Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Eight starters, including six all-stars,
are gone, but as long as defensive coordinator Mark Banker is
still around, the situation doesn’t seem so dire. Oregon State
has been here before. Heck, the Beavers had to completely start
over on the front seven as recently as last fall, yet still
finished 23rd nationally in total defense. The coach knows how
to regroup on the fly, which is what he’ll be asked to do again
in 2009. Oregon State has pressing needs up front and in the
defensive backfield, where seven of those eight regulars
resided. More specifically, viable replacements must be
developed at defensive end and cornerback, or else the D will be
especially vulnerable through the air. While LB Keaton Kristick
and DT Stephen Paea are the stars, by November, they could be
sharing the spotlight with DE Ben Terry, LB David Pa’aluhi, and
safeties Suaesi Tuimaunei and Lance Mitchell.
Tackles: Keaton Kristick, 82
Sacks: Stephen Paea, 5
Patrick Henderson, 1
the defense: Senior LB Keaton Kristick
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB David Pa'aluhi
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Stephen Paea
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kristick, 2) Paea, 3)
DE Ben Terry
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Creating Pressure
Weakness of the defense: New Starters, Corner
After losing three starters and a whole mess of sacks to
graduation, the Beavers are undergoing an extreme makeover here,
especially at defensive end. Neither Victor Butler nor Slade
Norris were blue-chippers coming out of high school, but, boy,
could they collapse a pocket. Plenty will hinge on the play of
6-3, 242-pound senior Ben
Terry, a former transfer from Saddleback (Calif.) College.
After doing an apprenticeship and making 11 tackles, the hope is
that he can parlay his wealth of speed and strong upper body
into a monster finale. He appears to be up to the challenge.
The frontrunner on the opposite side is 6-2, 259-pound
sophomore Kevin Frahm,
a strongside type compared to Terry’s edge rushing potential.
He’s not going to school opposing tackles with his speed, but he
has heavy hands, gets into his lean quickly when pass rushing,
and has the raw strength to shove back bigger blockers.
The unquestioned shooting star of the defensive line is 6-1,
285-pound junior Stephen
Paea, an All-Pac-10 tackle waiting to happen. After quietly
scratching the surface of his potential with 41 tackles, 11
tackles for loss, and five sacks, he’s poised for a bona fide
breakthrough campaign. Blessed with extraordinary strength and
the quickness of a former rugby player, he’s a nasty assignment
for whoever draws him.
The expectations are high for 6-2,
282-pound junior Mitchel Hunt, though, he’s had problems staying off the trainer’s
table. Seemingly in the best shape of Beaver career, he
possesses the size and strength of an interior lineman, but also
has the motor and quickness to step outside on occasion and rush
Projected Top Reserves: So far, the experiment of moving
6-3, 239-pound junior Gabe Miller from tight end to defensive end looks like a good one.
He was disruptive throughout spring, using his long arms and
quick first step to gain an edge on offensive tackles. If he can
add a few more pounds and continue learning the playbook, he’ll
be, at worst, the first end off the bench.
at defensive tackle looks scarce. The veteran, if there is such
a thing, is 6-1, 285-pound
Latu Moala, the
backup to Paea. He played in every game in his first season out
of San Mateo (Calif.) Community College, making five tackles and
contributing on special teams, while showing potential as a run
Out For… Terry to do a very nice impression of Butler
and Norris. The talent is there, and now, so is the opportunity.
The senior is an ideal fit for a defense that likes its ends to
be small, quick, and relentless. He played throughout the
offseason as if he’s ready to pick up a nice chunk of the slack.
Not only will he make a ton of plays this season, but he’s also
going to make everyone around him better. If he’s one-on-one,
he’s liable to repeatedly abuse the guy in front of him. If he’s
doubled, it means that one of the other Beavers will have a
clearer path to the backfield. Either way, the Oregon State D
Proven performers. After Paea, there are a lot of question
marks. Too many question marks, in fact. On the outside, Terry
and Frahm have just one season of experience in Corvallis and
Miller is a converted tight end. On the inside, Hunt has yet to
prove he can stay healthy for an entire season. Plus, there
isn’t much in the way of depth at either position.
the program has been good at plugging in replacements in the
past, this is a tall order. At defensive end alone, Butler and
Norris accounted for 40 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. Terry is
up to the challenge, but he and Paea will need more help or else
the rebuilt line is going to perform like a rebuilt line.
