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2008 Oregon State Preview - Defense
Oregon State CB Brandon Hughes
Oregon State CB Brandon Hughes
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 9, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Oregon State Beaver Defense

Oregon State Beavers

Preview 2008 - Defense


- 2008 Oregon State Preview | 2008 OSU Offense
- 2008 OSU Defense | 2008 OSU Depth Chart
-
2007 CFN Oregon State Preview | 2006 CFN Oregon State Preview 

What you need to know: Go ahead and give coordinator Mark Banker the Broyles Award if the Beavers are even remotely as stingy as last year’s eighth-ranked defense. The unit must replace the entire front seven, all of whom earned at least All-Pac-10 honorable mention recognition a year ago. Of greatest concern is the dearth of tackles, where only Pernnell Booth has earned a letter. It’s a good thing Banker substitutes freely, a philosophy that’ll help ease the transitions of ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris and linebackers Bryant Cornell and Keaton Kristick into the lineup. The strength is in the secondary, which boasts four veterans, including all-league CB Brandon Hughes and snot-knocking SS Al Afalava.  

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Al Afalava, 64
Sacks: Victor Butler, 10.5
Interceptions:
Brandon Hughes, 2

Star of the defense: Senior CB Brandon Hughes
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Bryant Cornell
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Keaton Kristick
Best pro prospect: Hughes
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hughes 2) Senior DE Victor Butler 3) Senior SS Al Afalava
Strength of the defense: The secondary, the ends
Weakness of the defense: The interior of the line, breaking in a new front seven 

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: It’s a good thing Oregon State likes to use a deep rotation along the defensive line because it’s going to pay off a year after all four starters graduated. Both of this year’s senior starting ends, Victor Butler and Slade Norris, played a ton last season and had huge parts in the nation’s fourth-ranked sack unit. Butler, in particular, is on the brink of a breakthrough season, the type of year that garners him national recognition. A blur around the edge at 6-2 and 235 pounds, and one of the hardest workers on the squad, he had 25 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and a team-high 10.5 sacks without a starting a single game. 

The 6-3, 245-pound Norris is a converted linebacker and outstanding situational pass rusher, but now needs to prove he can contribute every down and be a factor in run defense. Another end with a good burst off the snap, he chipped in 16 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and nine sacks. 

Experience on the interior of the line will from senior Pernnell Booth, a three-time letterwinner and the best run stuffer among the tackles. Low to the ground at 6-1 and 303 pounds, he used a strong base and quick feet to make 11 tackles and three tackles for loss as a key backup in 2007.

A lot is expected from the Beavers’ other starting tackle, 6-3, 271-pound sophomore Mitchel Hunt. Although injuries have kept him from playing a down, he has the motor, work ethic, and opportunity to play an integral role in this fall’s run defense.          

Projected Top Reserves: Although he’s yet to step foot on campus, the arrival of junior DE Simi Kuli is being greeted with enormous anticipation. Widely considered the premier junior college transfer in America, he’s a 6-4, 270-pounder with a propensity for wreaking havoc in the other team’s backfield.  If Kuli passes the required classes to qualify, he’ll be a strong contender to beat out Norris for a starting spot.

Another JUCO transfer, junior Ben Terry, is also being looked at as a valuable reserve as soon as he arrives in Corvallis.  More of a speed rusher in a linebacker’s body at 6-3 and 240 pounds, he gets around the corner in a hurry and will be hard to keep off the two-deep.

Sophomore DT Stephen Paea was one of the stars of spring, vaulting into a prominent position on the defensive line and within shouting distance of a starting job. A transfer from Snow College, he’s a powerful 6-1, 303-pounder who gets off blocks quickly and can make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Paea has a bright future with the Beavers.     

