BF.C Fall Camp Preview: DEFENSIVE LINE

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE to really look at the bright side when looking at fall camp position preview, nobody likes to envision a season of doom and gloom. That is not the case for the 2012 Oregon State defensive line. You can call it like it is. If 2011 was a season of promise unfulfilled for the Oregon State defensive line, then 2012 is setting up to be a season of redemption.

The Beavers struggled against the run in both of the last two seasons but there was a glimmer of hope when OSU fans realized just how very, very good their two freshmen defensive ends were last season. Some of it was spoiled by a lack of bodies and (in what has seemed to be a recurring theme from 2011) a lack of depth and maybe even a lack of talent at defensive tackle.

The truth is, the criticism was largely undeserved. It wasn't just the rash of injuries across the entire defense that exposed the weaknesses of the Beaver D-line, and it wasn't just the sheer massive amount of players across the entire defense that were starting their first game.

It was also the fact that an undersized line that was depending on speed and athleticism to get the job done was spending a frustrating amount of time on the field because the offense simply could not run off any clock.

All signs point to every single one of those bullet items being massively improved over the 2011 season, as the Beavers return an impressive 11, count ‘em 11, letter winners on the defensive line.

INSTEAD OF TWO freshman defensive ends, the Beavers return two defensive ends who were named to All-America lists, with a dozen games apiece under their belts.

And instead of starting a converted defensive end struggling to bulk up and a defensive tackle struggling to get into shape and coming off surgery, the Beavers return two bona-fide Pac 12 defensive tackles.

Scott Crichton, the 6-3, 270 pound Lombardi Award Candidate DE, was the best defensive end the Beavers have seen since Victor Butler. Crichton's performance last season was arguably on par with Butler's supreme senior season. Crichton is a wrecking machine with a nose for the football. And he deserves to be considered and compared to Oregon State's last 4 year starter at defensive end - a guy by the name of Bill Swancutt. He has that kind of motor, that kind of ferocity and he's a joy to watch. Believe what you've read, because Crichton is the real deal.

Dylan Wynn is a headliner in his own right. We're loathe to make comparisons to Inoke Breckterfield but if there has been a Beaver DE the last 15 years that deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as Breckterfield, it's Dylan Wynn.

As a 230-pound true freshman Wynn was nothing short of spectacular for the Beavers in 2011. He plays like his hair is on fire, his scrappy, tenacious nature and relentless hustle defines his play, and Wynn shows up on the 2012 fall roster at an eye-popping 265 pounds. Wynn's one begrudging criticism last season was that at times he could swallowed up on run plays - we believe that will be a tall task for Pac 12 offensive linemen this season with his added bulk and gains.

DT Andrew Seumalo has fashioned himself from walk on into genuine Pac 12 defensive tackle. He stacks 302 pounds onto his 6-3 frame. Thrust into the role as a starting defensive tackle in 2011 when Dominic Glover failed to qualify academically, he performed admirably. Although undersized, he started 11 of 12 games and set a Pac 12 record with two blocked kicks in the same game. He's a leader and capable defensive tackle, his teammates having elected him a team captain in 2012.

Castro Masaniai is, despite some fans' grumbles otherwise, the answer. And he's due. Both of his previous injury-shortened seasons were truly due to bad luck and not much else. He is the very definition of a run-stuffer, and there was a night-and-day type difference in the run defense without him. Mike Riley believes any of Masaniai's offseason issues are squarely in the past and says that at 6-3, 354, it's actually a good weight for him, that he's in better shape than he was last season because he has more strength and muscle now than before. Bottom line, Masaniai has size that just can't be taught - he's the cure to what ails the defensive line: A true WarDaddy Defensive Tackle.

IN THE END, it's a night-and-day type scenario: A scrappy, undersized defensive line that struggled against the run -- becomes a fearsome, physically imposing front four in just one year.

And the upside doesn't end there. A hallmark of Mark Banker's defenses during the salad days of the mid-2000's was the heavy rotation. Rusty Fernando and Rudolf Fifita are poised to fill the specialist pass rusher roles, while several intriguing prospects are vying for key spots in the rotation. One to keep an eye on is Mana Rosa. He's been snake-bitten by injuries but has massive potential and should settle in at defensive tackle after spending 2011 bouncing back and forth between end and tackle.

Mana Tuivailala is another up-and-comer, with a fantastic frame, impressive natural size and strength. He is still learning the game of football, however. Brandon Bennett is coming off of a redshirt season and should get his first taste of PT this fall.

There are also a pair of X-factors to consider for DL coach Joe Seumalo Noke Tago, whom the Beavers plucked from American Samoa and is a raw, but explosive talent. The staff hopes that they have found their next Stephen Paea in Noke, a rugby player with tremendous physical gifts who just needs to learn the game.

Noa Aluesi is frighteningly athletic having played quarterback and linebacker at the prep level. After a grayshirt year, Noa turned a lot of heads checking in at 6-6, 276 pounds -- intriguing doesn't quite cover it.

Maybe the pair figures into the plans for this season and maybe not, but a tall defensive tackle like Aluesi with a huge wingspan can be a big factor on passing downs just by getting into the lane and putting his hands up in the air. And a 6-1, 290-pounder has a natural leverage and pad level advantage against o-linemen.

How Seumalo and Banker use their chess pieces this fall will be fascinating, because they have an interesting set of bodies to work with.

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