LBs will have busy spring, says Jeff Choate

JEFF CHOATE

WHILE WSU SIGNED five linebackers this past class, they won't arrive until the summer. Spring Ball on the Palouse, which gets underway March 22, will feature a lonely sideline when it comes to the linebacking corps, assistant coach Jeff Choate tells CF.C. The new linebackers coach under Mike Leach had a lot more to say in a conversation with CF.C…

The linebackers at Washington State look to get plenty of reps during the 15-practice spring drills session, there's simply a lack of able bodies. Starter Sekope Kaufusi, coming off shoulder surgery, and promising frosh Darryl Monroe (Achilles surgery) won't be full participants this spring, says Choate. Two other starting candidates, Louis Bland and C.J. Mizell, left the program earlier this year. And WSU is going to a 3-4, requiring another linebacker.

"We've got two young men rehabbing injuries so we've basically got six guys for three of those spots -- those guys are going to get a lot of reps. The guys that are out, they're going to have to get quality mental reps. But just because we're going to be down a few guys, our expectations are still just as high. The guys that are out there are going to have some sore bodies, but we're absolutely determined to get the most out them," said Choate.

CHOATE IS LISTED as the linebackers coach on the official roster, Paul Volero is listed as the outside linebackers coach. How will that dynamic work at WSU?

"It's going to be great. And the great thing with Paul is that he has a lot of experience coaching on the defensive line. He'll be (primarily) coaching the BUCK, that hybrid outside linebacker… and I'll be with the SAMs, MIKs and WILs," said Choate.

Choate didn't talk much about specific players, ("We haven't seen them play football (live) yet.") but he did provide loads of insight positionally.

In WSU's new 3-4, the BUCK linebacker will be the most apparent change to people familiar with a 4-3. Most notable will be either when the BUCK is rushing the passer or when he is out in space and has responsibilities that extend to the sideline boundary. Some BUCK linebackers at WSU will on occasion have their hand down, but some won't – it depends on the player. Choate also says there are multiple other differences that exist beyond just the BUCK position.

"The SAM has a similar body type to the BUCK but the BUCK is a guy who tops out at 255-260 usually and still has the ability to move well, and also the ability to pass rush," said Choate. "The SAM is a guy who tops out at 225-230 and who can set an edge. He's a little faster, a little more athletic than the BUCK and he has good cover skills.

"The WIL and the MIK, they better be high football IQ guys because they (have more to do pre-snap). Height isn't as important but they have to be great at getting off blocks, still solid in pass coverage. They've got to have great, active hands and they have to be excellent tacklers."

CHOATE DOESN'T ANTICIPATE anyone moving from linebacker to another position this spring but there probably will be guys from other positions getting looks at linebacker. It's important to note just because a player moves to linebacker in say, week two of the spring, it doesn't necessarily mean that move is permanent.

"We may see a big safety come in at the SAM linebacker, and then he's going to be able to compete at that spot. Or a fullback comes in – we're going to be able to see them play and what they can do. We had the Midnight Maneuvers but we haven't been able to see these guys play football yet. We're going to need to see them and what they do... After the first week of spring ball, you might see some shuffling, we'll see," said Choate.

CHOATE SAID HE plans to drill fundamentals early and often with his group this spring.

"Pursuit, leverage, blow delivery, block escape and tackling -- that's what defense is about," said Choate. "…I think I'm a high energy guy, I think a bring a lot of experience as a teacher. My kids are going to play with a great deal of (energy) and first and foremost I want them to have a great experience at Washington State.

"My No. 1 goal this spring is to instill our defensive credo -- play hard, play smart, play fast, play together. That all starts with tremendous effort. Pursue the ball relentlessly. I want to instill the mentality and the high standard of play we're going to exhibit. And then we have a new (3-4) defensive scheme (to teach)."

THE DEFENSE IS generally ahead of the offense to start spring drills or a fall camp – as the offense works to get their timing down. But Choate said there might be a role reversal this year on the Palouse.

"I think the (learning process) will be more involved for the linebackers than it will be for other positions this spring," said Choate. "In a multiple 3-4, those linebackers have got to understand a lot more about what's going on both behind them and in front of them. There is a lot more going on pre-snap communication-wise than what it has been.

"In the spring, the defense usually has that advantage early on but that might be a little bit the other way around this time. But hopefully as spring goes along, they start to play faster, and that will equate to good results. That's what we want, for them to play faster as the spring goes on."

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