Will The Oregon State Secondary Pass The Test In 2009??
As the temperature rises, so does anticipation of the upcoming 2009 college football season.
Fan forums and team websites are flooded with predictions and concerns, all simply trying to pass the time until the opening of fall practices.
The 2009 Oregon State Beavers certainly have concerns of their own, none of which more pressing than the departure of four NFL caliber defensive backs and the need to replace tremendous amounts of game experience.
Since 2005 Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis have been synonymous with the Beaver secondary. Both started as freshman and took more than their fair share of lumps. Many Beaver fans remember (or try not to) the 428 yards given up through the air on the road versus Louisville.
While their OSU careers began painfully, in no way was that any indication of how they would finish.
Hughes and Lewis were arguably the best corner duo in the Pac-10 in their 2008 senior seasons. Both were physical and in OSU's man press scheme they fit perfectly. Hughes earned 2nd Team All-Conference honors, while Lewis earned honorable mention, and also was on the All-Academic Team.
Now that the former Beaver greats are fighting for spots on an NFL roster, OSU must replace 282 tackles and over 80 career starts.
So what's left in the cupboard for coach Riley and D-Coordinator Mark Banker?
No. 21 Tim Clark - Sr. 6'0" 175lbs
The fifth year senior has the most game time experience out of all the returning lettermen for the OSU secondary.
Clark has started only six games, however was a key part in Banker's three man rotation at corner last season. Clark spelled Hughes and Lewis when needed and proved there was no drop off in production.
Clark is best known by Beaver fans for his dominating performance in his first start. OSU's 2007 trip to Cal had Keenan Lewis sidelined with injury and in stepped the young red-shirt sophomore Tim Clark. Clark was man up against the dangerous DeSean Jackson and held the now-Philadelphia Eagles wide out to four yards on five catches.
Clark has the tenacity and attitue to be a great Pac-10 corner. He's already shown he's worthy of starting and should shine now that he's the man on the edge.
No. 3 Patrick Henderson - Sr. 5'10" 185lbs
Henderson is another senior who is hoping his final year as a Beaver is a successful one. Henderson may be the most athletic of the corners and while he has never started, he has played in 40 games on special teams.
Henderson was a kick off return man along side James Rodgers and averaged 28 yards a return in 2008.
With the athleticism that Henderson possesses he's a great fit at corner for OSU. Like Clark, he's a fifth year senior who knows Mark Banker's system and should do well in his last year as a Beaver. Whether or not he starts he will be on the field.
No. 4 James Dockery - Jr. 6'1" 180lbs
2008 wasn't kind to James, as he was out all season with an injured knee. The knee is now healed and James is ready to make an impact in his junior season.
Dockery played special teams in 2007 and recorded 12 tackles as a red-shirt freshman. Spring 2009 was a test for Dockery's knee and he passed with flying colors. Now at full speed, Dockery looked strong in OSU's spring game, breaking up numerous passes and recording an interception.
The LaQuinta, California native has the know-how to be a quality player for Riley. Dockery is a also teacher in the huddle, often shouting words of encouragement to the new faces in the secondary, any coaches dream.
No. 17 Brandon Hardin - Soph. 6'2" 210lbs
The wildcard in the race for the corner spot is Brandon Hardin. Hardin comes from OSU's talent rich Hawaiian pipeline and is the most physical corner OSU has ever had.
As a freshman, Hardin was a gunner on the punt coverage team often greeting the returner with a vicious blow.
Hardin has the least amount of experience in the group, but has the most raw and untapped talent. If he can learn defensive schemes and continue to impress in practice, he could sneak into the role Tim Clark held last season as a third starter.
Outlook: Many are quick to shout "drop off" since Hughes and Lewis were such high quality corners. 2005 is referenced also, in which OSU went 5-6 and failed to make a post season bowl game, largely due to the inability to stop anyone in the passing game.
2009 will be nothing like 2005. '05 Started two freshman, one of which (Hughes) had just made the transition from receiver to corner a year prior. This year OSU returns two fifth year seniors, a junior, and a very talented sophomore.
Clark, Henderson, Dockery, and Hardin look to be the front runners for the starting spots and if the season started now, Dockery and Clark would hold the slight edge.
Players to watch: Kenyan Parker, David Ross, Kaua Olds
The position of greater concern for many of the OSU faithful is at safety. Greg Laybourn is now gone as well as Al Afalava. Laybourn was the heart of the OSU defense, leading not only the team in tackles, but also the Pac-10 in tackles in 2008 with 113.
The experience OSU loses at the safety position could prove detrimental to the success of the 2009 Beaver defense, however with upgrades in athleticism, is it too crazy to think OSU could be better at the position?
OSU's glaring weakness in '08 was the inability to cover the slot receiver with safeties Laybourn and Afalava. Now with more speed, will that concern lessen?
Again, what tools do Riley and Co. have to work with in 2009?
No. 10 Lance Mitchell - Soph. 6'2" 205lbs
Mitchell is bigger and faster than his predecessor Laybourn, but the intelligence that Laybourn played with is what Mitchell hopes to harness in what most likely will be his first year starting at the safety position.
Mitchell has opened eyes this spring while running with the first team defense. He shows good ability to cover on top as well as fill holes in run support. With Mitchell, closing speed is improved and with the extra three inches he has on Laybourn it should equate to more pass break ups. Should.
If Mitchell is able to play smart and within himself, he should thrive at the safety position and OSU could be seeing production both in run support as well as down field coverage.
No. 28 Suaesi Tuimaunei - Jr. 6'1" 205lbs
As the only upperclassman in the group, Tuimaunei has two starts under his belt, but has also seen quality playing time in Mark Banker's never ending defensive rotation.
Tuimaunei recorded 15 tackles as a reserve in 2008. As is common place in Riley's system, he has been on the field since his second year at OSU as a special teams stand out.
Tuimaunei started the first half of the Stanford game for then-suspended Afalava and was exposed by a strong running Toby Gerhart.
The sophomore didn't posses the physicality needed at the safety position and with an offseason of workouts, Tuimaunei will need to flex his muscles and be a force in the run game if he wants to hold his (believed to be) starting spot.
No. 5 Cameron Collins - Soph. 6'2" 220lbs
Scout.com ranked Collins the 47th best recruit out of California in 2006. Along with his size, Collins stands out in the classroom. He earned Pac-10 All Academic first team in his freshman year.
Once the pieces fall into place, Collins will be a beast at the safety position, until then, he must work on aggressiveness and quickness to the ball. 2009 should be a great introduction for Collins.
Outlook: Collins, Tuimaunei, and Mitchell look to be the favorites for the three man rotation. Depth is a concern for the Beavers, if any of those three were to go down, behind them are two red-shirt freshman.
OSU should be very good at the safety position, unfortunately it might take mid-way through the 2009 season or even into the 2010 season before everything starts clicking.
Players to watch: Anthony Watkins, Josh LaGrone
The 2009 Beaver secondary has tremendous potential, however we all know that potential means nothing until things play out on the field.
One thing in OSU's favor is the non conference line up this year. Portland State and UNLV are two teams that OSU should handle and both like to throw the ball.
Given two "warm up" games to get acclimated, the secondary will then get its biggest test in their non-conference finale at home versus the 2008 Big East Champs and pass happy Cincinnati Bearcats. This schedule progresses perfectly for the 2009 squad to learn as they go.
There will certainly be reason for concern from the orange faithful, as history often has a strange way of repeating itself. But for what it's worth, the 2009 version of the secondary has quality experience when comparing it to the 2005 group; the last time OSU had to replace quality starters in the secondary.
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