BF.C Fall Camp Preview: Defensive Ends

CORVALLIS – Oregon State has a pair of top flight starting DEs and there's good reason for optimism at this spot in 2013. And yet, every nook and cranny needs to be explored here because the group as a whole is versatile and full of players who could traverse the line...

With so many question marks at tackle, how many guys could potentially go from DE to DT and vice versa and could we see a starting end get pulled inside based purely on necessity? If that happens, talented depth becomes a must have for a Beaver d-end unit stacked with two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, and two incoming rookies.

But first, the bell cows.

Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn had a heck of a run in 2012, with 93 tackles and two fumbles forced between them.

Crichton had 17.5 tackles go for a loss, and nine sacks to top it off.

Wynn had two TFL and a sack, but he racked up 49 tackles, five more than Crichton.

This tandem was expected to improve their production from 2011 by a significant margin in 2012, and the same expectation looms over them heading into the 2013 season.

As good as Crichton's TFL and sack numbers were, there were also times when he was neutralized when drawing double teams. The problem for OSU -- with an expected weaker DT group in 2013, will Crichton as well as Wynn, draw even more double teams?

The depth
According to the Portland Tribune, in a conversation with Mike Riley, senior defensive end John Braun will be one starting d-tackle when fall camp begins on Aug. 5, alongside all-purpose lineman Mana Rosa as the other starter.

This new development begs two questions – first, is this setup permanent?

Braun (6-5, 286) has been a defensive end by trade, not a defensive tackle. His frame and size may lend itself to the inside but when contrasted to others, Braun seems like a much less appealing option to stuff the running lanes.

Braun saw intermittent play with the DT's this spring, and so did Wynn. But are either of these two upperclassmen destined to make a concrete transition from end to tackle? It's anyone's guess with fall camp yet to kick off but if you put me on the spot, I think Braun ends up with the defensive ends by the end of August.

Putting Braun there may be about competition. A change of pace for the D-line could further spur the other d-tackles, expediting the process of acclimation to a Pac-12 tempo by making them embrace an underdog role.

The Second Question
If Braun does make a lasting transition based on depth concerns at DT, should we expect Tuaau to land on the second string?

If Tuaau wants to come in and claim more than just scattered looks right off the snap, he is going to have to fight for reps with the likes of senior Devon Kell (6-4, 245) and sophomore Lavonte Barnett (6-2, 257).

Kell received significant looks in the spring as the No. 2 weakside defensive end behind the ever-feisty Wynn. His production was limited, but his speed was impressive.

Kell is a solid athlete and could earn his way into the rotation at DE. There is little doubt that he will make an impact on special teams if he remains healthy, but with Wynn chugging right along and Crichton expected back from injury at the start of camp, Kell will have to earn his reps.

Add Tuaau into the mix - competition aplenty for reps on the end seems like it is in the cards this fall. Will Kell take advantage of Braun's current switch to tackle and secure a spot in the rotation?

How about Akeem Gonzales?

The 6-3, 230 sophomore remained on the scout team for the vast majority of spring ball and his size was the biggest obstacle for him. He could spend time with the special teams unit, but making projections beyond that is more or less a crapshoot.

The newcomers
Riley also told the Portland Tribune that JUCO Lyndon Tulimasealii is a likely no-go academically.

That would leave Charles Tuaau (JUCO) and Titus Failauga (prep) as the remaining defensive ends from the 2013 recruiting class who will hit the turf in less than a week. (Manase Hungala is listed as a DE by Scout but may be more likely to line up at linebacker.)

Failuga is 6-4, 240 pounds and someone I view to be highly malleable. He is light for a DE, heavy for an outside linebacker and a solid candidate for a redshirt given that Failauga is probably not an immediate fix for any of the pressing concerns facing the Beavs.

Tuaau is a different story. The 6-4, 265-pounder out of Riverside CC has 2-to-play-2 and is expected to have an immediate impact on the Beaver defensive line. But he might do some of that on the inside.

With so many questions on the interior, an end moving inside to help compensate is a very real possibility. It's also possible the Beavs could go to more of an odd-man front this season. The base will still be a 4-3 but with certain opponents and with big questions in the middle, OSU could move to more of a multiple-look front.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
A lot of the focus is naturally on DEs moving inside, Braun's changeover to No. 1 d-tackle, Tuuau's potential influence on the fall depth chart…

But let us not forget that OSU will start two bona-fide ballers at defensive end this fall – Crichton and Wynn.

There will be a lot of talk this season about if Crichton will leave early to turn pro, even if his production decreases with more expected double-teams. That's what happens when a player racks up 15 sacks and 32 tackles for loss his first two seasons.

With Wynn, he's flat out relentless. He's not as freakish athletically as Crichton (who is?) but whether he wins the battle or not on any one particular play, he comes back strong again and again. The other thing about Wynn is that he's learned a lot his first two years. It wouldn't be a surprise if he takes it up a level, based on his smarts, in 2013.

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