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2008 Washington State Preview - Defense
Washington State LB Greg Trent
Washington State LB Greg Trent
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Washington State Cougar Defense

Washington State Cougars

Preview 2008 - Defense


- 2008 CFN Washington State Preview | 2008 Wazzu Offense
- 2008 Wazzu Defense | 2008 Wazzu Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Wazzu Preview | 2006 CFN Wazzu Preview 

What you need to know: Co-coordinators Jody Sears and Chris Ball are installing a 4-3 defense that’ll attack and stack the box in order to stop the run. Nine players who started games in 2007 are back, with the strength of the defense being at linebacker and defensive end. The star of the unit is DE Andy Mattingly, who made a splash last season as a blitzing outside linebacker with a knack for getting to the quarterback. He’ll be bookended by Kevin Kooyman, another terrific athlete who has the burst and desire needed to make plays behind the line. The chief areas of concern lie on the interior of the defensive line and in a secondary that yielded 23 touchdown passes, but played much better down the stretch.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Andy Mattingly, 91
Sacks: Andy Mattingly, 8
Interceptions: Chima Nwachukwu, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Andy Mattingly
Players who has to step up and become a star: Senior DT A’I Ahmu
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Kevin Kooyman
Best pro prospect: Mattingly
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mattingly 2) Senior LB Greg Trent 3) Senior LB Cory Evans
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, the defensive ends
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, the interior of the defensive line

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The D has been hurt by graduations along the line, losing three players with starting experience. To prop up the situation on the end, the Cougars are shifting junior Andy Mattingly over from outside linebacker and promoting junior Kevin Kooyman to the first team. Mattingly still moves like a linebacker at 6-4 and 241 pounds, but pressures the quarterbacks as if he belongs with his hand in the dirt. Despite starting just six games, he erupted for 91 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and eight sacks, using a speed rush and keen instincts to be the team’s best defensive playmaker. 

After starting a pair of games and collecting 10 tackles and 3.5 sacks, Kooyman is on the verge of becoming a factor in the Pac-10. An exceptional all-around athlete at 6-6 and 242 pounds, he’s a workaholic who keeps getting bigger and stronger in the weight room.

The lone returning regular is senior tackle A’I Ahmu, who started eight games and made 22 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. At 6-0 and 292 pounds, he’s quick and plays with good pad level, but has had of history of not making it through an entire season without getting injured. 

Next to Ahmu will be senior Matt Eichelberger, a long-time backup who’s finally getting a chance to crack the starting lineup. The biggest of the interior linemen at 6-4 and 317 pounds, he’s being counted on to occupy more than one blocker and plug gaps in run defense.        

Projected Top Reserves: Senior ends Mike Graise and Jesse Feagin have contributed little to the Cougar defense, but that’ll have to change if the defense has any depth on the outside.  Graise is only 6-3 and 220 pounds, a speedy situational pass rusher who had 14 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a reserve last season.  

In Feagin’s first season out of Los Angeles Southwest College, he played sparingly on special teams and collected three tackles. At 6-3 and 261 pounds, he gives the second team a presence in run defense that Graise can’t provide.

The most intriguing backup at tackle is senior Andy Roof, a former fixture on the offensive line who got suspended for all of 2007 for a DUI and was arrested at the end of April on suspicion of fourth-degree assault. Strong and experienced at 6-4 and 299 pounds, the hope is that he’ll be able provide run support at one of the defense’s thinnest positions. That is, if he can avoid another suspension. 

Also battling for playing time at tackle will be 6-6, 268-pound sophomore Toby Turpin, who’s looking for his first letter in Pullman. Quick off the snap and physical, he plays with a non-stop motor and has shown a tendency in practice for getting penetration. 

