Pac-10 Q&A: OSU's Banker didn't experience downturn

August, 11, 2009
8/11/09
6:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting five players drafted last spring sort of hurt the image of Mark Banker's defense at Oregon State.

These Beavers aren't scrappy overachievers any longer. They're getting paid.

Fact is, Banker's defense has been one of the most consistently good units in the Pac-10 since he became coordinator in 2003.

 
  Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
  Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker's unit returns just three starters.
The attacking style of his "gap cancellation" scheme also is a lot of fun to watch.

But the Beavers welcome back just three starters and have to replace their entire secondary.

Of course, as Oregon State fans are quick to note, last year the Beavers also welcomed back just three starters, and none from their front-seven.

Still, the last time the Beavers defense struggled was 2005 when a pair of freshmen corners got eaten alive.

Those culprits, Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes, by the way, were two of those five drafted players.

So, just as camp gets started, we figured we'd check in and see what's up with Banker and his crew of "Gap Cancellers."

I'm sure I'm going to refer to your "gap cancellation scheme" about 50 times this season. Please, explain the basics of your defense?

Mark Banker: Most defenses are either contain defenses or they are spill defenses. We are a spill defense, meaning what we would prefer to do take away the middle the field -- both in the pass game and run game -- and we want teams to work outside on the perimeter. One reasons is we are able to use our speed to run things down as the opponent runs out of room to the outside. A lot of that starts up front. We teach our defensive line an attacking style of play. We're getting vertical off the ball and the most important thing they can do is look at the inside portion of their gap -- usually referred to a hip -- and if that hip disappears inside, they close to it to make sure there's no daylight inside so the ball bounces to the outside.  It allows our linebackers to be, rather than just downhill inside, where they give away 100 pounds per man, it gives our guys a chance to go where that thing gets spilled. We create basically an alley by our secondary showing up and leveraging the ball and the linebackers are able to run through that alley to make the play.

You guys put a lot of pressure on you cornerbacks to be able to cover man-on-man: How is that going to work with a pair of new starters?

MB: Athletically we like how the (less experienced) players in our secondary have developed. (Senior cornerback) Tim Clark has played in game situations since as early as his sophomore year. In fact, during Timmy's sophomore year, (former starting cornerback) Keenan Lewis got hurt and he had to come in against Cal, and they had a guy named DeSean Jackson. I think (Jackson) had seven yards on the day [actually one reception for eight yards]. One big expectations is Timmy can become an every-down type of player and we only have to deal with the other side when it comes to starting. But you know James Dockery, who we lost last year (to injury) and we got back for the spring, continues to grow. He's very much a competitor. Brandon Hardin is another -- a big kid who has good size and strength and has every capability to be that guy as well. His big thing, just like any of the corners, is an understanding of how to play specific techniques by down-and-distance and field position. That has eluded him at times. But has shown great promise. Those are two guys who came to mind. Patrick Henderson is a senior and sort of a journeyman. He saw some time last year in some bit roles. Unlike 2005, this season we have some players, with some depth who might lack the game experience but at least they've been in the program and know what is expected. 

You lost eight guys from last year's unit: Who's going to be the toughest to replace?

MB: That's a loaded question because out of the seven players who were drafted, (five) were starters on defense. The corners were valuable because of their experience. A guy like (safety) Al Afalava, his heart and soul and leadership ability, that's hard to replace. The two ends, Slade (Norris) and Victor (Butler). Each one of them, in their own right, were special. It was a tough group that played well together. We're not replacing chopped liver. The guys who are stepping in got a lot to live up to. The immediate concern is in the secondary, no doubt in my mind. Because you can play good for 75 plays, but if the game is 76 plays long, all it takes is one shot down the field, and things get evened up. We've got to be smart in the way we play in the secondary and rely on the front to create pressure in the passing game. I think there are guys stepping into different spots -- we've got four ends and possibly a fifth that we feel really good about.

Who are your best pass rushers going to be?

MB: The two who come to mind are (end) Ben Terry, who will be a starter. I think he will be able to rush the passer with great effectiveness. Another guy, who right now is not a starter and was a tight end at this time last year, is Gabe Miller. I think he's going to be a good pass rusher. And then a guy coming off the bench in third down situations, Taylor Henry, a redshirt freshman this year, has got that ability. At the same time, (end) Kevin Frahm, who will be a starter for us, has changed his body a lot. He is very much like (former end) Jeff Van Orsow from the standpoint of his intellect and his work ethic. He's probably a step faster than Jeff and Jeff was old reliable. And we've got an X-factor in this guy, Matt LaGrone, a transfer from (Nevada), who was a basketball player and has been with us who had to sit out. He's 6-foot-6 and he's got some stuff to him. But those three guys I mentioned -- Ben Terry, Gabe Miller and Taylor Henry -- from a standpoint of being edge rushers, those three guys would probably be the ones to watch. 

It seemed like tackle Stephen Paea, even when he was banged up, really asserted himself at the end of last season. How good can he be?

MB: You know he hasn't really played a lot of football [Paea starting playing football as a high school senior], so he's still learning the game, which is kind of scary. He is so explosive off his first two steps and then he's just so physically strong. And he's fast. I think his upside, as long as he stays healthy, is way out there because he's still learning the game itself and the intricacies to it. But he sure is a powerful, powerful guy who is very, very dominant. I think he is among the elite defensive tackles in this conference, no doubt about it.

Linebacker Keaton Kristick looks like a regular, if slightly larger, college student: Why is he so productive?

MB: He's a typical linebacker that we try to have in this defense. He was a tailback in high school, so he was his high school's best athlete. His background helps him out from a standpoint of his football intellect. He's extremely competitive. He has that desire to succeed. Football means a lot to him. And [linebackers coach] Greg Newhouse does
a tremendous job communicating to him. He has his attention and Keaton loves it. He listens and sucks up all the information like a sponge. He takes action upon his goals and things he wants to accomplish.

You've built a strong defensive foundation at Oregon State. Does your eye ever wander? Do you see yourself somewhere else in the future?

MB: Absolutely. In this business it's important to progress. I have aspirations within the profession, but one drive I have that is stronger than anything is quality of life. The next job I take has to be something that is, No. 1, that is better than the one I have. And, as you said, we've got some things established here. This is going on my 13th or 14th season coaching with (Mike Riley). I enjoy the atmosphere he sets. I enjoy the people I am around, day-in and day-out. I truly appreciate that my family is involved in the program. Money is important. Some day being able to have my own program is important. But some of those other things I just mentioned are equally, if not more important, to me. Life is too short and I've seen too many people who don't enjoy life. This is a great place to be coaching football.

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