Pac-12: Jordan Poyer

Oregon State season preview

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
10:30
AM ET
We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season, in reverse alphabetical order, with the Oregon State Beavers.

Oregon State

Coach: Mike Riley (81-67, 13th year)

2012 record: 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12 North)

Key losses: WR Markus Wheaton, CB Jordan Poyer, DT Castro Masaniai, RT Colin Kelly, TE Colby Prince, DT Andrew Seumalo.

Key returnees: WR Brandin Cooks, RB Storm Woods, DE Scott Crichton, LB D.J. Alexander, CB Rashaad Reynolds, Michael Doctor, S Ryan Murphy, DE Dylan Wynn.

Newcomer to watch: With the departure of Poyer, the coaching staff will look to replace him with a rotation of Sean Martin -- who saw some time last season -- and newcomer Steven Nelson, rated by one service as the No. 2 junior college cornerback in the country. Nelson, once a Georgia commit, comes from the College of Sequoias and, by all accounts, has had a solid spring and fall camp thus far.

Biggest games in 2013: The Civil War at Oregon (Nov. 29) is always huge. But Stanford (Oct. 26) and Washington (Nov. 23) -- both home games -- will be big for establishing the pecking order in the Pac-12 North.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesReceiver Brandin Cooks will surely be the top target for the winner of Oregon State's QB race.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: On the surface, the outcome of the quarterback competition seems like the biggest question. And it’s an important one. Yet Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz have both shown they can win big games. Who they’ll be throwing to, however, might be the more important question. Without a doubt, Cooks is an explosive playmaker. But we’re still waiting to see who steps up opposite him. Much of Cooks’ success last season (67 catches, 1,151 yards, five touchdowns) was because of Wheaton playing on the other side. Double-teaming either one was a nightmare because the other would break out. Kevin Cummings is a solid slot receiver. But the Beavers will need someone like Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney to provide a threat that opens things up for Cooks, or vice versa.

Forecast: The Beavers are a really interesting team this season because of the way their schedule shapes up. You have to think they’ll be favorites in their first seven games (though at Utah, at San Diego State and at California probably won’t be walkovers). Just before Halloween, it starts to get nasty, with five straight against teams that will likely be in or hovering around the Top 25: Stanford, USC, ASU, Washington and Oregon.

It’s not hard to believe the Beavers could replicate last year’s 6-0 start, and possibly even press it to 7-0 before the schedule ramps up. There are a couple of ways to look at it; it’s a good thing because it will give Riley more time to settle on either Mannion or Vaz, and it allows ample time for the receiving corps to come together. There are also some plug-and-play JC defensive linemen who could also use a few warm-up games.

The flip side is that outside of San Diego State, the Beavers won’t be facing an FBS team that had a winning record last year until Stanford comes to town. How much will we really know about this team? Unlike last season -- when the Beavers scored quality wins at home against No. 13 Wisconsin and on the road at No. 19 UCLA and BYU in the first half of the season -- the Beavers will probably achieve a high ranking, though the résumé won’t be there to support it.

But as they say, you can only play the teams on your schedule, and Oregon State should come out of the gates blazing.

Aside from Cooks, the Beavers have an explosive running back, Storm Woods. The ground game took a big step forward in 2012, and Woods is on the verge of becoming a 1,000-yard rusher (940 yards last year, 13 touchdowns). The offensive line continues to improve and returns four of five starters across the front -- headlined by center Isaac Seumalo, who was phenomenal as a freshman and has emerged as one of the top anchors in the country.

The secondary should also be one of the best in the league with the Martin/Nelson duo playing alongside Ryan Murphy, Tyrequek Zimmerman and Reynolds.

No doubt excitement will bubble over if the Beavers start 7-0. But what they do after those first seven will go a long way toward determining the program’s success in 2013.
I felt so good like anything was possible, I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes;
The last three days the rain was unstoppable, it was always cold, no sunshine.
"College Football Live" and its Summer Tour stops in Oregon today. Sam Ponder and Brock Huard will check in on Mark Helfrich, Marcus Mariota & Co. Catch them throughout the day on "SportsCenter" and on "College Football Live" at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

And, as always, happy Friday.
Cornerback, at least from a preseason perspective, is not a strong position across the conference in 2013.

Three of the four corners on the 2012 All-Pac-12 first- and second-teams -- Oregon State's Jordan Poyer, Washington's Desmond Trufant and USC's Nickell Robey -- are now in the NFL. Only Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State welcome back both starting corners, and of those, only the Ducks ranked in the top eight in the conference in pass efficiency defense last year.