Watch Out For… how well Mattingly handles not being in space. He was a beast in the open field a year ago, showing off great range, but will be engaged with an offensive tackle on every play now that he has shifted to defensive end.
Strength: The ends. Although neither Mattingly nor Kooyman have been full-timers at the position, both have the drive and athleticism to form an unruly pass-rushing bookend for the Cougars. A couple of relentless pursuers, they’ll meet at the quarterback often.
Weakness: The tackles. When a defense relies on career backups and a former offensive lineman to pick up the slack inside, it’s a sign of trouble. The Cougars were seventh in the Pac-10 at stopping the run last season, and they should struggle again.
Outlook: The troubles in run defense and lack of depth on the interior are going to overshadow the tag-team of Mattingly and Kooyman, which has the potential to manufacture at least a dozen sacks. Opponents that commit to running the ball will have a few problems.
Rating
: 6.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: The strength of the defense will be at linebacker, home to three seniors who started all but one game last season. In the middle is 5-11 and 220-pound Greg Trent, a fourth-year starter who just keeps producing solid results despite not being off-the-charts in any one particular area. He’s coming off his best season with 89 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles. 

At weakside, Kendrick Dunn was one of last year’s pleasant surprises, producing 81 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in his first year removed from Blinn (Tex.) College. Cut from the same mold as Trent at 5-11 and 224 pounds, he has the closing speed of a safety and likes to tattoo opposing ballcarriers. 

Holding things down at strongside will be Cory Evans, easily the biggest of the linebackers at 6-2 and 240 pounds. A natural at shedding blockers and getting into the backfield, he had 84 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss in his first season as a regular.        

Projected Top Reserves: The veteran of an unseasoned B team is Jason Stripling, a 5-11, 220-pound junior who’s working hard to finally get back on the field. Dunn’s competition at weakside, he missed 2006 recovering from shoulder surgery and sat out all of 2007 for academic reasons. 

Trent’s apprentice in the middle will be redshirt freshman Marshal Pirtz, a former state wrestling champion from Idaho. A blue-collar worker at 6-0 and 231 pounds, he doesn’t wow the staff with his speed or athleticism, turning heads instead with his motor and intensity.      

Watch Out For… the linebackers to spend a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage. The new staff wants to crowd the box to stop the run, something the three seniors have proven capable of doing over the past few seasons.
Strength: Athleticism. By design, the linebackers are small, quick, and built to make stops from sideline-to-sideline and in opposing backfields.
Weakness: Pass defense. Three of the Cougars’ top four linebackers are under six-feet tall, leaving the unit vulnerable when it’s forced to match up with tall tight ends streaking down the middle of the field.
Outlook: While not loaded with superstars, the Cougars have a solid group led by a trio of senior starters. In a year that the interior of the line is sketchy, the ability of Trent, Evans, and Dunn to press up and stop the run will have a huge impact on the overall success of the defense.
Rating: 7.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: The on-going concerns regarding the pass defense aren’t going away anytime soon. Last year’s leading tackler and ball hawk Husain Abdullah has graduated, creating an opening for junior Xavier Hicks, who is serving 45 days in jail and will be suspended for the first three games of the season. A two-game starter a year ago, the feisty 6-0, 193-pounder chipped in 53 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a key reserve in the secondary. 

When he returns, he’ll be joined at safety by sophomore Chima Nwachukwu, who has already established himself as a mainstay of the defensive backfield after just one season on campus. A 12-game starter at cornerback as a true freshman, he’s making the switch to free safety, a better fit from the staff’s perspective. At 5-11 and 189 pounds, Nwachukwu debuted with 73 tackles, a pick, and five breakups, and has the athleticism and confidence needed to make the position switch.

In Nwachukwu’s place, senior Alfonso Jackson is transitioning from strong safety to cornerback.  A nine-game starter, he made 65 tackles and two picks in his first season out of Blinn (Tex.) college. While not the prototype at 5-9 and 204 pounds, don’t be fooled by his limited stature.  He’s a vicious hitter who should be prone to fewer mistakes in his second fall in Pullman. 

