SPRING: DL uncertainty, one answer comes soon

SPRING BALL IS a couple of practices old but it seems like there are more questions on the OSU defensive line than there were when the Beavs started practicing, rather than the other way around. DE Matt LaGrone is leaving the program and university, but is that set in stone? Kevin Frahm has moved to DT and won't be moving back to DE, or might he? And what does it all mean for the 2010 d-line?

The big picture on the Oregon State defensive line, at this early stage, leads to only one conclusion -- the Beavers desperately need to stay healthy this year up front. And they also need some guys behind the starters to make big jumps forward on their developmental chart.

That's usually just not a good thing -- to need both of those to happen in order to be successful. After all, it's not as if Oregon State is coming off a top flight year, Oregon State had a paltry 17 sacks in 2009. So then take away one of the better returning pieces in DE Matt LaGrone and now what have you got?

Uncertainty, and defensive coordinator Mark Banker reaching for the Maalox? But it's not all bad news.

THERE'S A WINDOW, one where Matt LaGrone could change his mind and return to the black and orange fold. That window remains open until April 9, the last day to register for the spring term at Oregon State.

If LaGrone isn't registered for classes by the time the calendar turns over to April 10, he won't be eligible to play this fall.

LaGrone, as most everyone knows, told Mike Riley he was leaving the program and university three hours before the first spring practice due to personal reasons. The defensive end wanted to be closer to his family – LaGrone's wife and children are in Reno.

But LaGrone's father, Carl, talked with Paul Buker of the Oregonian and Buker wrote that the elder LaGrone, "seemed hopeful that Matt could straighten some things out in his personal life and get back on the team."

That would be welcome news indeed if it came to pass. The Beavs could certainly use him. LaGrone was just starting to figure things out, the way defensive ends sometimes do before carding a big year -- the way Victor Butler did. The way Slade Norris did.

Many believe LaGrone was about to become that kind of player up front this season for OSU. Spring was going to be big for him, and so was fall camp. But unless he changes his mind about returning, all the potential and trend lines in the world don't matter.

MEANWHILE, RILEY HAD said there were no plans to move the Kevin Frahm back to defensive end on Monday. But what happens if LaGrone doesn't return, the Beavs don't get the production they need at the position in rotation and/or there's a run on injuries out on the edge?

Frahm moving to DT wasn't his idea, and it sounds like he didn't like it at first according to an Oregonian article. But it's grown on him, and he's become comfortable there in a short period of time.

And the Beavs need d-tackles, too. Potentially moving Frahm back to DE could end up being a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. DT Stephen Paea is, of course, an All-America candidate. And Brennan Olander is a damned fine defensive tackle who if Paea wasn't next to him, would be getting a whole lot more notice from fans and media alike. But after the two OSU inside starters, there are unknowns aplenty.

ONE OF THE biggest reasons Oregon State has been successful in years past on the defensive line is because they have quality players and they use them in rotation. So how will Frahm do in transitioning over to the inside, and will his 267 pounds be enough inside the trenches or will he be that classic tweener -- too big for DE, too small for DT -- who finds only partial success?

After Frahm, there's Castro Masaniai, Evan Hull, Ben Motter, Tonu Tuimalealiifano and Nathan Hannah. The hope is that some in that group are ready to show they're ready for their Saturday close-up. But in there here and now, they're more unproven than anything else.

SO HERE WE are. Spring ball is the time to see what you've got and go forward from there. And on the d-line, there are a ton of questions and not as many answers. One will be answered by April 10. Others might take more time.

But wouldn't it be nice to see some d-tackles and d-ends rise up over these next 13 spring practices?

And as long as we're playing what-if, wouldn't it be nice to see Taylor Henry step in for LaGrone and proceed to consistently chase down the quarterback and seal the edge on the run? And wouldn't it be a welcome sight to see DE Gabe Miller doing the same, while Frahm, Masaniai and Motter, to name a few, crush the pocket when they get their chances behind Paea and Olander?

Then we can all start worrying about the offensive line.

Thirteen more days of spring ball to come, starting with tomorrow's late afternoon session. And hopefully some answers, sooner rather than later, on the d-line. Can't wait.

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