Mike Leach is many things but a defensive guru he is not. Many times, his teams must win despite their defense with his patented Air Raid style on offense. His philosophy has continued to be with the Washington State Cougars that if you score enough points, then the defense doesn’t have to be elite. So could Xavier Cooper shock the Pac-12 and emerge as the best defensive player in the conference in 2014?
As a sophomore in 2013, Cooper emerged as a leader for the Cougs on defense. He finished the season with 50 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and a fumble returned for a touchdown. His tackles for loss rank second among Pac-12 players returning for 2014 and his sacks rank fifth among returning players. Not too shabby for a 300-plus defensive tackle in just his second season.
Heading into 2014, the WSU defense continues to make strides toward respectability in the Pac-12. The defensive line figures to be a major strength as they will enjoy more experience and depth across the front than they have had in recent memory. Cooper will be the anchor to everything in the middle of the defense and has shown himself to be disruptive enough to hold down the interior with force.
Will Sutton showed what a disruptive defensive tackle could do in the Pac-12 and won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back years with the Arizona State Sun Devils. With Sutton now preparing to join the NFL, can Xavier Cooper become the conference’s premier wrecking ball and bring home DPOY honors?