Cougars, but will be asked to produce far more than he did in 2011, when he had only 15 tackles and one sack.

Assuming Laurenzi remains on the left side, nose tackle figures to be the domain of 6-1, 292-pound Kalafitoni Pole . The prototypical space-eater in the middle of the line started three games as a rookie, chipping in with 11 stops. He operates with the right degree of leverage, using his lower body strength to gain a foothold in run defense.

Watch Out For .... Long to move around more than the game officials on Saturdays. More than just the program’s best all-around defensive player, he’s also extremely versatile, coaxing the staff to use him in a multitude of different ways. Long will put his hand in the dirt, stand up at the line or drop as the fourth linebacker in the 3-4 depending on the circumstance.
Strength: Long. The D-line will claim him even though he could spend a chunk of the year on the second level. He’s very quick off the snap, plays with a red-hot motor and will once again make those around him better because of his presence. If only the Cougars could mine a few more just like him, the defense wouldn’t be nearly as vulnerable throughout the season.
Weakness: Collapsing the pocket. Long led last year’s team with four sacks. However, after the all-star, there isn’t a single lineman who generated more than one sack in 2011. Unless 6-3, 218-pound sophomore Logan Mayes can be a situational pass rusher off the edge, Washington State won’t have many viable alternatives besides Long for making quarterbacks feel unsettled in the pocket.
Outlook: While Long is going to be a very special player at BUCK, he won’t have a lot of company in the fall. Laurenzi is sort of the microcosm for the rest of the unit, a collection of try-hard types who won’t quit on plays, but also won’t alter the tenor of a game. Washington State needs to improve at the point of attack, which means creating more heat, and clogging more running lanes.
Rating: 6.5

Linebackers

To say that it’s been a rough offseason for the Wazzu linebackers would be putting it mildly. Not only did leading tackler Alex Hoffman-Ellis exhaust his eligibility, but likely starters Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell were dismissed prior to spring drills. Sophomore Chester Su’a is suddenly the veteran of this barren group. The 6-2, 226-pounder not only earned a letter in his first season out of high school, but he started four games as well. The answer at weakside for the Cougars plays bigger than his size, and has the range to contribute against the run and the pass this fall.

Over at strongside, junior Eric Oertel has taken the lead this offseason for the starting job. While only 6-1 and 197 pounds, he’s just an explosive all-around athlete, the kind of player who’ll get exposed on one play, but make up for it on the next one. The former running back from Wisconsin made 13 tackles and carried the ball 10 times for 10 yards, while standing out on special teams.

The Cougars could go with a redshirt freshman in the middle, 6-1, 213-pound Darryl Monroe . He was on his way toward earning a letter in his first year out of high school when he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. The product of Orlando, Fla. has notable range, flying all over the field to make plays.

Looking to steal the spotlight from Oertel at strongside is 6-0, 205-pound sophomore Cyrus Coen . As a rookie from Hawaii, he lettered by appearing in all 12 games, starting versus Colorado. He ended with nine tackles and a stop for loss, exhibiting a burst of speed on both defense and the special teams unit.

Watch Out For .... one of the rookie linebackers to go on to win a job at some point in the season. This unit is going to be a breeding ground of opportunity for the four newest Cougars, three of whom were rated three stars in February. Jeremiah Allison of Los Angeles is the most heralded of the quartet, a dangerous presence coming off the edge.
Strength: Range and closing speed. By design, all of the Washington State 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 and athleticism to blitz the quarterback or seamlessly drop into coverage.
Weakness: Experience. This group is not only painfully young, but it’s very small as well. The average Cougars linebacker on the two-deep is a 6-1, 215-pound sophomore who’ll fly all over the field, but also be prone to getting flattened on north-south running plays.
Outlook: Had Mizell and Kaufusi not screwed, this area could have been a defensive cornerstone in 2012. Instead, it’s a glaring weakness littered with young and undersized athletes who’ll get exposed frequently. Yeah, they’ll make the occasional eye-popping play, but it won’t be enough to compensate for the number of times their inexperience and lack of service become evident.
Rating: 5.5

Secondary

After playing no seniors in 2011, there’s cautious optimism around Pullman that the current secondary might be the program’s best edition in years. In a Pac-12 brimming with quality safeties, junior Deone Bucannon belongs near the top of the list. A starter in each of his two seasons at Washington State, he took flight last fall by delivering 80 tackles, three interceptions and four pass breakups. While the 6-1, 190-pounder hasn’t quite fulfilled all of his potential at strong safety, he plays with chaotic athletic ability and a thirst for laying the lumber.

Bucannon will be ably backed up by 6-0, 191-pound junior Anthony Carpenter , a letterwinner in each of the last two seasons. He chipped in with 16 tackles in 2011, serving as a valuable member of the defensive B team and the special teams.

