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April 21, 2006

Spring practice results - Defense Part II

The assessment of the results of spring football wraps up with a look at the questions still unanswered on the defense. Check out the rundown on the problems the Cougs still face as summer break approaches…:

Defensive Tackle: D-Tackle is one of the thinner spots on the Cougar defense and not a whole lot happened in spring to help the situation. Last season, the Cougars sorely missed man-mountain Ropati Pitoitua in the lineup and were a different run-defense team entirely with him in the mix - even at less than 100%. Pitoitua's leg injury from last year is still giving him trouble, so much so that the coaches held Pitoitua out of contact all spring as a precaution. The gamble is that holding Pitoitua out will help get him and keep him healthy for the 2006 season. The downside is he didn't get reps. While Pitoitua has a lot of talent, size, and potential, he will come into August as a true junior without a whole lot of recent actual time on the field. Returning starters Aaron Johnson and Fevaea'I Ahmu got plenty of reps and improved, but nobody emerged as a reliable fourth man for the rotation. Too much hope is being placed on the arrival in August of long-awaited JC transfer Bryan Tarkington, who appears to finally be cleared to enroll after signing in the 2005 recruiting class.

Middle Linebacker: If there is a concern at any of the linebacker spots, it's at middle due to Greg Trent missing time due to injury. As the incumbent starter, true sophomore Trent could have greatly benefited from a round of spring practice. Missing out means Trent must do what he can to develop skills during summer drills and August practice in order to be ready for Auburn and the rest of the 2006 schedule.

Cornerback: The sketchy play of the Cougar cornerbacks was a major problem for both the 2004 and 2005 seasons, and led directly to a couple of losses on the field. The Cougars absolutely must see improvement at both cornerback positions in 2006 to avoid being picked apart through the air and possibly a third straight season out of the bowl picture. While WSU gets Tyron Brackenridge back for 2006 after a year on the bench due to academics, the Cougs suffered a blow in spring when Brackenridge missed some practices due to injury. Brackenridge has talent and came on late, but could have used all the practice time available to shake off the rust.

The concern at the position is a starter opposite Brackenridge and depth on both sides. Don Turner didn't establish himself as a starter, and neither Ian Bell nor Courtney Williams clearly stepped up and made claims to a prime rotation spot. If anything, walk-on Ryan Kensok is as much in the mix as anybody as the team heads for summer. As with other positions - most notably running back on offense - too much hope for early help is being placed on the August arrivals.

Punter: It's still an open question who will replace graduating Kyle Basler. Portland State transfer Darryl Blunt likely has the edge over Fritz Brayton, but Blunt was at times erratic and a starter for the position is not locked down.


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