Going from two wins in 2018 to five wins in 2019 had a lot to do with QB Jake Luton, running backs Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson and receiver Isaiah Hodgins, but the players on the other side had a big part in the improvement as well.
After all, the Beavers went from being the worst on defense in the Pac-12 (by far) in 2018 — 45.7 points, 536.8 yards, including 281.8 rush yards allowed — to respectable in 2019, giving up 32.5 points and 445.7 yards, including 169.5 on the ground.
Early in training camp, the defense has been physical, from defensive tackle Simon Sandberg back to the linebackers that include Hamilcar Rashed Jr. to the secondary that includes Jaydon Grant.
Coach Jonathan Smith likes the OSU defense's physicality and depth.
Tim Tibesar, defensive coordinator, said a third year in the system helps for veterans.
"There's a reason they say experience counts; certainly, having depth and experience at the linebacker position is a strength for us," Tibesar said. "There's a real sense of competition at every position."
In particular, the linebacker group appears solid with Rashed Jr. on the edge, Andrzej Hughes-Murray, Addison Gumbs and John McCartan on the outside and the likes of Doug Taumoelau, Omar Speights, Avery Roberts, Jack Colletto and Kyrei Fisher on the inside. Depth at linebacker, of course, helps with run stoppage.
Offensive guys praise the defense.
"They've taken it to us," said Brian Lindgren, the offensive coordinator.
Said QB Tristan Gebbia: "You love to see a defense that's chippy and aggressive and wanting to compete."
• Gebbia still leads the quarterback competition, but transfers Chance Nolan and Nick Moore and freshman Ben Gulbranson have shown flashes.
"He's one of the smarter, more knowledgeable quarterbacks," Lindgren said of Gebbia.
Said Gebbia: "For me, it's competing against myself. I just want to be the best version of me I can be, do the right things with the football. My part is a very small part in winning or losing a game. The best guy is going to play, it's that simple."
On Nolan, Lindgren said: "He's got some moxie. When things break down, he can make some plays outside the pocket."
Gulbranson, 6-3 and 210 and from Newbury Park, California, meanwhile, "is physically … as good of a freshman as I've had," Lindgren added, noting the QB's arm strength.
• Among the players impressing early in camp is 6-0, 195-pound freshman receiver Zeriah Beason from Duncanville, Texas, who has fit in with the likes of Trevon Bradford and Champ Flemings. He's been taking reps with the first unit.
The Beavers are rebuilding the receiver corps with the departure of Hodgins. Bradford played in four games last season while taking a redshirt season.
"We have more depth at receiver than we've had since I've been here," said Lindgren, adding Kolby Taylor and Jesiah Irish to the list of players who have stood out. Gebbia mentioned Tyjon Lindsey and Anthony Gould as impressing early on.
Also, Teagan Quitoriano and Luke Musgrave form a formidable 1-2 punch at tight end. Tight end play will be a strength.
• Vying to play on a rebuilding offensive line is Portland State transfer Korbin Sorensen.
Sorensen played three years with the Vikings. He expects to play this season, as well as 2021, as the NCAA has granted seniors to the right to play an additional year because of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
"I wanted the opportunity to play at a higher level," said Sorensen, who's 6-5 and 300 and from Kennewick, Washington. "Everyone on this team has such a high talent level" (compared to PSU).
He's considered a versatile lineman, and he's been taking reps at guard. "I was always told versatility could make or break you come the NFL," he said. "Last year, I played left tackle, but I was always taking reps (at other positions) before practice. Scouts want to know if you can play center (and inside), and it could increase or decrease your draft stock."
• The Beavers haven't been informed by the NCAA about eligibility for transfers Trey Lowe (running back) and receiver Tre'Shaun Harrison, Smith said. "I'm confident we should have an idea for our first game, which would help in our planning purposes," he said.
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