CAMP: Putting first 11 days into context on D

CORVALLIS -- With Oregon State on Sunday enjoying their first off day since fall camp began on Aug. 1, it seems the perfect time to take a step back and to really put the first 11 practice sessions into context -- from the offense to the defense, a detailed look at each position group and everything in between. First, the defense.

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Overall, the starters have been playing well, certainly better than one might expect on a unit replacing a starting front seven. But depth could also become an issue based on the fall camp early returns.

The starting three would seem to be set in the persons of Keaton Kristick, Bryant Cornell and Keith Pankey, with Cornell manning the inside position, Cornell and Pankey on the outside.

The linebacker story over the first portion of fall practice has been the emergence of Pankey, he's been running with the 1's at the starting position over the last week.

Behind those three are Dwight Roberson, Dennis Christopher and Isaiah Cook. Depth is slightly an issue with the linebackers here. The front line starters have been performing really well -- especially Kristick on the outside. But so far nobody has performed well enough to challenge the starters. But it's also still early, and Christopher is one who has had some great reads and tackles the pass three days of practice.

With seniors Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis starting, the Beavs boast a lot of experience out on the island. Both are potential postseason award winners and their play has been indicative of that in the early stages of fall practice.

Backing them up are James Dockery and Tim Clark. Dockery has been playing very well of late and Clark has had his moments as well -- although he has been taking a high risk/reward approach on a number of plays. He has won a few of those gambits, but ones that also stick in the memory are the misses.

Brandon Hardin and David Ross are the third string, with Hardin having some nice pass breakups in the scrimmages. He's big and strong and soon could become a very fine corner with more seasoning.

Greg Laybourn has calmed any fears Beaver fans might have entertained at the safety spot following the pre-camp departure of Bryan Payton. Laybourn has played consistently at a high level, and he leads the team in interceptions during fall camp.

What's particularly notable about those picks is the fact that on a good number of them, he went one-on-one with Sammie Stroughter and came away with the pigskin.

Al Afalava started to hit his stride in the latter half of the first 11 sessions -- he's been performing well ever since. He's trimmer, doesn't have the same bulk, but he's faster and still hits awfully hard; the decaffeinator he laid on Brady Camp a few days back being but one example.

Suaesi Tuimaunei and Austin Hall have shown flashes but haven't been as consistent as they will need to be when the season gets underway. Ditto for Lance Mitchell and Cameron Collins.

Collins might challenge Tuimaunei and Hall for the back up spot.

Proven depth looks to certainly be an issue here, and the playmaking ability through the first days of fall camp has dropped a bit when the Beavs go to the second string. But there's still plenty of time remaining to see if a few guys suddenly start turning the corner. Stay tuned.

Defensive line
There are two potentially great OSU defensive ends in Slade Norris and Victor Butler. Both have caused headaches for the o-line consistently.

But they certainly need more help from their tackles. Stephen Paea has perhaps had the best showing so far on the inside. Starter Pernnell Booth, of whom big things are expected this year, has had majority of the days off as he heals up from a balky ankle. When he's practiced. he's shown plenty of promise in scrimmaging.

Brennan Olander has also been in the thick of things. A lot was expected from Ben Terry but that might have been an unreasonable expectation, and nothing too dramatic has been witnessed as of yet. It is the rare exception for a JC player to be able to come in and excel the first year in making the jump to the Pac-10 -- it just doesn't happen that often. The top transfers often show signs of starting to emerge late in Year One but it is in the second year they really blossom -- and that's only for the best of JC players.

Big Latu Moala has had a good start to fall camp -- he has some moves in his arsenal.

Special teams
Because of the way the practice is run in the early going of fall camp, the most unknowns of any group are found here. It's difficult to state with specificity on any number of special teams facets but from the early results, consistency could be an issue.

Starter Justin Kahut has been solid and has had few troubles in consistency, distance or accuracy. About the only field goal attempt that missed that can be recalled is the one that hit an upright from 47 yards out. Kahut has been letting a slight ding heal up but indications are he should be fine.

The kicker gets all the praise and blame but without a consistent holder, and one who can also turn an iffy snap into a make, a sure thing can turn into a miss in a heartbeat. The Beavs look to be in good shape here -- Taylor Kavanaugh has been doing yeoman's work as the holder.

Matt Barker has plenty of leg and might boot his way into becoming the Beavs' guy on kickoffs. Accuracy has been a slight issue with him but he also gets great height on his field goal attempts. Ryan Allen, the lefty kicker, who came in for a resting Kahut recently, has struggled a bit but has also shown some signs of maybe be ready to work out the kinks.

Definitely a talented bunch. And they've just as certainly not been very consistent. There are signs greatness every now and then, with Ryan Allen, Sean Sehnem and Johnny Hekker all in the mix. Nobody has yet won the starter's role but the coaches indicated that day might be coming soon. Sehnem and Hekker look to have been the most consistent of the three. Of the pair, the guess here is the nod might go to Sehnem, based on average distance and the least amount of wayward strikes. But it's a very tight race and any of the three could probably claim the spot, particularly if they catch fire from here on out. All three had trouble when they practiced at Reser.

Punt and kick returning
This could be the best unit of the special teams for this coming year. Sammie Stroughter and Taylor Kavanaugh have had some good punt returns. James Rodgers and Tim Clark have looked good on kickoff returns.

On punt returns, Darrell Catchings and Keynan Parker have gotten looks from the coaches, for kickoffs Jacquizz Rodgers, Patrick Henderson, Chris Johnson and James Dockery have all gotten some turns.

Punt and kick coverage
An untested side of special teams that will likely see more work as the Beavs delve further into fall camp. Lance Mitchell, Cameron Collins and Vave Walker have been the early standouts of the fall session.

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