PLAYERS LOST: Al Afalava (Honorable mention All-Pac-10, 36 tackles, two interceptions, eight pass breakups), Austin Hall (40 tackles, one forced fumble), Greg Laybourn (Second team All-Pac-10, Pac-10 leading tackler, 113 tackles, three interceptions, two recovered fumbles)
OVERVIEW: The last time the Beavers had this many new starters in the secondary was 2005 -- when they finished a downtrodden 115th in passing yards allowed.
That unit gave up 30 or more points five times and a ghastly 31 touchdowns through the air. The seemingly endless bombs down the sidelines haunt the thoughts of Beaver fans heading into the 2009 season.
Replacing three NFL draftees, plus another who signed an NFL free agent contract, won't be easy. Fortunately, the 2009 scenario is, from this chair. significantly better then the 2005 one.
Junior Suaesi Tuimaunei is the only safety with starting experience, he has two starts, while sophomores Lance Mitchell and Cameron Collins primarily tallied their stats on special teams, and while playing during blowouts.
Mitchell is a litter bigger and taller than Laybourn - faster too - which should translate into tighter coverage and more pass breakups. But what can't be underestimated is Laybourn's smarts or his ability to play the run. It may take Mitchell a game or three to settle into his role.
All three are hard hitters. Mitchell and Collins have nice builds, and Collins' position at some point may even be at linebacker.
The coaches praised Josh LaGrone after his performance on the scout team last season.
Many feel Tui has a tenuous hold on the starting position. He needs to play more physical, and better in run support and add some more muscle. If not, he's at times likely to be steamrolled by stronger, bigger ballcarriers.
The player that is gunning for his starting spot is Cameron Collins, who is a solid 220 pounds with speed. He was the only freshman in the Pac-10 to land on the first All-Academic team -- and he has the brains to get it done on the football field as well.
When it does click for him, look out.
On the whole, the unit has much more speed than most OSU safeties in the past. But...
In the spring, time and time again, the secondary was still burnt by the receivers. Is that a sign of things to come?
AN OPTIMIST WOULD SAY: More speed and athleticism will translate to better safety play against the pass, really one of the only consistent bugaboos for the Beavs on defense last season. The Beavs will close faster and there will be more long ball passes that end up being batted away, and possibly more game changing interceptions to boot.
A PESSIMIST WOULD SAY: Run defense from the safeties will not be as good as in the past, and receivers will lose some of their fear coming across the middle. The porous pass defense from the safeties this spring will also, unfortunately, be repeated in the fall.
STAR PLAYER: To be determined. With two new starters the jury is still out.
UNIT STRENGTH: Athleticism.
UNIT WEAKNESS: Experience.
INCOMING RECRUITS: Jordan Poyer. One of the most gifted athletes in 2009 class - could play early on special teams. Dax Dilbeck. A gifted all-around athlete with great speed and leaping ability - expected to redshirt.
NOTABLE NOTE: Last time three new starters in the secondary 2005 - finished 115th in passing yards allowed.
STATS: Tuimaunei: 15 tackles, one for loss | Collins: 13 tackles | Mitchell: 11 tackles