2007 Oregon State Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 27, 2007

Preview 2007 Oregon State Beaver Defense

Oregon State Beavers

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Oregon State Preview | 2007 OSU Offense Preview
2007 OSU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Oregon State Preview 

What you 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.     

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Joey LaRocque, 98
Sacks: Dorian Smith, 9
Derrick Doggett, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Derrick Doggett
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Keenan Lewis
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 turnovers
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense

Defensive Line

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.                 
Rating: 7.5


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 2007. 

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 honors.                               
Rating: 9


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 Drayton. 

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.           
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

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 season. 

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 98th nationally.
: 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 nation.               
Rating: 9


Related Stories
2007 Oregon State Preview
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2007 Oregon State Preview - Offense
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2007 Oregon State Preview - Depth Chart
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