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NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

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Breaking down WSU’s 2020 defensive personnel

Who’s out? Who’s in? Who’s set for a big season?

This is the latest installment in our series of stories previewing the 2020 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.


The Washington State Cougars’ defense gave fans fits all last season. It finished a putrid 95th in SP+, if that’s your go-to gauge, and the optimist in me says there’s no place to go but up. The pessimist in me wonders where there’s proof that things will get better.

So far, the only thing giving me hope is the addition of Jake Dickert, the team’s new defensive coordinator. After enduring a season that saw their defensive coordinator quit mid-season and replaced by a tandem of coaches, the 2020 defense finally has a leader and, hopefully, an identity.

Dickert comes from Wyoming, where he oversaw a defense that was 33rd in SP+, sixth in the nation in red zone defense, and 11th in both rushing defense and scoring defense.

Dickert runs a 4-2-5 scheme, which isn’t too far off from what WSU ran under Alex Grinch and Tracy Claeys. It still has the nickel position, but the “Rush” linebackers are now “Edge” rushes and two of them will line up on the defensive line. Here’s another way of looking at it: Take the traditional four defensive linemen we saw Before Mike Leach (BML)—two tackles and two defensive ends—and replace one of the three linebackers with a nickel defensive back.

So, let’s take a look at the 2020 Cougar defense and cross our fingers things are better this season.


Defensive Backs

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Washington State at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive Backs

Player Height and Weight Class
Player Height and Weight Class
Phillip Powell 6'0, 213 "Graduate Student"
Daniel Isom 6'0, 199 RS Senior
George Hicks III 6'0, 177 Senior
Armani Marsh 5'10, 177 RS Junior
Jaylen Watson 6'3, 190 RS Junior
Chad Davis Jr. 6'2, 207 RS Junior
Will Heckman 6'3, 205 RS Junior
Damion Lee 6'0, 206 RS Junior
Derrick Langford 6'3, 190 Junior
Pat Nunn 6'4, 210 RS Sophomore
Tyrese Ross 6'2, 181 RS Sophomore
William Overstreet 5'10 176 RS Sophomore
Halid Djibril 6'1, 194 RS Sophomore
Armauni Archie 6'0, 176 RS Freshman
Matthew Dandridge 5'8, 178 RS Freshman
Henry Kimmins 5'10, 185 RS Freshman
Jamal McMurrin 5'10, 166 RS Freshman
Ayden Hector 6'0, 203 Freshman
Justin Anderson 6'1, 181 Freshman
Alphonse Oywak 6'1, 161 Freshman
Chau Smith-Wade 5'11, 168 Freshman
Jackson Lataimua 6'2, 182 Freshman
Hunter Escorcia 6'1, 180 Freshman
Tanner Moku 6'0, 188 Freshman
Lamar Campbell 6'0, 175 Freshman
Zane Thornton 6'0, 181 Freshman

Out With The Old: Marcus Strong and his Alamo Bowl should-have-been pick-six.

In With The New: Daniel Isom (pictured above), welcome back! Jaylen Watson and Phillip Powell are transfers that could (should?) provide immediate help, or immediate depth, at least. True freshman Chau Smith-Wade is also apparently impressing. Is that a good thing or bad thing?

*Rest In Peace, Bryce Beekman*

The WSU roster doesn’t break this group into cornerbacks, safeties or nickel. So, we get this big long list and a little guesswork.

First things first: Daniel Isom is back with the team. He was kicked off mid-season last year and it seems he got a second chance with the new coaching staff. Isom played both safety and cornerback last season. Whether that’s good that he has experience at both, or indicative of last season’s defense is up to you. Phillip Powell is a graduate transfer from South Dakota and could provide immediate help.

George Hicks III seems like he’s been on the team forever, and maybe this is the season where he gets consistent playing time. Jaylen Watson, who signed with the USC Trojans out of high school before going to junior college, could also provide some immediate help.

Spokane native Armani Marsh has reportedly played well at the nickel position. WSU also returns Derrick Langford — more was expected out of him last season, so perhaps the new staff can tap his potential.

Pat Nunn and Tyrese Ross have experience and are just sophomores. Halid Djibril could also draw in.

There’s a lot of unknowns with the secondary. We’ll soon find out if things have improved.


Linebackers

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers

Player Height and Weight Class
Player Height and Weight Class
Jahad Woods 6'1, 230 RS Senior
Justus Rogers 6'2, 232 RS Senior
Dillon Sherman 6'2, 219 RS Senior
Hank Pladson 6'0, 219 RS Sophomore
Ricky Baker 5'11, 223 RS Sophomore
Joshua Erling 6'1, 224 RS Sophomore
Travion Brown 6'3, 233 Sophomore
Peni Naulu 6'2, 241 RS Freshman
Kyle Thornton 6'1, 231 RS Freshman
Sky Stefonic 6'0, 227 RS Freshman
Nick Ayers 6'3, 238 Freshman
Bruce Seton 6'1. 247 Freshman
Cooper Mathers 6'2, 206 Freshman

Out With The Old: Hmmmmm. They’re all back!

In With The New: Travion Brown (pictured above) isn’t new, but his role might be. And he has some new muscle mass.

Everybody returns from last year. Year older, year better, right? We’ll find out!

Jahad Woods is the leader of this group, and I’m looking forward to the return of Dillon Sherman. But neither of them gives me as much excitement as sophomore Travion Brown, who is reportedly moving inside. Also, he’s bulked up:

There’s not a lot of depth to this group, however. These are guys that need to stay healthy. We’re used to the “Rush” linebackers being included, but as we noted, that position has changed slightly this year.

