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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WSU’s secondary emphasizes stopping run

Tyree Toomer and fellow DBs are out to stop the run. (Christopher Anderson)

This is the sixth of eight position previews of Washington State University’s 2011 football team. Today: Defensive backs. Sunday: Special teams.

PULLMAN – When rating any team’s defensive secondary, the first criteria that comes to mind is probably how well the group defends against the pass.

But Washington State sophomore safety Deone Bucannon goes another way.

As Bucannon sees it, whether this season’s Cougars secondary is successful depends on one thing.

“Stopping the run,” Bucannon said Thursday. “A lot of our emphasis is on stopping the run this year, because that’s where (defense) starts. A lot of this game is stopping the run.”

Bucannon has had first-hand knowledge of that, despite his youth. He played in all 12 games for the Cougars a year ago, but didn’t get his first start until the 2-10 season’s fifth game. By then WSU was well on its way to finishing near the bottom of the NCAA run defense statistics.

Despite his late start Bucannon led WSU with 84 tackles, 67 of them by himself, and many of them downfield against the opponent’s running back. That’s not something most coaches want out of their strong safety.

And not something Bucannon wants to repeat.

“Definitely not, because I’m in the back (of the defense),” Bucannon said. “But I would still like to make an impact on this team. I’m going to go 100 percent to the ball no matter what.”

That was a little more difficult last season for Bucannon and the rest of the secondary. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they were so inexperienced there was a lot of thinking before reacting.

Five players on this year’s depth chart saw their first major college action last season.

It was a trial-and-error experience. But it should help this year.

“It’s night and day,” Bucannon said of the change. “I don’t feel like it’s just me on the field I am so confident in my teammates. Last year they just kind of threw me out on the field. This year I feel like I’m more prepared.”

Preparation – and depth – is being tested throughout the secondary as two of the more experienced corners, sophomore Nolan Washington and junior Daniel Simmons, have missed much of camp with hamstring injuries.

Simmons (nine starts a year ago) returned Thursday, but Washington (12) is still dealing with his hamstring.

“It’s been really good, especially for our young guys,” cornerbacks coach Jody Sears said. “(Backup corner) Brandon Golden missed all of spring and right now … he’s getting a lot of good reps, Tracy Clark is getting a lot of good reps.

“It’s added to the competition.”

Bucannon understands how the injuries have helped build depth, but he’s looking forward to having everyone back.

“It has affected us,” he said. “But it’s next man in. The people who are coming in are doing a great job filling in, for the first time they’ve been on the field.

“But Nolan has been out and Sims, he’s been out, and those are two key corners.”

With a little more than two weeks until the opener against Idaho State, Sears is confident the secondary will continue to improve. But the proof won’t come for a while.

“We won’t know until that Saturday,” he said. “You’ve got to show up on Saturdays.”