Pac-12: 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.

Pac-12 lunch links: Cougs D-line takes hit

July, 27, 2012
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Happy Friday.

Lunch links: It's media day!

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
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Ray, if someone asks if you are a god, you say "yes!"

Washington State spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 overall record: 4-8
2011 conference record: 2-7 (6th in North)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, OL John Fullington, S Deone Bucannon, LB Travis Long, WR Andrei Lintz.

Key losses
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LT David Gonzales, OL B.J. Guerra, WR Jared Karstetter.

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Rickey Galvin* (602 yards)
Passing: Marshall Lobbestael (2,584 yards)
Receiving: Marquess Wilson* (1,388 yards)
Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis (88)
Sacks: Travis Long* (4)
Interceptions: Damante Horton* (4)

Spring answers
1. Tuel steps up: Remember that whole quarterback-competition thing? While Mike Leach hasn't officially named Jeff Tuel his starter, given the quickness with which he picked up the offense and the numbers he put up during the spring, it's likely that a proclamation that Tuel is the guy will come early in the fall. He's looked very good to date.

2. Plenty of weapons: Lots of them. Marquess Wilson returns as one of the top wide receivers in the conference -- and he showed in the spring game what he's capable of. Converted tight end Andrei Lintz had an outstanding spring at wide receiver and showed real chemistry with Tuel throughout the 15 practices. Gino Simone, Dominique Williams and Blair Bomber add depth to a very deep group.

3. New role for running backs: Can you catch? That's what Leach is looking for out of his guys. With the ball in the air 70 to 75 percent of the time, guys like Marcus Mason and Rickey Galvin will need to shift their focus from downhill to soft hands. There will be chances to run the football, but most of those will be after the catch.

Fall questions
1. Lineup: What's the offensive line going to look like? With players like Wade Jacobson (missed the final eight games last year with a back injury) and Matt Goetz (started nine games at center last season) missing time this spring, the starting five is likely to change. Which five and at what positions remains a question.

2. New-look D: With the Cougars switching to a 3-4 front, there is more focus on the linebacking corps. Travis Long should flourish in this system (12 tackles for a loss last season), but there are depth and position questions. Eric Oertel was a pleasant surprise this spring, as were Chester Su'a and Darryl Monroe -- though both saw their springs end early with injuries. Expect some growing pains as the group comes together in the odd front.

3. D-line depth: Xavier Cooper had a very good spring, but outside of him, Lenard Williams and Anthony Laurenzi (6.5 tackles for a loss last year), there are a lot of untested players. Matthew Bock saw some reps during the spring, but defensive coordinator Mike Breske will have to develop some more guys for the unit to be sound. A pair of Samoans in the recruiting class -- Robert Barber and Destiny Vaeao -- could be forced into action early.
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.

Preseason position reviews: defensive tackle

August, 3, 2010
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Defensive tackles clog the middle and collapse pockets. Dominant ones who demand attention from two blockers make life much easier for defensive coordinators, who suddenly see their linebackers running to the ball unmolested.

And it's typically not a strength position in the Pac-10. Coaches who have worked both down south and out west will tell you that one of the peculiar differences is how many more DTs there are in SEC and ACC country. (Quarterback goes the other way.)

[+] EnlargeCasey
Tony Medina/SMICasey Jurrell had 54 tackles and four sacks in 2009.
In 2010, however, defensive tackle is solid in the conference. The three teams at the top of this list feature potential All-Americans at the position.

So how do things stack up?

Great shape

  • USC: The Trojans would rank among the nation's best at the position if not for the season-ending knee injury to Christian Tupou. Still, Jurrell Casey is a beast, Hebron Fangupo is huge and DaJohn Harris was one of the surprises of spring practices.
  • Oregon State: All-America candidate Stephen Paea is powerful and explosive and if he turns in a big season beating double-teams, he could end up a first-round NFL draft pick. Brennan Olander is a returning starter and converted end Kevin Frahm provides depth.
  • Arizona State: Both 2009 starters, Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola, are back, and Corey Adams and Williams Sutton should provide quality depth.
Good shape