So how do things stack up?

GREAT SHAPE

[+] EnlargeStanford celebrates
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezWayne Lyons, along with experienced safeties, gives Stanford one of the conference's top secondaries.
Oregon: The Ducks have the nation's best corner tandem in All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell. In fact, their backups, Dior Mathis and Troy Hill, probably would rate as one of the better tandems in the conference if they were starting. The Ducks welcome back the entire two-deep from their 2012 secondary, as well as safety Avery Patterson, an All-Conference talent who was hurt last year. This is probably the best secondary in the nation.

Stanford: While the Cardinal's star power is at safety, they are also strong at corner with Alex Carter, Wayne Lyons, Barry Browning and Usua Amanam giving them an experienced, athletic foursome.

GOOD SHAPE

Arizona: If Jonathan McKnight and Shaquelle Richardson are healthy -- and get supported by any sort of pass rush -- they have the potential to be an elite cover tandem. Derrick Rainey is also in the mix.

Oregon State: Rashaad Reynolds is now the lead dog with Poyer gone. There’s and interesting competition on the other side between veteran Sean Martin and juco transfer Steven Nelson, who had a strong spring showing. It helps that things are good at safety -- and that the Beavers gave up just 14 TD passes last year.

Arizona State: Osahon Irabor, a four-year starter, is back and senior Robert Nelson has experience, including a notable interception in the win over Arizona. Rashad Wadood, who redshirted last year due to injuries, is a third option who had a strong spring. The Sun Devils ranked first in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense in 2012.

Washington: Like Oregon State's Reynolds, Marcus Peters now moves out of a big shadow -- Trufant -- and gets an opportunity to show what he can do. While Greg Ducre and Tre Watson, backups last year, are back, watch out for junior college transfer Travell Dixon, a former Alabama signee.

Washington State: The Cougars welcome back three corners with significant experience: Damante Horton, Anthony Carpenter and Nolan Washington. On the downside, the pass defense struggled last year, ranking 11th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 65.5 percent completion rate.

WE'LL SEE

USC: Josh Shaw has moved back to safety, so this position is in flux for the Trojans. Senior Torin Harris has nine career starts but his play has been uneven, while Anthony Brown has two. Kevon Seymour, Devian Shelton and freshman Chris Hawkins are in the mix.

California: While the Bears lost both starters -- Steve Williams and Marc Anthony were a strong tandem -- Kameron Jackson has plenty of experience and Stefan McClure has plenty of pure talent. Depth is a question.

UCLA: The Bruins are replacing their entire secondary, and that might not be a bad thing considering they gave up 27 TD passes in 2012. Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams are the leaders to start, with Fabian Moreau also in the mix. It will be interesting to see if true freshmen Priest Willis and Johnny Johnson make a move. It hurt to lose sophomore Marcus Rios to a serious sinus infection.

Utah: The Utes lost their top three corners from a fair-to-middling 2012 pass defense, one that grabbed just eight interceptions. Keith McGill is a likely starter, while redshirt freshman Justin Thomas and JC transfer Davion Orphey are competing on the other side. Lots of inexperience here.

Colorado: The Buffaloes welcome back essentially their entire 2012 depth chart at corner, including intriguing young talents Kenneth Crawley, Greg Henderson and Yuri Wright. But the Buffs ranked last in the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2012 -- just three interceptions -- which must be accounted for here.

You can see previous previews here:

Quarterback

Running back

Receiver

Tight end

Offensive line

Kicker

Linebacker

Defensive line
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If the Dictionary of Phrases needs a demonstration of what "cautiously optimistic" sounds like, they might want to chat with Mark Banker about his Oregon State defense.

He makes a good case for optimism. And he's got reasons to be cautious.

It must be first said that Banker probably feels a lot better than he did a year ago when Beavers fans were doubting him, despite a distinguished track record of consistent success, both on the field and in terms of transforming under-the-radar recruits into NFL draft choices.

[+] EnlargeMark Banker
Jesse Beals/ Icon SMIDefensive coordinator Mark Banker is optimistic the Beavers can continue the growth they showed last season, when they ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up 20.6 points per game.
Yet after consecutive losing seasons in Corvallis, Banker and head coach Mike Riley were on the spot. The 2011 Beavers ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, surrendering 30.8 points per game, and they often were pushed around, yielding a conference-worst 196.8 yards rushing per game.

