Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker assesses his run defense the last two years not unlike many Beavers fans might. And just as colorfully.
"We have been absolutely the [expletive] the past two years against the run after being one of the country's leaders for a long time," Banker said.
Banker's gap-cancellation scheme, which once was the toast of Corvallis, is predicated on two things: 1. Stop the run; 2. Get the quarterback. No, it's not rocket science. But when it works, it's an aggressive, highly entertaining scheme and good things happen.
In 2006, the Beavers ranked 29th in the nation in run defense and third in sacks with 47. The Beavers won 10 games.
In 2007, the Beavers ranked No. 1 in the nation in run defense and fourth with 44 sacks. The Beavers won nine games.
In 2008, the Beavers ranked No. 40 in the nation in run defense and fourth with 39 sacks. The Beavers won nine games.
But a slide started in 2009, when the defense was just adequate and the Beavers won eight games, that continued through the past two seasons, when the defense was horrible and the Beavers won eight games combined.
Stuff has to fit together for the Beavers defense to work, and it hasn't the past few seasons. During those glory seasons, Oregon State was strong at end and linebacker and had cornerbacks who could survive in press-man coverage. The past two seasons, one or more elements have been missing.
So what about 2012?
"This team resembles more closely some of the athletes we've had in the past," Banker said.
The defense has two good ends with Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn. Jordan Poyer, a top NFL prospect, and Rashaad Reynolds, whom Banker calls the most improved player in 2011, give the Beavers a pair of strong corners. And there is good reason to cross your fingers over the potential improvement at linebacker, especially if guys stay healthy.
Health might be the big issue. Banker spends six minutes replying to a question about injuries last year, and the list is too long to go into here. It wasn't just the guys who missed games. It was players, such as safety Lance Mitchell, who played hurt and often looked like it.
Some notes from a chat with Banker.
Both Crichton and Wynn had good offseasons building up their bodies so they can stand up better against the run. But they also need to exercise the muscle inside their heads. Said Banker, "What they need to do is play within the schematics of the defense. Anytime either one of them got in trouble, they made stuff up."
A guy to watch out for at end: Lavonte Barnett, who could become a pass rush specialist as a redshirt freshman.
The key inside, where the Beavers were weak in 2011, is 350 pounder Castro Masaniai. Said Banker, "He's on a mission. He knows what he wants to get out of this thing this year. He's the heaviest he's ever been but he's also in the best shape he's ever been in." Banker also needs Mana Rosa to take a step forward.
Banker is really -- really -- high on sophomore strongside LB D.J. Welch: "He can be anything he wants to be." Welch ran a 10.58 100 meters in high school, so he's a speed guy who's up to 225 pounds. Feti Unga needs to stay healthy inside, and Michael Doctor needs to upgrade his physicality on the weakside. Banker is excited about some of the younger guys, such as sophomore Jabral Johnson and freshmen Caleb Saulo and Joe Skotte.
Banker admits he's been forced to tweak his scheme -- particularly coverages -- to adapt to personnel that falls short of the talent of the 2006 and 2007 defenses, which sent a bevy of guys to the NFL. But what particularly galls him is the run defense.
"It's a personality," he said. "We want to be a bunch of tough guys."
That means stop the run and attack the QB. If the Beavers numbers improve in those two areas this season, expect the win-loss column to revert back to what it was before the two-season slide.