Speak of the devil….


Edge Rushers

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Cheez-It Bowl - Air Force v Washington State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Edge Rushers

Player Height and Weight Class
Player Height and Weight Class
Will Rodgers III 6'4, 249 Senior
David Aldapa 6'1, 225 RS Junior
Willie Taylor III 6'4, 232 RS Junior
Brennan Jackson 6'4, 249 RS Sophomore
Ron Stone Jr. 6'3, 234 RS Sophomore
Quinn Roff 6'2, 227 RS Freshman
Gabriel Lopez 6'2, 240 Freshman
Moon Ashby 6'4, 210 Freshman
Marquise Freeman 6'3, 227 Freshman
Carter Carlson 6'2, 240 Freshman
Justin Lohrenz 6'3, 240 Freshman

Broke: The “Rush” position.

Woke: The “Edge” position.

This year’s “Edge” rushers will line up on the defensive line and are essentially defensive ends. Will Rodgers III returns, and I’m excited to see what Willie Taylor III (pictured above) can do as a veteran. He shined in 2018 during WSU’s 11-win season as a freshman, but he seemed to quiet down last year (like much of the defense).

Ron Stone Jr. hits hard, and how can you not root for a name like Moon Ashby? True freshman Gabriel Lopez could see the field as well, and why not? It’s a truncated seven-game season where nobody burns a year of eligibility.

This group needs to be mean and get to the quarterback.


Defensive Line

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Cheez-It Bowl - Air Force v Washington State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive Line

Player Height and Weight Class
Player Height and Weight Class
Lamonte McDougle 6'0, 291 RS Junior
Christian Mejia 6'3, 285 RS Junior
Jesus Echevarria 6'2, 291 RS Junior
Dallas Hobbs 6'6, 285 RS Junior
Amir Mujahid 6'3, 278 Junior
Antonio Pule 6'4, 284 Junior
Ahmir Crowder 6'3, 297 RS Sophomore
Michael Van Beek 6'2, 277 RS Sophomore
Ty Garay-Harris 6'5, 273 RS Freshman
Nicholas Sheetz 6'3, 266 RS Freshman
Jake Siegal 6'3, 267 RS Freshman
Fa'Alili Fa'Amoe 6'5, 250 Freshman
Tristan Souza 6'0, 281 Freshman
Nathaniel James 6'0, 270 Freshman

Out With The Old: Nnamdi Oguayo, I wish you were healthy your entire career. You were a beast. And Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei: I always had to copy and paste your name. While you were a solid defender and a huge body, I’m glad this is the last time I have to CTL+C, CTL+V.

In With The New: Amir Mujahid is a JC transfer who may provide some immediate help. He had a handful of lower level offers coming out of Laney College.

There are no seniors on the defensive line, but there’s still decent experience. How good will they be, though? WSU had just 23 sacks last year, 88th in the nation. And while the defensive line isn’t the only group responsible for getting to the quarterback, it’s still not close to being good enough. And how about this: WSU was 91st in the nation in rushing defense, giving up almost five yards a carry and 185 yards a game. Not good.

We’re looking for improvement from highly-touted Lamonte McDougle (pictured above) this season. Dallas Hobbs, man of many talents, is another big body expected to clog up the middle. However, this note from Theo Lawson raised some eyebrows:

Mysteriously, neither Hobbs or McDougle showed up in scrimmage stats Saturday (Oct. 17), and their names haven’t come up once since in interviews with coaches and players since preseason camp started on Oct. 9.

Theo notes that true freshman Nathaniel James may see some playing time.

Jesus Echevarria was a walk-on who played a decent amount in 2018 but injuries limited him last season.

WSU needs bodies on the defensive line, preferably veteran bodies. One name to keep in the back of your mind is Ahmir Crowder, who was set for a good-sized role last year before injuries derailed his campaign after just two games.


Special Teams

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Washington State at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Special Teams

Player Height and Weight Position Class
Player Height and Weight Position Class
Blake Mazza 5'9 183 Kicker RS Junior
Dean Janikowski 6'1, 207 Kicker RS Freshman
Andrew Boyle 6'2, 197 Kicker/Punter RS Freshman
Oscar Draguicevich III 6'0, 182 Punter RS Senior
Tyler Williams 6'3, 212 Long Snapper RS Sophomore
Simon Samarzich 6'0, 204 Long Snapper Sophomore

We pretty much know exactly what we’re getting with this group. Blake Mazza (pictured above) was a Lou Groza Award Finalist last year and has 30 field goals on 36 attempts in his career so far (three attempts were blocked). He only missed one field goal last year.

Oscar Draguicevich III is back for his senior season as punter. While we hope we don’t see him too much, he always delivers. Draguicevich also has the duty of holding Mazza’s kicks and also being Mazza’s best man at Mazza’s upcoming wedding. Nice to see the specialists form a brotherhood.

The other specialists are familiar names, including former “five-star” long snapper Simon Samarzich.


Coaches

Defensive Coaching Staff

Name Responsibility
Name Responsibility
Jake Dickert Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers
John Richarson Cornerbacks
Mark Banker Safeties
A.J. Cooper Edge Rushers
Ricky Logo Defensive Line
Michael Ghobrial Special Teams

We already went over Dickert’s defense (has anybody trademarked that yet?). This group has its work cut out for it, to say the least. Recruiting will play a big role, for sure, but that’s the long game. In the short term, the defensive coaching staff will need a lot out of its players for WSU to have success. The lack of spring practices hurts this group just as much as it hurts the quarterbacks.

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