2007 Cougar Outlook - Defense & Special Teams

GREG TRENT

PULLMAN -- Following a 2006 campaign in which they came within one win of reaching a bowl game, the 2007 Washington State University Cougars enter the '07 season looking for one more victory and a return to a bowl game for the fourth time in seven seasons. In the second of a 2-part series, the Sports Information Department at WSU provides the '07 outlook on the defense and special teams.

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"We made strides last season from the previous year but came up one win short," said WSU Head Coach Bill Doba. "It was a tough way to end the season but the kids have used last season as a learning opportunity and are determined to use it as motivation for a successful 2007."

After three consecutive 10-win seasons from 2001-03, WSU has missed the postseason three straight years, including last season's 6-6 record, 4-5 in Pacific-10 Conference play.

"Injuries really took their toll on us last season," Doba continued. "So this spring we focused a little more on technique and had less contact, which I think will help us this fall. We had a good spring and if we can stay healthy, fill a few key spots, we have the chance to be a pretty good team."

Doba enters his fifth year as WSU's head coach with a 25-22 record. The Cougar mentor has been a part of the coaching staff since 1989 and was named head coach at the conclusion of the 2002 season. Doba also takes over the defensive coordinator role and will coach the linebackers this year.

Doba and his staff, which for the first time in his four-year head coaching tenure will feature three new assistant coaches, (Steve Broussard - running backs; Marty Long - defensive ends; David Walkosky - cornerbacks) will put a solid mix of veteran leadership and youthful energy on the field for the start of the season, with 55 returning lettermen, including 22 seniors. Also returning are 23 junior and 10 sophomore lettermen who earned varsity letters last season.

On the defensive side of the ball, gone are six starters, including All-Pac-10 first team players Mkristo Bruce and Eric Frampton. Four of those six signed NFL contracts and the group contained six of the WSU's top 10 tacklers last season.

UP FRONT the Cougars welcome the return of senior Matt Mullennix (6-7, 259). Mullennix, scheduled to be the starting defensive end last year, suffered a season-ending injury prior to the opener at Auburn. Mullennix's return will help fill the void left by Bruce, who led WSU with 11 sacks last season. Lance Broadus (6-2, 226) returns for his senior season after a 2006 campaign which saw him record 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss, both figures second on the team.

On the other end of the line is junior Mike Graise (6-3, 222) and sophomore Kevin Kooyman (6-5, 239). Graise recorded two sacks last season and had a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown at Stanford. Kooyman played in 11 games last season and with a year of experience will see an expanded role this season. Also adding depth to the position will be Jesse Feagin (6-3, 255), a junior college transfer from Los Angeles Southwest College.

THE DEFENSIVE TACKLE POSITION can be a position of strength for WSU if everyone can stay healthy. Ropati Pitoitua (6-8, 291) returns for his senior campaign after registering 37 tackles and 7.5 tackles-for-loss in nine games last season. Redshirt senior Aaron Johnson (6-7, 317) and junior A'i Ahmu Fevaea'i Ahmu (6-1, 290) will occupy the other tackle position, though both were plagued with injuries last season. Ahmu played in only three games due to a foot injury but is expected to be ready for the start of camp while Johnson played in 11 games, but battled through nagging injuries that limited his play.

Others looking to end the rotation including redshirt junior Matt Eichelberger (6-4, 320), redshirt senior Bryan Tarkington (6-4, 304) and redshirt freshman Toby Turpin (6-5, 276).

Graduation saw the departure of two mainstays in the Cougar linebacking corps in Scott Davis and Steve Dildine. Another change at the position includes Doba, who has taken over as the position coach in addition to his head coaching and defensive coordinator roles.

CO-CAPTAIN Greg Trent (5-11, 231) takes over the leadership role for a youthful group that includes no seniors and three underclassmen. Trent was second on the team in tackles last season with 77 to go with a pair of forced fumbles from his middle linebacker spot. Junior Cory Evans (6-1, 237) and sophomore Andy Mattingly (6-4, 241) will fill the outside backer positions. Evans registered 44 tackles last season, including six tackles-for-loss, while Mattingly saw most of his action on special teams.

Redshirt senior Chris Baltzer (6-0, 235), redshirt junior Alex Hamill (6-0, 225) and redshirt sophomore Brady Emmons (5-10, 211) give the Cougars depth at the position. Baltzer suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the 2006 season while Emmons and Hamill saw the majority of their playing time on special teams. Also in the mix is Hallston Higgins, a freshman out of Magnolia, Texas.

In the Cougar secondary the key will be finding a cornerback. Gone are both starting corners from last season, Tyron Brackenridge and Don Turner, both lost to graduation.

AT THE RIGHT CORNER redshirt senior Markus Dawes (6-0, 196) enters fall camp as the projected starter. Dawes saw limited action last season after transferring from College of the Sequoias.

The other cornerback position will not be decided until fall camp, where the battle will include redshirt seniors B.T. Walker (5-10, 165), Brian Williams (6-1, 160), redshirt junior Ryan Kensok (5-8, 158), along with newcomers Devin Giles (5-11, 170) and Chima Nwachukwu (5-10, 192).

Williams played in all 12 games last season, registering 15 tackles and three pass break-ups, while Walker and Kensok both saw much of their action on special teams.

Giles, a redshirt sophomore, comes to WSU after spending the last two seasons at Coffeyville College while Nwachukwu is an incoming freshman from Allen, Texas.

AT THE SAFETY POSITION the Cougars return a veteran unit, led by seniors Husain Abdullah (6-1, 197) and Christian Bass (6-2, 224), along with redshirt sophomore Xavier Hicks. Abdullah, a co-captain and senior leader this season, had 66 tackles and three interceptions in 2006, his second year as the starting safety. Bass played special teams and was a back-up last season but is expected to play a bigger role in 2007.

Also expected to find playing time this season is Terry Mixon (6-1, 190), a first-team JC All-American last season at Grossmont College. Mixon was ranked by JCFootball.com as the No. 1 safety in the country last season.

HANDLING THE KICKING duties will be senior Romeen Abdollmohammadi (6-0, 235), who connected on all three of his field goal attempts after winning the starting spot late in the season. Abdollmohammadi was also a perfect 10-for-10 on extra point attempts. Senior Loren Langley (5-8, 153), who ranks fifth on WSU's career points kicking list, will back up Abdollmohammadi.

Returning starter Darryl Blunt (6-0, 190) will handle the punting duties once again. Blunt, a redshirt junior, averaged 41.4 yards last season with 12 of his 53 punts landing inside the 20.

NOTABLE NOTE:

  • For tickets for WSU's Cougar Gridiron Classic and season tickets, call 1-800-GO-COUGS or go online at wsucougars.com. Prices range from $7 to $50 for the Sept. 8 game at Qwest.

    NOTABLE DATES:
    August 3; Rookies report
    August 4; Veterans report
    August 5; First fall camp practice

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