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Three days after Tracy Claeys’ resignation, Washington State shuffles defensive depth chart

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 7, 2019, 8:39 p.m.

Washington State Cougars safety Skyler Thomas (25) wraps up Utah Utes running back Devin Brumfield (6) during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, September 28, 2019, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah won the game 38-13. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars safety Skyler Thomas (25) wraps up Utah Utes running back Devin Brumfield (6) during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, September 28, 2019, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah won the game 38-13. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Mike Leach hinted Monday afternoon that Washington State would consider personnel changes for its much-maligned defense in the wake of Tracy Claeys’ unexpected resignation as defensive coordinator.

“We’re looking at some of that,” Leach said. “Nothing definite yet.”

That was at 3 p.m. The Cougars apparently found the clarity they needed when they released their week six depth chart, listing the starters and backups for Saturday’s Pac-12 game at Arizona State.

Nothing changed on the left side of the depth chart, which lists WSU’s offensive players. And the opposite side, listing the defensive ones and twos? It was barely recognizable.

The unit that’ll take the the brunt of the changes is the defensive secondary, which has contributed strongly to the Cougars’ struggles in pass coverage. Combined, Utah and UCLA torched WSU for 841 yards and seven touchdowns.

Strong safety Daniel Isom will replace Armani Marsh/George Hicks III at cornerback, the position he played for WSU this spring, and also last year at Iowa Western, before making the switch when safety Jalen Thompson departed.

Skyler Thomas, who moved to nickel in the spring after Hunter Dale’s graduation, will replace Isom at strong safety. Thomas was a free safety last season and finished third on the team with 76 tackles, but the Cougars thought his pass-rushing skills would be better suited for the hybrid nickel spot.

Thomas has struggled with the transition as of late, though, and will return to a more familiar part of the defensive backfield, while redshirt freshman Patrick Nunn takes over as WSU’s starting nickel after backing up Thomas.

Marcus Strong and Derrick Langford are both listed as starters at the cornerback position opposite of Isom, and Bryce Beekman, who’s second on the team in tackles, will retain his role as WSU’s starting free safety. Marsh, a former corner, is now listed as a backup nickel, along with USC transfer Trey Davis.

The other change of note comes at the nose tackle position, where Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei has been a full-time starter. Dallas Hobbs will take over the starting job against ASU, while Aiolupotea-Pei moves into the backup role. Previously, Hobbs and West Virginia transfer/former freshman All-American Lamonte McDougle were listed as backup options. McDougle has since been bumped from that role and is no longer listed on the two-deep.

Of the team’s nose tackles, Hobbs is the only one with a sack and he’s also leading the unit with 3½ tackles-for-loss.

Cosmas Kwete, not Karson Block, is now listed as the team’s backup defensive end, and another true freshman, Travion Brown, has replaced Dillon Sherman as the No. 2 “Mike” linebacker. Sherman hasn’t played the last three games due to an undisclosed injury.

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