FROM SALT LAKE CITY -- As promised, here's a brief look at WSU's defense and special teams as the Cougars open spring practices this afternoon.
The players: Matthew Bock, RS-Sr.; Austin Brown, RS-Fr..; Xavier Cooper, RS-So.; Sherman Hutcherson, RS-Fr.; Darryl Paulo, RS-So.; Destiny Vaeao, So.; David Davis, RS-So.; Ioane Gauta, Sr.; Toni Pole, RS-Jr.; Robert Barber, RS-Fr.; Moritz Christ, RS-So.; Niu Sale, RS-Jr.
The outlook: It would seem Cooper and Gauta will anchor this group, as each saw the field plenty last season and played pretty well at times. Pole and Bock also played a bunch and provide more experience than anyone else. Barber could be a factor depending on how well he recovered from the knee injury that kept him out last season, and Vaeao is another youngster who played early and will be relied upon to improve this season, too. One note here: Justin Clayton, who had a year of eligibility remaining, isn’t on the spring roster. Not all that surprising, since he was hampered by injury most of last season and didn’t figure to see the field. (Also note that Sale, who began last season as an offensive lineman, remains on the defensive line after bouncing around a bit. But that can always change.)
The players: Jeremiah Allison, So.; Jared Byers, RS-Sr.; Cyrus Coen, Jr.; Keith Ewing, RS-Fr.; Lyman Faoliu, Jr.; Rahmad Gholston, Fr.; Max Hersey, RS-So.; Darren Markle, RS-Sr.; Logan Mayes, Jr.; Ivan McLennan, Jr.; Darryl Monroe, RS-So.; Eric Oertel, Sr.; Kache Palacio, So.; Tana Pritchard, RS-So.; Justin Sagote, Sr.; Chester Su’a, Jr.;
The outlook: A whole lot of familiar faces here. Outside of the offensive line, I think this might be the most interesting group to watch, because of how many of these guys saw legitimate playing time last season. Mayes and Palacio will likely both see time at the outside BUCK spot vacated by Travis Long, though Mayes is the presumed heir to Long at that spot. Coaches loved Coen’s play last season at the SAM linebacker position, though he moved around some, too. I would think he has the edge over the senior Oertel as spring ball begins. Up the middle, Monroe is back after a pretty solid freshman season. Sagote played a ton last year and figures to have the inside track on the starting WIL position. And McLennan and Faoliu are both promising JUCO recruits who could play immediately, too. Throw in new position coach Ken Wilson, and there’s plenty to watch here this spring.
The players: Nolan Washington, RS-Sr.; Anthony Carpenter, RS-Sr.; Damante Horton, Sr.; Tracy Clark, RS-Jr.; Rahmel Dockery, RS-Fr.; Alex Jackson, RS-Fr.; Joe Njoku, So.; Mike McAdie, RS-So.; Beau Glover, RS-Fr.; Michael Fields, So.; Parker Henry, RS-Fr.; Deone Bucannon, Sr.; Casey Locker, RS-Sr.; Feddie Davey, So.; Taylor Taliulu, So.; David Bucannon, RS-Fr.; Mitchell Peterson, RS-Jr.
The outlook: WSU’s most experienced group, by far. But it’s also a group that hasn’t performed well on a consistent basis at any point in their careers. Carpenter is listed as a safety on the spring roster, though he played some corner last year, so you figure Mike Breske will piece him in wherever he thinks he can help most. Deone Bucannon’s starting job might be the safest on the team, but there will be competition to see who starts alongside him. Will it be Locker? Taliulu, who started strong last year but faded? Carpenter, maybe? At corner, Washington and Horton enter their senior seasons with plenty to prove. Each was beaten out last year. Jackson, who was recruited as a receiver and redshirted last season, could be a factor there, too. Davey’s status is hazy with Mike Leach famously tight-lipped about injury news. But the hard-hitting safety suffered a serious knee injury in November, a fact that suggests he’s probably not quite at full strength yet. When he is, he’ll have every opportunity to make himself a part of Breske’s plan in the secondary, in addition to his special-teams duties.
The players: (Kickers) Andrew Furney, Sr.; Mike Bowlin, RS-Sr.; Wes Concepcion, Jr.; (Long snappers) Ryan Saparto, RS-Jr.; Alex Den Bleyker, Jr.
The outlook: OK, so maybe Furney’s job is actually the safest on the team. Bowlin figures to resume his kickoff and punting duties, though his lack of consistency in both areas drew the ire of special teams coach Eric Russell last season. That remains an area of concern. The Cougars also need to figure out who’s going to hold for kickoffs and PATs with David Gilbertson gone. At the return positions, both of WSU’s primary options last season – Leon Brooks on punts, Teondray Caldwell on returns – are back. Brett Bartolone also returned a few punts. Expect more than a few players to get looks at both of those spots.