Watch Out For… Butler to have a huge final season. Already a proven pass rusher in the Pac-10, he’s reveling at the opportunity to be a defensive leader and one of the catalysts of a unit that’s craving new playmakers.
Strength: The ends. Last season’s starters, Jeff Van Orsow and Dorian Smith, have graduated, but the drop-off may never come, especially if Kuli meets expectations. When Butler and Norris are on the field at the same time, offensive tackles will struggle to suppress their speed and relentless backside pursuit.
Weakness: The tackles. A year after leading the country in run defense, Oregon State could have problems slowing down teams that run right at it. There are way too many uncertainties on the interior, which could wind up being an opportunity for Paea to blossom into an instant run stuffer.
Outlook: Much like the offensive line, the glass is only half full for the defensive front. While the ends have the potential to create havoc on passing downs, the tackles are vulnerable, one of the school’s biggest concerns heading into the season.
Rating: 7

Linebackers

Projected Starters: The sky is falling: Take Two. Just like the defensive line, the linebackers must replace all of last year’s starters, including three Second Team All-Pac-10 performers. It’s not going to be easy, but a bunch of letterwinners return. In the middle, Bryant Cornell is a seasoned veteran, who’s well-prepared for this promotion. Coming off an outstanding spring, the 6-1, 235-pound career reserve is a sure tackler and intense run defender with the potential to be every bit as good as last year’s starter Alan Darlin.

At strongside, the Beavers can’t wait to see what they get from 6-3, 227-pound junior Keaton Kristick now that he finally gets a chance to start. The archetype at outside linebacker for Oregon State, he’s 6-3 and 227 pounds with good instincts, great speed, and the hips to excel in pass coverage. Kristick had 15 tackles a year ago, numbers he’ll obliterate after a couple of games.

Sophomore Keith Pankey left no doubts in March and April that he’s the future at weakside for the program. Undersized at 6-0 and 208 pounds, he’ll make plays with his explosive speed and keen field awareness that belie his age. One of just three true freshmen to play last year, he had 10 tackles, while getting his feet wet on special teams.     

Projected Top Reserves: Not very far behind Pankey on the outside is sophomore Dwight Roberson, a 6-0, 235-pound blend of good speed and upper body strength. He played in 11 games as a freshman, making a dozen tackles and solidifying his position on the two-deep.

Behind Kristick at strongside is veteran Isaiah Cook, a senior who’s earned three career letters, mainly on special teams. While no threat for a starting assignment, the 6-2, 211-pounder brings experience and leadership to a group that needs both.

Watch Out For… Kristick. Long, athletic, and heady, he’s the blueprint at linebacker at Oregon State.  The coaches have been raving for years about his play in practice and on the scout team.  Now, they get a chance to see if all of the high praise has been warranted.
Strength: Outside speed. Kristick and Pankey are two of the best athletes on the defense and are the type of linebackers who can stay with tight ends and backs in pass coverage and rattle quarterbacks on blitz packages.
Weakness: Starting experience. Yeah, the two-deep features three upperclassmen, but how many of them have actually started games at this level? Try one, Cornell, who started the regular season finale at Hawaii two years ago.
Outlook: Although it certainly hurts losing Darlin, Derrick Doggett, and Joey LaRocque, this collection of linebackers won’t be as vulnerable as the lack of experience suggests. Cornell and Kristick, in particular, were buried for years on the depth chart, but should pile up impressive numbers now that their time has finally arrived.
Rating: 7

Secondary

Projected Starters: By far, the most stable unit of the defense, seven players who started a game last season are back in the secondary. The best of a strong group is 5-11, 182-pound CB Brandon Hughes, a veteran of 31 starts and a Second Team All-Pac-10 performer. Tough at the line of scrimmage and outstanding in pass coverage, he had 57 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two picks, and a team-best 12 pass breakups.

There’s a battle going on at the other cornerback spot currently being led by senior Keenan Lewis. A starter since his freshman season, he has great size at 6-1 and 197 pounds, but has had some problems staying healthy, missing some time last season. Before getting injured, he had 15 tackles and three interceptions, an indication of his exceptional ball skills.

The enforcer of the secondary at strong safety is senior Al Afalava, one of the most violent stickers in the Pac-10. Playing much bigger than 5-11 and 215 pounds, he’s able to intimidate receivers before separating them from the ball. An all-league honorable mention selection, he had 64 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a couple of fumble recoveries, needing to bite a little less often on passing plays.

