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March 29, 2009

Defensive holes, QB battle for Oregon State

Rebuilding the secondary is the primary issue for Oregon State this spring.

The Beavers lost both of their top pass rushers and all four starting defensive backs from '08, so they're facing a major reconstruction project. Significant progress in those areas may signal the Beavers as a Pac-10 contender again this fall.

Here's a look at the Beavers as they prepare for spring drills.

Jacquizz Rodgers is one of seven offensive starters returning for the Beavers.
Coach: Mike Riley
Last season: 9-4, 7-2 Pac-10. Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl.
Spring dates: March 30-May 2
Offense (7): TE Howard Croom, C Alex Linnenkohl, QB Lyle Moevao, G Gregg Peat, T Mike Remmers, TB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR James Rodgers.
Defense (3): LB Keaton Kristick, T Stephen Paea, LB Keith Pankey.
Special teams (2): P Johnny Hekker, K Justin Kahut.
Positions of strength

The Beavers are set at two linebacker spots with the returns of Keaton Kristick, who had 82 tackles last season, and Keith Pankey. They figure to be joined by sophomore David Pa'aluhi in the middle. Pa'aluhi recorded 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks in a backup role in '08. The offensive line looks solid, too, with three returning starters. Junior guard Ryan Pohl and junior tackle Timi Oshinowo appear to have the inside track to the vacant starting jobs this spring.

Help is needed

Matching last season's No. 22 ranking in pass defense is extremely unlikely unless a few unproven players distinguish themselves this spring. The Beavers lost all four starters in the secondary and three of them were four-year starters. The one that wasn't Greg Laybourn led the Beavers in tackles last season. Tim Clark played a lot in '08 and figures to start at cornerback, but the other three spots appear up for grabs. Three new starters are needed on the defensive line, including both end spots. And Oregon State also is looking for two new starting wide receivers this spring.

Keep an eye on

DE Matt LaGrone: Defensive ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris combined for 22 sacks last season, but both completed their eligibility. That means there is ample opportunity for LaGrone, a junior who sat out last season after transferring from Nevada, where he played basketball. He's 6 feet 6 and 240 pounds, and he has great athletic ability.

LB David Pa'aluhi: Efficient, reliable linebackers are valuable, but an intense, fierce presence in the middle also is needed. Pa'aluhi, a sophomore, can provide that. He's a high-energy, aggressive hitter with a mean streak.

CB Brandon Hardin: He made significant contributions on special teams in '08 and is expected to take on a larger role in '09. Hardin, a sophomore, has good size (6-2/206) and speed, and he figures to contend for a starting job at cornerback. At the least, he should be a big part of the nickel package.

His time is now

Clark and Patrick Henderson are seniors who have spent their entire careers as backup cornerbacks. Both need to prove they're capable of starting this spring, or accept being bypassed by younger players on the depth chart.

The buzz

Who will shoulder the load at quarterback for the Beavers? It depends on whose shoulder is sturdy enough. Starter Lyle Moevao will miss spring practice after shoulder surgery. Coincidentally, Moevao took over the starting job when Sean Canfield suffered a shoulder injury in 2007. They've been competing for the job since. Canfield can enhance his chances to regain the starting job with an impressive spring. But he'll still have to compete with redshirt freshman Ryan Katz and transfer Peter Lalich, who played at Virginia early last season but transferred before Oregon State started classes and thus is eligible this fall.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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