Few units in the Pac-12 improved as much as the Beavers' defense from 2011 to 2012. Last fall, the Beavers ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up just 20.6 points per game, a 10.2-point per game improvement. They also ranked third in run defense, holding foes to 129.5 yards per game in a conference with a lot of good running backs.

The difference? Better players, experience, staying healthy and a rejiggered defensive staff, says Banker.

As to what he sees for 2013, he said, "This group is more than capable."

He likes his defensive ends, Dylan Wynn and All-American candidate Scott Crichton. He's got two speedy, experienced outside linebackers in Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander. Three of four starters are back from a secondary that yielded just 14 touchdown passes last fall.

And yet.

He's replacing his middle linebacker Feti Taumoepeau, as well as do-everything backup Rueben Robinson. All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer is now playing for Chip Kelly in Philly. And he's got 644 pounds missing in the middle of his defensive line with the departure of tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo.

Let's start with the optimism. Banker loves underrated free safety Ryan Murphy.

"He can really play -- he's got the greatest chance of being drafted in a high position," Banker said. "He'll be one of the, if not the best, safety we've ever had here as this thing plays out. I hope I don't jinx him."

Further, he feels like he's got a pretty good competition for replacing Poyer, with experienced senior Sean Martin and talented junior college transfer Steve Nelson in a tight battle for the starting job, with the No. 2 guy likely filling a nickel role.

Banker likes true sophomore Joel Skotte stepping into the middle linebacker spot. While Skotte, who saw significant special teams action last season, isn't yet there physically, he's a smart player, the kind of guy who won't make mental mistakes in the middle of the Beavers' defense.

Further, the position isn't as critical to the Beavers' defense as it was in the past, because eight conference teams run no-huddle spread offenses.

"The basis of what we have to have at that position, [Skotte] has," Banker said. "But at the same time, with so many different spread types of offenses, we're in our sub packages quite a bit."

Which means Doctor, who made great strides in 2012, moves into the middle.

Banker admits some frustration trying to get Alexander in the right place to maximize his athletic potential. There were plenty of feast or famine moments with the speedy rising junior in 2012. Great plays followed by mental errors.

"There were quite a few times last year we'd take him out to let him know, No. 1, it's not acceptable and, No. 2, so we could get him squared away in the mental aspect of the game," Banker said.

Then there are the voids at defensive tackle. You can almost feel Banker rubbing a rabbits foot through the phone line.

"We're not so much uncertain, but we're not satisfied with our defensive tackle play," Banker said.

The Beavers welcome back reserves Mana Rosa and John Braun, but four junior college signees are expected to compete for the starting spots.

Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau both participated in spring practices. Hautau, however, broke his hand and missed most of the action, and Delva has a ways to go.

Kyle Peko, Charlie Tuaau and Lyndon Tulimasealii are scheduled to arrive for fall camp, but Banker sounded a cautionary note about all three being squared away academically.

"All three have significant work that they are doing in the classroom that they need to become eligible," he said.

The hope is that, of the tackles who do make it to camp, at least two will be Pac-12 ready. And maybe one or two others can adequately take up space.

"That's the biggest thing that I'm curious about: Where do they start? Where's the bottom? I hope they don't start down too low," Banker said.

Banker likes what he knows about his defense. And has his fingers crossed hopefully over what he's yet to find out.
On Tuesday, we looked at the five worst defenses in the Pac-12 in 2012: UCLA, California, Washington State, Arizona and Colorado.

The issue was not pointing out past badness but considered the potential for 2013 improvement. That included returning starters, defensive line starters back, star power and the biggest personnel loss.

Here's our chart:


We've already offered our take: While all five teams have the potential to improve, perhaps significantly, the most likely to make a big jump is Arizona, due to 11 returning starters.

SportsNation

Which Pac-12 defense rebounds in 2013?

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    33%
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    21%
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    13%
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    24%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,609)

But what's your take?

Colorado might be the pick just because it will be difficult to surrender 46 points per game again.

California has a solid recent track record on defense, though that was with a 3-4 scheme under Clancy Pendergast, who's now running USC's defense. The Bears' 2012 performance might rate as an anomaly. There is plenty of returning talent.

UCLA also has some strong returning talent, led by Barr and MLB Eric Kendricks. While the secondary is being entirely rebuilt, the young players slated to step up might be more physically talented than those who preceded them.