Unlike the situation on the first and last lines of defense,
Oregon State believes it’s set at linebacker, a quick recovery
from last season’s rebuilding on the fly. The leader of the unit
at strongside will again be 6-3, 230-pound senior
Keaton Kristick, the
prototype at the position for the program.
He delivered in a big way in his first year as a starter,
making 82 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and four pass
breakups. A terrific all-around athlete, he’ll use his speed and
instincts to make a slew of big plays and excel in pass
There was concern about the replacement for
Bryant Cornell at middle linebacker. There isn’t any longer.
Sophomore David Pa'aluhi lay to rest many worries with his offseason
performance. While he’s young and just 5-11 and 233 pounds, he’s
a phenomenal athlete, vicious hitter, and a mixed martial arts
fighter, who uses his hands well. He showed glimpses a year ago,
getting more playing time as the season progressed and finishing
with 19 tackles, four tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks.
The Beavers have a good problem at weakside—one
job and two juniors more than capable of filling it.
Keith Pankey started
all 13 games last fall, but was not particularly productive,
making just 43 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. An
undersized 6-0, 222-pounder, he has explosive speed, but too
often is out of place and needs to somehow improve his
On the opposite spectrum is 6-0, 231-pound
Dwight Roberson, who
didn’t start a single game, yet was fourth on the team with 61
tackles and had 7.5 tackles, two sacks, and three forced
fumbles. Every bit as quick as Pankey, he’s also a little
tougher on impact and plays with a better field sense. Whether
or not he starts, he’ll have an integral role on this defense.
Reserves: Pankey and Roberson are interchangeable, so
one will start and the other will get a near amount of snaps as
the backup. Although the competition will be closely watched in
August, in the big picture, it won’t mean that the reserve gets
buried on the bench.
A knee injury to 6-1, 219-pound
redshirt freshman Tony Wilson means that the Beavers will have to dig a little deeper
for a second-string middle linebacker. The top option for now
appears to be 6-2, 240-pound junior
Walker Vave, who has
played sparingly up to this point, including just three games a
year ago. He does have ideal size for the position and an
opportunity to earn a letter.
Watch Out For…
Pa’aluhi to be a surprise to everyone but the folks in
Corvallis, who see big things coming. On physical ability alone,
he should be able to make a ton of plays. If the cerebral side
of the game comes quickly, look out. He might quickly become a
rising star in the Pac-10.
Range. Kristick, Roberson, Pankey, and Pa’aluhi all move
extremely well from sideline-to-sideline and play with non-stop
motors. It’s going to take a Jahvid Best-type back to get
outside of the these guys and into the secondary. There have
been better collections of linebackers at Oregon State, but none
with this much range.
Weakness: The backups. Aside from weakside, which is
flush with talent, the Beavers are going to be very thin in the
middle and at strongside. It won’t be an issue if everyone
remains healthy, but if injuries strike, this unit will not be
Now that the Beaver linebackers showed they could clearly
overcome the loss of three starters in 2008, they’re poised to
be the backbone of the defense in 2009. Kristick may be the gem
of the unit, but he’s going to get plenty of help from Roberson,
Pankey, and Pa’aluhi, who can all make plays in this league.
At least for now, the good times are over in the Oregon State
secondary. Last season, the unit was bolstered by four returning
starters. Unfortunately, all four were seniors and are no longer
on campus. It’s back to the drawing board for the entire
defensive backfield. Taking on more of a leadership role will be
6-0, 180-pound senior CB
Tim Clark, who has lettered in each of the last three
seasons and has six career starts. Although his production
dropped to just 17 tackles and three pass breakups in 2008, he
was still an important role-player in the defensive backfield,
and has the smarts to be the leader of this group.
all-important other cornerback spot, 6-1, 180-pound junior
James Dockery has
nudged ahead with a solid offseason. Coming off a knee injury
that washed out his 2008 season, there was some rust in the
spring, but that should all be gone by September. While not the
best athlete of the defensive backs, he’s a cerebral, vocal
player, who thinks like a coach on the field.
starters at safety will be new, neither is inexperienced. Junior
Suaesi Tuimaunei has
earned a letter in each of the last two seasons, starting a pair
of games in 2008 and making 15 stops. A 6-1, 207-pound
headhunter in the mold of former high school and Beaver teammate
Al Afalava, he will light up unsuspecting receiver and rarely
misses a tackle.
