ONE OF THE questions Washington State will need to answer in fall camp: Who will hold down Xavier…
SPRING REFLECTIONS: The Defense
The most pleasant surprise on the defensive side of the ball this spring was probably how quickly safety Chima Nwachukwu assimilated the position change. A true sophomore with a full year of experience at cornerback, Nwachukwu made the move to safety early in the spring and didn't miss a beat. Nwachukwu is a smart football player, and playing safety allows him to read, react and make plays all over the field -- look for good things this year from Chima and his counterpart at safety, Xavier Hicks. The defensive backfield showed more evidence of playmakers than they started the session with, including newcomers Myron Beck and Easton Johnson -- both impressed the coaches during the spring. With CB Markus Dawes (shoulder) expected out until Sep. 1, look for Romeo Pellum and Alfonso Jackson to start the season at corner barring any significant changes in fall camp. The leadership on defense comes from the linebackers. With Greg Trent, Cory Evans, Kendrick Dunn and Jason Stripling, the unit has years of experience and has to be considered one of the strengths of the team. Trent and Evans had particularly good springs. The big thing for the 'backers will be how backups Hallston Higgins and Marshall Pirtz continue to progress. Pirtz might be the most improved player on defense but at the same time, both of those guys have a ways to go if they want to be on the field come fall. On the d-line, LE Kevin Kooyman and RE Andy Mattingly look ready to shine come fall. Mattingly moved from linebacker to the end spot and has made steady progress throughout spring. Mattingly is a phenomenal athlete and should help to take some pressure off the interior of the line. He has the athletic ability to drop back into coverage and beat rushers to the edge, and he led the team with 8 sacks last year. DE Mike Graise has Pac-10 experience and looked solid this spring. Look for him to earn playing time as well. The tackle spot, however, has been one of the biggest issues the last few years and if this defense is going to improve it's going to have to start up front. Veteran DT Fevaea'i Ahmu will start come fall, but the other tackle position figures to be up for grabs. Toby Turpin, Andy Roof and Adam Hineline looked good during spring ball and their size is something the d-line really needs at this point. There are also three incoming JC d-linemen -- DT Josh Luapo (6-0, 295), DE Bernard Wolfgramm (6-3, 270) and DE Jesse Sanchez (6-3, 260) -- who all figure to compete for turns. And the Cougs need them to, the unit could use some more big, effective bodies. The defense will utilize a base 4-3 defensive look, but expect to see some different looks at times on passing downs. The biggest challenge for Wulff and his staff this summer will be building depth. The second and third stringers have made strides this spring, but there is still a lot of work to be done. With so much work ahead before the Seattle game versus OK State, coaches and players have shied away from making any predictions. From where the team was this time last year, to where they are now, I'm going to predict a 7-5 season...which means a bowl game at last. The Pac-10 schedule is always tough, but the team should be able to escape the season with a winning record.
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