Fall camp rages on throughout the Pac-12. Throughout the week, we'll provide a team-by-team update of the biggest remaining position battle at each program throughout the conference. We continue by checking in with Washington State.
Biggest remaining position battle: Nickelback
Importance: Mike Leach hired Alex Grinch, a coach who specializes in working with defensive backs, to be his defensive coordinator this offseason. The reason behind that addition is obvious: The Cougars ranked second to last nationally last season in pass defense, ahead of only Cal, the team that beat them 60-59 in a contest that resembled a video game.
Grinch immediately made plans to implement a nickelback on the majority of snaps at Washington State: A defensive back will frequently replace one of the linebackers in the Cougars' 3-4 scheme so that the unit can better combat the athletic, spread-oriented offenses of the Pac-12. Versatility is a prerequisite for the nickelback position, as it calls for for an ability to physically defeat contact in close-range run support and win speed battles in pass coverage.
Though Darius Lemora seems to be favored to win the starting job here -- Grinch praised his emergence back in May -- this battle remains significant because the Cougars have been starved for quality depth in the secondary. If Parker Henry and Colton Teglovic can contribute enough to give Washington State a second line of nickelback fortification, Grinch's new defensive twist will be well on its way to stability. The Cougars are also excited about junior college transfer Shalom Luani, who looks capable of contributing both at safety and nickelback.
Quality positional flexibility is Washington State's ticket to a turnaround in the secondary, and this battle can help develop that.