Beavers banking on mix of experience, youth to make stops

CORVALLIS — The loss of tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo and middle linebacker Feti Unga from last year’s team fazes Mark Banker. But only a little.

“College football nowadays is a peripheral game,” says Banker, who will begin his 11th season as Oregon State’s defensive coordinator Saturday against Eastern Washington at Reser Stadium. “There aren’t too many old-fashioned teams that go four yards and a cloud of dust.

“You still have to have a solid middle to your defense with the tackles, middle linebackers and safeties, but the playmakers are on the outside.”

The Beavers are stocked there, with returning starters Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn at end, D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor at outside linebacker and Rashaad Reynolds at cornerback.

Banker considers that fivesome, along with safeties Ryan Murphy and Ty Zimmerman, Oregon State’s best defensive players in terms of ability and experience.

The performance of those at the other four positions will go a long way toward determining how strong OSU’s defense is this season.

“It’s the players within the unit that counts,” says Banker, in his 13th year on Mike Riley’s OSU staff. “You’re only as good as your weakest link. How good are we with Joel Skotte as a first-year starter (at middle linebacker)? Can the guys in the middle be as good as our guys last year? Can Wynn offset (opponents) running away from Scottie?”

Senior Mana Rosa and junior John Braun — reserves a year ago — will start at tackle and sophomore Skotte gets the nod at middle ‘backer. Each will be making his first career start.

“Everybody has said (replacing Masaniai, Seumalo and Unga) was a concern,” Banker says. “I’ve never said that. We’ll do something within the scheme (to offset it). Maybe it’s with movement. Joel has played well (in training camp). The tackles we brought in (JC transfers Siale Hautau and Edwin Delva) have really changed from the spring ‘til now, and the program guys (Rosa and Braun) have been playing well. We’re good there.”

Banker has another hole to plug. Alexander is lost for at least the first two games with a knee injury. Jabral Johnson, a 6-1, 230-pound junior, will replace Alexander in his first career start.

“I feel excellent about J.J.,” Banker says. “He has changed his body over the offseason. He’s really fit and he has had good practices.”

True freshman Darrell Songy and redshirt freshman Caleb Saulo are the backup outside ‘backers Saturday. Both should see some time behind Doctor and Johnson against Eastern Washington.

Banker says he regards 6-2, 240-pound redshirt freshman middle ‘backer Rommel Mageo as his “most improved player on the defense” from this time a year ago. Mageo could see some action behind Skotte on Saturday.

D-line coach Joe Seumalo says he expects to use eight rotation players against the Eagles. Rosa, Braun, Hautau and Delva will play at tackle and senior Devon Kell and sophomore Lavonte Barnett will back up Crichton and Wynn at end.

Senior Sean Martin will start at the cornerback spot alongside Reynolds. Steven Nelson, a JC transfer who will also play at corner, will come on during nickel situations. Redshirt freshman safety Cyril Noland-Lewis is the likely candidate to play when the Beavers go to the dime package.

The Beavers will also use Wynn inside at times — sometimes even while in a four-man front — to provide a different look to the opposing offense.

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