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2010 Washington State Preview - Defense
Washington State P Forrest Reid
Washington State P Forrest Reid
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 19, 2010


CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Washington State Cougar Defense


Washington State Cougars

Preview 2010 - Defense


- 2010 Washington State Preview | 2010 Washington State Offense
- 2010 Washington State Defense | 2010 Washington State Depth Chart
- Washington State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: How bad is the Washington State defense? It made progress in 2009, yet still ranked last in the country in total defense and allowed more than 38 points a game. Other than getting reps for a slew of underclassmen, largely because of injuries, absolutely nothing went right for this unit, which was simply out of its league in the Pac-10. Hope comes from all of those young kids thrust on to the field about a year before they were ripe. Out of the chaos emerged future cornerstones, like DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, and CB Daniel Simmons. With so few losses from a year ago, the Cougars should take another step forward, even if it remains the most beatable defense in the conference.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis, 84
Sacks: Anthony Laurenzi, Travis Long, 2
Interceptions: Myron Beck, 2

Star of the defense: Sophomore DE Travis Long
Players who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Mike Ledgerwood
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Daniel Simmons
Best pro prospect: Junior LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Long, 2) Hoffman-Ellis, 3) Senior S Chima Nwachukwa
Strength of the defense: The ends, returning lettermen, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, pass defense, red zone D, tackling, sacks

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Washington State will suffer no attrition on a line that has to be sturdier than a year ago. Like Jeff Tuel on defense, 6-4, 256-pound sophomore DE Travis Long emerged from disastrous surroundings to author an impressive debut in Pullman. An improbable honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection, he started all 12 games, making 47 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. He’s gotten bigger and stronger during his first offseason, yet hasn’t lost the quickness that helped make him effective last season.

On the opposite side, 6-6, 259-pound senior Kevin Kooyman was slated to be the starter in 2009, but a PCL sprain ended his season after one game. He showed plenty of potential in his first three seasons, making 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, and has the right combination of size and get-off to close his career strong. The key will be staying healthy, which has too often escaped him.

Five different players earned starts in 2009. All but the dismissed Toby Turpin return. An injury last fall created an opening for 6-6, 275-pound Dan Spitz to get more snaps than originally anticipated. He started five games and made 16 tackles, showing the potential to be a force on the interior, especially once he adds more weight to that long frame.

One of the numerous options to line up next to Spitz will be 6-3, 288-pound senior Bernard Wolfgramm, a former product of College of San Mateo (Calif.) who has dealt with back problems for much of his career. As healthy as he’s been in some time, he actually suited up for 10 games, but was only able to make 10 tackles and one stop behind the line.

Projected Top Reserves: When Division II Western Washington dropped football two years last year, 6-3, 259-pound senior Casey Hamlett opted to walk-on with the Cougars. So far, so good. He filled the void when Kooyman went, starting eight games and making 20 tackles and a pair of sacks. More of a situational pass rusher, he’s prone to getting exposed in run defense.

Once he returns form last year’s ACL injury, 6-0, 331-pound senior Josh Luapo will provide veteran depth on the inside. Originally a transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College, he started a pair of games before getting hurt, and has the bubble and wide base to become the kind of space-eater this school sorely needs.

Pushing Spitz for playing time now that Turpin is gone will be 6-3, 286-pound Anthony Laurenzi. A starter on five different occasions, he was able to flatten the learning curve early in his career. More of a three-tech tackle than Spitz, he’s a little smaller and a lot quicker, slashing his way to 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, and his first two sacks. In a pinch, he has the athletic ability to step outside and play some end.

