Completing a depth chart in early May can come with its challenges, but by and large, the 2021 Washington State Cougars make it easy.

With the exception of a few spots on both sides of the ball – including a fairly significant offensive position – fans should be relatively familiar with the players who, barring injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, will start for the Cougars this fall.

Most fans who followed the team during a shortened 2020 season could piece together a depth chart without too many errors.

After all, WSU returns nine starters on offense and 10 more on defense.

But as is the case with any team entering a new season, the Cougars have former backups looking to unseat the starters (see: quarterback) and incoming freshmen or transfers hoping to make an impact right away (see: quarterback).

In Part 2 of our depth chart projections, assembled after the team’s 15-practice spring camp period, we examine WSU’s defense and special teams. The Cougars return veterans at every position, but need to make a significant leap from last season to give them a shot at making the postseason.

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Edge

Edge 1: Ron Stone Jr., junior, (6-3, 236)

Edge 2: Gabriel Lopez, sophomore, (6-2, 246)

Also in the mix: Quinn Roff, soph., (6-2, 240), Lolani Langi, freshman, (6-2, 228), Justin Lohrenz, soph., (6-3, 249)

Edge 1: Brennan Jackson, jr., (6-4, 257)

Edge 2: Willie Taylor III, senior, (6-4, 243)

Also in the mix: Moon Ashby, soph., (6-4, 213), Marquise Freeman, soph., (6-3, 215)

Comments: All of the edge rushers will be eager to claim starting roles and at least four or five could be in the mix for those two jobs. That’s sure to foster competition inside coach A.J. Cooper’s position room this fall, but it’s important to remember at least six edges will rotate on game day. Similar to the interior defensive tackle positions, defensive coordinator Jake Dickert prefers to keep fresh bodies on the field rather than overextend his starters, even if there’s a decent talent gap between the first-stringers and second-stringers.

Taylor struggled to stay on the field last season and missed most of spring ball with a lingering injury, limiting his opportunities to learn Dickert’s 4-3 scheme and play with a hand in the ground. Brennan Jackson, who also missed spring ball with an injury, may have the highest ceiling of any edge on the roster and continues to transform his body. Stone , one of the outspoken leaders of the defense, matched Jackson with 1.5 sacks during the four-game 2020 season.

Younger players like Lopez, Ashby and Lohrenz were thrown into the fire as freshmen and should be better because of it. Walk-on Roff was impressive in the second half of WSU’s blowout loss at USC and continued to play well in spring camp.

Defensive tackle

DT1: Amir Mujahid, sr., (6-3, 280)

DT2: Tyler Garay-Harris, soph., (6-5, 274)

Also in the mix: Nathaniel James, soph., (6-0, 258), Christian Mejia, sr., (6-3, 287)

DT1: Ahmir Crowder, jr., (6-3, 287)

DT2: Dallas Hobbs, sr., (6-6, 273)

Also in the mix: Jesus Echevarria, sr., (6-2, 288), Antonio Pule, sr., (6-4, 276), Sam Carrell, fr., (6-4, 264)

Comments: One disclaimer: Hobbs suffered a bad foot injury in WSU’s season finale at Utah and missed spring camp as a result. If he’s cleared for full contact by August, he and Crowder will be entrenched in an intense battle for one of the two defensive tackle roles. Crowder, a former three-star prospect from Los Angeles who was one of the most anticipated signees of the 2018 class, held down the spot in the spring next to Mujahid, a Laney (California) College transfer who could excel in stopping the run at 6-3, 280 pounds.

Piecing together a complete evaluation of the defensive tackle position this spring was challenging. Hobbs didn’t play, former JC transfer Pule was sidelined much of camp and Mejia, a senior who played in just one game last year, didn’t participate in spring drills and only attended a few practices.

Linebacker

WLB1: Jahad Woods, graduate, (6-1, 225)

WLB2: Kyle Thornton, soph., (6-1, 225)

Also in the mix: Ben Wilson, sr., (6-1, 223)

MLB1: Justus Rogers, gr., (6-2, 227)

MLB2: Travion Brown, jr., (6-3, 228)

Also in the mix: Joshua Erling, jr., (6-1, 224)

Comments: Woods returns as one of the best linebackers in the conference, Rogers is up there as one of the most experienced and Brown is perhaps the most physically gifted defensive player on WSU’s roster. The Cougars will be hopeful that Dillon Sherman returns to the team in the fall, but Nick Rolovich told reporters after the final spring practice the sixth-year senior is dealing with undisclosed medical issues and is undecided on his football future.

If Sherman returns, the Cougars have a solid rotation with four players capable of filling in at both the Will and Mike positions. If not, they could have to rely on walk-on Thornton to spell Woods at Will. TCU transfer Wilson has enough college experience under his belt and may insert himself into the rotation with more time in Dickert’s defense.

