Preview 2007 - Defense
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need to know:
Expect some subtle changes as head coach Bill Doba steps in to
coordinate the defense in 2007. He’d like to utilize more man
coverages and blitz packages, both of which could be suicide for
a secondary that’s been gutted by graduations and is in dire
need of a couple of reliable cornerbacks. The Cougars are going
to give up plenty of yards and points, but if they can create
turnovers and sack the quarterback, like last year, there’s hope
that the breakdowns can be managed. The defense is loaded with
big, agile bodies up front, but there’s a catch—serious injuries
are mounting and could bleed into the start of the season.
While there’s no quick fix for the pass defense, junior college
transfer Terry Mixon has the potential to be a star from the
moment he steps foot in Pullman.
Tackles: Eric Frampton, 87
Sacks: Mkristo Bruce, 10
Interceptions: Husain Abdullah, 2
Star of the
Senior DT Ropati Pitoitua
Players that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior S Terry Mixon
Best pro prospect: Pitoitua
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pitoitua 2) Senior DE
Lance Broadus 3) Senior FS Husain Abdullah
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, creating
Weakness of the defense: The cornerbacks
Talent is not a problem for the defensive line. Staying off the
trainer’s table, however, is a big issue. The Cougars have been ravaged
for over a year, testing the unit’s depth and chemistry. Towering 6-8,
290-pound tackle Ropati Pitoitua is healthy again after missing
three games last season with a knee sprain. In the nine games the
senior did play, he collected 37 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5
sacks. Pitoitua has spent the off-season working on his pass rush, so
he can disrupt the vision and passing lanes of quarterbacks with his
At 6-7 and 317 pounds, senior Aaron Johnson is another interior
beast, but he’s being slowed by a bulging disc in his back that hurt him
last year and could force him to miss time in 2007. He had only ten
tackles and a pair of sacks last fall, numbers he’d obliterate if the
back wasn’t barking.
Washington State’s best pass rusher is senior Lance Broadus, but
he’s recovering from shoulder surgery, and might miss a couple of games
in September. A technically-sound blur off the edge, he benefited from
the attention Mkristo Bruce got on the other side, racking up a
career-high 32 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. If he’s
unable to return for the opener, the Cougars will turn to senior Matt
Mullennix, who’s on the recovery trail after missing all of 2006
with an ACL tear. When last seen in 2005, he was showing signs of
becoming a 6-7, 257-pound run stopper that could also pressure the
If either of the ends can’t go in the opener with Wisconsin, junior
Mike Graise will draw the assignment. Even after adding weight to
get to 6-3 and 225 pounds, he’s better suited to being a situational
pass rusher than an every down lineman. In a limited role last year,
Graise showed off his speed, collecting 16 tackles, four tackles for
loss and two sacks.
Projected Top Reserves: While still little learning,
sophomore end Kevin Kooyman is coming off a solid spring that
earned him rave reviews from the coaches and playing time in the fall.
A former three-sport star in high school, he’s a sensational all-around
athlete that keeps getting bigger and stronger in preparation for more
playing time. In the classroom and on the field, Kooyman is the total
package and a big part of the future on defense.
Although junior tackle Fevaea’i Ahmu has proven to be an every
down lineman in the past, he’s also broken his foot twice in the last
year, and could be out for an extended period of time following
surgery. A former Freshman All-American, he’s very quick, finishes well
and never takes plays off. A healthy Ahmu would be a big boost to the
Cougar line in 2007.
Now matter what happens around him, it’s become evident that junior
tackle Matt Eichelberger is going to get plenty of snaps this
season. He won’t get much pressure on the passer, but at 6-4 and 312
pounds, is big enough to clog lanes and support in run defense.
Watch Out For… as many as ten linemen to earn letters in
2007. Washington State’s depth is going to be severely tested this
year, and underclassmen, such as Kooyman and redshirt freshman Toby
Turpin, could be thrown to the wolves out of necessity if the
starters break down.
Strength: Size. At any given time, Bill Doba can roll out
a front line that would make hoops coach Tony Bennett drool. With four
linemen on the two-deep that are 6-5 or taller, the Cougars are capable
of disrupting the quarterback’s line of sight.
Weakness: Durability. There’s a trend developing in
Pullman, and it’s not a positive one. The Cougar linemen just can’t
seem to last an entire season, which has begun to really chip away at
the foundation of the depth chart.
Outlook: Without knowing the status of Johnson, Broadus,
Mullennix and Ahmu, take a wait and see to get an accurate read on this
group. Figure at least two to miss significant time this fall, a
problem for a line looking to replace its best player.
With Scott Davis and Steve Dildine out of eligibility, junior middle
linebacker Greg Trent steps into the role of undisputed leader of
this unit. A third-year starter, he’s been productive both seasons,
finishing second on the team with 77 tackles in 2006. Although he
doesn’t do any one thing great and needs to make a few more big plays,
Trent is an instinctive defender that spends a lot of time near the
On the outside, the Cougars will be breaking in two new starters, junior
Cory Evans and sophomore Jason Stripling. Evans, in
particular, is ready for a promotion after registering 44 stops, six
tackles for loss and two sacks as a key reserve a year ago. At 6-1 and
227 pounds, he’s a small, athletic player on the strongside that
typifies this group of linebackers.
At weakside, Stripling appears to be back at full strength, making a
timely return from shoulder surgery that shelved him for 2006. While
only 5-11 and 220 pounds, he showed a tendency in the spring to really
pack a punch.
