Preview 2007 - Defense
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need to know:
Much of the unit that led the Pac-10 in takeaways and sacks is
back in Corvallis for 2007. The front seven, in particular, is
rock solid and made up entirely of seniors. The best of the
bunch is outside linebacker Derrick Doggett, who has the range
and long stride to literally make plays anywhere on the field.
After bagging a team-high nine sacks as a reserve in 2006, end
Dorian Smith is a sleeper with a chance to shed his anonymity
this fall. Whether the Beaver D can get from really good to
impervious in 2007 depends on the development of a suspect
secondary that allowed 223 yards a game a year ago. Junior
corners Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes are moving in the right
direction, but you don’t get better by losing long-time
patrolman Sabby Piscitelli.
Tackles: Joey LaRocque, 98
Sacks: Dorian Smith, 9
Derrick Doggett, 3
Star of the
Senior LB Derrick Doggett
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Dorian Smith
Best pro prospect: Doggett
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Doggett 2) LB Joey
LaRocque 3) LB Alan Darlin
Strength of the defense: The front seven, creating
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense
Projected Starters: Although the line must replace
a pair of starters, it hardly lacks for experience with six
seniors and eight upperclassmen dotting the two-deep. Back for
his third year as the starting end is senior Jeff Van Orsow,
a high motor guy that’s gotten better each season in Corvallis.
Quick and intelligent at 6-4 and 266 pounds, the defensive
leader had 48 tackles and ten tackles for loss in 2006, but
needs to do better than last year’s three sacks.
Forming a bookend with Van Orsow is senior Dorian Smith,
who was a backup in his first season out of junior college, but
put up numbers like an every down player. In his Beaver debut,
he had 30 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and a team-best nine
sacks, flashing the drive and quickness that could require
double teams in 2007.
On the interior, the parts are virtually interchangeable, so
expect to see plenty of rotation and lineup changes. At left
tackle, senior Gerard Lee has a razor thin edge on
classmate William Akau’ola Vea. At 6-1 and 280 pounds, Lee has
one season of experience at this level and the quickness to
shoot the gap and make plays for negative yards.
At right tackle will be senior Curtis Coker, a returning
starter and the program’s best run stuffer. At 6-1 and 309
pounds, he plays with a low center of gravity and the kind of
emotion that sparks the rest of the defense.
Projected Top Reserves: Like Lee, Vea is
undersized, very quick off the snap and capable of doing damage
in opposing backfields. In his debut season out of junior
college, he had 16 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and three
sacks, ensuring no worse than a key spot in the rotation for his
final year. The reserve ends, junior Victor Butler and
senior Naymon Frank, will also get plenty of meaningful
reps this fall. At 6-2 and 233 pounds, Butler is one of the
line’s best athletes and a situational edge rusher that had 17
tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in limited playing
time a year ago. Frank, on the other hand, is a 6-5, 312-pound
behemoth that’s surprisingly nimble for his size. Coming off
the best spring of his Beaver career, he’s poised to be a
valuable run stopper from the outside position.
Watch Out For…: Smith. A fixture for years, Van
Orsow naturally gets more pub, but Smith could be in store for a
breakout year after a quiet nine-sack debut. If opposing
tackles don’t pay attention, he could wind up walking away with
the 2007 Pac-10 sack title.
Strength: The ends. Van Orsow and Smith are
fringe All-Pac-10 seniors that will feed off each other this
season, while combining for about 15 or 16 sacks.
Weakness: Lack of star power. The Beaver line is
deep, solid and experienced, but it has no lineman that forces
opposing offenses to alter game plans. In fact, it’s unlikely
that any current member of the two-deep will get drafted by an
NFL team in the next two years.
Outlook: While the Oregon State line isn’t the
type that’ll dominate at the point of attack, it is loaded with
veterans players that have good chemistry and the depth to stop
the run and create quarterback pressure.
Projected Starters: While USC is in a linebacking
class of its own, Oregon State isn’t far behind in the league
with a trio of senior starters that’s led by Derrick Doggett.
A top-tier athlete at 6-3 and 210 pounds, Doggett erupted from
the strongside last season with 87 tackles, 14 tackles for loss
and five sacks. The second team All-Pac-10 selection also
picked off three passes, displaying a knack for covering
receivers and tight ends as well as he blitzes the quarterback.
Manning the middle will be Alan Darlin, a 6-1, 250-pound
snot-knocker that debuted as a starter with 72 tackles, 12.5
tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He also led the Beavers with
four fumble recoveries, flashing outstanding instincts for
constantly being around the ball.
In his first season removed from College of the Canyons, Joey
LaRocque won the job at weakside, and then promptly went out
and led a seasoned defense with 98 tackles. At 6-2 and 218
pounds, he plays with the agility and sideline-to-sideline
quickness of a free safety.
Projected Top Reserves: A top special teams
performer, junior Bryant Cornell has seen his role on the
defense gradually increase the last two seasons. He had a
career-high 24 tackles a year ago, starting the Hawaii game for
Darlin, and will be the backup in the middle once again in
When the program is rebuilding this unit next spring, sophomore
Keaton Kristick will be one of the players providing hope
for the future. A prototypical Beaver outside linebacker, he’s
6-3 and 230 pounds with good speed and a very solid true
freshman season already in the rear view mirror.
Watch Out For… this group to be even better than
last year, when it combined for 257 tackles, 33.5 tackles for
loss and ten turnovers. With two new starters last fall, the
linebackers took the first month or so to gel. Now with an
entire season together, they’re confident and poised to excel
from the opener.
