Washington State's defensive coordinator says he thinks this year's defense has improved from last season.
"I like them a lot better," Robb Akey said in a telephone interview. "I'm not sitting here telling you they are the best defense in the country, but I think we've gained ground and improved. It's still a work in progress. I'm really anxious to see them perform."
The Cougars open the season Saturday at No. 4 Auburn, which features Heisman candidate running back Kenny Irons and a defense that sacked Alabama quarterbacks 11 times.
WSU has seven starters back from a unit that failed to hold fourth-quarter leads in three games and surrendered an average of 36.1 points in Pac-10 play.
Akey called the returnees "stronger, faster and improved."
Two key examples are defensive tackle Feveae'I Ahmu and middle linebacker Greg Trent, both of whom started as true freshmen last season because of injuries. Ahmu will start with junior Ropati Pitoitua, who missed almost half the 2005 season with a broken leg and never seemed 100 percent.
Trent understands the defense better this year and has talented senior outside linebackers Scott Davis and Steve Dildine on each side.
Akey said he expects cornerback play to be better with seniors Tyron Brackenridge, who was academically ineligible in 2005, and Don Turner, who admits he came to camp with a new attitude, as starters. Akey said free safety Husain Abdullah has shown significant improvement and that strong safety Eric Frampton was solid last year.
He said junior Lance Broadus, who will replace Matt Mullenix (knee) at defensive end, has shown rapid improvement against the run. All-America candidate Mkristo Bruce, the other starter, left practice with a hand injury Saturday, but X-rays were negative and he will practice today.