OSU NOTEBOOK: Mark Banker dishes on Beav D

CORVALLIS – No getting around it, OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker is one heck of a fun interview. The guy behind the defensive machine at Oregon State sat down, or rather stood beside BF.C's man on the sidelines and talked about the Beaver D, and particularly when it comes to the Beavs in the secondary and at linebacker.

Just how thin is the OSU linebacker corps after a knee injury to D.J. Alexander has him projected to be out until Week 3? We asked, and Mark Banker answered.

"We have one less linebacker, yes." Banker said with a little irony and a smile. "But we've added Darrell Songy, Michael Greer and Manase Hungalu (to the depth). We feel like Darrell's progress has been pretty good from the standpoint of (Songy) being a freshman and not knowing anything (about the defense on Day 1)."

Next man up, right? Banker emphasized that injuries like the one that happened to Alexander are all part of football. Basically, teams have two deeps for a reason.

It's only when you are unprepared that problems lead to more problems. Which is probably why Banker segued so seamlessly from Alexander to discussing his replacement, Jabral Johnson, and how his implementation will benefit Songy, a 6-0, 210-pound true freshman.

"Johnson is the back up and (his starting) just speeds up Darrell's growth and development," Banker said. "We got to give a thought process – should (Songy) be in the game – as to what (Songy) is capable of doing so that we can all still play well around him."

BUT ARE THERE other aspects of the game that are affected by the injury to Alexander -- the intangibles. What, in the words of football mystics and speculators, happens to the chemistry?

"Well you know now you've got sodium where potassium was – the formula changes," Banker said. "But all these guys are sitting in meetings day in and day out. We've got enough time right now to be able to develop (chemistry). More than anything it's just the athletic ability and the number of reps a guy is taking (that wins the day)."

AS HAS BEEN oft-mentioned in BF.C daily practice reports, the Beaver secondary is the strength of the unit. The first team -- S Ryan Murphy, CB Rashaad Reynolds, CB Sean Martin/Steven Nelson and S Tyrequek Zimmerman -- has a chance to be special this year and against both traditional pro-style offenses and variations of the spread.

There's also depth. But Banker isn't ready to call it proven depth yet.

"We didn't have Zim in the spring, so again it gave us a chance to look at Cyril Noland and Zack Robinson (at safety), so those young guys have had a chance to play some more." Banker said. "But to say we are stacked – I mean we have numbers – but again, game experience is critical."

SO OF THE younger players, who has stood out as potential game changers thus far? Banker wasn't necessarily ready to hand out any 'You've arrived!' awards.

"The guys that we have been pushing (in practice) have been Dashon Hunt and Brandon Arnold," Banker said. "I don't know that Arnold has done anything to stand out – he's made a play here and there as a low safety or a dime.

"Hunt has done some good things out at corner when he has had an opportunity, and he has done some things well at nickel. Beyond that, to us, Steven Nelson is a young guy – within our scheme. Sean Martin now all of a sudden becomes an ‘old guy' but he's new from the standpoint of (seeing time) at a starting position."

Banker went on to say that Noland is starting to make good progress. But so much of judging a players talent comes down to seeing them go live.

Seeing players hit and be hit while making reads in real time is crucial. It's especially important for defensive players, gauged on their physicality yet also obviously discouraged from going too far on the full contact scale in practice. Banker said this is in part why scrimmaging in camp is so key in the grand scheme of things.

And OSU, while they've done some full contact scrimmage work, has yet to hold a full-on official scrimmage this fall camp.

"It (scrimmaging) is everything. The two most principle elements in a football game are blocking and tackling," Banker said. "We block every day and the only people we have tackled are ourselves (on defense) - we try to make those drills as real as possible."

WHEN OR IF OSU will run its first full scrimmage is not public knowledge yet, but it sounds like there might not be any live hitting anytime soon and time is running out. OSU starts game prep for EWU in earnest next Monday and while there may be some hitting during the week leading up the game, there won't be a scrimmage that week. That leaves between now and then to fit one in, if the Beavs are going to hold one.

For now, they focus on the tangible aspects of the game that they can correct with repetition, drills and plenty of film to study.

"One thing that we have been emphasizing in team meetings is our pursuit angles," Banker said. "(Monday) night, we took some angles that were absolutely horrible and we did it (again) against the scouts (Tuesday) – we had a couple against our own team. We've got to school it up."

Banker noted that the new targeting rules in the NCAA could be challenging with regard to proper pursuit and tackling itself.

"(But) I can understand the open field plays, when a safety or a linebacker knows that he can't intercept the ball but he is going to (hit a) player to absolutely knock the (bleep) out of him - basically make a play, " Banker said of the new targeting rule.

Still, OSU's defensive mastermind acknowledged that a lot of defenders hit instinctively, and it's hard to suddenly now 'un-coach' the hits that players have been taught to execute all their football lives.

"He can't quite make it on the ball, now what's his reaction?" said Banker. "How does he hit him? We know you can't hit anybody above the shoulders – I get that part. But now we are talking about our demeanor (as a defense)."

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