Preview 2008 - Defense
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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
Tackles: Andy Mattingly, 91
Sacks: Andy Mattingly, 8
Interceptions: Chima Nwachukwu, 2
of the defense:
Junior DE Andy Mattingly
Players who has to step up and become a star: Senior DT
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
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, the interior of
the 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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