  • Oregon: Brandon Bair is underrated, and Zac Clark saw plenty of action as a backup in 2009. While inexperienced, there's young talent to provide depth.
  • Washington: The Huskies are solid with Cameron Elisara and Alameda Ta'amu, returning starters who turned in their best work this past spring.
  • California: Hard to rate teams that use a pure 3-4 because there's only a single nose tackle. Still, if Derrick Hill can stay healthy, he and Kendrick Payne will be an outstanding tandem making life tough for opposing centers.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal is breaking in its own 3-4 this year. Nose tackle Sione Fua is solid in the middle, with Terrence Stephens his backup. Stephens saw limited action as a true freshman in 2009.
We'll see

  • UCLA: The Bruins are replacing two starters, including the dominant Brian Price. David Carter, Justin Edison and Nate Chandler were solid in spring practices, so the position isn't a huge concern.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats are replacing two starters, including the underrated Earl Mitchell, a third-round NFL draft pick. After spring practices, Sione Tuihalamaka and Lolomana Mikaele topped the depth chart, which featured six names.
  • Washington State: Another position where the Cougars might be "better than you think," particularly if Bernard Wolfgramm can stay healthy. Touted JC transfer Brandon Rankin was impressive this spring, and true sophomore Anthony Laurenzi, a five-game starter in 2009, offers experienced depth.

Washington State spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
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Washington State

2009 overall record: 1-11

2009 conference record: 0-9 (10th)

Returning starters

Offense: 8, Defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Jared Karstetter, DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, P Reid Forrest

Key losses: C Kenny Alfred, RB Dwight Tardy, FS Xavier Hicks, LB Andy Mattingly

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Tardy (417)

Passing: Tuel* (789)

Receiving: Karstetter* (540)

Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis* (84)

Sacks: Travis Long*, Toby Turpin, Casey Hamlett*, Anthony Laurenzi* (2)

Interceptions: Xavier Hicks (3)

Spring Answers

1. Solid at QB: Both sophomore Tuel and junior Marshall Lobbestael played well this spring. Both are more skilled, more mature and better versed in the offense than when they were prematurely forced into action the previous two seasons. Tuel is the heavy frontrunner to start, but it's always nice to have two quarterbacks with starting experience.

2. Offensive line improvement: A big area of concern the past two seasons, the Cougars added a pair of JC recruits midyear and the additions greatly enhanced the competition and depth up front. Also, the addition of offensive line coach Steve Morton and his 35 years of experience, which includes five Morris Trophy winners, already has made a big impact. The line lost one starter from last season (center Kenny Alfred) but the return of four starters, along with the JC additions and return of Andrew Roxas, who missed 2009 due to illness, could make this one of the most improved units in the conference.

3. There's some depth: Everyone around the program insists this is by far the best spring for coach Paul Wulff since he took over a beleaguered program two years ago. Part of that success is legitimate competition for starting spots and playing time. Players who redshirted the past two seasons, in particular, made an impact during the 15 practices

Fall questions

1. Confidence? The Cougars have won just three games over the past two seasons -- just one Pac-10 game. Many of their defeats have been blowouts. While the talent looks better heading into 2010, the Cougars have to believe they can compete -- and win -- in the Pac-10. That belief will drive players to work out hard during the summer. That belief will keep games close into the fourth quarter. That belief might even help them steal a few games. But that belief has to be real, which means it will have to block out all the talk about another dreary 10th-place finish.

2. Will the D-line step up? Sophomore end Travis Long should take the next step. JC transfer Brandon Rankin lived up to his considerable hype at tackle. Senior end Kevin Kooyman is back from injury and had a good spring. That's the good news. The bad news is three of the top four or five tackles are either gone -- or close to going -- before their time. Toby Turpin was kicked out of school over an undisclosed academic incident, while tackles Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Luapo are struggling to remain academically eligible (coaches are more hopeful about Wolfgramm getting back on track). That means youngsters such as Justin Clayton, Dan Spitz, Jordan Pu’u Robinson and Anthony Laurenzi will need to be ready -- and be better than they were in 2009.

3. Receiver depth? The Cougars went through spring with just four scholarship receivers (Jeffrey Solomon, Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone and Daniel Blackledge). The incoming recruiting class features five receivers. JC recruit Isiah Barton is probably the most ready, but at least a couple of freshmen will need to earn spots in the rotation.

Q&A: Washington State defensive coordinator Chris Ball

April, 28, 2010
4/28/10
4:20
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It's hard to say which Washington State Cougars defense was worse.

