Washington State Preview 2006 - Defense
Washington State Cougars
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Washington State Cougars Preview 2006 - Wazzu Defense

What you need to know ... It's not going to be the type of defense that can stop anyone cold, but there are just enough veteran playmakers to come up with a few plays needed to be effective in the shootouts the team is certain to be in. End Mkristo Bruce should be one of the Pac 10's most disruptive forces, while outside linebackers Steve Dildine and Scott Davis should be in line for all-conference honors. The secondary that struggled too much last year has to find new corners, but the safeties should be solid.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Eric Frampton, 87
Sacks: Mkristo Bruce, 10
Interceptions: Husain Abdullah, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE Mkristo Bruce
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CBs Don Turner and Tyron Brackenridge
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Aaron Johnson
Best pro prospect: Bruce
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bruce, 2) SS Eric Frampton, 3) LB Steve Dildine
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:

Defensive Line
The line wasn't all that bad last season considering the overall problems of the defense, and it should be excellent again this year led by sackmaster Mkristo Bruce on the end. The tackles should be a strength with the return of Ropati Pitoitua from a leg injury and should do enough on the inside to allow Bruce to shine. There's plenty of experienced depth to form a nice rotation as the year goes on.
The key to the unit: Keep on sacking. Wazzu had the Pac 10's top pass rushing defense last year, but the run D needs to be better. Both things start up front.
Defensive Line Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- DE Mkristo Bruce, Sr. - 67 tackles, 10 sacks, 15 TFL, 3 broken up passes, 4 quarterback hurries, 3 forced fumbles
One of the nation's top all-around ends, the 6-6, 250-pound senior can do it all. He's an unstoppable pass rusher when he sees one-on-one blocking, but he's also solid against the run finishing fourth on the team in tackles. There are few better at getting around the corner and closing on the quarterback.

- DT Aaron Johnson, Jr. - 19 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Johnson was a decent player on the inside last year, but he didn't use his size enough to stuff the run. He's 6-6 and 310 pounds with a little bit of quickness. Now he has to be an anchor at left tackle

- DT Ropati Pitoitua, Jr. - 13 tackles, 1 sack
Back after hading problems with a leg injury last season. the 6-8, 299-pound junior should add instant help to the front four. He hit  the weights hard and should be more of an all-around force, but his real talent is getting into the backfield; he'll be one of the Pac 10's best interior pass rushers.

- DE Matt Mullennix, Jr. - 12 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 TFL
After seeing a little bit of reserve time last year and showing flashes of becoming a top pass rusher, the 6-5, 256-pound junior has to flourish on the other side of Mkristo Bruce. A torn up knee knocked him out in 2004 and hindered him a bit last year, but he's 100% now.

Top Backups
- DT A'I Ahmu, Soph. - 26 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL
Ahmu stepped in when Ropati Pitoitua got hurt and turned into a decent all-around defender. He still needs work against the run, but he's a good tackler and should be fantastic in a reserve role on the right side if he doesn't win the starting gig.
- DE Matt Graise, Soph. - 5 tackles
Purely a pass rushing specialist, Graise is only 6-3 and 216 pounds but has good speed. He'll mostly see time on special teams, but he should also be a disruptive force behind Mkristo Bruce on the weakside.

Wazzu loses heart-and-soul leader Will Derting, but it gets back a whole boatload of experience and talent. Unheralded because of all the attention pair to Derting, Scott Davis and Steve Dildine became strong players on the outside and now should be in the mix for All-Pac 10 honors. Greg Trent had a nice first season in the middle when Derting was hurt, and now he should be a threat to hit the 100-tackle mark.
The key to the unit: More big plays. The linebacking corps didn't do nearly enough to force turnovers. Last year was about getting experience. This year will be about blowing things up.
Linebacker Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- Scott Davis, Sr. - 66 tackles, 5 TFL, 6 broken up passes
One of the team's top tacklers over the last two years, Davis is a fantastic pass defender as well as a good tackler on the strongside. While he's not all that big at 5-10 and 228 pounds, he's quick and has great instincts. He should grow into an all-star with more Pac 10 recognition.

- Greg Trent, Soph. - 69 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 3 broken up passes
Trent was a terrific backup last season and now will take over Will Derting's old spot. While he might not be Derting, he'll be one of the team's most productive players after finishing second on the team last season. With five games of starting experience, he knows what he's doing and should grow into a disruptive force.

