Preview 2009 - Defense
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need to know:
Washington State allowed 570 points in
2008, more than any school in Division I history. The Cougars
were defenseless against the run, spotty versus the pass, and
only able to create 13 turnovers in 13 games. Six starters are
gone from that Hindenburg, and there’s no evidence that the
situation will improve dramatically. It would help if the unit
can avoid the injury bug, which bit it repeatedly throughout the
season. Stopping the run, in particular, will be an on-going
headache for the players and the staff. The strength of the unit
will be the back seven, where linebackers Andy Mattingly and
Louis Bland, and safeties Xavier Hicks and Chima Nwachukwu are
Tackles: Xavier Hicks, 78
Sacks: Toby Turpin, 3
Interceptions: Xavier Hicks, 2
Star of the defense: Senior LB Andy
Players who has to step up and
become a star:
Junior CB Brandon Jones
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore LB Louis Bland
Best pro prospect: Mattingly
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Mattingly, 2) Senior SS Xavier Hicks, 3) Bland
Strength of the defense:
The linebackers, safeties
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, interior of the defensive line, pass defense,
The Cougars are putting out APBs for anyone who can make a
difference up front after the line was abused on a weekly basis
in 2008. Senior Kevin
Kooyman is a player with the size and physical ability to
make plays from the outside. At 6-6 and 246 pounds, he has the
long arms and good burst to get around tackles and into the
backfield. While limited by ankle problems throughout his
career, he’s managed to start eight games over the last two
seasons, making 41 stops, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.
Kooyman will be joined at defensive end by 6-2, 266-pound
senior Jesse Feagin,
a former JUCO transfer, who sat out all of last season. Still,
the coaching staff believes he can be a playmaker in his final
season, and his size on the outside is a plus for a team looking
to become a lot more physical against the run.
Toby Turpin is the
veteran among the defensive tackles, having played in 16 games
and starting four last season. Very quick off the snap at 6-4
and 284 pounds, he plays with a high level of energy and showed
a knack for making penetration after getting into the lineup
late in the year. Despite coming off the bench for much of the
year, he still finished with 20 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss
and three sacks.
One of the keys up front for the
defense will be the health of 6-3, 288-pound junior
who has dealt with persistent, nagging back problems. A
disruptive and powerful tackle while at College of San Mateo
(Calif.), he’s yet to make it on the field for the program and
was limited throughout the spring session.
Projected Top Reserves:
If Wolfgramm continues to be limited by his back, 6-0, 321-pound
junior Josh Luapo is
going to have an expanded role on the inside. Actually, his
playing time might be substantial no matter what happens with
Wolfgramm. A transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College, he has
the strong base to become the run stuffer that the program
When Division II Western Washington
dropped football earlier this year, 6-3, 239-pound junior
Casey Hamlett opted
to walk-on with the Cougars. So far, so good. He impressed in
his first spring in Pullman, battling his way to a number of
nice plays, and possibly earning a role as a situational pass
rusher on third downs.
Watch Out For…
Wolfgramm’s health. Hey, he was a four-star recruit two years
ago, yet hasn’t been able to take a snap. He won’t
single-handedly solve the Cougars’ interior woes, but if his
back is fine, he’ll certainly help the situation.
ends. It’s all relative to the surroundings, but Washington
State has the potential to be feisty on the outside, provided
Kooyman and Feagin can stay healthy for the entire season.
Hamlett was a revelation in the spring, and redshirt freshman
Adam Coerper was last
year’s Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. It’s not much,
but it is a place to start.
Stopping the run. At points last year, Washington State needed a
mercy rule for its defensive line, which was routinely mauled
and tossed around like a rag doll. The Cougs yielded 247 yards a
game on the ground, which was more than any other team in the
It’s true. It really does all begin in the trenches, which is
why the defense, as a whole, is in such a state of disrepair.