Senior Markus Dawes was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA, good news a Cougar secondary that can ill-afford any defections. Slated to be in the rotation the last two years, he missed half of 2006 with a leg injury and almost all of 2007 with shoulder problems. At 5-11 and 193 pounds, he has a nice blend of size and speed, provided he can get back in time for the opener and stay healthy for a full year. 

Projected Top Reserves: The defense will have no choice but to rely on unproven underclassmen for depth. Sophomore CB Romeo Pellum lettered in his first season, playing some special teams and making the first nine tackles of his college career. Still needing to add muscle at 5-10 and 162 pounds, he’s got developing cover skills and the athletic ability to compete for a starting job. 

Like Pellum, redshirt freshman Tyrone Justin is a fluid athlete in need of adding weight to his 5-11, 151-pound frame. He runs well and exhibits the ball skills of a former high school receiver.

The favorites to earn playing time at safety are a pair of sophomores, Myron Beck and Easton Johnson. A transfer from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, Beck has the 6-0, 207-pound frame needed to handle the rigors of playing strong safety and should start the season when Hicks is serving his suspension. Johnson is a 5-11, 196-pound walk-on from Feather River (Calif.) College who lined up in the spring at free safety.

Watch Out For… the fate of CB Devin Giles. A 12-game starter as a sophomore, Giles will give the secondary a shot in the arm if he’s able to return. Academic struggles forced him to sit out the spring, but he could be back this summer.
Strength: The Safeties. With so much uncertainty and youth at cornerback, the safeties are relatively stable, boasting a couple of hard-hitting upperclassmen with starting experience.
Weakness: Depth. Even if Giles gets back in the fold, the second unit is littered with corners and safeties who have zero experience, and would benefit from a season adapting to the speed of the game on special teams.
Outlook: Wazzu will once again be saddled by an average secondary that has some long-term potential at cornerback. Making matters worse, the schedule starts out with Oklahoma State, Cal, Baylor, Portland State, and Oregon, five programs that like to throw the ball.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: If the season started today, the new Cougar kicker would be junior Patrick Rooney, a newcomer from El Camino (Calif.) Community College. Although the competition is far from over, he built separation from sophomore Wade Penner and freshman Matt Myers by getting more distance and hang time on his kickoffs. Penner handled kickoffs a year ago, but was inconsistent and a liability for the coverage team.

Sophomore punter Reid Forrest beat out incumbent Darryl Blunt last fall and shows no signs of letting go of the starting job. Using a rollout style of punting, he averaged just over 40 yards, while showing nice touch on his directional kicks. 

Keeping Forrest from getting complacent will be redshirt freshman Dan Wagner, a former high school quarterback who’s come all the way back from a gruesome compound fracture of his ankle suffered three years ago.

Washington State loses its top punt returner and kick returner, which isn’t such a bad thing considering it ranked near the bottom of the Pac-10 in both categories. Trying to jumpstart the return game will be redshirt freshman Tyrone Justin, sophomore Daniel Blackledge, junior Chris Ivory, and senior Brandon Gibson.   

Watch Out For… Rooney to feel a little more heat in the summer. In a signal that the Cougars aren’t quite ready to anoint the junior as the starter, they’re bringing in a yet-to-be-named JUCO kicker to compete for the job.
Strength: Covering kicks. After being one of the Pac-10’s worst coverage units in 2006, Wazzu improved dramatically a year ago, a trend special teams coach Steve Broussard will be looking to continue.
Weakness: The return game. Washington State has put out an APB for special teams playmakers after losing Michael Bumpus and Charles Dillon, and finishing 94th and 97th nationally in punt returns and kickoff returns, respectively.
Outlook: Besides Forrest at punter, the Cougars are facing question marks throughout their special teams unit. The most pressing need is at kicker, where front-running Rooney is an unknown who has yet to attempt a pressure kick in the Pac-10.
Rating: 5.5