PULLMAN – The speed at which football is played will never slow down for Peyton Pelluer, but he’s starting to speed up.
While the sophomore linebacker isn’t particularly quick for his position, the quickness with which he reacts to the offense allows him to play fast by putting himself in the right spot before anybody else.
Pelluer was called upon early in his career, playing in every game as a redshirt freshman last season. By the middle of the season, the whir of football in a major conference stopped overpowering his instincts and he started the team’s final five games.
“There’s a time in a guy’s career when the light comes on and about halfway through last season, all of a sudden the light came on for him,” WSU linebackers coach Ken Wilson said. “Since then he’s been on an upward track.”
The prospect of having a big, imposing linebacker in the middle of WSU’s defense – which is opting for speed over strength under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch – allows for the possibility that WSU may be much better at generating turnovers next season.
To that end, Grinch is already putting an extra defensive back on the field to improve a pass defense that only had three interceptions last season. To make sure the Cougars recover more than the five opposing fumbles they did a year ago, Grinch is teaching his defenders not to tackle too quickly.
“We talk about, don’t let a guy go down to the ground easy,” Grinch said. “He wants to go down to the ground while we’re trying to tackle, make it hard on him. Sometimes you can use his momentum going down and you’ve’ still got leverage, because your momentum is going somewhere other than where he’s headed.”
More than the other defensive units, the linebackers have to learn to defend against the run and the pass and those split duties take extra time to master. While the safeties do most of the defensive play-calling in Grinch’s scheme, the linebackers are still tasked with setting up the defense’s front.
“Safeties have the most mental work but linebackers, we’ve got to be the hybrids of the defense,” Pelluer said. “We’ve got to be able to fit every run, but we’ve also got to get on our drops. We’ve got to run with the fastest people on the offense and hit the biggest people.”
Since he got up to speed, Pelluer has been one of WSU’s most physical playmakers on defense. His coaches and teammates have taken to calling him “Butkus,” by way of comparing him to the Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chicago Bears.
During Tuesday’s practice he lived up to the comparison, twice ripping the ball away from offensive players that were doing everything they could to hang onto it.
Some of that is because of new strength. Pelluer said he’s added 20 pounds to his bench press since last season and more than 40 pounds to his squats. But his coaches say his recent playmaking is more than just a winter in the weight room.
“He’s gotten stronger, but he plays stronger because he’s a very smart football player,” Wilson said. “He knows where he’s supposed to be. He takes advantage of guys. If the ball’s loose, he sees it where other guys don’t, and, quite frankly, he plays harder than some guys.”
Mayock likes Cougs
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, who held a conference call with reporters on Thursday to talk about the upcoming NFL draft, said that former Cougars Connor Halliday, Vince Mayle and Xavier Cooper should all be selected by NFL teams.
Mayock said he believes Mayle is underrated by NFL teams but should still be selected in the fifth or sixth round. He also said he is higher on Cooper than most and believes the defensive tackle will be selected in the fourth round.
Of Halliday, the quarterback who is still recovering from a late-season injury, he said, “He’s one of those typical NFL-type quarterbacks” and said he could be drafted in a late round and developed by a team.
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