The Cougars simply don’t have the size or the manpower to win
many battles at the line of scrimmage, so the linebackers and
defensive backs will once again be far busier than they should
One of the few bright spots in last year’s disaster was the
unlikely emergence of 5-10, 202-pound sophomore
Louis Bland as a
defensive playmaker. As a first-year freshman, he worked his way
into the lineup in September and never left, starting the final
nine games and finishing with 55 tackles, nine tackles for loss,
and two sacks. While safety-sized, he has the outstanding speed
and field vision, to weave through traffic and make plays from
his station at weakside. Last year was sort of a blur for him,
so he’ll be even more effective in Year 2.
In a wise
offseason move, 6-4, 255-pound senior
Andy Mattingly is being permanently moved from defensive end to
strongside linebacker, where he’ll be better suited to wreak
havoc. He was miscast a year ago, producing just 44 tackles,
four tackles loss, and a sack. This is the same player, who a
year earlier used his speed and instincts to rack up 91 tackles,
11 tackles for loss, and eight sacks as an outside linebacker.
The task of replacing ultra-steady Greg Trent at middle
linebacker belongs to unproven 6-1, 236-pound sophomore
Alex Hoffman-Ellis. A
transfer from Moorpark (Calif.) College, he sat out last season
to get better acclimated with the system and the speed of the
Pac-10. It appeared to pay off. He looked sharp in the spring,
using his good wheels and range to cut off angles on running
plays and make stops all over the field.
Projected Top Reserves:
After starting nine games and making 34 tackles a year ago,
5-11, 202-pound junior
Myron Beck will need to get adjusted to coming off the bench
as the weakside backup. Similar to Bland, he’s built like a
safety and has the good athleticism to roam the field and lower
his shoulder when he reaches his target.
competition for Hoffman-Ellis in the middle will be 6-0,
224-pound sophomore Mike
Ledgerwood, who lettered and had 14 tackles in his first
year out of high school. While he can’t match Hoffman-Ellis’
explosiveness and range, he’s a sure-tackler, who’ll continue to
enhance his role on this defense.
Watch Out For…
Mattingly to approach his 2007 form. Finally back where he
belongs on a full-time basis, he’ll be able to freelance and
make far more stops than a year ago. Big, thick outside
linebackers, who can rush the passer, don’t grow on trees, so
he’ll have a chance to parlay this final season into an
opportunity in the NFL.
Athleticism. By design, all of the Cougar linebackers move well
laterally and have outstanding range. If it winds up being
Bland, Mattingly, and Hoffman-Ellis, the defense will be rolling
out three defenders, who can provide pressure on the blitz or
drop back smoothly into coverage.
Depth. After the top four linebackers, the situation thins out
in a hurry. The return of senior
Jason Stripling would
sure help the situation, but, like so many of the Cougars, he’s
never healthy long enough to make a sustained impact.
Outlook: By the
program’s rather modest standards, this is about as good as it
gets in Pullman. Mattingly is a legitimate Pac-10 defender, with
a possible future in the NFL, and Bland is on his way to
becoming a borderline all-star. If nothing else, these guys
should get plenty of opportunities to clean up the trash and
bolster the stat sheet.
While it’s not going to conjure images of USC, the Washington
State secondary is headed in the direction with the return of
three starters and one key transfer from within the conference.
Junior Brandon Jones
has made his way north from Cal and quickly moved into the
starting lineup at one cornerback spot. While only 5-9 and 178
pounds, it was evident in the spring that he has the hips and
quickness to evolve into the team’s most reliable cover corner.
Jones’ partner in pass defense will be 5-11, 156-pound
sophomore Tyrone Justin,
who started six games and had 20 tackles and three pass breakups
in his debut season. While still raw and in need of another 15
or 20 pounds of muscle, he shows good instincts when the ball is
in the air and make sudden breaks on passes. If he continues to
develop, he has the potential to be a four-year starter.
