What we've learned from spring: OSU D-Line

CORVALLIS – How is the 2013 Oregon State defensive line shaping up? We put the Beavers' spring session under a microscope with notes and analysis, plus a little insight on whether fans should be worried about the defensive tackle situation.

Injuries hampered Oregon State's progress in the middle of the defensive line this spring, but versatility across the board resulted in the Beavs getting a lot done. A couple young guns jumped showed they may become weapons in the pass rush while some of the veterans offered optimism, and others raised questions.

The Veterans
Practice sessions always offer up an opportunity for leaders to emerge, and Dylan Wynn seized his during spring ball. The nitty gritty is that Wynn is vocal, hustles on every play and he represented the most consistent member of the defensive line corps this spring.

Frankly, just the presence of Wynn on the field offered some kind of solace after the untimely Siale Hautau injury. I'm a big fan of Wynn's technique, and I think his tenacity is an incredibly healthy asset to this defense.

Wynn did struggle to get penetration more than once during the spring, however. And there was that day early on when freshman Sean Harlow won some battles. But it was Wynn and senior offensive lineman Michael Philipp who went against one another most, and Wynn's technique was essentially second nature to Philipp. Wynn (6-2, 260) struggles against big guys like Philipp, and relies on technique instead of size to get his push. Still, Wynn has a huge motor and reloads on every snap.

Devon Kell and John Braun are the primary candidates for playing time behind Wynn and Scott Crichton, who sat out this spring recovering from a shoulder injury. Both had strong spring sessions, the highlight being how frequently these two moved around on the defensive line. Braun and Kell are not spectacular athletes who are going to jump off the page, but they are reliable pass rushers and did a good job commanding the 2's this past month.

Seniors both, Kell and Braun have seen plenty of time under the tutelage of d-line coach Joe Seumalo and they fit the speed-over-size mold quite nicely. Braun is the slightly better pass rusher, but Kell has a knack for getting free of his block and using his speed to disrupt sweeps and screens. Kell got a lot of looks this spring.

Blake Harrah may see some playing time if Hautau is not 100 percent come fall. Harrah saw some snaps on the 2's and he managed pretty well considering he too has been struggling with injuries during this last year. The redshirt senior defensive tackle is strong and gets low into the blockers, but he is not a power rusher and that is what OSU needs the most – a big guy with big arms who makes big plays. Harrah is just 6-1, 267 and didn't really jump out in the Beaver defensive scheme during the spring session.

I've learned that Seumalo enjoys putting his guys out there and forcing them to learn through doing. Harrah is in his senior year and still in need of some coaching and fine-tuning, and the assumption here is that the whole of his role has yet to be determined.

Mana Rosa was off and on with the 2's, mostly filling in as a defensive tackle and occasionally spending time as a defensive end. Rosa remains a versatile player and he has been with the program for a long time – he knows Seumalo's defensive goals and executes accordingly.

But from this chair, Rosa's spring performance lacked energy. The senior also fell behind Brandon Bennett when it came to seeing snaps alongside Edwin Delva.

Spotlight on the two new DTs
Delva was set with a tough task at the beginning of April, and all things considered he fared well in the trenches during his first spring session with Oregon State. There is a definite learning curve that needs to be accounted for when a player makes the transition from junior college to a D-IA football program, and Delva's spring was characteristic of just that.

He was not great, yet by no means did he fail to make an impact. Delva is strong and has good size, and the fundamental components for effective penetration and run-stopping are there – but he is very fresh, and has a ton of expectations resting on his shoulder pads.

If we put spring into a vacuum, I'm worried about the DT's moving forward. Add in Hautau's broken hand, and it leads to more questions than answers.

Speaking of Hautau – OSU only got about a week out of him before he showed up to practice in a sling. My limited observation time of the 6-1, 320 junior revealed that he is cut from the same mold as Delva at this juncture, and will need a lot more work in order to get to the point where he can adequately fill the void left by Castro Masaniai.

Hautau has a huge upside if he can shed a few pounds, get in better football shape and recover smoothly from the arm injury. The real question is this – will a week of spring plus a fall camp hopefully be enough time for Hautau to become a bona fide Pac-12 defensive tackle, or will someone more game ready take his place?

The Young Guys
Defensive ends Lavonte Barnett and Akeem Gonzales found a new level this spring.

The duo split the lion's share of snaps on the scout team and saw some brief flashes of playing time when they were needed with the secondary defensive unit. Barnett boasts strength and moderate speed, whereas Gonzales adheres to the opposite side of the spectrum as an agile pass rusher who lacks a strong initial push.

Barnett in particular is a force when it comes to getting at the QB – he is more of a bull rusher than anything else and once he finds a good angle on a guy, he can blow right past him. Both are redshirt sophomores with big upsides if the latter half of spring ball is any indicator.

Bennett, a redshirt sophomore, was probably the most impressive and often used member of OSU's D-line youth.

Much of his playing time was a byproduct of the Hautau injury, but overall I think Bennett took advantage of an opportunity and made a serious bid for more playing time in the fall. At 6-3, 280 Bennett manages to utilize a successful mix of straight-line speed/power and solid technique to slip through the offensive line. He shares a frame similar to Delva, and they worked well as a pass rushing unit.

Bennett is the guy to keep an eye on as August looms closer – Hautau's injury may have interesting implications on the battle for a starting role at the nose tackle.

Noke Tago was the guy I had high hopes for this spring and for what it's worth, I felt a little let down. He didn't really capitalize on the spring session or make a no-brainer bid to get off the scout team and into the 2's rotation.

Good things take time and Tago certainly showed that he could use further development. At 6-1, 302, the redshirt freshman offers yet another good mix of size, leverage, power and agility, but he hasn't really honed any of those particular skills into a formidable pass rushing approach.

Ali'i Robins had an all-around strong spring. At 6-2, 272 pounds, he plays sharp football, possesses quick feet and the raw ability to play defensive tackle or defensive end. He is a potential candidate for the vacated ‘super-sub' role in the starting rotation, but will need to work on being more of a consistent and durable pass rusher in order to secure that role.

What I've Learned Most
Short and sweet here – the defensive tackle scenario is a serious concern.

The starting defensive tackle duo is tenuous at best post-spring, and this is a substantial question given the fact that OSU's claim to fame last season was their ability to stuff the run – and to also help allow Crichton and Wynn to shine.


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