We’re continuing with our Q&A tour of the Pac-12 with Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker. It was my first time chatting with Banker but I learned very quickly that he might be one of the conference’s best talkers. I walked into the interview with a few questions written out. He answered most in his first response:
What’s your evaluation of the Beavers’ defense so far this spring?
Mark Banker: We’ve been fairly consistent. We’ve been able to stay fairly healthy as a group so therefore we’ve had some redundancy of just base things, that’s what we’ve been focused on. Getting our technique better, our base assignments, not worrying too much about the fluff on the outside. As we looked back on the film of last season we made a lot of fundamental mistakes anywhere from alignment to our technique, just some simple things like not being able to make a proper tackle at times. We’ve been trying to do that and develop chemistry within our group. … The defensive line has pretty good depth and is functioning pretty well. The linebackers are very experienced. We have three seniors there. We’ve taken an outside linebacker and moved him inside so that we can get all three seniors on the field, so there’s still some chemistry issues there that we need to continue to address. … As far as our safety is concerned, we have returning seniors. They’ve been showing, again, better responsibility and consistency in that area. And then Steven Nelson who played for us last year and started every game for us at left corner for us continues to do that. All in all, the things we set out to accomplish this spring, we’re pretty close to having that done.
Looking at the film and seeing that it was technique that needed the most improvement, how much did you hammer that into the guys during the offseason and then again this spring?
MB: That has been the theme. We put video edits together off the season and showed some of those things so we weren’t showing them for the first time in the spring, and just reviewing those types of things with the different position groups. There was an understanding in what we needed to correct. We keep pointing that out as we go. We’re not duplicating everything because some of the things we see during the season, we don’t necessarily see during the spring from our own offense. We’ve been able to hammer those things home. For example, up front we continually lost contain of the quarterbacks so we’ve been talking about rush lanes and beating the man in front of you but making sure that we’re rushing the quarterback and everybody has a spot to be. … We’ve been using the mantra of “Do your job first before you go to the ball,” which is everyone’s ultimate responsibility.
You have so much depth in the middle of your defense with the linebackers, what does that do for the Beavers?
MB: What you hope is that it develops consistency in how you play and at some point in time you don’t have to worry about the little things, you can take the next step as far as some things you might be able to take advantage of with an offense. Most of all that leadership and the communication, the responsibility, just knowing how to play. One thing we lost with [Michael] Doctor last year is that when an offense lines up in a particular way, there are definitely some clues based off the scouting report as to what they might do and Doctor was that guy. So we didn’t have that within those other three positions. Hopefully we’ve added that back and then some.
The secondary had 19 picks last season. Are you seeing signs this defense can be just as effective with takeaways?
MB: Interceptions, fumbles, takeaways -- they kind of come in bunches. No. 1, I want to see the completion percentage be lower. I want to see us take away the deep ball and not give up the big plays. From there, as the pass rush improves, so will the interceptions come. … In pass coverage you need to have good position and responsibility in the secondary, but that pass rush has to add to it. I think we can, if that’s the measure -- the turnovers, the takeaway rate -- I think we can duplicate that. At the same time, I’d like to see those former things improve -- lower percentage rate and the ability to not give up the big play.
Your defense faces QB Sean Mannion every day in practice, how great of a help is that to the unit’s growth?
MB: The big thing is you have a guy like Mannion who knows where the ball is supposed to go. His ability to throw the ball and locate it is extremely good. … It’s awesome preparing against him because of the fact that he is a very good quarterback. He’s not going to let you get away with anything.
With the spring game Saturday, where do you want to see the most progress?
MB: I’d like to see our ability to finish improve -- angles taken to the ball carrier … and then the first point of contact, making the tackle and us not missing the tackle. I want to see us more game ready as we play and then finish this spring game.