NCF Nation: Anthony Laurenzi

Mike Leach is funny when you asked him which Pac-12 coach he'd like to take hunting. He's funny you ask him to compare his team leaders to famous military generals. He's funny when you ask him about his affection for pirates. Heck, Leach is funny -- and often insightful -- about a variety of things. He's just not going to tell you much about his football team.

Leach and the Cougars begin preseason camp Thursday not unlike they began spring practices: as mostly a blank slate. The depth chart that was included in the Cougars' 2012 media guide doesn't seem to be a terribly valuable document, at least to Leach. When you ask the Cougs' new coach about areas of concern, deepest positions, thinnest positions and incoming players who have a chance to earn playing time, it's not wise to expect much in the way of details or specific names.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireMike Leach begins his first preseason at Washington State on Thursday, and much of the depth chart is uncertain.
"You earn your job every day," he said, mostly speaking to all depth-chart questions. "The starting lineup is going to be based on performance, not how many years you've played or how old you are."

One thing Leach isn't terribly funny about: team discipline. If his players didn't take his emphasis on it seriously in January, they surely will now. Last week, he dismissed projected starting defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi after he was arrested for allegedly shoplifting a pair of headphones from a Walmart. He was the third likely starter Leach cut loose from his defensive front seven, which wasn't terribly deep and stout in the first place. He'd previously booted linebackers C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi, who were both returning starters.

"There's nothing fun about it," Leach said when asked about kicking players off the team. "You'd like to save everyone."

Laurenzi was listed as the starter at left defensive tackle and the backup at nose tackle. His backup is senior Steven Hoffart, though senior Lenard Williams could move over from the right said, where he backs up Xavier Cooper on the depth chart. Or a new guy could break through. Leach wouldn't project who was first in line to work with the first-team defense. He, in fact, wasn't even ready to agree Laurenzi was a likely starter.

"It's difficult to say he had the first crack at it to begin with," Leach said. "We played a variety of people there and will continue to. We didn't have a set group of starters there."

Leach also professed to "feel good" about his front seven, though it appears to be his team's biggest question mark.

Leach said most of preseason practices will be focused on fundamentals, with game prep not beginning until around 10 days before the visit to BYU on Sept. 1.

Leach did say he'll wait only a week before deciding who his No. 1 quarterback will be, though it seems almost certain that will be Jeff Tuel. At that point, Tuel would get two-thirds of the reps with the first-team offense and his likely backup, Connor Halliday, would get the other third.

Note: Leach wouldn't comment on the expected arrival of freshman cornerback Raymond Ford, who was previously headed to California.
No team in the Pac-12 wows you at defensive tackle. No team is a sure thing. There is a lot of "maybe" at the position. And probably some maybe not.

The uncertainty of quality -- both in terms of returning stars and depth -- made this a difficult position to rank. For example, Washington has a nice foursome at tackle, led by Alameda Ta'amu, who might be the best tackle in the conference.

That's great. Good for the Huskies. But they ranked 97th in the country in run defense last year. You sort of pause over that, you know?

So a lot of this ranking is feel thing, a projection of potential. And "great shape" here is relative to the conference. Nebraska, for example, wouldn't exchange its tackles -- Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler -- for any Pac-12 tandem.

Some of this figures to inspire a bit of debate.

Great shape

USC: This may be in some part based on fumes from the Trojans reputation at the position. It definitely includes a vote of faith that they will get a 100 percent Christian Tupou back from the knee injury that killed his 2010 season. If so, the threesome of Tupou, George Uko and DaJohn Harris is strong. And if you toss in Armond Armstead -- who missed spring with an undisclosed medical condition that threatens his career -- you'd have a clear No. 1.

Washington: Ta'amu seemed to find himself during the second half of last year, and the 330-pounder could end up getting some All-American consideration if he consistently plays like he did against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi are both experienced, and Lawrence Lagafuaina a space-grabbing, 344-pound redshirt freshman.

Colorado: The Buffaloes are sneaky good here, even though they only ranked 48th in the nation in run defense in 2010. Both starters, Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham, are back, but Conrad Obi was a revelation this spring. He looked like a future NFL draft choice, not a player who'd mostly been a bust. Nate Bonsu, who missed spring with a knee injury, also should help.

Good shape

Utah: The Utes, who ranked 11th in the nation in run defense in 2010, lost Sealver Siliga, but they believe they have a budding star in, er, Star Lotulelei, while James Aiono, LT Tuipulotu and Joape Peta are solid. Also, Dave Kruger, who played end this spring, is 280 pounds and can play inside.

Arizona: The loss of backup Willie Mobley to a knee injury hurts depth, but Justin Washington figures to take a step forward after an impressive true freshman season, Sione Tuihalamaka started four games in 2010. Depth is a question. The Wildcats ranked 33rd in the nation in run defense last fall.

Oregon: On the one hand, Oregon lost both starting defensive tackles in Brandon Bair and Zac Clark from a unit that ranked 27th in the nation in run defense. On the other, they played so many guys last fall, the new starters are experienced players. Further, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert played well enough this spring to suggest the position will be a strength in the fall.

Arizona State: If Lawrence Guy didn't make his ill-fated decision to enter the NFL draft, the Sun Devils, who were 16th in the nation against the run last fall, would be in great shape here. As it was, Will Sutton had a great spring and looks like a potential All-Conference guy. Grinder Bo Moos is listed as the starter at the other tackle, though he could be eclipsed by Corey Adams. Toa Tuitea saw limited action last year.

UCLA: The Bruins defensive line was terrible last year, ranking 108th in the nation against the run, but the talent is there for a significant turnaround. Cassius Marsh, Nate Chandler, Justin Edison, Donovan Carter and Seali'i Epenesa should do a much better job plugging the middle.

California: Cal is actually fine here, despite the loss of NG Derrick Hill. For one, when you run a 3-4 defense, it's hard to rate your DTs, even if your DEs often operate like them. The Bears have two solid options at NG in Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne, and it's also possible that touted 350-pound incoming freshman Viliami Moala will eclipse both of them.

We'll see

Oregon State: Dominic Glover moves inside from end and Kevin Frahm has experience, but this unit didn't play well last year -- 89th in run defense -- even with one of the best DTs in the nation in Stephen Paea. 340-pound Castro Masaniai could help but he missed spring after shoulder surgery and has off-field issues. There's also Mana Tuivailala and Ben Motter.

Stanford: Like Cal, Stanford runs a 3-4, so it naturally it is going to suffer a bit in DT rankings. More important: The loss of Sione Fua is significant. Terrence Stephens and Henry Anderson had solid springs but neither has much experience.

Washington State: Brandon Rankin, a returning starter, was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Anthony Laurenzi after spring practices, with redshirt freshman Toni Pole No. 1 at the other tackle. Justin Clayton, Steven Hoffart and Xavier Cooper provide depth. It's not unreasonable for Cougars fans to expect improvement, perhaps significant improvement. But a team that ranked 115th in the nation in run defense the previous season is automatically a "We'll see" here.

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