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Depth is a major concern for the Cougars' defense on the line and at linebacker, while inexperience is the issue in the secondary. WSU's starting defensive line and top three linebackers are considered among the best in the Pac-10, but the only returning starter in the secondary is cornerback Alex Teems. The Cougars love to attack on defense and have the tools in defensive ends Mkristo Bruce and Adam Braidwood and a linebacking corps that features All-American candidate Will Derting and Scott Davis.
DE Mkristo Bruce > On the watch list for the Hendricks Award. Has been praised by coach Bill Doba for "energy and passion" he brings. Made nine tackles against both USC and UCLA. Prep star at Liberty High School outside Issaquah. Backup: Adam West.
DT Aaron Johnson > Started seven games last season and blocked kick against Colorado. The Cougars love defensive tackles with mass who can clog the middle and free linebackers to attack and pursue. Johnson, who is 6 feet 6, 310 pounds, showed that ability last year as a redshirt freshman. Missed final two games with a knee sprain. Backup: Odell Howard.
DT Fevaea'i Ahmu > True freshman from Serra High School in San Diego is starting because Ropati Pitoitua suffered broken leg last Thursday. Ahmu was a SuperPrep Magazine All-American and received votes in Best in the West balloting. Backup: Bryan Olson.
DE Adam Braidwood > Senior from Delta, B.C., never redshirted. Will be playing pro football next year and only question is on which side of the border. One of strongest players on the team. Played some youth hockey but preferred football. Backup: Matt Mullenix.
WLB Steve Dildine > Didn't play high-school football until he was a senior at Bethel outside Tacoma and then made up for lost time by rushing for 2,265 yards and scoring 45 TDs. Backup: Jason Stripling.
MLB Will Derting > One of the best linebackers in WSU history. Moved to middle linebacker last season and played entire season with wrist injury suffered in camp. All-American candidate who is on Nagurski, Lott, Lombardi, Butkus and Bednarik award watch lists. Has missed time in camp this year with a hamstring injury. Backup: Greg Trent.
SLB Scott Davis > Shared team's defensive MVP award with Derting last season. Big-play performer who was one of state's top running backs at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick. Ranked seventh in Pac-10 in tackles last season with 86 (53 primary). Backup: Cory Evans.
CB Alex Teems > Only returning DB starter. Strong starting debut last year with two interceptions in win at New Mexico. Made eight tackles against Oregon and Stanford. Backup: Lorenzo Bursey.
SS Eric Frampton > Didn't start last year and made most of his contributions on special teams. Has drawn praise in camp from secondary coach Ken Greene, who said, "He has a chance to be as good as we've had around here for a long time." Backup: Christian Bass.
FS DeWayne Patterson > Junior-college transfer will start because Husain Abdullah is injured. Patterson had been impressive in fall camp. He was first-team all-conference for Chaffey Community College, which finished 9-2 and made a repeat trip to the Verizon Southern California Bowl. Backup: Michael Willis.
CB Wally Dada > Full first name is Omowale. Blocked punt at New Mexico that led to Cougars' come-from-behind win. Started against UCLA because Teems was injured and batted down two passes, made four tackles. Backup: Don Turner.
P Kyle Basler > One of the best punters in college football. Was defensive MVP of 2003 Holiday Bowl upset over Texas when he planted five punts inside the 5-yard line. Had an 87-yard punt last season at Arizona, which was the second-longest kick in Pac-10 history. Backup: Fritz Brayton.