Archive for the ‘Nolan Washington’ Category

Young Secondary a Primary Concern?

August 4, 2009


Good morning Coug Nation. Hope all is well in your corner of the world. As you may or may not be aware/care, we’ve looked at the ’09 Cougs among the positional previews, and so far, so good. Now we come to the last group to check out, and that is the secondary.

Err…maybe not. Some of you already saw it, but, WSU has put out their own pre-camp depth chart, complete with an analysis of the candidates to start at each position. And new and improved, NOW WITH comments from coach Wulff! It’s a really good read, so if you haven’t already clicked over, check it out.

That said, we’ll still weigh in and offer up our own opinions. Hey, we’re a blog. It’s what we do. So let’s scan the secondary, and see if things are going to be better in ’09? Or, are we doomed for more struggles in the last line of defense? Let’s see….

To get the obligatory “2008 was a disaster” out of the way, yeah, the secondary had their issues too. But it’s not as bad as you might think, at least on paper anyway. They finished 6th in the PAC-10 in passing yards allowed per game, just a couple of yards per game more than 5th place Cal. But they gave up the 3rd-most TD passes in the conference(22), and at 7.8 yards per attempt, were just ahead of UW for ninth place.

While this isn’t good, well, I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of the secondary. The sack totals were really down, just 16 as a team, tied with UW for dead LAST in the conference. Can’t get any pressure on the QB, give him time to set up, make a ham sandwich, and still deliver the ball wherever he wants? Not good. And then you consider the lack of takeaways, where the Cougs averaged one takeaway a game (13 for the entire season), and you can see it wasn’t exactly an opportunistic group.

Wow, 16 sacks and 13 takeaways for an entire 13-game season. Just thinking back to the early part of the decade, WSU’s defenses used to pride themselves on two things – SACKS AND TAKEAWAYS! Think about that great run from ’01 – ’03. In ’01, they had 40 sacks and grabbed 26 INT’s, second only to Miami in the country. In ’02, they had a school-record 55 sacks(!), and led the PAC-10 in rushing defense. In ’03, Doba’s boys led the nation in takeaways (48), tops in fumble recoveries (24) and second in interceptions (24). They were also in the top 10 in rushing defense and pass-efficiency defense.

So you can just take a peek back into our own history to remember and realize how important sacks and picks are to a defense, hell, to an entire football team overall. And the Coug D in ’08 didn’t do much sacking or taking away of the football!

The lack of pressure up front really trickled down. Even the best defensive backs in the country can only be expected to hang with the coverage for four or five seconds, but after that, even the best are going to give up plays. It’s the nature of the beast, but the secondary without a pass rush really has no chance to thrive…let alone survive.

Obviously the numbers can sure be skewed, too, can’t they? For example, Oregon gave up nearly 1,000 MORE passing yards on the ’08 season than WSU, and they surrendered 25 TD passes, the worst in the conference. In fact, Oregon gave up 270 yards per game in the air, also worst in the entire PAC-10! Not what you would assume, just thinking of their strong pass-rushers like Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu, and a stacked secondary with Jairus Byrd, Patrick Chung, Walter Thurmand III, etc. But as you know, Oregon won 10 games last year and were Holiday Bowl champs. So, trying to swallow the entire stack o’ pure passing D stats and justifying things isn’t the best route to go. Just look at WSU’s rushing defense, or lack thereof, and you can see there’s always two sides to the argument. The Cougs, after all, allowed SEVEN opponents last year to rush for at least 317 yards a game! Why should the opponent do anything but run the heck out of the ball, especially when staked to early lead after early lead?

Anyway, that was last year. Let’s just leave it where it belongs. There was a problem. But it’s gone. And there’s nothing we can do about it….

Cornerbacks
Starters: Aire Justin (soph) and Brandon Jones (redshirt junior).
Key backups: Daniel Simmons(redshirt frosh), Anthony Hayward (redshirt frosh), Anthony Houston (junior, switched from WR last couple of years), Shane Thomas (junior).
New faces: Nolan Washington, Anthony Carpenter.

Analysis: Well, right off the top a pair of experienced starters – Devin Giles and Romeo Pellum – are gone. We won’t rehash all that. But clearly the door is wide-flipping-open for any of these youngsters to run right through. Justin (previously known as Tyrone) got a lot of PT last year, six starts plus other action. Justin’s on the light side at 156 pounds on a 5-11 frame, but he did alright in his first shot at playing time as a red-shirt frosh last season. His three pass-breakups are the most among all the returning players contending at corner…..but that’s because, uh, NOBODY else in the mix for cornerback besides Justin actually played a single down of football last year! Brandon Jones has PAC-10 experience, playing in 12 games from his ’07 season at CAL, but that’s about it. Everyone else is brand new to this caliber of play, coming off redshirt seasons or even true frosh right out of high school in Carpenter and Washington.

