Jalen Grimble was expected to make a big difference for Oregon State in 2014. The Miami transfer was a star of spring practices a year ago and he seemed certain to bolster the interior defensive line, which had been a notable weakness in 2013, when the Beavers yielded 31.4 points per game.
Didn't happen. In fact, Grimble is the first to admit his 2014 campaign was a major disappointment.
“If I had a word for it, I’d give it to you but I don’t," he said. "Last year was a ... mess, I guess you could say.”
Injuries, as they often are, were the main culprit. Grimble battled back issues in preseason camp and early in the season and he made little impact, recording just two tackles in the first three games. He said he felt he was playing at about 80 percent. It was frustrating to be healthy enough to play but not healthy enough to meet his or his coaches' expectations.
In the early going of Game 4 against USC, where he'd once been committed, he made a couple of tackles and started to feel like himself.
“I thought it was too good to be true," he said. "It turned out to be.”
He hurt his knee and missed the next six games. He came back late in the season but wasn't effective. He was out of shape and out of sorts.
Said Grimble, “Getting hurt, it was kind of like one of those things ... what’s next?”
What was next was coach Mike Riley surprising everyone, particularly his players, by bolting for Nebraska.
“It was shocking. It really was shocking," Grimble said. "To be honest, it hurt a few people 0n the team.”
While the announcement shortly thereafter that the Beavers had hired Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin was quickly embraced by media and fans as a hiring coup -- one that was nearly as surprising as Riley leaving Corvallis after 14 years (12 consecutively) -- for players like Grimble it didn't make much of an immediate impact.
“We blew Google up, though" Grimble said. "I've got to say now it was a great hire."
It helped that Andersen lured Kalani Sitake away from Utah to run the Beavers' defense. Grimble knew Sitake from recruiting and his Miami transfer. He and defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a have made a positive impression on Grimble, who's dropped 20-plus pounds to 285.
“That’s the biggest thing they’ve changed in the program: energy," Grimble said. "There is no relaxing, taking days off, taking plays off. They don’t let one thing go by, whether it’s a meeting, lifting, a practice.”
The Beavers defense is a big question mark heading into 2015. Just three starters are back from 2014, and only four players have any starting experience, a list that includes Grimble. Still, Grimble, Jaswha James, Lavonte Barnett and Luke Hollingsworth have seen enough action to make the D-line look like a potential sneaky strength. Toss tackle Kyle Peko in there, if he maintains his academics, and there's some depth and options.
Of course, Oregon State can't afford many injures to players like Grimble to have any chance of climbing in the Pac-12's North Division next fall. Grimble still isn't 100 percent and is only seeing limited action this spring.
Still, the new staff's up-tempo, high-energy approach appears to be inspiring optimism. Grimble struggled physically and mentally last year. He was frustrated. Today?
"I feel great," he said.