Watch Out For .... heavy competition in the middle. While the ends are set if Kooyman stays healthy, there are at least four tackles with an eye on winning one of the two openings. The staff hopes that the intensity and lure of winning a job brings out the best in all of the lineman.
Strength: Depth. In a near exact replica of the offensive line, the D-line figures to benefit from enduring so many injuries last season. A whopping eight linemen who started a game in 2009 are back on campus, providing the Cougars with a level of depth they haven’t enjoyed in years.
Weakness: Health. There’s a decent amount of upside within this group, but only if everyone can avoid the disabled list. That wasn’t the case a year ago, and the defense responded by ranking 117th nationally versus the run and 115th in sacks. The Cougars simply aren’t talented enough to handle wholesale losses to injuries.
Outlook: This is an area of the depth chart where Wazzu has a chance to be markedly better than a year ago. The key, again, will be health, but if the Cougars can dodge the injury bug, they have a nice mix of seasoned vets and rising kids, like Long, to take into a new season.
Rating: 6

Linebackers

Projected Starters: The graduations of Jason Stripling and Andy Mattingly mean 6-1, 246-pound junior Alex Hoffman-Ellis is the undisputed front man of this unit. He stood out in his first year removed from Moorpark (Calif.) College, making a team-high 84 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. One of the best all-around athletes on defense, he’s moving to weakside, where his speed and acceleration can be better utilized, particularly as an occasional pass rusher off the edge.

Hoffman-Ellis’ old spot in the middle should be filled by 6-0, 233-pound junior Mike Ledgerwood. A letterman in each of his two seasons, he took a big step forward as a sophomore, starting a pair of games and making 51 tackles, including 30 solos. He’s a sure-tackler and has good instincts to handle the inside job.

At strongside, the Cougars are witnessing some intense competition, as 5-11, 213-pound senior Myron Beck tries to fend off some younger players. A two-game starter after earning nine nods a year earlier, he produced 41 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a couple of interceptions. While not very big and vulnerable in pass coverage, he shows good range and enjoys lowering the boom whenever he gets a chance.

Projected Top Reserves: Once he rehabs a knee injury, 5-10, 203-pound junior Louis Bland will have a significant role on the defense, either as the first man off the bench or as the starter in the middle. Though built like a safety, he has playmaking tendencies, making 42 stops, four tackles for loss, and an interception in half a season. He’s too disruptive and instinctive to remain on the bench.

Looking over the shoulder of Beck at strongside is 6-3, 216-pound sophomore Josh Garrett, who set the table with seven tackles in 10 games in his debut. He has a much better blend of size and athleticism, but needs to cut down on his mistakes and improve his reads if he’s going to supplant a more experienced player.

Watch Out For .... Hoffman-Ellis to blossom into a fringe All-Pac-10 player. He always had the triangle numbers, but now he has the year of experience to go along with all of those good measurables. He’ll also have free reign to roam the field and make plays wherever they’re happening.
Strength: Range. By design, all of the Washington State linebackers move well laterally and have the quickness of safeties. However, the final depth chart shakes out, the Cougs will be able to roll out three feisty defenders, who can provide pressure on the blitz or drop back into coverage.
Weakness: Holding up against the run. Sure, they move well, but this undersized collection of linebackers is prone to getting trucked by teams running directly at them. They’ll do a little too much drag-down tackling, which means extra yards after contact for the other guys.
Outlook: Even with the departures of two starters, the linebackers should be a step quicker and better prepared than a year ago, assuming Bland is healthy. Ledgerwood and Garrett will be a year older, which helps, and Hoffman-Ellis has the makeup to step into a more prominent role in his second season.
Rating: 5.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: The Cougar secondary will be looking to build something positive in the offseason after getting routinely abused last fall. Plenty of familiar faces are back, but that’s not necessarily a reason chest bump. Senior SS Chima Nwachukwu brings the most experience to the group, entering his fourth year as a starter. He’s coming off an up-and-down season that saw him begin it at cornerback and end it missing three games with an ankle sprain. The 5-11, 201-pounder wound up with 57 tackles, stepping up to defend the run like a linebacker.

The favorite at free safety is 6-2, 213-pound sophomore LeAndre Daniels, a starter in last year’s first two games before breaking his leg and missing the rest of the season. He has terrific size for the position and plays with a non-stop motor, looking to hit something whenever he steps on the field. He’s an important part of the future in the Washington State secondary.

The beleaguered corners will get back in the ring this fall, hoping for different results. The veteran of the group will be 5-11, 157-pound junior Aire Justin, a part-time starter in each of the last two seasons. He had some quad problems in 2009, yet appeared in eight games and made a career-high 34 tackles. While speed isn’t an issue, he lacks consistency in coverage and is prone to getting bullied by receivers when the ball is in the air.