Projected Top Reserves: After getting his feet wet in 11
games as a true freshman, sophomore Andy Mattingly is about to
become the Cougars’ to backup, or more, in 2007. One of the program’s
landmark recruits in 2006, he has the range of a safety and, at 6-4 and
230 pounds, is the biggest of the team’s linebackers.
Junior Wyman Alexander has yet to play a game at this level, but
he’s already being counted on to back up Trent in the middle. A coveted
junior college transfer, he’s 6-2 and 245 pounds, and plays with
Watch Out For… Mattingly. On a unit that’s sort of
pedestrian, he stands out as someone that can be a special athlete and a
potential playmaker. Currently a backup to Evans at strongside, that
pecking order may not last all year.
Strength: Quickness. The first four linebackers form an
athletic quartet that moves very rapidly to the ball and has terrific
Weakness: Pass defense. Trent and Evans are listed at
5-11. Stripling is 6-1. Opposing defensive coordinators will recognize
this, and kill the Cougars over the top with their big tight ends.
Outlook: The Cougar linebackers are a steady group, but
far from spectacular. While they’ll make lots of tackles this fall, the
game-changing plays will escape them.
The graduations of three starting defensive backs mean the 2007
Washington State secondary will be built around senior free safety
Husain Abdullah, the lone returning regular. Beginning his third
season as the starter, he’s gotten better each year, picking off three
passes and finishing third on the team with 40 solo tackles in 2006.
Abdullah will be joined at safety by senior Christian Bass, a
6-2, 213-pounder that hits like a safety, but has work to do in pass
coverage. While he’s earned three letters in Pullman, he also has very
limited experience in the secondary.
By far, the biggest concern on the defense is at cornerback, where
seniors Markus Dawes and B.T. Walker will get the first
crack at being heroes. Both will be severely tested once summer camp
begins in August. Walker has great speed and good size, making nice
strides since last season’s debut out of the junior college ranks. He
played special teams in ten games last year, notching a couple tackles.
Dawes, also a JUCO product, was on his way to serious playing time
before a leg injury in the opener curtailed his progress. Like Walker,
he has a nice blend of size and speed, but has to show that he can lock
down Pac-10 receivers.
Projected Top Reserves: Things will really get interesting
in August, when three of this year’s biggest recruits begin vying for
playing time. Junior safety Terry Mixon has been breathing down
Bass’ neck since the moment he signed with Washington State. A two-time
All-American at Grossmont (Calif.) College, he was one of the most
sought after transfers in the country last year. A burner that covers
like a corner and hits like a heavyweight, Mixon is the kind of player
that this defense has been craving.
True freshman Chima Nwachukwu and sophomore Devin Giles
are expected to contribute right away at cornerback, despite not playing
a lick of football at this level. Already listed as the No. 2 behind
Dawes, Nwachukwu has the athleticism you’d expect from a corner, but
also displays a quiet confidence that indicates he’s ready to play
Giles hasn’t played since high school, an obstacle that didn’t keep Bill
Doba from hinting that he’ll have a chance to play in 2007. At 170
pounds, he’ll struggle on run downs, but has the track speed to be an
Watch Out For… the pass defense to be markedly better in
November than September. On the two-deep, just one player has starting
experience and five have been in Pullman for a year or less. The
lessons learned in the first month of the year will be evident during
the stretch run.
Strength: The Safeties. Provided Mixon is as good as
advertised, he’ll eventually team up with Abdullah to give the defense
two hard-hitting with outstanding ball skills.
Weakness: The corners. In another conference, Wazzu might
be able to hide all of its inexperience at corner. In the Pac-10, the
Cougars are going to give up a lot of yards and a lot of big plays,
unless the line is generating a crazy amount of pressure.
Outlook: Although there’s upside in the secondary, there
are also too many uncertainties at cornerback to feel confident about a
group that’ll open with Wisconsin and close with nine teams from the
If Washington State’s 2007 fate hinges on winning close games, it’ll be
in big trouble because the kicking game is awful. Senior Loren
Langley was erratic outside 30 yards last year, eventually giving
way to senior Romeen Abdollmohammadi, who hit all three of his
kicks at the end of the season and retained the job this spring.
Neither would be labeled reliable. Junior Darryl Blunt returns
as the punter after averaging 41.4 yards a punt a year ago. The former
walk-on needs to work on his consistency and his hang time in 2007.
Last year’s problems on special teams even infected senior punt returner
Michael Bumpus, who averaged a paltry 5.5 yards, which was well
below the 12.2 average he took into the season. His three punt returns
for touchdowns has tied a school record. Senior Charles Dillon,
who averaged a team-high 20.9 yards a kick return in 2006, will be back
to handle the assignment again this year.
Projected Top Reserves: Langley exhibited poor leg
strength and even worse accuracy last year, opening the door for his
benching. He’s around just in case Abdollmohammadi’s success last year
was fleeting. Blunt’s backup at punter will be Reid Forrest, a
big-legged sophomore that might win a distance contest with Blunt.
Watch Out For… Bumpus to return to the form that made him
one of the most dangerous punt returners in the nation in 2004 and
2005. Even with suspect blocking, he’s just too explosive to be kept
under wraps for two straight years.
Strength: Bumpus. On a unit besieged by mistakes and poor
execution, he’s the one Cougar that’s good enough to be a
difference-maker in the return game.
Weakness: Covering kicks. Washington State was dead last
in the Pac-10 last year at covering both kicks and punts, a trend that
needs to change, or heads will roll at the end of this season.
Outlook: Although the Cougar special teams unit can’t
possibly be as inept as last year, it still figures to be a sore spot
that costs the program a game or two in 2007.