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Breaking down WSU’s 2021 defensive personnel

The Cougar defense needs to improve fast.

This is the next installment in our series of stories previewing the 2021 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.


Washington State fans better hope four games in 2020 isn’t representative of what we’ll see from the Cougar defense in 2021 because ... it wasn’t good. We can list all the usual suspects: new defensive coaching staff, new system, yadda yadda yadda.

Due to COVID outbreaks, there were times when WSU had to reach deep down its bench of defenders to field a team. In fact, after a defensive lineman lost his helmet against Utah, and therefore had to leave the field for a play, Nick Rolovich was forced to use a timeout because there were no other linemen left.

Beyond that, Cougar opponents averaged almost 462 yards a game and 6.7 yards per play. Opponents averaged 155 yards a game on the ground and 307 yards through the air. Not good.

But, new year, new outlook, right? We’ll see! There seems to be some depth in the secondary, or at least guys with a solid amount of game experience. The edge position features some freakish athletes and hopefully they’ll get to opposing quarterbacks more than the two times per game last year.

With that, let’s look at this year’s defensive personnel.

Interior Defensive Line

Washington State University Football Fall Practice 3 - Dallas Hobbs (98)
Dallas Hobbs
Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Clogging the Middle

Player Height and Weight Year
Player Height and Weight Year
Dallas Hobbs 6'6, 285 RS Senior
Jesus Echevarria 6'2, 290 RS Senior
Christian Mejia 6'3, 285 RS Senior
Amir Mujahid 6'3, 280 Senior
Antonio Pule 6'4, 276 Senior
Ahmir Crowder 6'3, 295 RS Junior
Jake Siegal 6'3, 268 RS Sophomore
Ty Garay-Harris 6'5, 275 RS Sophomore
Nicholas Sheetz 6'3, 280 RS Sophomore
Fa'alili Fa'amoe 6'5, 271 Sophomore
Tristan Souza 6'1, 282 Sophomore
Nathaniel James 6'0, 270 Sophomore
David Gusta 6'3, 250 Freshman
Jack Beresford 6'2, 236 Freshman
Alec Eckert 6'3, 258 Freshman
J.P. Leahy 6'2, 265 Freshman
Sam Carrell 6'4, 265 Freshman
Xavier Young 6'4, 215 Freshman

It’s good to see Dallas Hobbs has recovered from his injury against Utah. He’ll be counted on to clog the middle. Jesus Echevarria needs to stay healthy as well. WSU will rely on its veterans here, and five seniors plus redshirt junior Ahmir Crowder need to step up. Confidence level among fans for this position group is likely low, and this group needed to make strides this offseason.

Overall, this group is unproven, and that 155 yards per game on the ground needs to come down or else these guys will be exhausted.

Most Intriguing Player: Hobbs. He’s the most experienced, the biggest and obviously a team leader on and off the field. It was tough to see him injured against Utah last season. A big season from Hobbs will go a long way in helping this group.

Edge

Washington State University Football Fall Practice 13 - Brennan Jackson (80)
Brennan Jackson
Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Freaks

Player Height and Weight Year
Player Height and Weight Year
Willie Taylor III 6'4, 246 RS Senior
Brennan Jackson 6'4, 255 RS Junior
Ron Stone Jr. 6'3, 240 RS Junior
Moon Ashby 6'4, 220 Sophomore
Marquise Freeman 6'3, 215 Sophomore
Carter Carlson 6'2, 227 Sophomore
Justin Lohrenz 6'3, 255 Sophomore
Quinn Roff 6'2, 242 Sophomore
Gabriel Lopez 6'2, 242 Sophomore
Raam Stevenson 6'4, 202 Freshman
Lawrence Falatea 6'4, 208 Freshman
Andrew Edson 6'4, 238 Freshman

These guys are expected to be freak athletes, and Brennan Jackson transformed his body over the offseason. Will it pay off on the field? We sure hope so! Jackson, Ron Stone Jr., and Willie Taylor III are expected to be the main guys here. Taylor enters his final season, and is it just me or did he seem to fade a little last year? Perhaps it was the change of position, so let’s hope he has a big season.

I still like the name Moon Ashby, so I hope to see him on the field. The younger guys still seem like they need to develop a little more, but with Jackson, Stone and Taylor (in any order, really) leading the way, hopefully they’ll find themselves in the backfield hunting quarterbacks and running backs.

Most Intriguing Players: This one’s a tie between Taylor and Jackson. Taylor, because I loved him in 2018, and Jackson, because I want to see if his offseason training regimen pays off. The man’s a beast.

Linebackers

Washington State University Football Fall Practice 13 - Justus Rogers (37), Jahad Woods (13), and Travion Brown (82) Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Second Level

Player Height and Weight Year
Player Height and Weight Year
Jahad Woods 6'1, 225 Graduate Student
Justus Rogers 6'2, 230 Graduate Student
Ben Wilson 6'1, 226 Senior
Ricky Baker 5'11, 220 RS Junior
Joshua Erling 6'1, 219 RS Junior
Travion Brown 6'3, 230 Junior
Kyle Thornton 6'1, 225 RS Sophomore
Cooper Mathers 6'2, 221 Sophomore
Gavin Barthiel 6'1, 219 Freshman
Francisco Mauigoa 6'3, 219 Freshman
Giovanni Iovino 6'0, 212 Freshman
Daniel Harrison 6'0, 193 Freshman
Micah Lopez 5'11, 210 Freshman

Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers are expected to lead the way if for no other reason than their experience. Ben Wilson transferred from TCU and has 33 games of Big 12 experience, while Travion Brown should be ready to break out.

