A look at the talent pool WSU has on defense and special teams as the Cougars open fall camp in Lewiston on Saturday, August 6
Washington State begins fall football camp at Sacajawea Junior High School in Lewiston, Idaho on August 6. Here’s a look at what how the defense and special teams squads look going into camp.
For a look at the offense, check out our offensive depth chart break down here.
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Big senior nose tackle Robert Barber (6-3, 309 pounds) took reps behind Destiny Vaeao last season, and will hold down the middle of the Cougars’ defensive line. Hercules Mata’afa and Dan Ekuale are the front runners at the two defensive end spots, but just as in the case of its offensive line, defensive line is a place where WSU needs to develop depth behind the likely starters.
Junior college transfer Garrett McBroom adds a veteran presence but will have to adjust to the speed of the FBS-level game, while sophomore nose tackle Ngalu Tapa and end Nnamdi Oguayo – a converted linebacker – need to get some game experience.
The Cougars are set in the middle, with junior three-year starter Peyton Pelluer (101 total tackles, 11 TFL) returning to lead the defense. Parker Henry, otherwise known as the “biggest overachiever” Mike Leach has ever coached, is also back to hold down the hybrid nickel position in second-year coordinator Alex Grinch’s defense.
But there are two linebacker positions likely up for grabs in camp. At the other inside linebacker position, Junior Frankie Luvu shows promise, while senior Paris Taylor played 10 games last season. At rush linebacker, Logan Tago might be the key to replacing the production of Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio. Tago played every game as a true freshman last season because he’s so athletic that the coaches wanted to find some way to get him on the field. Junior Dylan Hanser, who made a name for himself on special teams last year, is another contender for a starting spot. Junior college transfers Suliasi Tamaivena and Chima Onyeukwu will also be in the mix.
Freshman Jalen Thompson could be this year’s version of Shalom Luani, who made a significant impact for the Cougars last year in his first season on the team.
The difference, of course, is that Thompson is a true freshman. He enrolled at WSU in January and had an outstanding spring at strong safety. Luani earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors in 2015. The senior is one of the hardest hitters on the team and is a virtual lock at the free safety spot. Hunter Dale and junior college transfer Robert Taylor will also likely get a lot of reps.
As Grinch emphasized last season, he wants to develop the backups to the point where he can take his starters out and feel confident that there will be no drop off in standard of play.
Junior Marcellus Pippins and sophomore Darrien Molton worked beautifully together in 2015, and will be back this year with another season of experience. Molton was named one of the top two true freshman cornerbacks in the country last year by Pro Football Focus, while Pippins brings energy and moxie to the defensive secondary.
Senior Treshon Broughton and junior Charleston White both have game experience with White earning four starts in 2015.
Zach Charme won the punting duties as a freshman in 2015, and averaged 39.6 yards per punt, with eight punts of more than 50 yards. … Former walk-on place kicker Erik Powell showed noteworthy improvement from 2014 to 2015, and this offseason, he was rewarded with a scholarship. Powell went 20-of-26 on field goals and hit all 49 of his extra point attempts.
In the return game, Tavares Martin Jr. and James Williams are the front runners to return kicks, while Jalen Thompson, Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow will also get try outs at that position. Gabe Marks, Kaleb Fossum, Robert Taylor and River Cracraft are in the mix for punt return duties.