To say last season was a trying one for Oregon State defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar and every member on the defensive side of the football would probably be a major understatement.
The Beavers were one of the worst defenses in the country in terms of the numbers.
Out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, the Beavers were ranked 128th in three categories — total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense.
Oregon State gave up 536.8 total yards, 281.8 rushing yards and 45.7 points per game. Only Connecticut was worse in those categories at 617.4, 335.0 and 50.4, respectively.
So it seems like the only place for the Beavers to go in 2019 is up.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” Tibesar said Wednesday at media day. “Almost every single area is not where we want it to be and we’ve got to take a big step forward this year and improve.
“The nice thing about this next season is we’ve got a blank slate and we can go out and try to improve all those different areas.”
Much of the blame last season went to the defensive line. However, senior safety Jalen Moore said the linemen don’t deserve all the blame. He said that each and every position group must get better for the Beavers to improve.
“There’s times where the DBs could make more plays, linebackers could make more plays,” Moore said. “So everyone says up front but really it’s all of us. We need to make more plays as a secondary and stuff like that.”
The Beavers lost just two main contributors off last season’s squad in defensive lineman Kalani Vakameilalo and defensive back Dwayne Williams.
“Everybody else that played as a starter or a backup is back and then we’ve been able to add a significant number of guys who are going to compete for playing time to our roster so we certainly feel like the quantity and quality of our depth is better,” Tibesar said.
Having so many players back and being in the second year of the system should give the Beavers a lift. The players will be able to react quicker than last season when there was so much new to learn.
“That’s the real benefit of keeping the system the same is the development from Year 1 to Year 2 and the improvement they can make,” Tibesar said. “Ultimately, if you’re thinking too much you’re a slow football player. So the more these guys can go and just read and react and trigger, we’re going to be better on defense.”
The Beavers have all but one defensive coach back this season, and that continuity should also help in improving from last season.
“I’ve had three different defensive coordinators so having that extra time makes me more comfortable with the playbook and you know what the scheme is and stuff like so you will be able to make more plays,” Moore said. “I feel like everyone is getting more comfortable with the experience and I feel like that will be good for us as a defense.”
While the Beavers have plenty of experienced contributors returning, they also have several key players who could make immediate impacts. Those players are linebackers Avery Roberts and Addison Gumbs and defensive lineman Jordan Whittley.
Roberts, a transfer from Nebraska, was with the program last season while he sat out per transfer rules.
Tibesar said the offensive coaches were complaining about how much Roberts disrupted things as a member of the scout team last year.
“We’re excited about the contribution he can give this year,” Tibesar said. “We know he’s a good player and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do for us.”
Gumbs, a transfer from Oklahoma who suffered a torn ACL, should be able to ease himself into practice during training camp. As soon as the trainers give the OK, he will get more reps.
“Certainly Addison was a great high school player and did a nice job for Oklahoma as a freshman so we’re excited to see what he can do for us,” Tibesar said, noting Gumbs will play outside linebacker. “I know he’s excited, too, because it’s been a long time since he’s been able to put a helmet on and get out there and go.”
Whittley, a transfer from Laney College in Oakland, should help a defensive line that was short on depth last season.
“If he’s healthy and he can go, he’s going to be a difference maker for us,” Tibesar said. “We saw that in spring when he was able to go. He’s a hard guy to block and he can make some plays. He’s a former high school running back so he has some of that close-space quickness and so he’s a guy we’re hoping will be healthy all season and can play a lot for us.”
The addition of Gumbs and Roberts helps make for a deep linebacker crew. That should increase the competitive level of all of them, Tibesar said.
“I feel like we’ve got a good group and we’ve got enough that it’s going to create competition within the position, which at times we didn’t always have last year,” he said. “That keeps guys on their toes and they’ve got to come to practice every single day and compete or they’re going to lose out on their spot.”
The linebackers aren’t the only position with added depth. Moore knows the battle to start in the secondary will also be fierce, but that will make the Beavers better come game day.
Even though he is a three-year starter, Moore said “I always feel like there are some guys that want to come in and take my spot. … So you’ve got to have that edge coming in and competing every day.”
With so much needed improvement, the task could be a bit overwhelming. But Tibesar pointed out three things the Beavers need to focus on this season — being better at stopping the run, creating more turnovers and applying more pressure on the quarterback.
While there is plenty of work to accomplish over the next four weeks before opening the season at home against Oklahoma State on Aug. 30, Tibesar already feels better.
“I did feel that midway through spring practice just that we were a better defense than we were at any point last season,” he said.