WSU Football:The Cougs Will Play Better Defense in 2009: Part 1

Lew WrightSenior Writer IAugust 17, 2009

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  A Washington State Cougars helmet showing the initials of Pat Tillman next to the American flag during the Arizona State Sun Devils against Washington State Cougars Pac-10 game at Sun Devil Stadium/Frank Kush Field on November 13, 2004 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Wednesday was another fall camp day of stepping it up. Shoulder pads were added to player's gear.

Fall was in the air on the Palouse in mid-August. How so? Along with the footballs being tossed on Rogers Field there was a morning drizzle falling from the skies.

Wednesday offered a chance for players to get practice reps in with the chance of putting a hit on someone.

That's what football players do. They hit people. Knock people down. Run over people. And if you don't get knocked down or run over, there's a good chance you get to put the hit on someone.

Washington State Cougar football fall camp edged closer to the point players enjoy most. 

Hitting people...Legally.

Coach Paul Wulff was back at the helm early in the morning. Like every player on his roster, the desire to get on the field and play some football lights a fire in the belly.

The morning session offered practice reps for freshman and a few upper classmen who are deep on the depth chart.

A chance to show what they can do. That's all the players with lesser experience ask for. They didn't come to Pullman for an education alone. Sure they're students, but a passion for the game of football drives young men to make extraordinary effort for a chance to play on Saturday.

While the afternoon practice session on Wednesday focuses on the 1's and 2's on the depth chart, Coach Wulff will be looking for answers to the number of shortcomings his team had on defense a year ago every day on the practice field. Add to that search hours of video being poured over by the coaches after practice is over.

Coach Wulff and his staff are dedicated to the steady improvement of the Washington State football team. In turn, players respond to that dedication with comparable effort to become an integral part of the team.

An area on defense holding promise prior to spring practice were the corner backs. There are several reasons the corner back situation won't move out of the problem area just yet. 

The reasons? Several players expected to contribute are no longer on the roster. Get used to hearing this disclaimer on many of the positions for Coach Wulff's team. 

If the D-backs stay healthy, there is some serious talent fully capable of getting the job done.

This unit is anchored down by a couple of very good safeties. Xavier Hicks, Jr. and Chima Nwachukwu have talent, speed and experience. Hicks, who was second on the team with 78 tackles last year, is a fifth year senior. Nwachukwu is a junior who was fourth on the team with 57 tackles a year ago and started as a true freshmen.

Those two aren't the beginning and end of the safeties. Tyree Toomer started four games last year at strong safety. The young man from Bellflower, CA, played in every game last season and racked up 34 tackles, four for a loss and two sacks. Make no mistake, Toomer can play at this level. He gives Coach Chris Ball and Coach Jody Sears, co-defensive coordinators, flexibility to move Nwachukwu to corner back when the situation presents itself.

There is talent among the corner backs, but not a lot of experience. Aire Justin is the only player in camp who played last year. Justin saw playing time in nine games last year. Six of those were starts. As a red shirt freshman he made 20 tackles, 14 of which were solo take downs.

After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, Brandon Jones has been waiting to get back into Pac-10 action at the corner. Jones played in 12 of 13 games for Cal in 2007. Ironically, his season high that red shirt freshman year came in the Bears game against WSU.

Both Daniel Simmons and Terrance Hayward red shirted last year, giving both experience with the defensive schemes employed by Coach Ball and Coach Sears. They also benefited from the off-season conditioning and strength program.

There will be heated competition for playing in the Cougar defensive backfield throughout fall camp because of the lack of experience.

A year ago Cougar opponents completed nearly 60 percent of their pass attempts and averaged 196 yards through the air against the WSU defensive backfield. Put in perspective, those numbers aren't all that bad considering the front seven managed just 14 sacks of the team's 16 for the year.

It's no secret that teams in the Pac-10 are loaded with great running backs. In a conference known for the passing game, this coming year looks more like what you'd expect from the Big Ten. That being the case, it's critical that Cougar D-backs provide strong run support. Strong run support comes with the ability to quickly read plays as they develop and react with speed.

Washington State has the speed factor covered in the defensive backfield. The question remains, will they have enough experience to react?

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the Washington State linebacker situation.

Originally published on