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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Call them both Sam

Oertel, Coen complement each other at LB for WSU

Washington State’s Cyrus Coen shares time at strong-side linebacker – aka “Sam” – with Eric Oertel. (Tyler Tjomsland)

PULLMAN – Eventually, Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske will decide who will start at sam (strong side) linebacker in the Cougars’ Aug. 31 season-opener at Auburn.

But one participant in this discussion isn’t really sweating it.

No, Eric Oertel said, it’s not all that important that he take the field first instead of Cyrus Coen. They’re both going to play. They’ve both played before. And Oertel said there is justification for them to share playing time.

“Honestly, with me and Cyrus, there’s no starting spot in my opinion,” Oertel said Sunday night, the last day WSU players were available to be interviewed. “Week in and week out, we complement each other. The things that he’s real good at, I’m willing to sit on the sideline because he’s willing to do the same. I think we complement each other. The defense that we run, I think having both of us in there really helps the team.”

Breske said after Thursday’s practice that he’ll likely wait until the weekend to decide between Oertel, a senior, and Coen, a junior.

Both players occupied the same position last season, too, though Oertel essentially locked up the starting spot during the team’s first spring practice session under coach Mike Leach.

After starting WSU’s opener at BYU, Oertel was supplanted by Coen, a former walk-on who made the most of his first career start by intercepting a pass in a victory over Eastern Washington.

Coen started every game for the rest of the season. But Oertel has seen plenty of reps with the No. 1 defense since WSU began practicing early this month, and will likely see the field some regardless of who ends up starting.

Coen is listed at 6-foot and 215 pounds, while Oertel goes 6-foot-1, 208 pounds. But while their body types are relatively similar, their skill sets differ.

Oertel is a former running back who is probably the better overall athlete of the two. But Coen is more physical, and that attitude is what helped earn him a starting job in 2012.

“Cyrus has not played as much football in general, but he’s played a lot in this defense,” said linebackers coach Ken Wilson. “They’re both athletic guys, they’re both good cover guys. Physicality with Eric, we’ve been working on that. Cyrus is a physical guy, but he doesn’t have the ball skills of Eric, who was a running back.”

Breske was more definitive Thursday when asked about WSU’s safety position. He said Taylor Taliulu, a sophomore, will start alongside Deone Bucannon. Taliulu had been competing with fifth-year seniors Casey Locker and Anthony Carpenter during camp, but has earned the nod to start the Cougars’ opener.

“He’s a talented individual,” Breske said of Taliulu, who started the first two games last season as a true freshman. “He’s had a spring ball, had a summer, he’s matured and he knows our defense.”

Scoreboard, baby

WSU announced Thursday that a new scoreboard more than double the size of the old one will be added in the east end of Martin Stadium prior to the Cougars’ Sept. 14 home opener against Southern Utah.

Construction workers have been building the support structure for the new scoreboard during the past few weeks. According to WSU, the High Definition, LED Daktronics board will be 73 feet wide and 36 feet high, and it will be 112 percent larger than the old scoreboard.

In addition, an LED ribbon board is being constructed on the façade of the stadium’s premium seating structure. That board will display scores, graphics and animations, and will span 347 feet. It will be 4 feet high.

A source estimated the cost of both scoreboards at around $3.5 million.