Kyle Okita

Making the Grade: Defensive Line

With the 2016 season in the books, we’re taking a look back at each position group — as well as handing out final grades. Up now is the defensive line.

Wins

If there was unit that symbolized the OSU’s “bend but don’t break” defense this season, it was the defensive line. There were no standouts among the unit, but collectively, the defense line seemed to come up big when it needed to. One thing to note is that the Beavers’ early season struggles on offense had an impact on the defense, as they were on the field a lot or forced to defend a short field.

OSU’s interior linemen such as Kalani Vakameilalo and Elu Aydon had their moments, combing for 38 tackles and 3 sacks. It will be fun to watch them develop this offseason. On the outside, JUCO transfer Phillip Napoleon led all OSU linemen with 21 tackles and two quarterback hurries. 

The line also played a big role in the Beavers’ strong defensive performance during the last third of the season. In three of their last four games, they held their opponent under 30 points. 

Opportunities

The Beavers ranked 10th against the rush in the Pac-12, and tied for last in sacks with 18, which for comparison’s sake, Utah led the conference with 40. Numbers aren’t everything, but the Beavers must improve against the run and generate more pressure on the QB next season, especially since they will be missing Treston Decoud and Devin Chappell in the secondary. The good news is players such as Vakameilalo, Aydon, and Napoleon should only be better next season.

Help could be on the way, though. Craig Evans, could provide a Stephen Paea/Kyle Peko-type impact, and if Isaac Garcia is eligible to play in 2017, he could give the Beavers some explosiveness at defensive end that has been lacking in recent years. Same with Kenny Turnier, who reportedly is moving from tight end back to defensive end. And if we’re being really greedy, what if the Beavers can flip USC commit Hunter Echols? That’s a lot of potential!

Another thing to watch for is what Coach Andersen does to replace Brent Brennan. Will he hire another assistant to coach receivers alongside Dave Baldwin, while continuing to coach the DL himself? Or will he have Baldwin coach the entire bunch, freeing him up to hire a dedicated DL coach. To be honest, he should go with the latter option, because having coordinators also coach position groups, much less head coaches, doesn’t seem to work often, at least at OSU.

Final grade: C-

There’s no way around it, the Beavers struggled to get consistent pressure on the QB and stop the run most of the season, and it started up front. So, they must improve in those areas to help the defense as whole get even better. That said, if Evans is as good as advertised, and Garcia or Turnier step up, this unit could get much better in a hurry. 


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