OSU spring: 5 position battles on defense

SPRING BALL AT Oregon State kicks off on March 31 and while the Beavers have a decent number of senior starters on defense, there are also positions that have more questions than answers headed into the 15 practice sessions. Here are five of the most intriguing position battles on the defensive side of the ball.

Left Defensive End
Trying to fill Scott Crichton's shoes is going to be a tall order. Jaswha James (6-2, 250) is listed as the No. 1 on the depth chart – he played his best football down the stretch last season and BeavFans are hoping the junior will be ready to shine. Lavonte Barnett is listed as the No. 2 right end behind Dylan Wynn but look for him to also compete for the starting job here. Titus Failauga is the wildcard, a redshirt freshman who opened some eyes on the scout team last season. And then there's Obum Gwacham – how fast might the former wide receiver assimilate the position change? Will he be a capable pass-rushing specialist? Could he take it further and challenge for a starting job? There's intrigue galore here.

Left Defensive Tackle
Jalen Grimble turned heads last season on the scout team after transferring in and he's the No. 1 here headed into the spring. But the Beavs need more than just Grimble based on the interior d-line play of last season. The good news is that Noke Tago and Brandon Bennett each gave hope last season that they could be about to turn the corner. Keep an eye on Tago, he might also serve notice this spring.

Right Defensive Tackle
Meanwhile, if that's not enough d-tackle theater, a pitched battle should begin this spring at the right tackle spot, with seniors Siale Hautau and Edwin Delva battling it out. Both have had issues staying healthy, particularly Hautau, and while a defensive tackle is never going to have huge tackle numbers, their combined total stops last season was 16, a number that needs to go up in 2014.

Right cornerback
The Beavs need to replace Rashaad Reynolds, a guy who is about to become an NFL draft pick. Larry Scott looks to be that guy headed into the spring. Scott came on strong last year and along with Steven Nelson, the Beavs look good here on the front line. The problem is you also need proven depth at the corner spot, and the Beavers also want to play a good amount of nickel. There should be intense competition between players such as Dashon Hunt, Malcolm Marable and others out on the islands this spring.

Linebacker
The Beavs' linebackers are the deepest position group with the least questions, with three senior starters in D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor on the outside, and Jabral Johnson in the middle. If there is a position that holds some position battle intrigue this spring, it's probably the MIK and that's because of what sophomore Rommel Mageo did last season as a true freshman. In other words, don't sleep on Mageo this spring. Meanwhile, OSU found out firsthand how a position of strength can turn into a concern last year, when injuries struck at linebacker. As entrenched as Alexander and Doctor figure to be in 2014, an injury can change that in a heartbeat. So it won't be a surprise for OSU to give Doctor and Alexander plenty of rest and take very long looks this spring at Cyril Noland-Lewis, Darrell Songy, Michael Greer, Caleb Saulo and Manase Hungalu. And it's hugely important for at least some in that group to shine brightly for the Beavs over the course of the 15 spring sessions.


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