Spring Practice Preview - Defensive Backs

March 23, 2010

It can be amazing the difference a year can make. Last year at this time fans were wringing their collective hands over replacing an entire secondary that had moved on to professional football. This spring the secondary is one of the most experienced units on the team.

Defensive coordinator Mark Banker (safeties) and Keith Heyward (cornerbacks) won't need to re-invent the wheel in the defensive backfield this spring with three starters returning - Cameron Collins (S), James Dockery (CB) and Lance Mitchell (S). In all, the Beavers return 45 starts in the secondary.

The safety position appears to be set with incredible athletes for years to come. Mitchell and Collins started 12 and 11 games in 2009 as sophomores and showed marked improvement as the season went on. Mitchell, who was involved in four turnovers and led the team with three interceptions in 2009, and Collins are the Beavers' leading returning tacklers with 72 and 70 respectively. Both should be in line for postseason honors in 2010.

The only senior among the safeties, Suaesi Tuimaunei, also has considerable experience, including three career starts, and played most of last year at the team's nickel back. Sophomore Anthony Watkins, who has battled injuries since his arrival at OSU, got his first taste of playing time in 2009, mostly on special teams and appears to have a nose for the ball. Sophomore Josh LaGrone returns to the picture this spring after suffering a knee injury during Fall Ball. LaGrone was improving exponentially prior to his injury and will push for playing time. Redshirt-freshmen Dax Dilbeck and Zeke Sanders bring a ton of speed and size to the position. Dilbeck was named as the Scout Team Defensive MVP by his teammates following the season.

At cornerback, the left side will be manned by senior James Dockery, who started all 13 games in 2009 after missing the 2008 season with a knee injury. 'Dock' will backed up by sophomore Jordan Poyer, who is moving over from safety. Poyer played almost exclusively on special teams as a true freshman, but he's caught the eye of head coach Mike Riley.

'Poyer could play corner, safety or nickel for us,' Riley said. 'We're going to try him on the edge and let him play. He's just a really good football player.'

The right side is the only 'open' starting spot and the presumed starter is junior Brandon Hardin, who earned three starts in 2009. Hardin will take the first reps but will be backed by sophomore Keynan Parker and freshman-redshirt Rashaad Reynolds. All three players have blazing speed, but Hardin (6-2, 219) has a significant size advantage. Parker missed last season with a shoulder injury, but was showing vast improvement and potential prior to the injury. If his work with the scout team is a good indicator, Reynolds will be a ballhawk whenever he does earn playing time. Redshirt-freshman Sean Martin will miss spring practice due to a shoulder injury.

While the secondary appears to be solid, the number of bodies and quality of athletes must have special teams coach Bruce Read salivating at the thought of lining up all of those safeties next to special teams demons Hardin and Poyer on kickoff coverage.

The quest for success in 2010 begins at 3 p.m. Mon., March 29 with the first day of spring practice. Practices are open to the public and fans are encouraged to attend.

Check back daily for more position previews and once practice starts for recaps and interviews on Beaver Nation Online, the official audio/visual source for Beaver Athletics.

Spring Practice Schedule - March 29, 31; April 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 23, 26, 28; May 1 (Spring Game).

Depth Chart (as of March 22)

4 ** James Dockery Jr. 6-1 176 La Quinta, Calif.
14 * Jordan Poyer So. 5-11 189 Astoria, Ore.
38 Brian Watkins So. 5-9 179 Burien, Wash.
6 Sean Martin (injured) Fr-RS 5-11 170 Corona, Calif.

10 ** Lance Mitchell Jr. 6-2 207 Pasadena, Calif.
26 Josh LaGrone So. 6-1 200 San Diego, Calif.
12 Dax Dilbeck Fr-RS 6-1 203 Edmond, Okla.
30 Zeke Sanders Fr-RS 6-1 212 Santa Cruz, Calif.

5 ** Cameron Collins Jr. 6-2 230 Santa Monica, Calif.
28 *** Suaesi Tuimaunei Sr. 6-1 205 Laie, Hawai'i
47 * Anthony Watkins So. 6-1 215 Burien, Wash.
15 Levi Levasa Fr-RS 5-11 208 Tualatin, Ore.

17 ** Brandon Hardin Jr. 6-2 219 Honolulu, Hawai'i
20 Keynan Parker So. 5-11 177 New Westminster, B.C.
16 Rashaad Reynolds Fr-RS 5-10 177 Los Angeles, Calif.
18 Kaua Olds So. 5-10 190 Kailua, Hawai'i

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