In 2008, the Cougars surrendered 44 points per game, ranking 118th in the nation. They again ranked 118th in in 2009, but they gave up "just" 38.5 points per game.

Of course, the 2009 unit ranked last in the nation in total defense, yielding an astounding 512 yards per game, which was 69 more than 2008.

Yes, those numbers will stress out a defensive coordinator.

Fact is the Cougars have been out manned the past two seasons on both sides of the ball but most glaringly on defense. They started out lacking talent and then suffered epidemic injuries. Not a good combination. That forced the Cougars to use young players before they were physically or mentally ready.

Thus the numbers.

Ah, but there is reason for hope heading into 2010. For one, those young players may have graduated the school of hard knocks and are ready to give back some of the rude treatment they received.

For the first time since Paul Wulff took over in 2008, there's legitimate competition for starting spots. Coaches are so bold to even use the term "depth."

While spring practices ended last weekend with some bad news -- defensive tackles Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Luapo are both struggling to remain academically eligible -- Wulff called the 15 practices "by far the best spring we have had since we’ve been here."

So we decided to check in with Chris Ball, the Cougars assistant head coach who co-coordinates the defense with Jody Sears.

Give me a general assessment of spring practices: Where did you guys get better?

Chris Ball: I think we got better up front. Our defensive line probably was the biggest improvement. We got some good competition going on there.

Give me some players who showed a lot of improvement?

CB: End Kevin Kooyman, tackle Brandon Rankin, the kid we got in here in January. End Travis Long, tackle Justin Clayton. They all had a great spring.

How concerned are you about the academic status of tackles Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Luapo? What's the pecking order behind them?

CB: We've got Rankin and Anthony Laurenzi, who played quite a bit last year. We feel pretty good about Wolfgramm. Luapo we're waiting to see.

Tell me about tackle Brandon Rankin. Sounds like he may live up to high expectations.

CB: He had a good spring. He's still got to get stronger. He needs to have a good three months here this summer to get stronger and continue to grow. But he ended up about what we expected him to be. He sat out last year so he was a little rusty at the beginning of spring. But he did a good job of coming on. He's got to keep working. He's got a lot of work to do in the weight room this summer.

What about sophomore end Travis Long. Is he a potential All-Conference player?

CB: I'd like to think so. But it also goes back to him still being young, physically. He's got to have a good next three months. He did a good job through the winter lifting, but these next three months are big for him as far as his strength is concerned.

Tell me about the secondary: Who has stepped up back there?

CB: Safety Tyree Toomer, who started as a freshman for us and then got hurt, he had a great spring. Safety Chima Nwachukwu had a great spring. Safety LeAndre Daniels had a great spring. We had two freshmen safeties who did really well: Casey Locker and Jamal Atofau. So at the safety position we've got a heck of a battle going on. At corner, Daniel Simmons has done a great job. And there's Anthony Carpenter and Aire Justin. We've got some good competition going on there, too. We're pretty pleased with the ways those guys are playing. We've got more speed back there right now than we've had in the past.

And at linebacker?

CB: We got a few injuries late and pulled some guys out, but Alex Hoffman-Ellis was doing well before he sprained his ankle. Myron Beck did a great job at SAM [strongside linebacker]. We've got Andre Barrington. He's a redshirt freshman, who had a really good spring. Arthur Burns at WILL [weakside linebacker] had a really good spring also.

What's linebacker Louis Bland's status [he's trying to come back after microfracture surgery]?

CB: He's getting better. He's ahead of schedule. Hopefully ... I'm sure he'll be ready to play come August.

The past two seasons have been a struggle for the entire program. What was it like for you in terms of trying to stop people?

CB: It was tough. The last two years we've been bitten by the injury bug and haven't really been able to get into what you really want to do defensively. It's been tough. Our depth has been poor. We've not had much competition going on at positions. But we finally, for the first time in two years -- going into our third year -- we've got a lot of competition going on on the D-line and at the safety spot and linebacker spot, which makes everybody step up and makes everybody better. We had to play a lot of young players the last couple of years. That's almost a good thing right now because we've now got a lot of guys who have actually played. They weren't necessarily ready to play [the last two years] but they got some game experience. We're still going to be young but we're a young group that has played some snaps in the Pac-10.

What's the most important thing for you guys to improve on in 2010?

