Injuries, a lack of depth and learning a new scheme are all valid reasons why the Oregon State defensive line was pushed around at times last football season.
While it would be easy to go back to the drawing board and start over, that’s not what the Beavers have done this spring.
Instead, the tough learning experiences from last season have led to a renewed focus and hunger to improve.
The returning players have become better in the fundamentals, are understanding their assignments and have focused on the small details.
Defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa said the effort was there a season ago, but that effort didn't translate to the field.
"The work was there,” he said. “Again, I think you always go through a little bit of a transitional period, guys getting used to me, the expectation we set forth for our team and then obviously for the position group.”
But after Thursday morning’s practice, the 13th of the spring, Suiaunoa said the players are now “living it.”
“So when they are living it that means they understand it, they understand everything we want in terms of what it looks like and so … we’re pretty happy with the progress we’ve made so far,” he said.
Isaac Hodgins, who saw plenty of action as a freshman last season, said the defensive line has been “making plays now, we’re making big plays for loss” throughout the spring.
“I think the biggest thing in our D-line room is we’re just sprinting to the ball every play,” he added. “That’s a big part of our culture, is just pursuing to the ball and trying to get 11 hats on the ball.”
Hodgins said the scheme has, for the most part, stayed the same, it’s just that the Beavers are more comfortable.
“I mean, we’ve made a few tweaks but I’m not going to talk about those,” he said with a smile. “But yeah, comfort level, knowing how to play different blocks different ways, stuff like that.
Both Hodgins and Suiaunoa said Elu Aydon, who will be a senior next season, has made some big strides this spring.
“If you just sit there and watch him, personally, he’s sprinting to the ball every play, he’s not as tired anymore, he’s able to go more, he’s got a way better motor,” Hodgins said. “Elu’s game has just went up 100 levels.”
Suiaunoa said you can see a change in Aydon's attitude.
“He’s had a great spring for us,” Suiaunoa said. “And I think any time you take the field you have to make a decision of what you want to do and what direction you want to get. I think Elu, every time he walks through that locker room, that he's made a decision that I want to be the best football player that I can be for this football team.”
Jordan Whittley, a 6-foot-2, 338-pound transfer who has one season of eligibility, has also made an impact and could play a key role in the fall.
“He’s been awesome,” Suiaunoa said. “Obviously our emphasis was we needed to get some size and experience up front and Jordan provided all of that for us and he’s a phenomenal young man.”
Hodgins said Whittley has shown he can play at the Pac-12 level.
“It’s nice having a dude who can push the pocket easily, especially in pass rush,” he said. “There’s not many dudes who can take a Pac-12 O-lineman and put him in the lap of the quarterback. But Jordan can do that.”
While the first game against Oklahoma State is still four-plus months away, it appears the Beavers will be deeper and stronger on the defensive line when they welcome the Cowboys to Reser Stadium on Aug. 30.
“I think we’ve got a bunch of guys who can help us in the fall,” Suiaunoa said. “… We’re going to compete. These guys know it’s a good problem when they’ve got to walk out of the locker room and know that, hey, I’ve got to battle for a job, earn my role.
"That’s what we wanted to create, obviously, in recruiting and I think we’ve created that in terms of the competition within the room to get on the football field.”