Free safety is the sight of another tight race that’s currently being won by 5-10, 205-pound senior Greg Laybourn, a two-time letterwinner who started a couple of games last year. A former walk-on with the work-ethic needed to earn a scholarship, he overcomes average athletic ability with a non-stop motor and crisp tackling skills. In his best season to date, he contributed 49 tackles and two interceptions.  

Projected Top Reserves: In Laybourn’s hip pocket at free safety is senior Bryan Payton, a seasoned veteran who’s like having another starter on the second team. While he’s never become the star many expected coming out of high school, at 6-2 and 231 pounds he brings experience and a certain physicality to the secondary. Last season, he had 23 tackles and broke up four passes, and remains in the hunt for a starting job.

Junior Tim Clark is challenging Lewis for a starting spot at the corner spot after playing extensively in 2007 and enjoying a solid spring. A two-game starter last October, he’s aggressive in coverage and at 6-0 and 175 pounds, big enough to handle the taller receivers. In 13 games last season, he made 32 tackles and was second on the team with eight pass breakups.

The value of 6-1, 174-pound sophomore James Dockery is that he’s a cornerback who can also fill in at free safety. A dynamite special teams performer and all-around terrific athlete, he’ll learn behind Hughes before taking over the job in 2009.   

Watch Out For… the development of Clark. It says a lot about the junior’s overall skill level that he’s pushing a three-year starter, like Lewis, for the top job. Clark has enough talent to be in the lineup for the opener or, at worst, being a really valuable member of the second unit.
Strength: Overall talent and experience. From the starters to Payton and Clark on the B team, the Beavers boast a deep and able secondary flush with experience. Hughes and Afalava, in particular, are All-Pac-10-caliber defenders.
Weakness: Preventing the big play. For all of the experienced defensive backs, Oregon State still yields too many big plays in pass defense. Last season, for example, the Beavers allowed 20 touchdown passes and were last in the league in yards per completion.
Outlook: After making positive strides as a unit last season, the secondary will be aiming to keep the momentum going this fall. All of the pieces are in place for the Beavers to have one of the better pass defenses in the Pac-10 and be an opportunistic group that’ll bend more often than it breaks.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The graduation of four-year starter Alexis Serna means Oregon State must replace its kicker and punter. The heir apparent at placekicker is Justin Kahut, who enjoys an edge over fellow sophomore Jake Webber. While only 5-8 and 160 pounds, Kahut gets good loft and distance on his kicks, a couple of 50-yarders among his four field goals in the spring game. 

Serna the kicker will be missed. Serna the punter will not. He ranked last in the Pac-10 with a 35.3-yard average, meaning the only way is up for redshirt freshman Kyle Harper and junior Sean Sehnem.  Brought to Corvallis as an emergency backup to Serna last year, the 6-0, 197-pound Harper has been the most consistent performer, but still has a long way to go.     

Sehnem is a transfer from Division II Western New Mexico, who also has a proven track record as a placekicker.  In two seasons with the Mustangs, he averaged more than 43 yards as a punter and was 15-of-20 on field goals.

The return of senior Sammie Stroughter instantly gives Oregon State one of the country’s most dangerous punt returners. When he was last healthy for an entire in 2006, he was a Randy Moss Award finalist and an All-American, averaging almost 16 yards a return and taking three back for touchdowns.

Handling kickoffs will sophomore James Rodgers, a dynamic open field runner who averaged 24.4 yards on five returns and has a knack for getting lost behind bigger players. 

Watch Out For…Kahut to earn a scholarship this fall. The walk-on has emerged as the successor to Serna at kicker, and proved to be more than just a stop-gap, dialing up long connections throughout March and April.
Strength: The coverage units. The Beavers consistently do a terrific job covering kicks, and this year should be no different. Last season, Oregon State was No. 5 nationally in both punt and kickoff return yardage defense.
Weakness: Punting. While Serna was awful a year ago, there are no guarantees that Harper, Sehnem, or some freshman walk-on will bean upgrade. The Beaver defense is going to need as much help as possible this fall as it looks to replace nine starters.
Outlook: It’ll be a mixed bag for the program, which will excel at covering and returning kicks, but still needs a reliable kicker and punter to emerge. If Kahut is even adequate as Serna’s successor, the unit will be above average by league standards.
Rating: 7.5