As the Cougars prepare for their first fall scrimmage Friday night, the battle for backup spots provides the most intrigue on the defensive side of the ball.

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After a week of camp in Lewiston, Washington State will hold its first fall scrimmage Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. at Martin Stadium.

Here’s how the depth chart could look on the defensive side of things in this first fall scrimmage. At spots where there have been multiple people splitting reps with the second team, I’ve jotted down a three-deep instead of a two-deep.

The Cougars’ linebackers will be the backbone of the defense this year, and the starters at most of the positions except for nickelback are probably set.

But it’s at the backup spots that things start to get interesting. WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has always maintained that he would like to rotate guys throughout a game as much as possible as long as he’s confident there won’t be a dropoff in the level of play.


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Questions remain as to whether the Cougars have the quality, experienced depth they need to truly rotate players evenly on defense this year.

That’s one reason why the Cougars have been experimenting with some younger guys in the two-deep through the first week of camp.

“We try to be more conscious of mixing the units than we’ve done in the past,” Grinch said after Wednesday’s practice. “Maybe that speaks to having some guys to mix in, but also, being able to live with the headache if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do. There’s only one way for them to improve. … We’ve got to find out if some of these guys can help us this year.”

DEFENSIVE LINE

E: #30 Nnamdi Oguayo (6-3, 237 pounds, rs-so.); #55 Derek Moore (6-1, 248 pounds, so.); #45 Logan Tago (6-3, 247 pounds, jr.)

N: #90 Dan Ekuale (6-3, 305 pounds, rs-sr.); #99 Garrett McBroom (6-3, 281 pounds, rs-sr.); #97 Hunter Mattox (6-3, 285 pounds, rs-so.)

T: #50 Hercules Mata’afa (6-2, 252 pounds, rs-jr.); #52 Kingston Fernandez (6-2, 276 pounds, rs-jr.) #89 Nick Begg (6-5, 264 pounds, rs-jr.); #44 Tristan Brock (6-0, 257 pounds, rs-so.)

Dan Ekuale has transformed his body this offseason. He’s huge, but has somehow managed to maintain his athleticism and moves deceptively well for a big man. The Cougs need to keep him healthy because he’s far and away their best nose tackle. At end, Logan Tago has moved to the defensive line after playing rush linebacker last season. He’s behind Oguayo and Moore, but has gotten more second team reps this week because Oguayo has been limited in practice.

LINEBACKERS

Rush: #33 Dylan Hanser (6-4, 236 pounds, sr.); #51 Frankie Luvu (6-3, 235 pounds, sr.); #40 Chima Onyeukwu (6-2, 220 pounds, rs-jr.)

MLB: #47 Peyton Pelluer (6-0, 225 pounds, rs-sr); #54 Nate DeRider (6-1, 231 pounds, rs-sr); #23 Justus Rogers (6-2, 225 pounds, rs-fr.); #58 Fa’avae Fa’avae (6-0, 207 pounds, fr.)

WLB: #31 Isaac Dotson (6-1, 232 pounds, rs-sr.); #13 Jahad Woods (6-0, 214 pounds, rs-fr.); #41 Dillon Sherman (6-1, 220 pounds, rs-fr.)

Nickelback: #26 Hunter Dale (5-10, 190 pounds, jr.); #10 Kirkland Parker 6-1, 190 pounds, rs-sr.); #18 Dymund Richardson (6-3, 216 pounds, so.)

Isaac Dotson is too good a player to have him split time with Frankie Luvu. So to fix that situation, the Cougars moved Luvu to rush linebacker. He’s gotten the bulk of first team reps this week because Dylan Hanser has been limited in practice, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps the job going into the season opener. Nate DeRider is viewed as a utility player who can fill in at any of the linebacker spots. And the coaches are really high on Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers, who are being groomed to inherit the spots that will open up when Pelluer and Dotson leave. However, watch out for freshman Fa’avae Fa’avae, who has shown playmaking ability and a nose for the football this week.

Meanwhile, the race to be the starting nickelback is still too close to call. Hunter Dale started fall camp with the ones, but by the eighth practice on Wednesday, Parker had moved ahead of him to the first team.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

LCB: #3 Darrien Molton (5-10, 185 pounds, jr.); #36 George Hicks III (6-0, 179 pounds, fr.); #1 Josh Talbott (5-10, 179 pounds, fr.)

FS: #2 Robert Taylor (5-10, 186 pounds, sr.); #28 Skyler Thomas (5-9, 186 pounds, rs-fr.)

SS: #34 Jalen Thompson (6-0, 191 pounds, so.); #27 Sean Harper Jr. (6-2, 186 pounds, jr.)

RCB: #21 Marcellus Pippins (5-10, 178 pounds, sr.); #4 Marcus Strong (5-9, 177 pounds, so.); #16 Grant Porter (6-0, 192 pounds, rs-fr.)

Jalen Thompson has looked impressive in camp so far. He’s a physical hard-hitting play-maker with good coverage skills, and he’s now got a year of experience under his belt. The coaches really seem to like freshman cornerback George Hicks, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets some backup reps this year. At right cornerback, Marcus Strong got extra first team reps when Marcellus Pippins was limited in practice for about four days, and so far he’s held up very well against the Cougars’ big receivers.