Our criticisms of the linebackers were well-documented throughout the 2010 season. Without a capable second-level, the WSU defense struggled. But with two of the three starters returning -- C.J. Mizell and Alex Hoffman-Ellis -- and a strong group of young linebackers, one has to think the group will be improved. Yet it's still a question mark.
Changes were made. Travis Niekamp and Malik Roberson were sent on their way. Roberson was replaced by veteran defensive line coach Todd Howard while Niekamp was replaced by Chris Tormey. From all we've heard, the changes have been positive.
To be fair, it's not all the linebackers fault. The Cougars' defensive scheme last year made the problem two-pronged. The defensive line struggled to keep the linebackers free to work and the linebackers frequently struggled to find the right gap.
Combine the two and you have a defense that was frequently unable to generate a solid pass rush while being gashed on the ground by the run game. It wasn't pretty.
Edited to reflect the latest two-deeps.
2010 Depth Chart
2011 Depth Chart
MIKE: CJ Mizell, Mike Ledgerwood
WIL: Alex Hoffman-Ellis,
Darren Markle, Chester Su'a
SAM: Sekope Kaufusi, Darryl Monroe
We've heard nothing but praise for the linebacking crops this year, which could be a good sign or could be nothing. Alex Hoffman-Ellis, we're told, is bigger, stronger and has improved on the field. CJ Mizell has his head on straight and seems to be doing the right things. Sekope Kaufusi still has long hair and still flies around making plays.
But it's all talk until the Cougars hit the field and the linebackers can't do it alone. As the front seven goes, so does the defense, and for the scheme to work, the linebackers have to improve. Otherwise, we're back to square one, where big plays are the norm.