Washington State is replacing four-year sack leader Travis Long, but it's got a lot of guys back from a unit that will be far more seasoned this fall.

Pac-12 defenses set to rebound?

June, 11, 2013
6/11/13
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In 2011, Oregon State ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, surrendering 30.8 points per game. Washington was even worse, ranking 11th while yielding 35.9 points per game

Bad defenses!

Oregon State finished 3-9, the Beavers' worst record since going 3-8 in 1997, coach Mike Riley's first season. The Huskies fired defensive coordinator Nick Holt and paid big bucks to lure Justin Wilcox away from Tennessee.

And in 2012 both made huge improvement on defense.

The Beavers ended up ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up just 20.6 points per game. That's a 10.2-point per game improvement.

Washington ended up fourth in the conference, surrendering a respectable 24.2 points per game, which was 11.2 points better per game.

Our, er, point? Units can make major improvements from one year to the next.

So who is poised to make a big jump this fall?

Well, the first question is can we glean anything from Oregon State and Washington?

Oregon State welcomed back eight starters, and that doesn't include space-eating, 354-pound tackle Castro Masaniai. Moreover, there was plenty of star power at all three levels: DE Scott Crichton, LB D.J. Alexander and CB Jordan Poyer.

The personnel losses didn't leave big questions. In fact, it seemed likely in the preseason that the Beavers' defense would be better, even if there's a minor application of hindsight there.

Washington welcomed back seven starters, but there were plenty of questions, starting with a new base 3-4 scheme. There was some veteran talent, topped by CB Desmond Trufant, and promising young players such as DT Danny Shelton, rush end Josh Shirley and LB Shaq Thompson, but dramatic improvement wasn't a certainty. The personnel losses -- DE Everrette Thompson, DT Alameda Ta’amu , LB Cort Dennison and CB Quinton Richardson -- were multiyear starters.

Yet the Huskies, probably in large part due to much better coaching under Wilcox and his rejiggered staff, were dramatically better.

And so we have the bottom five defenses from 2012:


Wow, Colorado ... 46 points per game. That was worst in the nation by nearly three points. I know Buff fans are tired of hearing this but, well, that can't get any worse.

California is transitioning to a 4-3 after being pretty successful with a 3-4 under Clancy Pendergast. The good news is solid talent at all three levels, though some of that talent has yet to live up to its formally big-time recruiting pedigree.

As we've previously touched on, UCLA needs to get better on defense if it wants to again become a national presence. Barr is a great place to start, seeing that he's on the short list for national defensive player of the year. That said: The entire secondary is being rebuilt.

Washington State is filling the biggest void -- Long was the Cougars' four-year sack leader -- but it has a better-than-you-think crew coming back next fall.

But if you were betting on improvement, the Wildcats might be the best place to start. The grounds for that is pretty straight-forward: Everyone is back, so you'd expect most of those guys to be better this fall, with the added bonus of some youthful reinforcements. Further, coordinator Jeff Casteel knows what he's doing. Year 2 with his 3-3-5 scheme is almost certainly going to be better.

The Wildcats' defense might even get a boost from its offense: With QB Matt Scott gone, the offense might lean more on the running game, topped by Ka'Deem Carey. It also might slow things down just a bit, though Rich Rodriguez isn't likely to huddle up and go pro style.

Pac-12's top interceptors

June, 4, 2013
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Just as the Pac-12 features a strong crew of defenders who will be chasing quarterbacks this fall, there's also a deep group of guys trying to provide those quarterbacks' desperate throws an unhappy ending.

Two of the top three and eight of the top 12 conference leaders in interceptions in 2012 will be back this fall.

You probably are starting to see why the Pac-12 blog believes defenses will step forward in 2013.

Five players who intercepted at least four passes are back:
So who might join the ranks of top interceptors in 2013?

Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers and CB Jonathan McKnight both had three picks last year for a defense that only had 12 picks total. A healthy McKnight is an elite cover corner, so it's possible teams will throw away from him.

Arizona State: Safety Keelan Johnson led the Sun Devils with five interceptions last year, but he's gone. Safety Alden Darby was second-team All-Pac-12 last year and had three picks. CB Robert Nelson also had three INTs as a backup. The Sun Devils ranked second in the conference with 21 interceptions.

California: Cal is replacing three-fourths of its starting secondary, including both corners, but the guys slated to move up this fall are experienced. Both CB Kameron Jackson and S Michael Lowe -- listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart -- had three picks last year. Injuries have held back talented CB Stefan McClure, but he should be healthy in the fall.

