The Cougars are hoping that Logan Tago or Dylan Hanser might be the answer at rush linebacker. The battle between Tago, of the Crimson team, and Hanser, of the Gray team, for the rush linebacker spot will intensify Saturday at WSU’s Crimson and Gray scrimmage at Joe Albi Stadium.
PULLMAN — Two of the biggest factors in the Cougars’ defensive turnaround last season were the uptick in the number of turnovers caused and the much-improved play of Washington State’s defensive secondary.
But much of that had to do with WSU’s successful pass rush, and the production the Cougars got from the rush linebacker position was instrumental to that cause.
Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio split time at rush linebacker for WSU, and together they accounted for 74 tackles, including 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, about a fifth of the total number of tackles for loss, and a third of the sacks WSU’s defense registered last year.
That kind of production will be difficult to replace, but the Cougars are hoping that sophomore Logan Tago or junior Dylan Hanser might be the answer.
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The battle between Tago and Hanser will intensify Saturday afternoon, when the two show their talents at WSU’s Crimson and Gray scrimmage at Joe Albi Stadium.
Hanser, who hails from Billings, Mont., is the more experienced player. He’s known for his physicality, and he made a name for himself last year when he led WSU with 10 special-teams tackles and blocked a crucial punt in the win against UCLA.
But Tago possibly has more upside. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder was recruited as an athlete out of Samoana High in Pago Pago, American Samoa, because he played so many positions in high school that the Cougars initially could not decide which position best fit his skillset.
“He played receiver, linebacker, safety. He’s an athletic guy, so he played all over the place,” said outside linebackers coach Roy Manning. “He’s real natural, a really strong kid. One of the biggest things about him is he has a football savvy, an instinct where he just feels things happening.”
Tago played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season, amassing 10 tackles and a pass breakup. He saw time at linebacker, nickel back and on special teams.
But this spring, he started out with Joe Salavea’s group as a defensive end, with Hanser and redshirt freshman Nnamdi Oguayo competing for the rush linebacker spot.
That changed two-thirds of the way through spring practice, when the defensive coaching staff made Tago and Oguayo trade spots.
“Tago played on his feet in high school, so it’s more to his comfort level being on two feet,” Manning said.
“The same with Nnamdi, he was a little bit raw out of high school but you can tell he’s more comfortable with his hand in the dirt.”
Since the switch, Tago has flourished at his new position, and Manning thinks he’s found his home on the field.
“He got out there and showed pretty quick that it was the right move,” Manning said.
“He’s out there and makes things happen. It may not be exactly scripted out, but that guy’s a playmaker, and I think we’re better defensively when he’s on the field.”