BF.C Fall Camp Preview: Safeties

CORVALLIS -- An integral player sat out with injury during the spring -- will he return at full capacity, or will fall see a younger athlete get inserted into some schemes more frequently? Who are the run-stoppers, and who are the studs when it comes to pass defense? What will the two deeps look like, and is there room and/or a need for any incoming freshman to squeeze in past the scout team?

There may not be a position battle looming for the Oregon State safety unit heading into fall camp, yet there is still plenty to talk about.

Junior Tyrequek Zimmerman is expected back with the starting defensive corps as soon as fall camp begins, following a toe injury that sidelined him for spring ball.

Still, if experience has taught us anything, there is a difference between the staff doctors returning a player to action and a player believing he is 100 percent. A toe injury can be a big deal, no matter how small it sounds on the list of possible injuries in football.

Let's think optimistically, that Zimmerman, a 6-0, 211-pounder, will come back strong and hit Tommy Prothro at 100 percent mentally and physically at the start of fall camp on Aug. 5.

Well, then look out Pac-12.

Why? Because a healthy Zimmerman means that OSU will have two fully loaded pistols at safety - a duo I'd argue is unparalleled by any other safety tandem in the conference.

Zimmerman is capable of putting on a tackling clinic in 2013. He hits hard and wraps up with authority, and while he isn't the fastest option in the Beaver secondary he is certainly one of the strongest.

THEN THERE IS Ryan Murphy, the 6-3, 211-pound junior who stood out last season with 67 tackles, 2.5 TFL and a pair of picks. He dominated during spring ball.

You couldn't put a microphone in front of Mike Riley or Rod Perry under the pretense of talking pass defense and not hear Murphy's name multiple times.

In my eyes, Murphy is the quintessential combination of size, speed and swift hands in the free safety slot- spice up that recipe with some tenacity and impressive work ethic and you have yourself a major benefit on D.

How good might Murphy be as a junior? I don't know but I can't wait to find out. He is a consistently disruptive presence on defense and has an innate ability to motivate his teammates, even from the sideline.

Should he continue that roll throughout the fall, look out Pac-12 that much more.

The Two Deeps
Behind them there is inexperience but potential -- with players like Cyril Noland, Zack Robinson and Micah Audis.

Noland (Rs.Fr) and Audis, a sophomore walk on, are my top picks for reps behind the starters headed into fall camp. Both showed a ton of promise in the spring.

Don't get me wrong, there is certainly room for improvement for both. Still, Noland was a constant factor in knocking passes down and making offensive plays end much quicker than intended.

I tagged Noland as having the ability to be particularly effective as a redzone defender. His tendency is to keep tight on his assignment and force receivers out of position if they want even a decent look at a pass. He is one of those annoying defenders, the kind that is always one mental step ahead, or physically close enough to get a hand in edgewise on nearly every pass.

Robinson is a tough athlete who has seen time with both the safeties and corners over the last year.

Robinson is quick and a decent overall defender who may need a little bit more development before he truly makes a bid for time beyond the scout team. He is not yet enough of a force when it comes to making big tackles and sticking his man, fundamental components of the safety job that he will need to re-hash over and over again before it just becomes second nature.

I see Audis as key to stopping the run before it can get too far into the secondary.

He is 6-1, 207-pounds yet agile and with the grit to put up a battle with a slightly undersized fullback and win it. Last season, Audis was consistently outshone by former OSU safety Peter Ashton when it came to practice reps. This year the door is swinging open for him. He stepped into the two-deeps at safety and showed some mettle in April.

Audis is also a candidate for special teams play. And whether covering the back forty or as a gunner, he's likely whap a guy in some fashion.

When it comes to versatility in the depth chart, look no further than fifth year senior Steven Christian.

He is an asset to the OSU lineup in that he is a sure bet to play average to above-average regardless of where he lines up in the secondary. Robinson and Christian are mildly entertaining to watch in red zone defense, as they both get at the opposition and tend to leave wideouts walking away with a sour look on their face.

A.J. Hedgecock, a 6-0, 203 pound redshirt freshman out of Dayton, is another all-around athlete that Rod Perry has at his disposal. Much like Robinson, I have seen the promise in his game from time to time, yet he still needs seasoning in order to make some real noise in the OSU defensive schemes.

The Newcomers
Oregon State signed four young safeties in the 2013 class – Justin Strong, Brandon Arnold, Terin Solomon and Charles Okonkwo. And it's impossible to tell if a rookie is capable of playing in the Pac-12 his first year until you see them competing on the OSU practice field.

That said, I have my doubts as to whether or not any of these four newcomers will see extensive reps with the 1's or 2's this season – OSU is pretty well stacked at safety.

Unless some of the seven guys mentioned above decide to leave the team and open their own ballet academy, there should be no need burn any redshirts.

However, I am looking forward to what Perry might do with what appears to be a very talented pool of new recruits. These four will begin- and hopefully complete – their development solely under Perry and his assistants. The first few days of camp should be quite entertaining in the secondary.

Injury Bug
Redshirt freshman Kendall Hill arrived at OSU in 2012 already rehabbing from a knee injury. Still, Mike Riley had very high hopes for him. He got some reps this spring, and I started to understand why.

He is a killer of an athlete with a nose for the pigskin. He would have been an asset to Perry's crew last year – had he not injured his knee again, forcing yet another question mark to be placed next to his name on the depth chart for 2013.

Will Hill have recovered fast enough to make an impact in August? Or will one of new recruits gets some looks much sooner than expected in an attempt to fill the void left by Hill in the two- and three-deeps? Stay tuned.

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