A solid collection of safeties is led by 6-0, 211-pound senior
Xavier Hicks, the
enforcer of the secondary. Hard-hitting and aggressive in run
defense, he’s coming off his best season as a Cougar, making 78
stops, picking off two passes and breaking up five others. With
extra game reps, he’s gotten more comfortable in his assignments
and is out of position far less frequently.
has strong safety covered, 5-11, 201-pound junior
returns to reprise his role as the starting free safety. A
regular from the moment he stepped foot on campus, he has
started 19 games over the last two years and made 130 tackles. A
terrific all-around athlete, he also has experience playing
cornerback, a real luxury when it’s time to defend the pass.
Projected Top Reserves:
If he can stay off the police blotter, 5-11, 194-pound sophomore
Tyree Toomer is going
to be the first safety off the sidelines as Hicks’ backup and
likely successor. As a true freshman, he appeared in every game,
making four starts, 34 tackles, four tackles for loss, and two
sacks. He has a very bright career if he hasn’t already derailed
it away from the field.
The reserve cornerbacks are
extremely young and inexperienced. In fact, exiting spring, a
pair of redshirt freshmen was behind Jones and Justin.
Daniel Simmons began
to distinguish himself in April, looking relatively comfortable
in pass defense and using his 5-10, 187-pound frame to separate
receivers from the ball.
Watch Out For…
the results of off-field problems. Let’s see. Toomer was
arrested on burglary charges and subsequently suspended upon
further review. Devin Giles, a possible starter at cornerback, took a hiatus from
spring to concentrate on academics. Simmons was suspended for
part of spring. Reports had surfaced that Hicks was in trouble.
Uhh, you get the theme here.
The Safeties. If Toomer is available, Washington State will
boast three starter-quality safeties, with the experience and
physical abilities to be playmakers. On this defense, you need
defensive backs who can stick their noses into the action. Wazzu
Allowing the big play. Washington State didn’t allow a ton of
yards through the air per game, but when passes were completed,
it was often for a big gainer or a first down. The Cougars’
average of 13.3 yards a completion was among the highest in the
The Cougars sort of got a break in 2008 when opponents often
ignored the secondary, choosing instead to run the ball at will.
Still, they’ve got a decent enough amount of talent to survive
in the Pac-10. It’ll help if Giles is available and Jones is as
good as advertised because depth at corner is going to be an
Although the special teams unit was as big a mess as the rest of
the team, hope can be found in the return of both primary
specialists. Junior Reid Forrest emerged as one of the Pac-10’s best—and
busiest—punters, averaging 41.2 yards, while using an
unconventional rollout style. He’s the main reason the Cougars
were respectable in net punting.
Nico Grasu emerged
unexpectedly from a pack of mediocrity to take over as the
primary placekicker. In his first season out of Moorpark
(Calif.) Junior College, he connected on 9-of-13 field goals,
including the game-winner in the Apple Cup. He’ll also be a
candidate to handle kickoffs.
Handling kickoff returns
will be a pair of Cal transfers, juniors
James Montgomery and
Brandon Jones. On
punts, sophomore Kevin
Norrell came out of spring with an edge on sophomore
Tyrone Justin. Senior
Chantz Staden, who
was eighth in the Pac-10 a year ago, will also get back into the
mix once he returns from an injury.
Watch Out For…
Grasu’s development. After providing some stability to a messy
situation at placekicker, he’s hoping to be even more consistent
in this second season. Although he won’t have many pressure
kicks on this team, he could get a much of scoring opportunities
when drives stall deep in the red zone.
Forrest. He’s got top billing on special teams, and quite
frankly, is one of the most consistent players on the squad. He
does a good job of preventing big returns and assisting a Cougar
defense that’ll take all the help it can get.
return game. For the second straight year, the Cougars were
downright miserable in the return game, finishing 117th
nationally on punts and 64th on kickoffs. If the
Montgomery and Jones can’t provide immediate help, it’ll be the
same story again this fall.
there are problems here, but all things are relative. Washington
State has actually come a long way in a year, solidifying the
kicking game with Forrest and Grasu, and adding Montgomery and
Jones to the return game.