Oregon State was shorthanded in the secondary for Saturday’s intersquad scrimmage at Reser Stadium.
David Morris, Jay Irvine, Dwayne Williams and Isaiah Dunn were all held out, leaving the Beavers with several youngsters scattered throughout the defensive backfield. The patchwork secondary was up to the challenge.
Quarterbacks Jake Luton, Jack Colletto, Conor Blount and Aidan Willard hit one big play apiece, but OSU’s cornerbacks and safeties won the majority of the battles on a pleasant afternoon.
“We have a lot of stuff to work on, but honestly I feel like we’re going in a good direction,” said junior safety Jalen Moore, the Beavers’ most experienced defensive back. “We’ve got a lot of injuries going on right now, but the young guys are stepping up and we’ve all got to make plays.”
The Beavers regularly showcased tight coverage with four and five defensive backs, blanketing receivers until the pass rush got home. Reserves Justin Gardner, Kitan Oladapo and Moku Watson all had interceptions.
When the offense did connect for a long gain, a defender was usually in position to make a play.
“We were close,” secondary coach Greg Burns said. “There were no busts that I saw, which was great. But if it’s a 50/50 ball, I’d like it to lean our way.”
Added wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins: “They are definitely doing way better and they have a lot of depth. It’s different from last year … and there’s a lot of young guys stepping up, making plays and trying to prove themselves.”
Moore and Jeffrey Manning, a redshirt freshman, were the first-team safeties during the scrimmage.
Manning has been getting extra reps as Morris works his way back from an offseason foot injury.
“He’s doing a really good job of understanding his role,” Burns said of Manning. “Plays have got to come to him and he’s working on that kind of stuff. We’re excited about him.”
With Irvine (shoulder) and Williams (knee) out, Shawn Wilson, DeShon Wilson and Kaleb Hayes all took first-team snaps at corner.
Shawn Wilson, a junior, was beat on a couple plays but later knocked the ball out of Colletto’s hands on a blitz. DeShon Wilson and Hayes didn’t look like freshmen in matchups with receivers.
“Those guys are good, man,” Moore said of DeShon Wilson and Hayes. “I feel like they are always listening to coach and wanting to get better. They want to get helped out and they always give 100 percent effort, and those are the kinds of guys we need on this defense.”
DeShon Wilson, an early enrollee who practiced with the team last spring, has been a difference maker throughout fall camp.
“From where he was in the spring to where he is now, he’s gotten so much better,” Burns said. “If there was a mid-fall camp most improved DB, I’d say it would be him.”
For the most part, Burns was happy with the secondary’s pass coverage throughout the scrimmage.
Tackling was a different story.
“Our biggest thing is once you get live, it’s the tackling,” Burns said. “I did see some missed tackles, so that’s something that we’re harping on and making sure to get cleaned up. And then obviously we’ve got to take away the big plays the offense has made. If we did that, I’d probably feel a little bit better.”
Moore believes the secondary is starting to get comfortable with the new scheme.
Morris, Irvine, Williams and Dunn are all expected to contribute this season. The defensive backs proved Saturday that there’s plenty of depth behind the starters.
“We just need to keep getting better,” Moore said. “The scheme is awesome and I feel like we are taking it week by week, just grasping the scheme to get ready for Ohio State.”