The 2017 season was unsettling for every member of Oregon State’s football program.
Two players who regularly shined throughout the onerous 1-11 campaign were David Morris and Jalen Moore, a pair of sure-tackling safeties who are no slouches in coverage. The duo is back to anchor OSU’s secondary this season in new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar’s speed-based scheme.
“I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job the first few days of camp,” Moore said after Saturday’s practice at Prothro Field. “We’re just trying to get back into the groove, getting back to having pads on, just talking and communicating and focusing on the football stuff.”
Morris, a 6-foot-3, 213-pound sophomore, was cleared for fall camp in mid-July and wore a white “limited contact” jersey for the first four practices. He ditched the white for a regular black jersey Tuesday afternoon and was a full participant.
The Sherwood High product is still recovering from a Jones fracture that forced him to miss all of spring ball.
“I’m enjoying being back on the field,” said Morris, who suffered the right foot injury while running suicides in winter workouts. “I learned that sitting out sucks. I hate that, and you don’t really feel the passion for the game until you sit and watch your teammates play. Especially going from playing to not playing for months on end, and not knowing when you’re going to come back was even worse.”
Rated a four-star prospect by Scout, Morris appeared in 11 games with seven starts last season. He recorded 75 tackles, two pass deflections and an interception, and was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 recipient.
Morris said he’s about 85 percent healthy and is rehabbing the foot multiple times per day while easing into fall camp.
“I’m just trying to get back to 100 percent,” said Morris, who is not sure if he’ll be ready to go for the Beavers’ Sept. 1 opener at Ohio State. “I don’t know how long it will take, but I’m working to get there.”
Moore has played in 22 career games with 16 starts, boasting 94 tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. His 75 tackles last season were tied with Morris for second on the team.
The hard-hitting 6-foot, 208-pound junior is enjoying the fresh start under first-year head coach Jonathan Smith.
“I love it man, different,” Moore said. “Having new coaches is awesome because you learn new things with that. It’s a new experience and I’m excited. Change can be bad, but change is good to me and we’re going in a positive direction.”
Moore, a Denver native, spoke highly of secondary coach Greg Burns.
Burns is a veteran coach with stops at USC (2002-05), Arizona State (2008-11) and California (2014-16). He also played defensive back at Washington State in the 1990s.
“Coach Burns is hard on us, which is what I want because you don’t want someone who’s only going to tell you what you want to hear,” Moore said. “I feel like he gets the best out of us, and when he coaches somebody he’s coaching the whole team.”
OSU’s secondary was beset with injuries during spring ball, requiring Moore to work with several inexperienced players. Redshirt freshman safety Jeffrey Manning emerged in April, as did true freshman corner DeShon Wilson.
Morris credits Moore for being a leader in the young secondary.
“J Mo and I, we have been looking at our playbooks together,” Morris said. “We’ve done that since I was a freshman, he was the first one to help me and really helped me gel with the playbook. With these new schemes that we’re getting it’s definitely nice to have him, who went through spring ball and who understood the defense, help me get to that same level.”
Returning linebacker Kee Whetzel believes the safeties could be set up for a huge 2018 season.
“Jalen Moore, he’s going to be one the of the best safeties in the Pac-12 this year,” Whetzel said. “Jeff Manning’s … been taking a lot of reps with the 1s, and I think that’s because he’s matured. He’s going to get out there and do what he’s coached to do. David Morris had a great freshman season last year, and he’s going to continue to provide well for us.”