DEFENSE: Fall camp status report

CORVALLIS--In just over a week's time, the Beavs open the season in a nationally televised Pac-10 tilt at Stanford. Sure, OSU fielded the nation's top run defense in '07, but that was last year. We're taking a detailed look at each position group on this year's defense, with a heavy emphasis on the nine fall camp sessions of this past week, and putting it all in context.

Note: Each unit is graded on a collective basis and not individually.

When in doubt, we went tough on the D and dropped the grade lower. Why? The overall battle between the defense and offense, of late, has being captured for the most part by the offense.

It also merits mention that some of the units below are well capable of putting up an "A". They have not, however, done so in recent practice sessions.

Linebackers, Grade: C+
The starting three; Keaton Kristick, Bryant Cornell and Keith Pankey are solid and would earn a higher grade by themselves. They've been tackling well for the most part, and Kristick has been the most consistent of the bunch lately. Dwight Roberson has been playing considerably better of late and has been smack dab in the middle of some good defensive stops.

The effectiveness of the linebackers also cannot be fully determined in fall camp -- not with their hands tied when it comes to tackling the QB and for the most part, the running backs or others since much of a camp is run at less than full contact. There have been a bevy of occasions where they seemed likely to get a sack, but the play continued -- and the defense then ended up surrendering up a big play. Kristick and Dennis Christopher have shown solid skills when going up against the offensive line in the trenches. If there's an area where the most polish is needed, it might be found in coverage, where the group has collectively been less than stellar in recent days.

Cornerbacks, Grade: B-
The corners have turned in a number of great defensive plays, going against a group of uber-talented receivers -- but not as many as earlier in camp. The problem has been one of consistency, and the CBs have been vulnerable to the big play.

But Keenan Lewis, the victim on some great catches, has had good position and made a nice play on the ball. Frankly, it's been flat out great routes by the receivers and perfect passes by the quarterbacks on many an occasion. And Riley raved about both Lewis and Brandon Hughes after practice on Tuesday.

"That's a good position for the Beavers," said Riley.

James Dockery and Tim Clark haven't seen as much success of late going against a deep receiving corps. The corners collectively need to step up their play one more level if they're going to have the term "lockdown" attached . And they need to get back that lockdown and physical style of play they enjoyed success with earlier in camp.

Safeties, Grade: C+
Greg Laybourn and Al Afalava have been rock steady. Indeed, Laybourn is one of the few who has shown capable of making life difficult for Sammie Stroughter in going one-on-one with the receiving great.

Afalava likes to hit hard and the fact he can't do that in camp has made him appear, at times, to be not as effective a player as he truly is for the Beavs.

Austin Hall has had a relatively good couple of days subbing for Laybourn on the first team defense while the latter lets bumps and bruises heal up. If there's an area for improvement with Hall, it might be in recognition and react on the deep ball -- he seems just a touch late on the longer bombs. Lance Mitchell had a great week of practice and displayed a high amount of quality and quantity in the pass breakups department. He also accounted for the defense's best moment in Thursday's scrimmage with a pick-6. Cameron Collins, who had a decent start to camp, has been up and down lately.

D-line, Grade: C
Victor Butler and Slade Norris have been effective out on the edges. At the tackle position, Pernnell Booth has offered reasons for optimism -- when suited up for scrimmage or practice and not nursing injuries. Brennan Olander and Stephen Paea have also been making some noise. Ben Terry is slowly working his way into good stead, but nothing so far that would believe this correspondent to believe he's ready to crack the starting lineup. DT Mitchel Hunt has been missing for a good chunk of fall camp, with an illness that will probably sideline him for at least the first couple of weeks this season. Kevin Frahm is slowly developing in to a good Pac-10 defensive end.

Special teams:
Kicking, Grade: B
Kicker Justin Kahut is solid but needs to stay healthy if the Beavs are going to be effective and consistent. He sat out some of last week's practices with a groin injury. Taylor Kavanaugh has done a spot-on job holding the ball and deftly handling a very few wayward snaps. Sean Sehnem has made a bit of a push, slowly coming into the mix. Ryan Allen has struggled a bit, accuracy and solid contact has proved elusive. Sehnem and Matt Barker figure to battle it out for the backup spot behind Kahut. Barker might still be press for the job on kickoffs, he seems to have the longest range of the group, but Kahut was drilling 'em on Tuesday.

Punting, Grade: C-
This grade might be on the generous side. Punting has been average at best for the majority of the camp. John Hekker seems to have established himself as the most consistent of the trio, with Allen and Sehnem, and looks to have moved very close to winning the job. Hekker has long arms and big hands and as a starting prep QB, would seem a reasonably capable choice to roll the dice with if and when the Beavs should decide to fake one at some point this season. Ryan Allen has probably hit the longest punts but in between, he's been inconsistent. Sehnem seems to do well without a bunch of hungry defensemen flying towards him, and it's been a completely different story when facing the rush. The punters, in this correspondent's opinion, also need to get off their boots earlier than they have been.

Punt and kick returning, Grade: B
This could well be the best unit on special teams this year. Stroughter and Kavanaugh are capable of busting off a dazzling return at any time. It looks like James Rodgers and Patrick Henderson will handle the kickoff returns but both units have solid backups in case the starters can't go or there's more tweaking of the personnel by the staff over the next week.

Punt and kick coverage, Grade :Incomplete
In a word, untested. Everything has been worked on but without much live contact here, (and you really can't go live a lot in kick coverage or the injury list can fill up rapidly), it's impossible to draw many hard and fast conclusions. Kicking it into the end zone certainly wouldn't be a bad idea, if the Beavs were to find themselves fortunate enough to have a guy with a consistent, big-time leg.

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