Important week on tap for Beaver secondary

HALFWAY THROUGH SPRING BALL at Oregon State, things were going along fairly well for the Oregon State secondary. A group that was replacing four starters including two corners likely to be selected in the NFL Draft on Saturday was holding their own. But that all came undone in the first scrimmage of the spring this weekend.

The totals were alarming if you're a fan of defense -- nine touchdowns and 751 yards in total offense. And 649 of those hashes came through the air.

In other words, the Beaver secondary, first, second and third string, got blasted.

Playing with the ones on Saturday were corners Tim Clark and James Dockery. At safety, the starters were Lance Mitchell and Suaesi Tuimaunei.

Is it time for real concern? Probably not. If the same were to hold true when the Beavs were deep into fall camp, then sure, it might be time to start some serious hand wringing. But it was, after all, the first scrimmage of the spring.

And the reality is still such that Oregon State is replacing four senior starters in the defensive backfield -- some bumps and lurches were inevitable, though the aerial assault that went on Saturday was more glaring than bargained for.

Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Mark Banker and cornerbacks coach Keith Hayward now have a blueprint of what went wrong from Saturday. Chances are, if their past successes are any indication, they'll get things tightened up a bit by this Friday when the Beavs are scheduled to hold Scrimmage No. 2.

At the same time, it's hard not to expect Oregon State to miss the defensive backs from last season who are no longer there.

Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis were fantastic corners for Oregon State -- there was a reason they started 43 and 47 games, respectively, for the Beavs. As has been oft-mentioned on BF.C since the Sun Bowl win, OSU is going to miss those guys because lockdown corners allow you to do so many more things and to be aggressive.

Al Afalava started 36 games at safety for the Beavers and while other OSU stop corps members got more attention this past season, Afalava was terrific in run support and made a number of plays possible for other defenders. The other safety, Greg Laybourn, was criticized at times for getting beat on the deep ball but Laybourn also was named Pac-10 Player of the Week three times and had more tackles (113) than anyone else in the Pac-10.

The defensive backfield this year is, as a group, quicker than last year. But that certainly didn't translate to success in Friday's scrimmage. There would have been less damage if it was truly live as quarterbacks would have been sacked more on passes they completed. But there was still far too much damage done through the air.

Patrick Henderson and Brandon Hardin figure to provide the biggest challenge to Clark and Dockery at cornerback. Keynan Parker is also one to keep an eye on.

At safety, Cameron Collins, who brings a lot of athleticism to the table, will continue to battle Mitchell and Tuimaunei.

It's also worth noting that last year, during fall camp scrimmaging, the defensive backfield was victimized by big plays on a number of occasions. The second string receivers also turned in quite a few big plays against the second string defensive backs.

Spring is about experimentation and the learning process. But there will come a time when performance is what counts.

At corner and safety in Corvallis, expect a rigorous week of practice starting today.


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