CougZone's recap on the results of spring football continues with a look at the defense. Here's our rundown on what went well for the Cougars…:
Defensive End: The Cougs went into spring looking strong at end with two established players in Mkristo Bruce and Matt Mullenix. Bruce looks to be on his way to the NFL and is one of the team's strongest leaders. No surprise, Bruce was voted a team captain for the upcoming season. Bruce basically spent spring polishing existing skills. On the other side, the Cougars needed Mullenix to continue establishing himself as a player ready to be a full time starter. Mullenix went a long way towards that last season stepping in for injured – and recent #1 CFL draft choice pick - Adam Braidwood. Mullenix showed he's ready for the job and cemented his spot as the starter opposite Bruce.
The Cougars struggled to mount pass pressure last year and will want to increase pressure production from the ends this season. Bruce can get it done and Mullenix showed potential last season and improved in spring. The Cougs needed to develop depth behind the starters hopefully with players able to get a pass rush. It looks like WSU was able to go a long ways towards answering the depth questions with the continued development of backups Mike Graise and Lance Broadus. Both saw some game time last season – Graise more so than Broadus – and both continued to improve in spring. Graise and Broadus are smaller and quicker than Bruce and Mullenix, raising the potential for the coaches not only to have a good rotation to keep players fresh but also to mix and match players to get more of a speed rush off one or both ends using Broadus or Graise.
Outside Linebacker: 2006 team captain Scott Davis and his opposite number Steve Dildine were available and ready to go for all of spring. Davis and Dildine are both well known factors and established starters. The need here was to develop depth, and that mission was accomplished. Cory Evans and Jason Stripling both saw good game time last season as true freshmen and both made use of spring to improve and continue their adjustment to the college game. With a good round of spring training and their experience on the field from 2005, Evans and Stripling make the picture at outside linebacker strong and deep for 2006. That's very important for the future as both Davis and Dildine will be seniors this year.
Safety: The Cougar defensive secondary struggled last season for a number of reasons, poor cornerback play and difficulty up front against the run chief among them. Returning starters Husain Abdullah and Eric Frampton both played well at times, but also had letdowns from being asked to do too much. Frampton missed practices in spring after falling victim to the injury epidemic that swept Pullman. The missed time hurt but was not disaster as Frampton is a talented and experienced player. Abdullah had a particularly strong showing and noticeably improved. With Abdullah and Frampton locked in as the starters, the need in spring was to develop depth and a rotation. DeWayne Patterson will return as a key factor in the rotation and is a starter quality player.
One of the best bright spots at safety was the emergence of Michael Willis, an emergence that may not have occurred had Frampton not missed time. Willis has been one of the most anticipated young Cougar players and fans were surprised that Willis didn't make an immediate impact as a true freshman in 2005. Willis hit the ground running in spring and gave fans reason to anticipate his play on the field this fall. Willis developed to the extent that he appears to have beat out redshirt junior Christian Bass for the backup spot to Frampton.