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The Unfiltered Truth- WSU Defensive Backs
Written by OpenToClose   
Saturday, 20 March 2010 21:31

It wasn't long ago that we were pumping out NFL corners and safeties on a regular basis. Just as quickly that lineage faded into obscurity and it was replaced by a revolving door of undersized or unhealthy players that continued through last season. This season brings a series of fresh new faces with one common theme: speed. The guys in the back four will be younger and frustrating at times but the upgrade in speed will be noticeable.

Let's take a peek at what to watch out for as Spring ball kicks into gear:


At safety, Xavier Hicks was a warrior for us but he was probably one of the worst safeties in pass coverage in the Pac-10. He just lacked foot speed and hip movement to be effective. He had to be perfect on nearly every pass play to defend a pass in his area and it was rare to see him range to cover for someone else which is really what separates free safeties in pass coverage capabilities. The kid you'll hear about most this Spring is Jamal Atofau. Lots of excitement about the kids energy and desire to seek out contact. Don't forget about Casey Locker and Jay Matthews either. Both bring some range and should help with depth and on special teams next season. Players that have shown flashes that could really rise up this Spring and grab a starting spot would be Tyree Toomer and LeAndre Daniels. Hard to predict what they'll show following pretty significant injuries but they could both take a huge step forward this season if we are fortunate.

At the other safety, Chima wasn't a whole lot better in pass defense but his deficiencies are often more forgivable since he was playing closer to the line to defend the run quite frequently. He'll be the veteran in this group but he probably needs to be rotated out in blatant passing situations. Great kid but also a guy that was tracked down by Notre Dame's back-up tight end in the open field last season. Probably not a real good indicator of how fast your starting strong safety is. The good news is that this year there is talent and depth behind him that will be able to filter in more frequently. As I think about players that are going to surprise us this Spring I keep coming back to Tyree Toomer. The injury that forced him to redshirt last season will turn out to be a blessing for him now and WSU fans this season. When you add Atofau, Daniels, Toomer, Locker, and Matthews to the fold it's not unreasonable to expect at least two of those players to step up this season and put a Travis Long like season together. These are exciting times for Chris Ball as he has a lot of wet clay to mold into quality players this Spring.

At corner, there is more upheaval heading into the Spring but there are MANY options and some are going to be really exciting to watch develop over the course of this season. Brandon Jones is gone from the team and he was a serviceable corner but the players that take his reps are more than likely to become better players and hopefully it happens this year. Daniel Simmons was on track to be a four year starter before breaking his leg and his health will be a big question that needs to be answered. If he comes back fully healthy expect him to start and be really good wire-to-wire next Fall. Two highly anticipated debuts will be hitting out on the island as well. Nolan Washington and Anthony Carpenter both get to move off the practice squad and start pushing for spots on the depth chart. Don't be surprised if we are talking about corner being one of the positions we are most excited to watch in the future if people can stay healthy.


What to watch for: The development of the prodigal four. I feel like we've been talking about Jamal Atofau, Nolan Washington, Anthony Carpenter, and Casey Locker for years now and we've never seen them play a single down of college football. The expectations placed on these guys coming into their redshirt freshmen season is pretty sizable. Will they be able to live up to their reputation? Remember, Nolan Washington was the top rated cornerback in the state two years ago and that was over Desmond Trufant who started last season as a true freshman at UW. He's got a magnetic personality and possibly talent to match. Will he start this season right out of the gate? We'll learn a lot this Spring. Jamal Atofau was the top rated safety in state. Could he be the next Eric Coleman?

Finally, we'll get to see where these four guys filter onto the depth chart in first Spring as eligible players. It should be fun to see how they progress over the next four years.


What you should pray you don't read about: That Chris Ball has left to join the USC staff as defensive coordinator. I kid, I kid. But don't lose sight of my point, Chris Ball is the best coach we have on this staff. It's that simple. He's a phenomenal recruiter and a fantastic teacher as a secondary coach. He brings the credibility of having sent many kids to the NFL and he's got coaching experience at big schools across the country. You should feel fantastic about our secondary developing this Spring and through the Fall into what will probably be the best unit on our team. There is endless youth there and it will be maddening at times but the combination of Chris Ball along with talented youth is as close as you'll get to a sure bet on our team.


What to hope for coming out of Spring ball: Weight, weight, and more weight. If you had the chance to see Nolan Washington at any of the recruiting dinners last month you know what I'm talking about. Kid has a magnetic personality and countless people say he's got the skill to match. What he could use is about 15 pounds if he wants to start and make it through the entire season. Same goes for Aire Justin, Casey Locker, Jamal Atofau, and a few others in the secondary. The kids need to physically mature and that take time. Let's hope that they've been damn serious about the weight room because many of them are about the endure the most physically demanding season they've ever been through.

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Comments (5)
1 Monday, 22 March 2010 08:35
Where do you think Hayward will fit in? He's got nice size and is still very young. I thought he looked serviceable playing CB at the end of last season but has him listed as a S. I'm also very curious to see how Daniels looks in spring ball. He looks the part on paper but the only real game action he has seen has been vs. Stanford and Hawaii. The Hawaii game did not go well. The defensive back field will likely be the most interesting aspect of the team to watch in spring ball. I've heard there is quite a bit of talent but not a lot of experience (aside from Chima).
2 Monday, 22 March 2010 20:45
I also have wondered where Hayward and others will end up. I could definitely see Hayward at free safety with Washington and Carpenter coming into the fold. Nwachaku getting run down by a tightend (even a fast tightend) was one of those "says it all" moments last season.
3 Monday, 22 March 2010 21:18
Hayward is definitely going to stick at corner. Should be interesting to see if he holds off Washington. Finally some real competition in key areas! You guys should check out ESPN Pac-10 blog. Ted Miller just dropped a ton of new information heading into Spring practice on the Cougs. I'm going to highlight a few of the things he hits on but there is a ton in there. Stay tuned.....
Coach Ball
4 Friday, 02 July 2010 10:51
You are absolutely right about Coach Chris Ball. I've known Coach Ball since he was a middle-schooler and his next opportunity will be as a head coach somewhere. Coach Wulff will be both happy for Chris, yet sad to see him go.
Coach Ball is our most important asset
5 Saturday, 03 July 2010 10:38
I really believe that. I wish Wulff had the foresight to hire a more seasoned staff from the start. I think Coach Ball is around long enough to see us get back to good and then he is on to a head coaching job of his own. I have no doubt he will be an incredible head coach as well.

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