CB: We've got to stay healthy. The boat feels like it's finally moving. The kids can feel it. They can feel they are getting better. But these next three months, we've got to keep the momentum we've gained in spring ball. The next three months are very, very crucial to how we start out. We've got to come into camp feeling really good about ourselves, with a little bit of swagger. The kids of done a great job with their enthusiasm in practice. Our chemistry is really good. We've worked hard. We've had good competition at numerous spots. We've got to keep this momentum the next three months. If we can keep it and stay healthy, we have a chance to make some big, big strides.

Washington State notes: Who's in, out, up and down

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
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Will have lots more from my visit to Washington State, which starts spring practices Thursday, but here are some notes from a conversation with coach Paul Wulff.
  • The Cougars are much healthier this spring than last: 24 players missed offseason workouts last year. This year, just four will sit out spring practices: running back James Montgomery (knee, calf), defensive tackle Josh Luapo (knee), linebacker Louis Bland (knee) and cornerback Anthony Houston (knee).
  • As for Montgomery, he had knee surgery in addition to his scary episode with "acute compartment syndrome" with his calf. Wulff said he won't be cleared to start full-speed running until June. As for the depth at running back Wulff listed Marcus Richmond, Chantz Staden, Logwone Mitz, Carl Winston and Leon Brooks, a walk-on who's made a positive impression.
  • Wulff said there's no hope for receiver Johnny Forzani returning to the program: "He's going to try to play in the CFL." The Cougars have four receivers back who caught at least 20 passes: Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone, Jeffrey Solomon and Daniel Blackledge. Wulff said he expects JC transfer Isiah Barton and perhaps a couple of the four incoming freshmen receivers to contribute, most particularly Marquess Wilson. "Most everybody in the Pac-10 was trying to go on him," Wulff said. "He's a big-time, big-time player."
  • Offensive lineman Brian Danaher, a 12-game starter over the past three seasons, won't be back because of recurrent concussions.
  • Starting defensive tackle Toby Turpin's status is questionable due to an academic dispute, which Wulff said should be resolved -- positively or negatively -- within the next week or two. Turpin will be allowed to practice until his case is resolved.
  • Wulff, perhaps surprisingly, said he believes the offensive line will be the strength off the offense. Andrew Roxas, who missed all of last season due to illness, will step in to fill the void at center due to the departure of stalwart Kenny Alfred. B.J. Guerra, Zack Williams and Steven Ayers will compete at guard. At tackle, two JC transfers will be in the mix this spring -- David Gonzales and Wade Jacobson -- along with Micah Hannam, Tyson Pencer and Alex Reitnouer. Wulff also said the he thinks incoming true freshman John Fullington might be ready to immediately contribute. "I think he was one of the best [high school] offensive linemen in the country," he said.
  • Tight end Zach Tatman was granted a sixth year of eligibility, which means the Cougs will have three experienced tight ends with Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz.
  • Redshirt freshman Sekope Kaufusi will see time as a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end. Wulff said he's been impressed by redshirt freshman end Jordan Pu'u Robinson during the off-season.
  • Touted JC transfer Brandon Rankin -- he was offered a scholarship by Alabama -- will play both end and tackle.
  • Defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm continues to struggle with back problems, but Wulff said he was "moving around and participating in drills better since his back surgery. So that's promising." Still, it's likely his action will be limited this spring.
  • Depth at defensive tackle is a question, but sophomore Dan Spitz, who started five games at tackle and end last year, redshirt freshman Justin Clayton and sophomore Anthony Laurenzi are promising prospects.
  • Wulff said the defense will be much faster at linebacker. When he's healthy in the fall, Bland will move to middle linebacker. Mike Ledgerwood also is a top candidate in the middle, along with redshirt freshman Darren Markle. Alex Hoffman-Ellis will move from middle to weakside linebacker. Arthur Burns will move from running back to "Will" linebacker. Myron Beck and Andre Barrington will man the strongside. Incoming recruit C.J. Mizell also could be in the mix.
  • The secondary, hit hard by injuries a year ago, should be much improved with LeAndre Daniels, Tyree Toomer, Chima Nwachukwu, Jay Matthews and redshirt freshman Anthony Carpenter, Casey Locker -- Jake's cousin -- and Jamal Atofau competing at safety and Daniel Simmons, Aire Justin, Terrance Hayward and promising redshirt freshman Nolan Washington at corner.

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