Strength: Athletic ability. The starting three
are all very quick and very physical. Few units in the country
possess the Beavers’ versatility to get after the passer, yet
drop back and defend the pass like a defensive back.
Weakness: The second unit. It’s splitting hairs,
but with Doggett, Darlin and LaRocque seeing so many snaps last
season, the Beavers didn’t have many opportunities to develop
the second unit. While they have upside, only Kristick and
Isaiah Cook had more than ten tackles in 2006.
Outlook: Oregon State is beginning to develop a
track record of producing playmaking linebackers with pro
potential. This year’s group will enhance that growing
reputation with three players capable of earning all-league
Projected Starters: The bad news: The Beavers must
replace current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Sabby Piscitelli from a unit
that allowed way too many big plays in 2006. The good news: The
rest of the secondary returns intact. Replacing Piscitelli at
strong safety will be senior Daniel Drayton, who parlayed
the best spring of his career into the starting nod. A
three-time letterwinner, he’s yet to start a game, and needs to
prove he can plug a gaping hole on the defense.
Back at free safety is junior Al Afalava after
collecting 35 stops as a starter last season. At 5-11 and 198
pounds, he’s a headhunter that plays bigger than his size, but
needs to become more of a factor in pass coverage.
In 2006, junior corners Keenan Lewis and Brandon
Hughes made nice strides from their freshman seasons.
Similar growth in 2007 is needed for the Beavers to become
stingier against the Pac-10’s better passing teams. Lewis is
the team’s most reliable cover man, a lanky 6-1, 194-pounder
that was second to Piscitelli with eight pass breakups a year
ago. If he can stay healthy for an entire season and continue
to progress, he’s got a shot to be an all-league caliber
performer. Two years after switching from wide receiver, Hughes
has gotten better, but still gets picked on way too often.
Undersized at 174 pounds and very fast, physical receivers, in
particular, give him the most trouble.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior free safety Bryan
Payton is like having another starter on the second unit for
Oregon State. The former blue-chip recruit had 50 tackles in
2006, and has the size-speed blend to unseat Afalava at some
point this season.
Junior strong safety Greg Laybourn gave up baseball in
the off-season to concentrate on his football career, and it
showed in the spring. An instinctive and fundamentally sound
defender, he jumped up and grabbed the No. 2 slot behind
The Beavers’ best corner off the bench is senior Coye
Francies, who’s raw but has the size, toughness and athletic
package to grab the attention of NFL scouts. In 2006, his first
at Oregon State, he was everywhere, making 39 tackles, breaking
up five passes and forcing a school-record four fumbles.
Watch Out For… the maturation of the two corners.
They got better last season, but not enough to prevent four
teams from throwing for at least 340 yards against the Beavers.
How far along Lewis and Hughes have come will dictate whether
this is a good or great Oregon State D in 2007.
Strength: Depth. Two years ago, the secondary was
painfully green and short on capable bodies. Today, the
freshmen that made up that unit are juniors, and 11 returning
defensive backs earned letters last season.
Weakness: Consistency in pass defense. Yes, the
secondary was markedly better in 2006 than 2005, but it was
still too soft in coverage and allowed more converted third
downs than Mike Riley could stomach. With so many quality
quarterbacks on the schedule, it’s incumbent upon this group to
keep getting stingier.
Outlook: Baby steps in pass defense might work
elsewhere, but not in the Pac-10. Oregon State could actually
go in reverse in 2007 without Piscitelli, who masked some of the
mistakes by the corners last season.
Projected Starters: Senior Alexis Serna has
one more season to solidify his spot as the most prolific
placekicker in Oregon State history. A three-time semifinalist
for the Lou Groza Award and the winner in 2005, he’s a rock with
the leg strength to flirt in the 60-yard range if necessary.
Serna has connected on more than 80% of his career field goal
attempts, made 106 straight extra points and tied a school
record with a 58-yard boot in 2006.
After holding up well as a rookie last year, sophomore punter
Kyle Loomis should be even more reliable for the Beavers in
2007. Already a solid directional kicker, he made a quantum
leap with his distance last fall, averaging more than 46 yards
over his final six games.
Senior Sammie Stroughter is an offensive weapon and one
of the most dangerous punt returners in the nation. The Randy
Moss Award finalist and third team All-American averaged 15.7
yards a return in 2006, taking three back for touchdowns. The
kick returners aren’t too shabby either, where seniors Coye
Francies and Gerard Lawson combined to lead the
Beavers in 2006 to No. 25 nationally in the category. Francies
is the front man after averaging 22.4 yards on 22 punts last
Watch Out For…: Loomis’ development in his
sophomore season. If he can continue the momentum from last
October and November, an already stout Oregon State defense will
become that much harder to score on in 2007.
Strength: Serna. There’s nothing like a stone
cold lock at kicker, particularly when the offense is breaking
in a new quarterback. Serna is clutch from anywhere on the
field, and has the booming leg strength to offset this year’s
shift in kickoffs from the 35 to the 30-yard line.
Weakness: Punt coverage. Loomis’ continuing
maturation should help this year, but the Beavers were awful
covering punts in 2006, finishing eighth in the conference and
Outlook: As long as Serna is kicking and Stroughter is
fielding punts, Oregon State will challenge Cal and USC for the
top special teams unit in the Pac-10 and one the best in the