PULLMAN, Wash. | With Pac-12 Media Day in the rear view mirror and the beginning of fall camp just days away, the anticipation for football season is mounting to almost unbearable heights.
Over the next week, WazzuWatch.com will be throwing a full blitz of content towards previewing the big storylines to follow leading up to the season opener at Auburn. We begin by taking a look at the defense and special teams pre-fall camp depth chart, as provided by Christian Caple of the Spokesman Review.
DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART
All eyes will be focused on the cornerback position heading into fall camp as the group was least consistent group on defense throughout 2012. Horton and Washington, who both missed time during the spring with injuries, find themselves on top of the depth chart at the F-cornerback and B-cornerback spots but their jobs are both far from secure. Carpenter began the spring ahead of Washington but will open up fall filling the back-up duties with redshirt junior Tracy Clark at B-cornerback.
Two names that could thrust themselves into the conversation rather quickly are Dockery and Jackson; the two converted wide receivers that have impressed earlier on in their new roles. The race is wide open at both cornerback spots and defensive coordinator Mike Breske won't be afraid to insert the two redshirt freshman into the fire if the upperclassmen aren't holding their own.
Incoming freshman Daquawn Brown is one of the many freshman that could make an impact early and forego a redshirt season. The former three-star cornerback brings a swagger to the field and will push for playing time right away. Regardless, I would expect Brown to see some action at some point this season.
The defensive line has a few surprises beginning with junior Logan Mayes moving from the BUCK to defensive end in 2013. Breske wants to get a little more pass rush and speed off the edge and Mayes fits that mold. Bock was the starter this spring but now has company with Mayes, along with redshirt freshman Destiny Vaeao joining the fold to create quite the competition this fall at the end spot.
As expected, Cooper is tabbed the starter at defensive tackle and is going to be backed up by redshirt freshman Robert Barber, who is moving over from nose tackle. Given Cooper can maintain a clean bill of health, he'll be the No. 1 guy at tackle heading into the season.
One of the biggest question marks on the defense last season, nose tackle, has quickly turned into one of the stronger positions on the field. Guata firmly established himself as one of the top defensive lineman in the conference after an impressive debut season last year. Pole is listed as his back up at the nose but has the ability to move all along the line in multiple formations and provides quality depth along the line as a whole.
The departure of Travis Long gives several players a chance to showcase themselves at the vital BUCK position. Palacio was effective in limited duty last season and finds himself in a timeshare with touted junior college transfer Ivan McLennan heading into the fall slate. I'd expect both players to play well enough that they split time this season but they're creating a positive problem for Breske as both players have huge upsides.
Rounding out the starting unit along the linebacker core is Coen (SAM), Monroe (MIKE) and Sagote (WILL). Monroe is a budding star in the middle and is joined by an experienced group of returning starters to form, what is turning out to be, the strength of the Cougars defense. Pritchard and Oertel will have a chance to earn extra playing time with a solid spring and sophomores Jeremiah Allison and Feddie Davey, who is moving down from safety, will provide solid competition.
The free safety spot may have found a replacement for star senior Deone Bucannon when the staff added junior college transfer Paris Taylor as a late 2013 addition. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound safety will be a key player to watch throughout the fall and in limited time this season to see how he adjusts to the D-I level. He's physical like Bucannon but will need to show that he can excel in coverage before he finds regular playing time.
Things are expected to be wide open at strong safety between Locker and Taliulu. Locker took over starting duties from Taliulu early on in 2012 as Taliulu struggled to adjust and ended up getting phased out of the defensive picture. I'd expect Locker to enter the season as the starter but would expect the job to be Taliulu's sooner rather than later.
SPECIAL TEAMS DEPTH CHART
PK: Andrew Furney, Michael Bowlin OR Wes Concepcion
KO: Andrew Furney OR Michael Bowlin
No surprises here as the special teams depth charts remain nearly identical from last season. Furney will once again man the place kicking duties and is expected to be one of the top kickers in the conference, if not the country. Bowlin punted well last season after a sluggish start and should also handle the kickoff duties where he regularly sent it into the end zone as a junior.
Den Bleyker returns as the long snapper but a name that won't get much press to watch out for is incoming freshman Sonneborn who was one of the better long snappers in famed special teams coach, Chris Sailer's, kicking program last season. He's the future long snapper and could earn himself snapping duties at some point this season.
From the looks of it, both punt and kick returner duties are still up in the air. I'd expect Caldwell to handle the kick returns but if there are any injuries at running back he'll hand the reigns over to either Brooks or Williams. Same goes with the punt return duties where Brooks and Bartolone are expected to both return punts this season.