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2009 Oregon State Preview - Defense
Oregon State LB Keaton Kristick
Oregon State LB Keaton Kristick
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 5, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Oregon State Beaver Defense

Oregon State Beavers

Preview 2009 - Defense


- 2009 Oregon State Preview | 2009 OSU Offense
- 2009 OSU Defense | 2009 OSU Depth Chart
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2008 OSU Preview | 2007 OSU Preview | 2006 OSU Preview   

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.  

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Keaton Kristick, 82
Sacks: Stephen Paea, 5
Interceptions:
Patrick Henderson, 1

Star of the defense: Senior LB Keaton Kristick
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB James Dockery
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 

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 the passer.

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.

Quality depth 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 stuffer.

Watch 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.
Strength: Paea. 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 wins.
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: While 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.
Rating: 6.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: 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 coverage.

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 instincts.

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.

Projected Top 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.
Strength: 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 prepared.
Outlook: 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.
Rating: 8

Secondary

Projected Starters: 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.

At the 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.

While the 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.

Senior 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.     

Watch 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.
Strength: 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 fly.
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: You 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 2010.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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.

Sophomore 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 Beaver placekicker.
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.
Weakness: 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. 
Outlook: 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 job.
Rating: 7.5