The focus during the first portion of Oregon St.'s split spring practice centered around the quarterback competition,
but the Beavers have spent the first week of the second session of spring football practice installing a 3 man defensive front alignment, primailay for a 3-4 scheme, though there will also be a lot of 3-3-5, nickel coverage employed with the 3 man front.
It's an addition that has been in the plan since coach Gary Andersen arrived at Oregon State, even though the first,
pre-spring break portion of spring ball was focused on 4 man defensive lines.
Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said it's an opportunity for the Beavers to get a different look on defense from
the 4-3 that they've been using for years.
"Back when coach Andersen was the defensive coordinator at Utah, he had the odd-man front back then, too," Sitake said.
"So the goal is to get the best 11 on the field and we'll see how it works out, whether we're an odd-base team
or an even base. I think we're going to have to be able to do both."
Short yardage and goal line situations will often merit the even man front, with an extra linemen, so that will
still be a part of the system too, but much of the game will probably see the Beavers in an odd man front.
The coaches are in the process of looking at where each player fits in the 3-4. Jalen Grimble, Lavonte Barnett,
and Jaswha James have all seen time at end, along with players such as redshirt freshman LaMone Williams.
Barnett and James were sometime starters at end last season in a primarily 4 man front defense, but Grimble, who missed a good chunk of last season due to injury, was a tackle, so it was a switch to see him at end. It's a spot he said he enjoys though, because he can go one on one with a tackle.
"There's a lot of single blocks that you get from the tackle. I'd love to take on the tackle rather than the
guard any day. So there's benefits, you get to rush off the edge, it gives you a little more freedom in pass
rushing," Grimble said. "Anybody that's played defensive line knows that rushing from the three-technique is
a quicker path to the quarterback but also it's the toughest path. You've got the most blockers to go through,
you usually get the double team if you're a nose. So playing off at the end you get a lot of one on ones with
the tackle and if you're lucky you'll get a tight end and that makes it even easier."
Linemen seeing the most time inside at nose tackle are Kyle Peko, Ali'i Robins and Kalani Vakameilalo.
Peko is 6'1", but weighs 306 pounds, Robins is listed at 6'2", and 289 lbs., and Vakameilalo is 6'3", and a
massive 318 lbs., so they have the size to fill space but also have shown they can move.
"Guys like those, they're just hard to move. They're big, strong and they're also athletic, so it's just a
nightmare for a center, whoever's got to block them," James said. "So, really, that's an ideal fit for them
because it's one on one with a center and they're going to win 100 percent of the time."
Playing nose tackle is a new experience for Robins, and he said he's still getting used to playing inside.
"It makes you open up your eyes to like if you get double-teamed you've got to stay low," Robins said.
"Back then I didn't know that and so if you get double-teamed you got pushed back. But now I'm starting to
hold my ground and do better."
The Beavers have a number of linebackers with a variety of abilities, which will help in getting four out on
the field at the same time.
Sitake said the linebackers are a factor in the addition of the 3-4, and how much the Beavers will be able to
use it will also depend on what they want to do with the ends.
"And also depending on who our opponent is that week," Sitake said.
Among the Linebackers, Darrell Songy, back from a year's suspension, outside, is the best of the outside linebackers, and Rommel Mageo and Caleb Saulo have experience inside.
Bright Ugwoegbu has been a bright spot in spring practice, and Manase Hungalu and Kyle Haley appear in the hunt for minutes in the rotation too.
But aside from the quarterback position, and the linebacker position group is easily the least experienced one on the Oregon St. team.
And though there are a number of bodies, to run a 3-4 could easily require 10 linebackers, or even more, to get through a season on the 2 deep if there are any injuries at all.
The 3 man front has intrigued Beaver fans for some time, and while we will see more of it than ever before, how much, and how effective it will be, will also depend on how the linebackers do.