The linebacker room may seem thin now, but the Cougars will add three freshmen in the fall when Ryan Kershaw, Francisco Mauigoa and Gavin Barthiel arrive on campus.

Nickel

Nickel 1: Armani Marsh, sr., (5-10, 185)

Nickel 2: Armauni Archie, soph., (6-0, 183)

Also in the mix: Henry Kimmins, soph., (5-10, 196)

Comments: Just three years ago, Marsh was playing football at WSU without a scholarship. By the time he leaves – potentially in 2022 due to a COVID year – it may be hard to remember the last time someone other than Marsh started at nickel for the Cougars. The Spokane native and Gonzaga Prep graduate is in line to hold down the job this fall and has taken on the challenge of becoming more of a vocal leader, as one of the longest-tenured players on the defensive side of the ball.

Similar to Marsh, Archie began his college career as a cornerback before moving to the hybrid nickel position this spring. It’s fit the Bay Area native well and Archie was arguably the most productive defensive player during the spring game, recording an interception and finishing with a team-high six tackles.

Cornerback

CB1: Jaylen Watson, sr., (6-3, 198)

CB2: George Hicks III, gr., (6-0, 188)

Also in the mix: Chris Jackson, jr., (6-0, 199), Alphonse Oywak, soph., (6-1, 183)

CB1: Derrick Langford, sr., (6-3, 195)

CB2: Chau Smith-Wade, soph., (5-11, 171)

Also in the mix: Jamal McMurrin, soph., (5-10, 172)

Comments: One of the most encouraging aspects of spring ball was the emergence of the cornerback group. Players and coaches routinely told reporters Langford was one of the most productive and consistent players through spring camp and Watson is an NFL-caliber talent who has the potential to be the Pac-12’s top lockdown corner with his elite athleticism and long frame. The team’s third-best corner may be Hicks , who has more college starts than Watson and Langford combined, and Smith-Wade came to WSU last fall with the tools and attitude of someone ready to contribute immediately.

If those four make up the rotation this fall, the Cougars should feel good about their chances of having success on the edges. But that group doesn’t even include Jackson, a Michigan State transfer who made two starts last season in the Big Ten and will no doubt be eager to insert himself in the pecking order once he has a more thorough understanding of the playbook.

Safety

FS1: Hunter Escorcia, soph., (6-1, 188)

FS2: Halid Djibril, jr., (6-1, 197)

Others in the mix: Justin Anderson, soph., (6-1, 184)

SS1: Daniel Isom, gr., (6-0, 194)

SS2: Chad Davis Jr., sr., (6-2, 206)

Also in the mix: Tanner Moku, soph., (6-0, 199)

Comments: A position battle to follow this fall is the one between Escorcia and Djibril at free safety. Escorcia seemed to emerge from spring camp as the No. 1 option, but Djibril, a former nickel, may close the gap once he gets a better grasp of the position in Dickert’s scheme.

Isom won All-Pac-12 honorable mention last fall and returns as the clear-cut starter at strong safety, despite missing a good portion of spring camp with an injury. The Cougars not only need to locate the player who’ll start next to them, but they need to build depth. The signing class could help with that and Jaden Hicks, a three-star prospect who had offers from four Pac-12 schools, Penn State and Boise State, may have the talent to contribute immediately.

Special teams

K1: Dean Janikowski, soph., (6-1, 217)

K2: Andrew Boyle, soph., (6-2, 194)

P1: Nick Haberer, fr., (6-5, 213)

P2: Andrew Boyle, soph., (6-2, 194)

LS: Simon Samarzich, jr., (6-0, 206) and Tyler Williams, jr., (6-3, 204)

KR1: Travell Harris, sr., (5-9, 182)

KR2: Joey Hobert, soph., (5-11, 179)

PR1: Travell Harris, sr., (5-9, 182)

PR2: Lincoln Victor, jr., (5-9, 168)

Comments: The only player to have kicked a field goal for WSU the past three seasons is now playing at SMU and the replacement for ex-Lou Groza finalist Blake Mazza is anything but obvious at this point. Janikowski and Boyle have both been on campus since 2019, but longevity doesn’t matter much when it comes to place-kicking, and junior college transfer Lucas Dunker Jr. will try to beat out both this fall.

Haberer is still adapting to American game, but the Queensland, Australia, native brings a rugby-punting style that could be useful in some situations for the Cougars, and he’s presumed to win the job as the only scholarship punter on the roster.

There’s no telling if Harris will handle both punt and kick return duties this fall with his increased involvement in the offense, but the Cougars have other explosive options in the return game if they need to give their small, shifty slot receiver a break from special teams work.

Theo Lawson can be reached at (509) 939-5928 or theol@spokesman.com.