PULLMAN – Far too often, in his opinion, Darryl Monroe shuffled his feet along with his younger teammates, dropped to the ground and sprung up again, punishment for him and his fellow Washington State defensive players for losing to the offense in a drill.
So it was a welcome change on Saturday when the two-year starter at linebacker got to finally watch his offensive counterparts go through punitive conditioning at the end of practice.
“Always, always, because it means that we won and as a competitor – I mean, who likes losing?” Monroe asked.
Though the veteran offense still appears ahead of the youthful defense – except along the lines, where their situations are reversed – Saturday’s practice was an indication that the gap is closing.
The secondary is truly young, starting just one upperclassman and at the position farthest from the quarterback, free safety Taylor Taliulu. The defensive line and linebackers are mixed, largely with veteran starters backed up by relatively new players.
But since the Cougars started practicing in shoulder pads this week, the young defenders have been getting up to speed.
“I’d say the biggest thing about the young guys when they come in is always confidence. They’re afraid to make mistakes or afraid to not make a play, and when that happens they get yelled at and they kind of lose confidence” Monroe explained. “So the whole thing about that is always building up confidence, always letting them know it’s always about the next play.”
It’s a defense that is reinventing itself in the wake of Deone Bucannon’s departure. The strong safety All-American led the team in tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles a year ago.
Now the Cougars must replace him, and just one player won’t be enough, because Bucannon did the work of multiple defenders.
“Our defense is more linebacker-driven without Deone, because Deone really was a linebacker, he met with us a lot of the times,” linebackers coach Ken Wilson. “Those guys were playing a nickel package; all these different packages are us being active and all over the place.”
And some of those young players have stepped up and into the void created by Bucannon’s departure. Wilson named Jeremiah Allison, Peyton Pelluer and Chester Su’a when asked for inexperienced players who he can credit for the defense’s recent improvement.
Allison, a junior linebacker, had a leaping interception in Saturday’s practice, and sophomore cornerback Daquawn Brown had another. Though neither will be mistaken for Bucannon anytime soon, their play is indicative of the larger gains being made by the defenders throughout the spring.
“Now that we know what it takes to win or to be a successful team, to have a winning season, that’s big for us,” Monroe said. “Because we know how to act, we know what it takes and we show the young guys that.”
Offensive lineman Cody O’Connell resumed practicing after being limited most of the spring. The 6-foot-8, 345-pounder strained an exercise bike to its limit while watching from the sideline during the first four practices.