Sophomore Daniel Simmons had an encouraging start to his career curtailed by a broken leg midway through his first year. He earned the starting nod at the beginning of the season and made 21 tackles before going on the shelf. More than just fast, the 5-10, 189-pounder was on his way to becoming the Cougars’ best cornerback prior to getting hurt.

Projected Top Reserves: Injuries created an unexpected gift in the secondary, a wave of players with prior experience. The most experienced backup cornerback is 6-1, 187-pound sophomore Terrance Hayward, who earned a letter by appearing in all 12 games, starting five and making 32 tackles. He has the long frame and track speed to be successful, needing to hone his coverage skills.

At strong safety, 5-11, 196-pound Tyree Toomer is the future at the position. A year after making 34 tackles and showing playmaking tendencies, he missed all of 2009 with a torn pectoral muscle. An aggressive tackler, who plays with the mentality of a linebacker, he brings some much-needed attitude to the secondary.

Over at free safety, 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Jay Matthews earned his first letter, appearing in eight games and making 13 tackles after Nwachukwu was injured. Coveted by half of the Pac-10 coming out of high school, he needs to get more physical in run defense this season before taking over as the starter in 2011.

Watch Out For .... the training wheels to begin coming off. The Cougars used five different freshmen in the defensive backfield, which left marks in 2009, but should start paying dividends in 2010. While sophomores, like Simmons and Daniels, have untapped potential, they’ll only begin to reach it if they can stay healthy.
Strength: Experienced players. In a common theme on this year’s squad, the Cougars welcome back an inordinate number of defensive backs, who’ve played meaningful minutes. Considering the injury history of the group, Washington State is going to need all of them.
Weakness: Soft coverage. Only a handful of teams in America allowed more yards a pass attempt than Washington State, which ranked 112th nationally in pass efficiency. While it’s not as if the program doesn’t have good athletes, their coverage skills and ability to stop the big play is a major problem.
Outlook: Finding the right combination and turning all of those good young athletes into a cohesive unit will be one of the Cougs’ toughest offseason chores in Pullman. If it can collectively remain healthy, the secondary could be vastly improved from the last two seasons. Still, Washington State is going to be vulnerable through the air when facing teams with even a decent passing game.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: With a couple of senior starters returning, Washington State feels pretty confident about its kicking game. At punter, Reid Forrest is one of the best—and the busiest—in the Pac-10. An honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection a year ago, he averaged 43.2 yards, good for third in the league, and almost half of his punts were either fair caught or inside the 20.

Placekicker Nico Grasu is looking to remain the starter for a third straight year since transferring from Moorpark (Calif.) Junior College. He hit 6-of-10 field goal attempts in 2009 before spraining his right thigh and missing the rest of the season. He has only modest range, and needs to become a little more consistent in order to maintain this spot.

Watch Out For… the return game. The Cougars will be holding auditions after the team finished last in the league in both kickoff and punt returns. Marcus Richmond, Jeffrey Solomon, and Carl Winston are experienced, but that alone won’t earn them an edge this fall.
Strength: Forrest. The lone bright spot in an otherwise brutal situation, he’s one of the league’s most consistent punters and a genuine asset to the Cougar D. Even with some shoddy coverage, Washington State was a respectable 52nd in net punting because of the tireless work of No. 8.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Cougars did little right on special teams a year ago, but the coverage teams were especially hideous, allowing two touchdowns on punts and two on kickoffs. The kickoff unit ranked last in the country, yielding almost 28 yards a return.
Outlook: Even with Forrest doing his thing, you could argue that Pullman is home to the worst special teams unit in America. The Cougars don’t cover kicks well, are feeble on returns, and have a question mark at placekicker. In other words, the program’s problems are not limited to just the offense and the defense.
Rating: 4

- 2010 Washington State Preview | 2010 Washington State Offense
- 2010 Washington State Defense | 2010 Washington State Depth Chart
- Washington State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006