I guess the corners are similar to what we saw along the defensive line – the faces are new, but, it might not be too big of an issue since the newest kids may be better/more talented than those they are replacing anyway? We won’t really know until things get serious, but it’s an awfully young group of corners. While the PAC-10 might not be what it once was in the air-it-out department, the lack of game experience could be an issue out of the chute. I know, for example, SMU wasn’t very good last year, nor are they thought of as any type of breakthrough candidate for the upcoming season. But they throw the heck out of the ball in that June Jones run-n-shoot, and you better believe these inexperienced corners are going to be tested.

Now, Wulff did mention when talking about the corners that Chima Nwachukwu has some starting experience at the position, and could possibly move back there this year if necessary. I guess it wouldn’t be a shock to see Chima slide over if some of the young guys aren’t quite ready, or we see some injuries pile up.

I know a lot of people really like Nolan Washington, the true frosh. A highly rated kid coming out of Kennedy high school, the early buzz on what he could become has been extremely positive.


You hate to throw out any type of expectation for true frosh, but this could be a different story. He was labeled “a divison I prospect with outstanding speed and great instincts” by the Seattle Times, and it isn’t a stretch to think he could see some early PT. You would hope a talented true frosh like Washington could redshirt that first year, then you cut him loose in 2010, but his performance in camp and the subsequent performances of those in front of him may dictate that he see the field this year.

Safeties
Starters: Xavier Hicks (senior) at strong safety, Chima Nwachukwu (junior) at free safety.
Key Backups: Tyree Toomer (soph), Jay Matthews (redshirt frosh) at strong safety; Eric Block (redshirt soph) and Leandre Daniels (redshirt frosh) at free safety.
Newcomers: Jamal Atofau, Casey Locker

This area looks pretty strong. Hicks is set for his senior year, and maybe this is the season it all comes together for him. Big hitter and the leading returning defensive player on the entire team in terms of tackles (78), interceptions (2) and pass breakups (5), this is it for Hicks. There never has been much doubt that the kid could play the position. We all remember the de-cleater vs. UCLA where he absolutely destroyed WR Brandon Breazell over the middle….


He has a nose for the ball, and even in just three starts back in ’07 he logged 60 tackles primarily as a backup. That’s taking advantage of limited playing time and making the most of it, no question. Nothing else to really say about his off-the-field stuff, so we’ll leave it at that. They MUST get a huge season out of Hicks – HUGE – to have a respectable defense. Every good secondary needs an intimidating presence of sorts, someone to set the tone with aggression and strike a little fear for those who dare to venture over the middle. Hicks has that ability.

Chima is an interesting player. I still can’t believe he’s only a junior, as he’s been starting since he arrived in Pullman. He already has 25 starts under his belt and he’s still got a couple of years of eligibility left! Smart, strong, and not afraid to get his hands dirty with 57 tackles last year, he will be a crucial piece for the entire secondary. It’s not too crazy to say that the combo of Hicks and Nwachukwu could be one of the best safety duo’s we’ve had in some time, and maybe one of the better sets in the conference?

Eric Block is a guy to keep an eye on. Especially if Chima has to slide over to corner to provide some veteran experience and leadership, but Block, if healthy, could be a rising member of the secondary. Just a redshirt sophomore coming into this year, he’s dealt with some injuries and illness in his time in Pullman, but it sounds as though he’s ready to go. As to the other new faces, I would bet Wulff has designs on redshirting both Atofau and Locker if he can help it. There is depth at the safety spots, but with Hicks graduating after this season, it would be wise to preserve some future eligibility on the talented youngsters. Let’s hope they aren’t forced to play out of desperation.

That’s it for the secondary, and our ’09 pre-camp positional previews are now complete. I hope you enjoyed them. After all those smelly spring fishwraps, it was fun to kind of dig in and see how things are looking for the crimson and gray lads, right on the eve of camp.

