New Oregon State football coach Jonathan Smith and his incoming defensive staff will have quite a bit of work in the next few months to get the Beavers' defense back on track.

The Beavers hit the bottom of the barrel on defense last season, ranking among the worst in the nation statistically.

The Beavers ranked 119th out of 129 teams in total defense, giving up 473.1 yards a game. OSU was 120th in rushing defense (235.8 yards a game) and was 127th in scoring defense, giving up 43 points a game.

Nevertheless, Smith said the Beavers have some talent on the defensive side of the ball.

"I've game-planned against that defense, and there are some good players," he said. "We had a couple of bad breaks, injuries on that side."

Smith needs to find a way to remake the defensive front. Defensive tackles Kalani Vakameilalo and Elu Aydon will return., but with the loss of senior Paisa Savea, there's virtually no depth.

Vakameilalo has the ability to become an impact player up front in his final season with the Beavers. He had 20 total tackles with three for loss last season. He also had two sacks, a pass breakup and recovered a fumble.

The situation at defensive end isn't much better as Baker Pritchard, Phillip Napoleon and Titus Failauga have all moved on. LaMone Williams is back.

A heavy dose of junior college players might be necessary to shore up the line.

If the Beavers go to a 4-3 base alignment, a few of the linebackers could be moved to defensive end.

The linebackers group is actually deep and talented. The Beavers do have a major piece to replace on the inside in Manase Hungalu, who led the team with 97 total tackles, with 2.5 sack and two interceptions. Wesley Payne (19 tackles) is also gone.

Andrzej Hughes-Murray (21 tackles) and Kesi Ah-Hoy (11) got playing time on the inside and the Beavers could move outside linebacker Jonathan Willis (68 tackles, six for loss with three sacks) back inside if needed.

Bright Ugwoegbu has been a mainstay at outside linebacker for the Beavers. Ugwoegbu had 55 total stops with 4.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks.

The Beavers do have several young players on the outside. Kee Whetzel finished his redshirt freshman season with 26 tackles and two sacks. Shemar Smith had 14 tackles with three for loss and a sack and Hamilcar Rashed had six stops. Shemiah Unutoa-Whitson was sidelined with an injury after getting playing time as a true freshman in 2016.

The Beavers could base their defensive scheme around the depth and ability at linebacker.

"Schemes are going to start with the players you've got and the personnel you've got," Smith said. "And so we're going to take a long look at what we have."

The bad news at cornerback for the Beavers is that the group was hit hard by injuries. Xavier Crawford missed most of the season, as did Dwayne Williams. Jay Irvine, Shawn Wilson and Kyle White were all banged up at times.

The good news is the Beavers return all but White. Crawford was a freshman all-American and should return to form with an offseason to heal, and Williams was able to play four games with three starts before getting knocked out for the rest of the season.

Wilson played well when he was available with 34 total tackles, two for loss, an interception and three pass breakups.

True freshman Isaiah Dunn wound up playing seven games and starting six. He finished with 28 tackles and broke up one pass.

Irvine was limited to three starts in seven games and had 18 tackles and two pass breakups.

The Beavers moved Omar Hicks-Onu to nickel and he responded with solid play. Hicks-Onu finished the season with 38 tackles, one interception, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.

Safety is a position of strength for the Beavers.

David Morris received honorable mention for the all-Pac-12 team after a freshman season in which he tied for second on the team with 75 tackles. He had four stops for loss, one interception and broke up a pass.

Fellow safety Jalen Moore also had 75 tackles. He also broke up three passes and forced and recovered a fumble.

Austin Hudson was limited by injury but had one start and played in six games as a transfer from South Florida. Hudson had 21 tackles, half a sack and broke up three passes.

Trajon Cotton and Charles Watson were both freshman last season and Drew Kell will be back after missing the season with an injury.

Punting became an adventure for the Beavers at times as Nick Porebski too often struggled and finished with a 38.5 yard average. The staff went with Alex Bland near the end of the season, but Bland managed a 35.9 average on 11 punts.

Porebski was a senior, so the Beavers will have a position battle during the offseason to fill the spot.


Sports Reporter

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