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Oregon State spring football: Beavers hope to improve front of defense in spring

The Beavers need to make a major adjustment along the defensive line.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

It's no secret that the Beavers stunk up front on defense in 2013. The Beavers were second-to-last in the conference in run defense and were in the bottom third of the league in sacks, even with a stud at defensive end in Scott Crichton who will be chasing quarterbacks in the NFL season. Mike Riley has been known for getting the most out of modestly-talented front sevens, but that wasn't the case in 2013, and now his biggest task in the spring of 2014 will be doing just that without his All-American in Crichton.

The Beavers return a great deal of experience from 2013, but the question will be whether or not these returning players will be able to step up starting this spring.

No position may need more production for the Beavers than at defensive tackle. The Beavers took a hit going into 2013 when a couple of the top junior college defensive tackles they had signed didn't make it in and they had to rely on a group of players who struggled throughout the season.

The Beavers get a couple of those guys back in seniors Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau who both have great size, but will need to take their games to another level after their first year of Pac-12 play (they were both JC signees in 2013). Delva was inserted as a starter late in 2013 and Hautau a regular contributor, but the two of them totaled just 16 tackles between themselves and only 2.5 for-loss. Expected to also be in the mix is junior Brandon Bennett-Jackson who is smaller, but brings more athleticism and versatility to the position. All three will need to start showing much more very soon, or the Beavers will have a hard time stopping opponents from rushing up the middle.

The situation at defensive tackle was so dire late in 2013 that defensive end Dylan Wynn moved inside for a bit late in 2013 at only 6'2 260. Riley has to hope that they don't have to do that again, as Wynn is the best player returning on their defensive line and really has the chance to shine on the edge now with Crichton headed towards the NFL. Wynn is a relentless hustle player like Crichton that could turn into an all-conference-level guy as a senior, but he is going to need some help on the other end with the massive void left by Crichton and there aren't any obvious successors stepping in this spring.

Juniors Jaswha James and Lavonte Barnett, both bring a lot of athleticism to the position, but not a whole lot of production. The Beavers will need at least one to be able to insert their passing rushing skills to fill in for Crichton while also holding up against the run and both could be challenged by junior college transfer Luke Hollingsworth who brings great size to the position.

The situation at linebacker is a little bit more bright as heading into spring as the Beavers return all three starters and a number of depth players, including senior Jabral Johnson who totaled nearly 100 tackles in 2013 and senior D.J. Alexander who battled injuries, but had a solid season. For the Beavers front seven to improve, they won't need too much more from Alexander and Johnson who hold down the outside though, it will be the player who fills the spot in the middle, behind the much-maligned defensive tackles who needs to emerge as a playmaker.

That starting middle linebacker spot will likely be fought for by two players who saw extensive time in 2013 this spring with sophomore Rommel Mageo, who started there in 2013 having the edge going in. Mageo is a huge player at 6'2 244 from Samoa, but so is his main competition, junior Joel Skotte who checks in at 6'2 240 and who will at least see playing time at the spot.