I have to admit, overall, I’m encouraged and excited to see what happens next week. We’ve heard so much about the improvement in size and strength, all the gains made by so many, all that noise. They should be a much better equipped football team to handle the rigors of the PAC-10. Look for some first-hand coverage of fall camp from our own Longball in the weeks ahead. Here’s hoping for a productive, HEALTHY, high-energy month of practices, and a mentally and physically prepared football team ready to hit Stanford with all they have on 9/5.

Enjoy your day, and GO COUGS!

Super Sunday or, EH?; Best of Lists Continue

February 1, 2009


Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Ready to watch Pittsburgh and Arizona settle things on the field? And as a Seahawks fan, this is a tough one, and a question that has been sportstalk-fodder the last two weeks – who do YOU root for today? Do you root for your divisional rival in Arizona, a team that was a complete joke until just a few years ago, often times compared to the LA Clippers in terms of losing as well as ownership ineptness? But as Hooty wrote recently, do you really want to see the Arizona Cardinals with a Lombardi trophy before our beloved Seahawks??

Meanwhile, as Matt Hasselbeck said in a radio interview this week, how can Seahawks fans root for Darth Vader in the Pittsburgh Steelers? I stumbled upon the 2006 NFL Films production of the Seahawks – Steelers Super Bowl last night on ESPN2, and about 30 seconds was all I could stomach before flipping it off. I forgot about how sour that game tasted.

Besides, there isn’t a rooting interest from a WSU angle, as neither roster has a WSU player to be found, not even on practice squads or injured reserve. So it might be a weird feeling today.

But whatever. Enjoy the unofficial national holiday today, wherever you are.

Anyway, with signing day nearly upon us, some more “best of the west” recruiting lists have hit cyberspace. Where does WSU fit with these new lists? How about the “other” BCS school in the state?

Leading off with the good news, Scout.com has released their final Best 150 in the West list. Good news because WSU weighs in with ten recruits on this list, good for third in the PAC-10 behind UCLA and USC, seven of which are in the top 100.

Gino Simone – 44
Darren Markle – 57
Travis Long – 70
Arthur Burns – 84
Nolan Washington – 89
Jamal Atofau – 97
Chris Mastin – 100
Anthony Carpenter – 117
Jeff Tuel – 137
Andre Barrington – 141

As Scout.com says, all are three-star players, except for Simone’s four star rating.

I think this list says it all. Not so much that we’re getting the best of the best talent ala USC. But it speaks to the depth of this class and the potential it has to really build a strong foundation going forward. Getting seven of the top 100 alone speaks volumes for the kind of progress Wulff and the staff are making out on the trail. And the high-character stories on a lot of these kids is probably the best thing of all.

UW landed seven verbals on the list, but not a single one in the top 100. The highest-rated kid is none other than Desmond Trufant, coming in at 108.

Moving on, the News Tribune has their 2008-09 Western 100 out today. As the TNT says:

The Western 100 are the top 100 high school football recruits in the West (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming), as selected by The News Tribune, which polled college coaches and various media outlets.

WSU finished with only THREE players on this list – Gino Simone, Darren Markle and Travis Long. Quite a difference compared to Scout.com. Washington? Um, zero. Even in a transition year with the new coaching staff, a zero? Really? I don’t remember the last time they didn’t even have one player in the top 100 in the western states.

The TNT also had this comp article with Wulff and Sarkisian. It’s a good look at the different states of the recruiting process for both coaching staffs. Wulff’s staff appears to have their footing, while Sarkisian is still scrambling to cobble something together before Wednesday.

One thing I found interesting about Sarkisian in that article is the idea of them selling the players on playing in the NFL. That somehow his system is going to prepare them for playing in the league, better than the other schools around. That’s an easy thing for him to sit in living rooms and tout all the players he’s helped coach up to play on Sundays…..while wearing a USC sweatsuit. Will he be able to say the same thing after a few years in Seattle? We’ll see. But somehow I doubt he’s going to have the same success in getting kids into the league…ya THINK?

Now I don’t want to sit here and tout a whopping three players for WSU either. While we do believe this WSU class is looking strong in terms of overall depth, filled with high character, high-ceiling types, it’s safe to say we still have a ways to go before we are challenging the upper half of the conference. But it’s been preached since Wulff was introduced in December, and that is that this thing is going to take a while to build. As Wulff himself said all season long, we have to build layers upon layers upon layers of depth, so you aren’t forced to throw the young out into the wild. But I am also confident in saying that IF Wulff can sign at least two more recruiting classes like this one, the ideal program Wulff is shooting for will be much closer to reality.

That’s it for a super Sunday. ENJOY YOUR DAY, and GO COUGS!