While Tuimaunei is the enforcer of the
safeties, 6-2, 205-pound sophomore
Lance Mitchell will
be more of a free safety, who can use his quickness, size, and
soft hands to be a ball-hawking centerfielder. After posting 11
tackles and playing some special teams in his first year, he’s
poised to get on the tarmac and begin lift-off of a very
promising career in Corvallis.
Projected Top Reserves:
Sophomore Brandon Hardin
may look like a safety, but he’s a cornerback until the coaches
say otherwise. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he has the size and
strength to bully most receivers, and the recovery speed if he
gets burned. However, can he truly cover? If not, a relocation
could be in his future.
Patrick Henderson has
a little less upside, but is a far more experienced backup
cornerback, having lettered in each of the last three years and
contributing on special teams. Although he has the speed and
hips to cover in this conference, at 5-10 and 187 pounds, he
gives away more size than the rest of the contending corners.
Mitchell may be the leader for a safety job, but he’s
getting a stiff challenge from fellow sophomore
Cameron Collins, who
had 11 tackles in his debut. A 6-2, 220-pound beast, he moves
well for his size and will climb the tree to knock down passes.
Like a young Taylor Mays at USC, his blend of strength and speed
are almost unreal at safety.
Out For… Dockery to get picked on plenty this season.
He’s a nice player, with potential, but he doesn’t quite have
Clark’s feel for the game or experience at this level. After
missing all of last season, he better be prepared for a baptism
under fire, especially in that first month of the season.
Athletic ability. Although this secondary won’t be as good as
last year’s, it has the ingredients to be every bit as athletic
and fast to the ball. The Beavers have recruited this area very
well in recent years, attracting big athletes, who can flat out
Lack of experience. This group is going to gel, but how long
will it take? The entire crew is going to be new, which pretty
much guarantees more missed assignments and blown coverages than
the program has grown accustomed to in recent years.
don’t get better by losing four starters and a couple of
cornerbacks drafted by the NFL. However, the situation won’t be
as bad as it appears, provided the new corners can manage in man
coverage. The secondary will get better as the season
progresses, setting the stage for a more stable situation in
Junior Justin Kahut
produced mixed results in his first season as the successor to
Alexis Serna at placekicker. Accurate from close in, he tailed
off considerably from long range. He wound up 16-of-24 on field
goal attempts, but just 4-of-9 beyond 40 yards.
Johnny Hekker is back
for his second season as the punter, looking to get beyond last
year’s modest 39.7-yard average. At 6-5 and 220 pounds, he has
the size and leg speed to make a quantum leap in his distance
once he smoothes out some of the wrinkles in his technique.
Now that Sammie Stroughter is gone, there’s a large hole at
punt returner that’s likely to be filled by redshirt freshman
Kevan Walker and senior
Taylor Kavanaugh. On kickoffs, the Beavers will once again
be counting on shifty junior
James Rodgers, who
took one back for a score versus Cal and finished fourth in the
Pac-10 at nearly 25 yards a pop.
Watch Out For…
Kahut to attain a certain level of consistency this fall. He was
obviously erratic in his debut, shanking regularly on distance
kicks. However, he’s better than he showed in 2008, and with a
year in the vault, should be a lot more comfortable as the
Strength: The coverage units. Save for the punt coverage
team, which showed some cracks last fall, Oregon State has been
fantastic in this area over the last two seasons. In 2007, it
was No. 5 nationally on kickoffs and in 2008, it was tops in the
Pac-10, yielding less than 19 yards a return.
Punting. Hekker is getting there, but it’s still going to take a
little more time. He was predictably erratic as a rookie, which
goes a long way toward explaining why the Beavers ranked eighth
in the conference in net punting.
It’ll be a mixed bag once again for the special teams unit,
which should be solid in coverage and returns, but a little
shaky in the kicking game. Everything will hinge on the
development of Kahut and Hekker in their second seasons on the