CORVALLIS – BF.C's man on the ground produced this defensive grade sheet to shine a light on what OSU is working with on the broad scale for 2013. Will the defense destroy the competition, or are there areas of worry that could hamper the orange and black moving forward? And what about that d-tackle spot that garnered so much talk over the offseason.
PRE-SEASON POSITION GRADES Defense Defensive End: A
You can coach an O-lineman to battle size, speed and swim moves, but it is a lot harder to coach and play against high-level endurance, a constant motor and ninjaquick hands. That's what the junior DE tandem bring to the table for Oregon State. There are few negatives that can be attributed to Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton. They'll get into the backfield with such speed that oftentimes, it negates any size advantage the o-lineman might have. They are backed up by Devon Kell, a bright and multifaceted player who could factor into the defensive equation quite a bit in 2013. All three served as versatile options for Joe Seumalo's D-line corps this fall, moving to the middle of the line when called upon, getting the most out of every rep.
Defensive Tackle: C-
This mark is not meant to discredit the abilities of senior starters Mana Rosa and John Braun, the starters in the middle of the OSU D-line. The grade is more a reflection of just how ill-prepared the Beavs seems to be here in regards to both the first team and two-deeps. Rosa and Braun are not ‘true' defensive tackles by trade, and now they are expected to start at one of the toughest positions in the game after only four weeks of noteworthy repetitions as interior D-linemen. Siale Hautau and Edwin Delva - two JC transfers that spent most of spring ball with the 1's prior to being knocked down a peg – were mildly effective this fall when it came to getting a big push against an opposing O-line set, but it was nothing to jump and scream about. The juniors still have some hurdles to vault as far as game readiness is concerned too. OSU is currently touting a 5-6 man rotation at the DT spot, but it's not like previous rotations. There are questions with each DT and there are no big standouts heading into the opener.
Note: OSU may be overwhelmingly positive at DE, yet they are underwhelming and uncertain at defensive tackle. Strong coaching can help compensate for what OSU lacks in production on the interior line, but it is now mostly a question of just how much help OSU might need in the middle and how best to go about that.
A tough call to make here, because the speed with which D.J. Alexander will recover from his knee injury is still a little up in the air, and Joel Skotte is rather unproven in game scenarios. Michael Doctor is the standalone senior in the starting backer rotation, a very astute and a primo combo ‘backer who can be a wall again the run as well as an efficient pass defender, but he can't play three positions at once. Alexander was having a great run of fall camp prior to his injury, after which junior Jabral Johnson assumed the role of interim LB pending Alexander's return. Johnson has played good football, but he is not as well-served in a speed first defensive scheme as Alexander, whose injury absence drops it to a B. Skotte is then the variable that puts OSU's linebackers at a B- instead of a B. How much of a learning curve will there be this season? How many games will it take for the sophomore starter to get the hang of things?
A contributing factor to the grade for OSU's linebackers is their size. Sure, Trent Bray sports a company of lickity-split ‘backers, but the average weight of the above-mentioned foursome is 230.5 pounds – that's on the light side. So how will they do against big, blocking tight ends and aggressive O-linemen?
Senior Rashaad Reynolds will undoubtedly anchor the starting corner rotation in 2013 and he has a supporting cast of characters that did little less than impress the heck out of me left and right during the spring and fall camp sessions. Sean Martin was a strong option as the nickel corner in Mark Banker's defensive sets this fall, and the senior is very familiar with how the defense operates. Steven Nelson made the most out of his last five months in spent in Corvallis, and I see him surprising the heck out of casual fans in the fall. Riley and Mark Banker have yet to announce a decision as to who will officially succeed Jordan Poyer as the other starting corner, it will be a game time decision. My guess is Nelson, but we'll see. Behind them, sophomore Larry Scott looks to factor into the rotation – the youngster really stood out this fall and he is a great to have in reserve.
Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman could be devastating to opposing offenses in 2013. In fall camp, the junior safety duo was very impressive and they will bring an intense combination of size, speed and great field awareness to the secondary, not to mention 25 games worth of experience apiece. Murphy and Zimmerman exude confidence in just about every play, and they are highly active on special teams in a variety of ways. Behind them, OSU will look to implant redshirt freshman safety Cyril Noland and others for turns, it's been a productive set of backups who have had a strong fall behind the starters.
OSU seems to be going with speed over size in just about every defensive category with the exception of cornerback and safety. The linebackers and d-line, even the d-ends, could have issues with defenders, particularly strong, athletic O-linemen who practice good pad level and well understand the leverage game. It is a tried and true system that Banker and his defensive staff have been implementing for some time now, and with above average success as of late. Size matters little when a pass rusher is in the backfield half a second after the ball is snapped, angles and speed matter more. And for all of the little inconsistencies that could arise from the front seven, Perry's secondary has offered a lot of evidence that they can make some of it up in the back end.