Over the next few weeks, I am going to share my thoughts on each position’s performance last season, as well take a look at what next year could look like. With a season like 2015, there will be a lot of changes beyond the usual attrition and reloading.
2015 was a renaissance in some ways of the teams of Beaver past. While many have whispered about the similarities to the Pettibone era for the offense, the defense was definitely something we as Beaver fans thought would look like those tough Rocky Long defenses of the 90’s at Oregon State. The secondary was going to be a key factor in the season as the Beavers replaced two NFL draft picks as well as losing four starters to graduation. In addition, the star of the 2013 recruiting class, Dashon Hunt, was forced to retire due to health concerns.
Who would step up across from senior Larry Scott at defensive back? How well would freshman standout Justin Strong do in his sophomore year? Who would step up to take over the other safety position? What about Nickle looks? Those were the questions coming into 2015 that much of Beaver Nation were asking.
Unfortunately, because of injuries, attrition and changes in defensive coordinators, those questions will still be on the table for 2016. That doesn’t mean there were not bright spots for the men in black’s 2016 campaign. Early success in the secondary through the first 4 games had one prominent media personality (me) touting secondary coach Derrick Odum as an assistant coach of the year candidate. Through 4 games, OSU had given up only 4 passes of over 20 yards to a wide receiver. Most teams were finding their success on the ground if they found any at all early in the season.
Then came injuries and attrition that would be the theme of 2015 football campaign. All four players starting at the beginning of the season missed multiple games and by the time we watched an exciting Civil War in Eugene, our starters comprised two former wide receivers and two walk-ons (one was both!). What started as a strength just couldn’t hold up over a grueling season, as injuries to their own and in other positions made covering receivers a long and arduous process.
Fortunately, the season was not without bright spots. Treston Decoud and Kendall Hill both showed signs of being great players for the Beavers. While Treston lived up to his billing as a lock down and tough minded corner, Kendall showed tenacity and intelligence, improving as the year went on and learning from mistakes. In fact, I would not be shocked if Kendall, who also has platooned between defense and offense, is not one of our bright spots in 2016.
In addition, you had Charles Okonkwo and Dwayne Williams make their presence known in 2015, each getting starts and each showing a lot of positive moments among some growing pains. In a year where injuries and suspensions led to a 57 man roster for their last game, all of these players, as well as Candy Report Award winner Devin Chappell all showed signs that they can be a solid group of corners for the Beavers if they can stay healthy and improve.
At safety, there was a lot more of the same. Injuries, inexperience and players that struggled to find their groove. Yet players like Brandon Arnold, Gabe Ovgard and Adam Soesman (all sophomores, with Ovgard being a walk-on) were asked to rise to the occasion at safety and all had some bright moments this season. With sophomore Justin Strong and junior Cyril Noland-Lewis taking over for four year starters and NFL players Tyrequek Zimmerman and Ryan Murphy there was a lot of fear of a big drop off. At times there was to be honest, but for me, much of the issues on defense were found closer to the line of scrimmage. The secondary is being asked to cover, but no one can do that indefinitely and as the season wore on and more and more new names were being seen out there, it became apparent that the defense was going to just struggle in 2015.
So what can we expect in 2016? Will the secondary be better? Will there be a reason for hope that the next season of Beaver football will be more exciting and less of a practice of patience?
In this group, I believe so. While amazing people and players like Naji Patrick and Larry Scott will be moving on, most of the names I have mentioned will be back. This means that all of that experience over the previous year will provide these players with a blueprint on what they need to improve on. It is not often that you return 10 players with starting experience in your secondary, but Oregon State does. You also will have the inclusion of highly touted redshirt freshmen Xavier Crawford and Jay Irvine at corner. In addition there is the speedster Omar Hicks-Onu and highly coveted recruit Jalen Moore ready to fight for some playing time at safety this year.
Ultimately Oregon State needs to be able to rotate in a lot of players. Teams that can handle up tempo offenses like the ducks, Bears and Cougars need to be able to play fast, efficient and fresh. There may not be a ton of help again up front this year, but if there is, I expect this group to be impressive. With the addition of Coach Hall, i think our secondary will show the most improvement from year one of the Gary Andersen regime and year two on the defense. And with potentially three more members of the secondary coming in (two of which are four star recruits) there could be more talent in the defensive backfield than we have seen in a long time. Which means good things for the Beavers.
Go Beavs (PRO)