The Cougars are going to have their choice of seasoned players at free safety. Senior Tyree Toomer has started every game of the last two seasons, and 28 overall, but is in a serious fight for his job. A year ago, the 5-11, 199-pounder was third on the team with 60 stops, 2.5 of which were behind the line. However, he needs to improve his coverage skills in order to avoid spending finale coming off the bench.

Going stride-for-stride with Toomer is 5-11, 198-pound junior Casey Locker , who played a pivotal role in last year’s rotation. Despite starting just twice, he made 46 tackles, 37 of which were solos. A vicious hitter, who throws his body around with reckless abandon, he needs to start playing with a little more discipline in order to avoid the wrath of game officials.

The program has high hopes for junior CB Damante Horton who earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 for his play a year ago. In his debut as a starter, he made 31 tackles to go along with a team-high four interceptions. While a little slight of build at 5-10 and 174 pounds, he’s more likely to rely on his speed, soft hips and backpedal to slow down the other guy’s receivers.

Senior Daniel Simmons is looking to reprise his role as one of the steady veterans of the Washington State secondary. He’s been a starter since his freshman year, though injuries and a lack of consistency have stunted his overall development. The physical 5-10, 193-pounder had a quiet 23 tackles and three pass breakups last season.

The team’s top backup corner, and a candidate to get on the field in nickel packages is 5-11, 184-pound junior Nolan Washington. He has started 19 games over the course of his first two seasons, making 24 tackles a year ago. He’s experienced, but still vulnerable over the top, a key reason why he’s struggling to get back into the lineup.

Watch Out For .... Locker to relegate Toomer to the bench for stretches of time … potentially long stretches. The new coaching staff has been impressed by his physicality and penchant for delivering the knockout blow. If he can somewhat harness his enthusiasm, the Cougars believe they have a player who can bring a lot more attitude to the defensive backfield.
Strength: The safeties. Yeah, the trio of Bucannon, Toomer and Locker will continue to get burned on occasion in pass defense, but the safeties do a very nice job of jamming receivers, and filling lanes in run defense. Add Carpenter into the mix, and the Cougs boast a solid two-deep of quality players at the position.
Weakness: Coverage skills. Even with the added year of experience, it remains to be seen if Washington State can be any stingier when the ball is in the air. Last year’s crew, which is essentially the same as this year’s, ranked 111th in pass efficiency defense, picking off just eight balls, while yielding way too many plays to get behind the secondary.
Outlook: The Washington State defensive backfield is going to be a year older, and littered with returning starters. However, will it be a year better? The Cougars have struggled in this area for years, yet hope does come in the form of Bucannon, Horton and others. If this program was ever going to be just a bit tougher to navigate through the air, this is the season it might actually pull it off.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

The Cougars dipped into the junior college ranks in an attempt to fortify their special teams unit, signing Michael Bowlin out of Saddleback (Calif.) Junior College. The 6-4, 210-pound junior is slated to succeed Dan Wagner at punter, but could wear more than one hat with his new team. He has a strong enough leg to also be slotted in as the backup kicker and primary specialist on kickoffs.

For now, it looks as if junior Andrew Furney has held on to his job as the program’s placekicker. He was a crisp 14-of-16 on three-pointers, including 5-of-5 from beyond 40 yards. He’s been known to miss the occasional chip shot and extra point, which could be the difference from making the All-Pac-12 Team or just missing.

Washington State is desperately seeking a spark on punt returns after finishing 111th nationally, and a replacement for Isiah Barton on kickoffs. One option could be true freshman Rahmel Dockery who has already impressed the staff with his pop and explosiveness.

Watch Out For… Bowlin to have an immediate impact on kickoffs. Furney averaged a league-worst 58.3 yards, while producing just a single touchback on 58 tries. Bowlin should have no problem topping last year’s numbers, giving a boost to the defense by positively impacting field position.
Strength: Furney. At 5-10 and 231 pounds, he may look more like a stout fullback, but when it comes time to split the uprights, he’s rarely off target. Given a few more chances this fall, the junior has a chance to pick some of the recognition that eluded him in 2011.
Weakness: Coverage teams. Specifically, the kick coverage team. Not only did the Cougars rank 99th nationally in kick return D in 2011, but they also allowed an inexcusable four touchdowns to be taken back for six, which was more than any other team in the FBS.
Outlook: The new staff will have its work cut out for it this fall as it attempts to retool one of the country’s leakiest special teams units of the past few seasons. Furney is a nice place to start at placekicker, but Bowlin is the key. By December, he needs to be known as the shrewd signee who assists the Washington State D with both his punts and his kickoffs.
Rating: 5.5

- 2012 Washington State Preview | 2012 Washington State Offense
- 2012 Washington State Defense | 2012 Washington State Depth Chart