- Steve Dildine, Sr. - 68 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up passes
With the strength to play strongside linebacker and the wheels to shine on the weakside, the 6-1, 229-pound senior got plenty of opportunities to make plays with teams running away from the other linebackers. An All-Pac 10 caliber talent, Dildine's quickness and experience should make him a star.

Top Backups
- Brian Hall, Sr. - 11 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Mostly a special teamer so far, the 242-pound senior is by far the team's biggest linebacker. He has a little bit of experience and needs to be a factor against the run on the outside playing behind Scott Davis.
- Jason Stripling, Soph. - 7 tackles
While Stripling is undersized at 5-11 and 218 pounds, he has the speed and range to be an interesting prospect in the middle. He saw time as a freshman on special teams and now needs to be a steady part of the rotation.
- Cory Evans, Soph. - 19 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
A productive high school running back, Evans turned in a nice first season showing good quickness on the weakside. While he needs more experience to be the playmaker Steve Dildine is, he could be a starter without much of a problem.

Defensive Backs
All the Pac 10 secondaries have issues in the pass happy conference, but the Cougars still struggled even by the low standards. Corner is the main early concern needing to replace both starters, but the safeties will be will be excellent with the return of Husain Abullah and Eric Frampton. This group can tackle, but they can't give up so many big plays.

The key to the unit: Be far better on key plays. The secondary couldn't stop anyone on third downs and got beaten deep too often.
Secondary Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- CB Tyron Brackenridge, Sr.
The top JUCO recruit hasn't done anything yet; now he'll finally get on the field and get a shot to shine. He has fantastic speed and can be used as a kick returner, but he has to stay healthy. Expect him to be one of the team's interception leaders.

- FS Husain Abdullah, Jr. - 54 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 broken up passes
Abdullah has all-star potential with big hitting ability and decent range. He's a decent hitter who has to be more consistent when the ball is in the air, but after two years of experience, he should be able to sniff out more plays.

- SS Eric Frampton, Sr. - 87 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 5.5 TFL, 8 broken up passes
Frampton put it all together last season using his athleticism and size to become one of the team's best defenders. He lead the team in tackles and was the team's best pass defender. With the timing and speed to make plays in the backfield, he'll be sent on blitzed early and often.

- CB Don Turner, Sr. - 25 tackles, 1 interception
While he doesn't have any starting experience, he has seen more than enough time to step in and be the team's number one cover-corner. He's a good-hitting 6-0 and 183 pounds with nice wheels, but he has to show he can hang with the team's speedier receivers.

Top Backups
- CB Courtney Williams, Soph. - 12 tackles
Projected to be a safety when he came to the team, the 6-1, 193-pound sophomore will now combine with Ryan Kensok for backup time on the left side. He's one of the team's fastest players, but he has to show that he can cover someone.
- FS DeWayne Patterson, Sr. - 24 tackles, 1 sack
One of the team's star JUCO transfers last season, Patterson made a little bit of an impact with two starts and a few big plays. While he has an excellent combination of size and speed, he's not going to take too much time away from Husain Abdullah.
- SS Michael Willis, Soph. - 10 tackles
A huge hitter, the 6-3, 205-pound Willis has the potential to become an intimidating force once he starts seeing more time. He'll make plays on special teams and could see a little bit of time in nickel and dime packages.

Special Teams
The kicking game is a question mark needing Darryl Blunt to replace star punter Kyle Basler and placekicker Loren Langley needs to be like he was at the beginning of 2005, not the end. Michael Bumpus should be one of the Pac 10's top punt returners, but the kickoff return game needs more pop after only averaging 19.1 yards per try.
The key to the unit: Replacing Basler is one of the biggest keys to the team. If Darryl Blunt can be solid, the special teams will be more than fine.
Special Teams Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- PK Loren Langley, Jr. - 14-22 FGs, 38-41 extra points
Langley started off the season hot and then couldn't hit anything late in the year. Granted, most of the missed were from long range, but consistency is suddenly a question. He's solid from inside 40, and shaky past.

- P Darryl Blunt, Soph.
Blunt has the unenviable task of trying to replace Kyle Basler, who helped lead the Cougars to the Pac 10 lead in net punting. While he won't be Basler, he has a decent leg.

Related Stories
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Washington State Preview 2006 - Offense
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