Joe Seumalo looking to fill d-line gaps

CORVALLIS -- As spring practice nears the halfway point for the Beavers, OSU's defensive line coach Joe Seumalo is looking to fill the gaps. He told BF.C he's not looking for strength or size as much as he's looking for something else…

Indeed, Seumalo both prizes and emphasizes something else in his coaching of the Beavers' d-line.

"Speed. I'll take speed every time," Seumalo said.

The approach is not limited to just the defensive end position -- Seumalo said he prefers agility over girth at the tackle positions as well.

There's a little more than half of spring ball to go, offseason workouts plus all of fall camp. But if the season started tomorrow, who would Seumalo's starting d-line be, and would they be a solid reflection of the need for speed? Yes, to the latter part.

"We've got Andrew (Seumalo), Dylan Wynn and Scotty Crichton. Those guys were starters last year, so I guess going into this season those are our projected starters," said Seumalo.

That gives us three. But Mike Riley and d-coordinator Mark Banker employ a 4-3 defensive system. So who is going to be manning the second slot at defensive tackle?

Veteran defensive tackle Mana Rosa, who has seen scattered game play over the last two seasons, is one possibility. So is Casto Masaniai, if he can shake the injury bug. Rosa, a redshirt junior, has been running with the 1s this spring while Masaniai, a fifth year senior, has gotten in some rehab work on the sidelines.

But there are also some talented young guys that have the ability to make an impact.

SEUMALO IS HIGH on redshirt freshman Desmond Collins. He had a good showing on the scout team in 2011, says Riley. He's been in attendance at spring practice -- but as a spectator, sporting a cast around his right ankle after breaking a bone in his foot during spring break.

According to Seumalo, Collins had ankle surgery and will be ready to get back after it by June. Collins as a high schooler boasted solid statistics with a cumulative 160 tackles and 16 sacks throughout his junior and senior years at Highland High in Utah. But that's not why Seumalo likes him.

"He is such an athletic kid, very explosive," said Seumalo. "So hopefully we will get a chance to use him in different ways."

Collins is known for his versatility -- he was listed as a d-end on last year's roster and a ST on this spring's roster release. He stands at 6-2 while hovering around 270 pounds and while that may seem light for a tackle, it's all about leverage. And those measurables, on the right player, are potentially ideal for a defensive tackle going up against Pac-12 schools like Washington and USC who are known for emphasizing a straight ahead rushing attack.

Still, Beaver Nation has questions coming off last year's 3-9 record and d-line performance -- specifically as to whether or not the fast but comparatively small OSU defensive line can hold up against jumbo-sized lines, like USC's featuring center Khalid Holmes.

"Well that's the thing, you don't want to hold up against them," said Seumalo. "You just want to run by them."

Granted, d-ends Crichton and Wynn had a combined 118 tackles last year. Crichton also has a knack for giving the opposition a bad case of fumblitis, forcing six fumbles last year and racked up 14.5 tackles for loss, both team highs.

Still, given the 2011 campaign, there are going to be questions about the consistency of some of Seumalo's players up front.

But redshirt freshman Na'Alii Robins (6-1, 270) looked on Saturday as if he may have an answer or two.

ROBINS WAS FLYING around on Day 7, displaying clean swim moves and navigating his way through offensive linemen with precision.

"He is coming along -- we have him at D-end right now," said Seumalo. "We had him playing a tackle coming in but now we have him at D-end."

And while the actual depth of the defensive line will continue to concern some fans, it is important to note that more often than not in football, quality will succeed over quantity.

There is a lot to be said about the importance of speed in the defensive game. You don't want to be caught lumbering when a speedy half-back shifts it to the outside and takes off along the side line.

With more quarterbacks and running backs showing the ability to run like wideouts, the job of the defensive line, in particular the defensive ends, has changed.

Where DEs were once more of an extension of the defensive tackles corps, with meaty guys digging up turf, they are now lean and agile -- designed to get after players like former Duck QB Darron Thomas and Kenjon Barner (UO) or Jonathon Franklin (UCLA).

And while the OSU defensive line may have grown one year older, fans can only hope that they have grown one year wiser.

"In terms of football development, we need to focus just on the fundamentals," Seumalo said. "Fitting up with our blocks and being able to get off and go get at the ball."

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