Beavers Like Current DT Crop Despite Hangups
By John Baker
When Oregon State lines up defensively for the first time this fall, there will be three new faces along the defensive front and a lot of expectations. Oregon State has long held to a defensive formula of "stop the run" and the rest will take care of itself. Finding those run stoppers this spring has been a huge priority for the Beavers and OSU head coach Mike Riley.
And if you believe what you're hearing out of the first half of spring practice, the search may be yielding big dividends.
Oregon State lost big contributors in defensive tackles Mana Rosa, Devan Kell and rotation player John Braun, as well as DE Scott Crichton, who often swung inside along the front four. That's 136 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, not to mention assorted forced fumbles, recoveries and deflected passes walking out the door. While finding another defensive end to pair with Dylan Winn is important, finding some sturdy, playmaking run-stuffers between the tackles is paramount to the traditional strengths of the Beavers defense.
A year ago, the Beavers gave up 190 yards a game on the ground, something Riley and his staff know isn't going to cut it for this team to be successful. The goal now is to find people who can plug the middle and get those numbers under control.
That's where the battle is raging this spring, with a host of players vying for starting roles and playing time for the fall. And there may be a diamond about to be unearthed and unleashed against Pac-12 offenses, courtesy of Miami.
University of Miami transfer Jalen Grimble seems destined to start at one of those tackle spots after a year of rampaging on the scout team as he sat out his transfer year. He's a 6-foot-2, 300-pound bundle of athleticism and explosion who possesses a knack for making the line his own little playpen. So far this spring, he's done nothing to dispel the notion that he could be a difference-maker for this defense.
Another guy likely to make an impact is Kyle Peko, who is one Oregon State English class credit away from being eligible. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound transfer from Cerritos Community College has a reputation for being physical at the point of attack, a perfect fit for a Beavers unit that wants to make teams pay for rushing the ball. He won't participate in spring drills, but the feeling around the program is that once he's eligible and the pads come on in the fall, he'll challenge for a starting spot.
Also in the mix are Edwin Delva (6-3, 295), Siale Hautau (6-1, 350) and Noke Tago (6-1, 306), three guys who Riley is excited about and has high expectations for in 2014. Delva and Hautau, both seniors, need to get into better shape, Riley said. If they can do that, they have the size and ability to be tough against the run. Hautau, in particular, has been working hard on the stationary bike and Stairmaster — both before and after practice — during the spring session. Delva and Hautau have gotten first-team reps with the defense this spring, so despite their 16 combined tackles in 2013, more already is expected of him looking ahead to the upcoming season.
Riley is cautiously optimistic about the potential of what should be an inexperienced defensive tackle group, but there's a sense that if their grades, health and fitness fall into place, this group could be very good for the Beavers. While his big guys in the middle aren't there yet, Riley admitted that what at first looks like a weakness for the Beavers could be a strength moving forward.
The 2013 season was uncharacteristic for the Beavers defense in terms of stopping the run. Riley is hoping that he has the bodies and the talent to keep that from becoming a trend this fall.