The past few seasons, the Beavers have (almost exclusively) run a 4-3 defense. However, graduate assistant and linebackers coach Trent Bray mentioned that the defense has been working on some other options here and there, most notably a 3-4 approach.
Whether that comes to pass in this fall camp/during the season or not, it makes for a compelling debate -- might it be the Beavers' best option given the diversity and speed they have in their linebacking corps? Can they run an odd-man front with true nose tackle options looking few beyond senior Castro Masaniai?
The long awaited return of Masaniai helps alleviate some of the pressure felt at the defensive tackle position, and also adds a player more than capable of stopping opposition running attacks.
Masaniai, along with senior and co-captain Andrew Seumalo, have represented a solid presence in the middle for the most part, and that may be one factor arguing against implementing a 3-4 package.
One really has to take the acquisition of Rod Perry into context to understand what it will mean for the Beaver defense -- especially against the pass.
Perry spent 24 seasons coaching in the NFL and was especially noted for his work with the Indianapolis Colts. As a player, he went to the Pro-Bowl twice – he brings a lot of valuable insight to the overall structure of the defense and particularly in the secondary.
Mike Riley's fall camp optimism regarding his current defensive back corps is due in large part to Perry's arrival. And that he's made an already good secondary better.
Two is a party: The Feti Unga/Rueben Robinson Discussion
Who will be seeing the bulk of the starts at the MIK spot? Unga and Robinson have done roughly a 50/50 timeshare on the 1's during the first part of fall camp.
Seniors both, the pair have demonstrated equal understanding of the game, as well as their assignments. Robinson has so far proven to be more aware of the play happening in front of him, and therefore he reacts to the ball quicker. Robinson is not much bigger than Unga on paper, but he does seem to take up more space in the middle and moves well against short pass plays.
Unga is faster (despite being the heaviest guy in the corps), and more adept at stopping the run. He uses his size and agility to his considerable advantage in blitz packages. But Unga has had issues holding his assignments, and he is occasionally aggressive to a fault, resulting in him overrunning what should be easy plays. Robinson is more patient and reads the quarterback a little better.
In part, this competition at the MIK is what makes the idea of some 3-4 intriguing to us. Combined, Unga and Robinson could prove more effective – solo, well they certainly aren't bad, but they aren't perfect.
Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton – Wynn has looked a lot more fluid than he has before. Crichton has been a little rusty at times, though he's usually going against arguably the best the Beavs have to offer on the o-line in Colin Kelly and Grant Enger. Wynn has had a little easier time getting around Michael Philipp. Put another way, Crichton is not looking bad in the least, it's just that Wynn has stood out more so far.
Behind those two at d-end? The only other guy getting some regular work in with the 1s is Devon Kell. Rudolf Fifita is behind Crichton on the 2s and both he and Kell are energetic and fast. They've both been good in eluding cut blocks.
Joe Lopez, Mana Rosa and Brandon Bennett make up the remainder of the depth who have been working with most with the 2s. . They've performed okay, but they look young. Rosa has been trying to work on following through after contact contact.
Casto Masaniai -- he looks like a different guy, quicker off snap and he's most assuredly that big-body plug guy you want in the middle of the d-line. He's been making plays this fall camp, and size counts with him.
To sum it all up, the Beavs have solid starters on the d-line. Andrew Seumalo is improved, too. But those front line guys are going to have to play a lot and stay healthy, the concern is the lack of depth behind them and it's a considerable one based on what's transpired thus far in fall camp..
Over at linebacker, and apart from the MIK battle going on, Michael Doctor at the WIL is one of the Beavs' leaders. He corrects mistakes quickly, has good recognition and is good in stopping the run. D.J. Welch at the SAM is playing aggressively thus far, and sometimes that isn't the best thing. He has shown promise, especially in coverage, but over=pursuit has been an issue. Still, he looks like a DB in an LB body at times.
Jabral Johnson has been getting in some time with 1s behind Welch and looks to be coming along nicely. Joel Skotte is behind Doctor, and he too has been looking good so far, especially for a true freshman. So the Beavs do appear to have some depth here.
Dyllon Mafi has seen a little work here as well but he needs to be more physical before he's ready to contribute. A lot of that may simply be that he's learning and adjusting – most freshman linebackers need time to do that and until they get a good base, they can play less physically.
The starting secondary has played at a mostly high level in fall camp, as was forecast.
Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds are as set in stone at the corner spots as can be. Poyer hates to lose. He's solid and does things correctly, Perry is hardly ever seen coaching him.
It's conceivable the Beavs may at times try to stick him on the best WR with an edict – take him away from the offense. He came into fall camp with a lot of hype that probably wasn't realistic to try to live up to, and he hasn't. He's played well but not at an All-America level. But it could very well be that competition, when the games start for real, will bring it out of him.
Reynolds has been sharp as a tack much of the time. He could stand to be a little tighter in his coverage perhaps and hasn't been as solid on some deep passes, but he's got good recognition of where the ball is going to be and closes fast. He might pick off a number of mid-range passes this year.
Sean Martin has been filling in, he's been the first option. Ryan Handford has gotten a little time with 1s too at corner. Malcolm Marable figures to contribute mostly on special teams, but with a little more work here and there, (he needs work on man coverage) he could also contribute. He plays well in zone and plays bigger than his size – he's an aggressive corner.
Safeties Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman have looked good. All know what they're doing and what each other is doing.
Murphy plays everyone close. Zimmerman is fast. Watkins has missed a good chunk of time to injury, (ongoing hip flexor strain) allowing Zimmerman to come in with the 1s but in the time before OSU sat him down, he looked solid.
Peter Ashton has been coming on lately, he's solidly running with the 2s behind Murphy. He looks like he can help this year -- and he looks like a safety, with good football knowledge. Micah Audiss is playing well -- it's been quieter than his spring, but he's performed well and gives the Beavs yet one more piece in their cupboard.
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED: OSU Defense
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