Does it seem like this position group lacks depth? It seems like this position group lacks depth, at least to me. Maybe someone will surprise me, like true freshman Francisco Mauigoa.

Most Intriguing Player: Mauigoa. Will the true freshman get meaningful playing time? He sizes up pretty nicely and would make for a great legacy story. We’ll see if he can adjust to the college game. Ben Wilson was another possible pick here.

Defensive Backs

Washington State University Football Fall Practice 9 - Chau Smith-Wade (6)
Chau Smith-Wade
Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The Secondary

Player Height and Weight Year
Player Height and Weight Year
Daniel Isom 6'0, 194 Graduate Student
George Hicks III 6'0, 191 Graduate Student
Jaylen Watson 6'3, 204 RS Senior
Armani Marsh 5'10, 187 RS Senior
Chad Davis Jr. 6'2, 205 RS Senior
Tyrone Hill Jr. 6'2, 206 Senior
Derrick Landford 6'3, 198 Senior
Kaleb Ford-Dement 5'11, 188 Senior
Chris Jackson 6'0, 200 RS Junior
Halid Djibril 6'1, 202 RS Junior
Armauni Archie 6'0, 107 RS Sophomore
Henry Kimmins 5'10, 203 RS Sophomore
Chau Smith-Wade 5'11, 180 Sophomore
Justin Anderson 6'1, 181 Sophomore
Alphonse Oywak 6'1, 171 Sophomore
Jackson Lataimua 6'0, 187 Sophomore
Hunter Escorcia 6'1, 188 Sophomore
Tanner Moku 6'0, 195 Sophomore
Zane Thornton 6'0, 182 Sophomore
Adrian Shepard 5'11, 184 Freshman
Jaxon Sawyer 6'1, 195 Freshman
Jaden Hicks 6'3, 202 Freshman
Jhamell Blenman 5'9, 181 Freshman
Arna Bontemps 6'1, 172 Freshman
Tre Horner 6'2, 180 Freshman
Jaedon Hall 6'2, 195 Freshman
Jacob Skobis 5'8, 156 Freshman
Cole Norah 5'11, 198 Freshman

In case you missed it last year, Rolovich prefers to lump his entire secondary into “Defensive Backs” instead of splitting them between safeties and cornerbacks. Alas, we’re left to (sort of) guess who’s going where.

This group has a ton of old guys—eight seniors or “graduate students”—so the expectation is they’ll be up to the task. Jaylen Watson is poised to be the team’s best corner. George Hicks III has loads of experience and will play free safety, and Daniel Isom should provide even more experience.

Guys like Armani Marsh, Chad Davis Jr. and Derrick Langford are also names Coug fans are used to seeing.

Experience is good, but will it translate to a better secondary?

Most Intriguing Players: Kaleb Ford-Dement and Chris Jackson. Ford-Dement transferred from Old Dominion, while Jackson came over from Michigan State. Will either be able to crack the lineup as newbies to Pullman? It’s not like Ford-Dement and Jackson are rookies, of course. The coaching staff clearly saw the need to build some depth in the secondary, and Ford-Dement and Jackson are the result.

Special Teams

Washington State University Football Fall Practice 11 - Dean Janikowski (49) Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Specialists

Player Height and Weight Position Year
Player Height and Weight Position Year
Tyler Williams 6'3, 202 Long Snapper RS Junior
Simon Samarzich 6'0, 213 Long Snapper Junior
Dean Janikowski 6'1, 211 Kicker RS Sophomore
Andrew Boyle 6'2, 193 Kicker/Punter RS Sophomore
Luckas Dunker Jr. 6'0, 222 Kicker Sophomore
Nick Haberer 6'5, 224 Punter Freshman

We’ve been accustomed to seeing Blake Mazza and Oscar Draguicevich out there on fourth down, but they’ve moved on and it’s time to turn our attention to a new regime of specialists. Andrew Boyle and Dean Janikowski are in line for the kicking position, and I have to think a guy named Janikowski should have a good leg, no? Boyle clearly does, as evidenced here:

Aussie Nick Haberer has arrived and will likely be the punter, unless Boyle somehow pulls double duty.

Tyler Williams and Simon Samarzich return at the long snapper position.

Being that this is nearly a whole new group of specialists, it’s difficult to know what to expect (although Boyle did have seven kickoffs last season). WSU made all four of its field goals last year, but that doesn’t tell us much because it was four in four games. WSU allowed just 5.43 yards per punt return, so we have that going for us. Suffice to say, we don’t know what we’re getting with this group, so all we can hope for is low heartburn each time the kicker trots out onto the field.

Most Intriguing Player: Haberer. WSU tapped into the Australian pipeline to snag Haberer out of Prokick Australia, which has a track record or churning out stellar specialists, including Michael Dickson and four other Ray Guy Award winners.


Poll

Which defensive or special teams player intrigues you the most?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Dallas Hobbs
    (20 votes)
  • 8%
    Willie Taylor III
    (17 votes)
  • 36%
    Brennan Jackson
    (70 votes)
  • 17%
    Francisco Mauigoa
    (34 votes)
  • 3%
    Kaleb Ford-Dement
    (7 votes)
  • 5%
    Chris Jackson
    (11 votes)
  • 7%
    Nick Haberer
    (14 votes)
  • 9%
    Other (explain yourself)
    (18 votes)
191 votes total Vote Now
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