Colorado: Just two teams in the nation had fewer than the three interceptions the Buffaloes had last year. The hope is some younger players who got pushed around a bit, such as sophomore CB Kenneth Crawley, will step up. The competition in the secondary seems pretty wide open for fall camp.

Oregon State: The Beavers are replacing first-team All-Pac-12 CB Jordan Poyer, who led the conference with seven interceptions last year. But three starters are back, including CB Rashaad Reynolds who had three picks.

UCLA: The Bruins are replacing all four starters from a 2012 secondary that was inconsistent at best. The competition is wide open as veterans try to fight off younger players. Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson appear to be first in line after spring practices at the corners, while Brandon Sermons and Randall Goforth stepped up at safety.

Utah: The Utes are replacing their top three cornerbacks but both safeties are back, though Brian Blechen returned to linebacker in the spring. Further, the Utes grabbed just eight interceptions last year, which ranked 11th in the conference. No returning player had more than one pick. Junior S Eric Rowe is a good candidate to lead the pass defense, but he was listed as an "Or" with JC transfer Tevin Carter after spring practices.

Washington: The Huskies lost only one starter from their secondary but he was a big one: CB Desmond Trufant, a first-round NFL draft pick. That noted, Trufant only had one interception last year. CB Marcus Peters, often targeted opposite Trufant, and LB Shaq Thompson, both tied for the team lead with three picks.
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that you are the eyes of the World
but the heart has its beaches
its homeland and thoughts of its own.
Happy Friday.
While so much of the attention on Oregon State this spring has been on the quarterback competition -- one of the most intriguing in the nation between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz -- there are other critical position battles.

And the one at cornerback might even be of greater importance.

Post spring, Sean Martin sits atop the depth chart at left corner, opposite returning starter Rashaad Reynolds on the right side. This position is of great interest because it was formerly held by the departed Jordan Poyer -- one of the school's top secondary players of all-time who sits fourth on the school's career interceptions list with 13.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
AP Photo/Don Ryan"I'm not ready to say which one of them is going to come out of the fold as 'the starter,'" Oregon State's Mike Riley said of cornerbacks Sean Martin and Steven Nelson.
Pushing Martin is junior college transfer Steven Nelson -- who was rated by one service as the No. 2 JC cornerback in the country.

But head coach Mike Riley isn't approaching it with the thought that one will be a starter and one will be a backup. If all goes according to plan -- it's likely we'll see them on the field at the same time.

"That competition is good for the Beavers because my goal out of this thing is that both of these guys become bona fide starters," Riley said. "They both won't necessarily start on first down, but if they proceed to grow as we've seen them through their competition in the spring, then you'll see them both playing together a lot. Third-down defenses, nickel or dime. We actually need both of them to be considered as starters."

He says that with the caveat that he's not ready to say which one has pulled ahead in their competition. Spring depth charts offer a little insight, but not nearly enough to pass judgment.

Once a commit to Georgia, Nelson comes to Oregon State from the College of Sequoias in California, and has spent the spring playing catch up. Martin, however, started three games last year -- twice as a nickel and one at corner against Arizona State when Poyer was out with an injury. After missing the majority of 2011 with a broken foot, Martin bounced back in 2012 to register 43 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups.

Martin's experience might be what keeps him atop the depth chart -- at least for now.

"I think Sean Martin has improved dramatically in the course of two years here and I think Steven has all the athletic tools to be a corner in our league and be a good player," Riley said. "He needs to learn more and more about what we do and how he fits into that, but I think he's very conscientious and I think he'll make that move. I think this has all been very good."

After a rough 2011, where the Beavers ranked 104th in pass-efficiency defense, they bounced back and were 20th nationally last year. After giving up 28 passing touchdowns in 2011, they cut that number in half to 14 in 2012. Poyer was a huge part of that, hauling in seven of OSU's 20 interceptions last season.

With Reynolds (25 career starts) on the other side and returning safeties Tyrequek Zimmerman (13 starts) and Ryan Murphy (15 starts), the secondary should again be solid with just the one hole to fill.

But Riley isn't as concerned with finding one guy who can step in for Poyer as he is developing them to work together in unison.

"I'm not ready to say which one of them is going to come out of the fold as 'the starter,'" Riley said. "But my goal is for both of them to be ready to play and be good, solid players in the fall."
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