OSU SPRING PREVIEW: The Secondary

CORVALLIS-There is no shortage of secondary talent at OSU this spring -- a dogfight for playing time is sure to ensue amongst the slew of Beaver pass defenders. Despite the talent bank, questions arise. Should veteran starters from 2012 expect competition for their jobs? Where is the new JC recruit going to land? Who will step in for Jordan Poyer? All that and more in this lengthy spring preview.

The Good
Rashaad Reynolds returns after an explosive season that was largely unheralded by media outlets. Reynolds amassed 75 tackles, three interceptions, 16 pass deflections and 1.5 TFL in 2012. Fifty four of those tackles were solo deals, making Reynolds top dog on the roster in that statistical category, not to mention a general nightmare for those standing across from him.

Sure, at 5-11, 186 he is disadvantaged against taller wideouts – but have you seen him hit? More often than not, it's like watching a brick land on an egg. At one point, I coined him an Ed Reed/Ray Lewis hybrid and I stick by that summary after seeing what kind of season this guy is capable of putting together.

Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman should be the incumbent starters at safety a few weeks from now after notching a whopping 130 tackles as a collective last season.

Murphy claimed two interceptions and 2.5 TFL to boot. These two represent one of the more dynamic safety tandems currently running in the Pac- 12, and look to be particularly effective against the run game.

Barring injury, I don't see their role on the defensive side of the ball changing come spring, fall and eventually the regular season.

And of course there is the looming question as to who will step up in light of Jordan Poyer's vacated corner spot.

The Beavers should feel lucky that they have a player like Sean Martin available to them. He is a physical carbon copy of Poyer at 6-0, 186 and has the same long arms and lean frame that made Poyer such a successful pass defender. Martin - a senior come 2013 - is a prime candidate to replace the consensus All-American due to his time spent in the program and noteworthy contributions last season (43 tackles, one for a loss with two INT's and a handful of pass deflections).

Like the linebackers, the defensive backfield is another area where the Beavers are sitting quite comfortably in terms of depth and talent in the ranks with the likes of Larry Scott and Peter Ashton returning for their sophomore seasons.

Consider the recent addition of JUCO corner Steven Nelson, and you have a strong arsenal this spring with relatively few concerns moving forward, despite the departure of its premier starter.

Rod Perry heads into his second year of coaching under an orange and black flag, sporting two senior corners and a wealth of young talent undoubtedly chomping at the bit to see some action in the spring.

The Bad
No sense in denying that Jordan Poyer has left the building. Poyer's contributions amounted to seven interceptions, 51 tackle and two sacks along with seven pass deflections last season – that will be tough to replace. Even harder to replace will be Poyer's leadership and the fire he brought to the Beaver pass defense.

But I am in the camp that see's Poyer's departure for the big show having a more pronounced effect on the state of the special teams' corps than the secondary. Poyer acted as a gunner and punt returner on top of his corner duties, and a player with that diverse of a skill set is hard to replace.

OSU allowed just shy of 3,000 passing yards in 2012, including 14 touchdowns through the air and a 10.5 yards-per-catch average. Not as pretty as one would hope, considering the volume of picks they produced and all the hype that surrounded Poyer. Regardless, Perry's boys have a lot to prove this season and that goes much further than just stopping the pass.

Oregon State's secondary will need to buckle down and help stop the run, and I won't be surprised if the defensive playbook has been tweaked to accommodate that notion this spring. With d-tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo gone, the Beavs lose a significant portion of its run stopping power in the trenches. As a result, opposing running backs will make their way into the secondary in 2013 with more frequency (compared to 2012), this I can almost guarantee.

Ultimately, it could be up to the safeties and corners on multiple occasions to make clutch tackles and prevent second and short situations.

The Question
Will it be Sean Martin or Steven Nelson ‘replacing' Poyer?

The Answer
My bet is Martin claims the starting gig, at least at first. Reynolds doesn't possess the height or the breakneck speed Poyer did and I doubt we will see him making the transition to the left side of the defensive backfield.

Nelson will be lacing up for spring, and experienced his fair share of acclaim at the JUCO level. But JUCO and FBS ball are a world apart at times, and I feel it is safe to say that Nelson might take some time to adapt to the new environment and the heightened level of coaching, attention to detail and various expectations of him as a potential starting candidate.

But that is the safe bet. Football is all about surprises, so I wouldn't be shocked to see Nelson come in and blow the lid off of the competition.

Nelson's athletic capabilities do make him a potential candidate to succeed Poyer as the hybrid safety/corner in the dime package should Rod Perry and Mark Banker continue to implement that role. Just some food for thought.

Frankly, I'm excited to see who shows up bigger, faster and stronger than the next guy a few weeks from now.

In the Wings
With the safety duo of Ashton and Micah Audiss, OSU has a bright future at the safety position. Should Zimmerman or Murphy sustain an injury, either of these two youngsters can step up, fill the void and facilitate some positive defensive production.

Ashton should get the call before Audiss as far as the regular season goes - but as far as spring is concerned, both players have the moxy to make Murphy and Zimmerman work for those starting jobs. I expect to see both of them spend a lot of time running with the 2's, and wouldn't be shocked to see them playing a big role on special teams as well.

Kendall Hill was injured for the overwhelming majority of 2012 - from spring through fall and much of the regular season. However, the 15 bowl practices saw him return, and with some rehabilitation occurring over the summer he may become one of the more dynamic young players Perry has at his disposal.

Hill has some great speed and a lean/long frame - I would venture a guess that he blocks passes better than he makes tackles - but given his considerable lack of field experience, it is hard to tell just where he fits in at this juncture.

Larry Scott redshirted last season, blossomed as a corner late in the fall, and received a lot of praise from the coaches during preparations for the Alamo Bowl. Scott isn't necessarily a lockdown corner – he struggles against faster receivers and demonstrated that he could use some work when operating in one-on-one battles.

Still, Scott is a very aggressive performer and he has a knack for getting his fingers on the ball. Look for him to make a significant push to elevate his status from scout team to second team in August.

Soon-to-be sophomore Naji Patrick and Malcolm Marable (JR) had quiet seasons in 2012, with Marable seeing the vast majority of his time running with the special teams and Patrick failing to acquire anything of note. Marable's height might prevent him from making a realistic impact at the corner position, but Patrick is another story. At just an inch taller than Marable, the 5-8, 190 corner packs a little more punch.

Patrick may not look like an imposing defender at first glance, but he is physically dense and goes hard for the ball. I'm anticipating Patrick remaining with the special teams and scout team at the inception of spring ball, but don't count him out of the cornerback battle just yet – he is a capable athlete who will make some noise if given the opportunity.

Mishawn Cummings did not pop out at me during my time with the team last season, but word through the grapevine has him pinned to make just as much a push for playing time as any of the aforementioned athletes. Safety Cyril Noland falls into this category as well – the coaches love him, but to date he has to make himself stand out in a crowd.

Who I'm keeping an eye on
Ashton was a workhorse despite redshirting in 2012. He is a coach's player – learns fast, solid overall mix of tackling proficiency and pass tracking with some nasty on the side.

With some detailed molding courtesy of Perry, Ashton is bound to be a firecracker throughout the spring if he can stay healthy.

BF.C's Projected Pre-Spring Depth Chart – The Secondary
The 1's
Right Corner – Rashaad Reynolds
Left Corner – Sean Martin
Free Safety – Ryan Murphy
Strong Safety – Tyrequek Zimmerman

The 2's
Right Corner – Larry Scott
Left Corner – Steven Nelson
Free Safety – Peter Ashton
Strong Safety – Micah Audiss

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