COMMENTARY: The blueprint for more sacks

SEVENTEEN MEASLY SACKS. By far, last season's sack total was the fewest by an Oregon State team this decade. Something's got to change if Oregon State hopes to compete for a Pac-10 Championship for the third consecutive year. Fortunately for Beaver Nation, there is already a blueprint in place.

BF.C COMMENTARY

The 2009 defense ranked ninth in the conference with 17 sacks, just four more sacks than an outmanned Washington State team.

Usually a team that ranks in the bottom of the conference in sacks, also ranks in the bottom of the standings in wins.  The Beavers were an anomaly this year - an outlier of a team.

Sacks by Year

Year Sacks | Yards Pac-10 Rank

Wins

2009 17 | 116 Ninth 8
2008 39 | 275 Second 9
2007 44 | 367 Second 9
2006 47 | 342 First 10
2005 22 | 159 Tenth 5
2004 32 | 206 Fifth 7
2003 33 | 228 Fifth 8

Luckily for Beaver fans, coach Mike Riley and his staff has been through this before. 

Just five years ago, back in '05, Oregon State ranked dead last in the Pac-10 with 22 sacks.  That year also marks the last time the Beavers did not make the college football postseason.

But the team made a remarkable turnaround in just one season by more than doubling their sack total from the year before.  The defense ranked first in the Conference of Champions with 47 sacks in 2006.

So, what happened from 2005 to 2006 that caused such a dramatic change?

FIRST, AND PERHAPS foremost, the players got comfortable in the system and started to play faster.  Instead of thinking about what to do, they just did it.

Second, defensive line coach Joe Seumalo started playing as many as 10 defensive linemen -- while linebackers coach Greg Newhouse began playing seven guys regularly.

The high rotation rate kept players fresh and engaged.

Third, several junior college transfers - Joey LaRocque, Gerard Lee, Dorian Smith, William Vea and Coye Francies started to come into their own.

And last, but not least, Banker started to use the nickel package, which engaged even more players and added a wrinkle to the defensive playbook.

CURRENTLY, THE Men in Black have 10 defensive lineman on scholarship.  More are coming from the 2010 signing class but expecting freshmen, and even second year players in the program, to be star contributors up front is asking a lot.

Of the players in the fold today, five are seniors, seven are upperclassmen and all but one (Mana Rosa) has seen significant minutes.

With virtually all of players holding experience heading into this season, the defensive line should hit the ground running.  In the spring, observers will almost certainly see quicker, crisper play with the d-lineman spending plenty of time near the quarterbacks.

TWO TO WATCH are seniors Matt LaGrone and Gabe Miller who won starting spots midway through the year and will begin the spring atop the defensive end depth chart.  At times, each showed the ability to get to the quarterback coming off the edge, and they should only get better with more snaps.

THE HEAVY ROTATION up front should continue on the defensive line, but a backup needs to develop into a productive third down speed rushing specialist. Sophomore Taylor Henry received high praise from the coaches in fall camp, but failed to make an impact during the year - 2010 could be his time to shine.

The effectiveness of the nickel package should improve in 2010 as last year's first time starters Lance Mitchell and Cameron Collins return.  Scout and special team up and comers Anthony Watkins, Josh LaGrone (coming off injury) and Jordan Poyer should prove ready to enter the rotation and should give the defensive backfield a boost.

THE ONE INGREDIENT that is missing from the blueprint -- junior college players.  Oregon State does have one JC d-lineman coming in this class, Dominic Glover. He's listed at a hefty 280 pounds by Oregon State, so the defensive end could conceivably be moved up and down the line at times in addition to manning his spot out on the edge.

And if he ends up making a decided impact right away then the OSU coaches look like geniuses. But that's still a decided "if" at this point.

Generally speaking, the Beavers are getting better talent with each successive recruiting class, so in theory the program shouldn't need to hit the junior college ranks quite as much.

Unfortunately, injuries, transfers and attrition have put the program behind the eight ball when it comes to depth on the defensive line. 

The pieces are in place for the defense to improve significantly in 2010, but my take is that OSU, despite a good sized number of d-linemen brought in this past class, must look to the junior colleges, as well as the high schools, for immediate help on the defensive line for 2011 if they are to field a formidable defensive front.

 

DL on Scholarship
As of 2/17/09

Position Class Name
DE SR Matt LaGrone
DE SR Gabe Miller
DT SR Mitchel Hunt
DT SR Brennan Olander
DT SR Stephen Paea
DE JR I'amafana Tuimalealiifano
DE JR Kevin Frahm
DE SO Taylor Henry
DT SO Castro Masaniai
DE RFR Mana Rosa

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