Preview 2008 - Defense
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2006 CFN Oregon
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
Tackles: Al Afalava, 64
Sacks: Victor Butler, 10.5
Brandon Hughes, 2
the defense: Senior CB Brandon Hughes
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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