Defensive line depth is one of football’s most elusive luxuries, and to acquire it, teams have to get a little creative.
“We’re always scouring the corners of the country for those types of kids,” Washington State defensive line coach Joe Salave’a said.
The Cougars’ search took them to Miami, Oklahoma, last year where defensive end Garrett McBroom was wreaking havoc in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference.
Brian Odom, a defensive quality control assistant for the Cougars, is from Ada, Oklahoma, and lettered on the 2001 Sooners team that won the national championship. One Okie reached out to another, and WSU’s defensive line depth got a little better.
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“Being from Oklahoma, we just kind of hit it off,” said McBroom, who chose the Cougars over Purdue.
Even better, McBroom was able to enroll at WSU for spring semester and participate in spring practices. The 15 extra practices will be critical for a player the Cougars will likely depend on during his first season on campus.
“He’s going through the struggles now, but I’d rather have him here now than late in the summer,” Salave’a said. “He’s trying. He’s swimming, but I’d rather throw him in now and have him find his way than wait until fall to find out. The good thing, he’s getting all the reps.”
An extra upperclassman on the line was a welcome addition for the Cougars, who graduated a pair of all-conference defensive ends from last year’s 9-4 team. The need became more apparent when starting end Daniel Ekuale went down with an undisclosed injury early in spring practices.
With Ekuale out, McBroom quickly moved into the starting lineup. That allowed the WSU defense to continue practicing and scrimmaging at a high level in the wake of Ekuale’s injury. McBroom’s rapid ascendance and ability to grasp the team’s defensive basics has been a welcome relief.
“He’s still getting in shape, but he’s kind of a tough, old-school guy,” WSU head coach Mike Leach said. “He’s one of those guys where just the effort and toughness sort of adds up, so he gets his plays in because he’s really steady.”
Behind McBroom, the Cougars do not have much depth. Linebacker Logan Tago began the spring at defensive end and received a lot of reps but recently moved back to rush linebacker. Former rush linebacker Nnamdi Oguayo appears to be getting a shot at end.
If McBroom had not contributed immediately, the Cougars would have had a tough time giving the offense an honest look.
He has an impressive first step given his 6-foot-3, 276-pound frame, and is adept at navigating space and finding the quarterback. He is still learning how to use his hands, and if he can’t get around an offensive lineman with his initial move he has a tendency to get locked up for the duration of the play.
But he’s still just two-thirds of the way through his first Division I spring session, and the extra work has been valuable. With an entire summer and preseason camp still ahead, the coaches believe he’ll make an early impact during the season, just as he has in practice.
“I think he’ll get a lot better between now and the season, too,” Leach said.