DWIGHT ROBERSON and CAMERON COLLINS
ONE GAME IN and significant changes are already afoot this season for the Beavs. At the top of the list is the seemingly surprise move of starting safety Cameron Collins to outside linebacker – which begs more questions: Are there more dominoes that potentially sets up? And should the Beavs stop there as far as changes and tweaks go? The answers are yes, and oh hell no.
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Cameron Collins’ move from safety to ‘backer says a lot about defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s plan this season. Collins, a two year starter and arguably the most consistent and talented returning safety, played sparingly on Saturday against TCU, leaving many to question the move.
Banker said this week in the Portland Tribune that Collins simply didn’t have enough reps or time to get integrated enough into the defense, at his new position, to play significant minutes.
But that looks to change. Banker also said; “We wound up having a good player not on the field on a regular basis…He needs to be on the field for us.”
This foreshadows more possible changes over the season in the linebacking corps – specifically, the view from this chair is that it might well mean getting weakside linebacker Dwight Roberson into the middle of the field, playing some middle linebacker, where the Beavers were particularly ineffective last Saturday.
Historically, Mike Riley and Banker haven’t been all that liberal in moving personnel, especially on D. Players don’t change position often – they learned their job and intricacies of their position, working to know every technique, situation and read, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But things change. Just as offenses evolve, so must the defenses.
Banker was at one time a very vocal opponent of implementing a nickel package, that his base 4-3 defense could perform better than situational packages that fractured the philosophy. But Banker eventually came up with his own spin on the nickel package, one that was effective in coverage on third down while still maintaining a pass rush – removing a d-tackle, adding a safety, and using a stand-up rush ‘backer.
This year the Beavers simply don’t have the individual pieces for that. Banker has instead looked to employ a 4-2-5, using 4 down linemen and pulling a linebacker off the field instead. And that’s a good sign – but there’s more that the Beavers can do.
LOOK AT BOISE STATE, the Beavs’ opponent on Sept. 25. Look at how they move their players around – it was like watching an ant hill on Monday night when they played against Virginia Tech. The pre-snap movement is just window dressing, the real meat was in the player positions changing in-game. Think about this..
Chris Petersen’s staff didn’t just change up their packages headed in, they mixed up the offensive line during the game -- tackles to guards, guards from left to right, doing whatever they could to try and find an advantage to move the pile up front and run the football.
It’s an interesting contrast, the way Boise State and OSU approach the game. Petersen is from the anything goes school. He let his defensive coordinator install an entirely new defensive formation and alignment for a bowl game, moving guys all over the field. It seems reckless, edgy and a bit crazy, going against most every football convention. But heck if it doesn’t work.
NOW CONSIDER the offseason talk about left tackle Michael Philipp moving to guard the past few months. Ultimately, Riley “took a deep breath” and elected not to move Philipp inside.
Oregon State, it would seem, remains meticulous, technical and fully dedicated to their scheme and with it, faithful execution of that scheme. They don’t like to make personnel moves, which made the sudden move of Collins to linebacker frankly a little shocking.
Put another way, OSU doesn’t want to move people around -- unless it’s a need-based utility role, the way Andy Levitre hopscotched around the entire offensive line -- the Dutch Boy plugging fingers in to stop the leaking.
But it’s time for a shift in the paradigm. Riley has found some of his inner riverboat gambler with his playcalling – Hekker’s fake punt was brilliant, but the staff needs to think even more outside the box -- with the personnel and formations.
That’s an uncomfortable feeling for coaches and fans alike. The Beavs have been quite successful the last four years – why on earth should they change things up? Quite simply, to take it to the next level.
Might things have been different the last two seasons if OSU had shocked the hell out of Oregon on the first series, and kept them off balance over the course of the game with things the Ducks had never imagined they might see from the Beavs and therefore, never prepared for them? Might we now be talking about the Rose Bowls of 2009 and 2010?
IT’S NOT AS IF the concept is completely foreign to Riley, either. Recall the game at Washington in 1998, the fabled 469-yard passing performance by QB Jonathan Smith. According to legend, Riley was in the locker room at halftime with a chalkboard, literally drawing up plays to use in the second half.
That’s moxy, and that doesn’t go away. Riley needs to embrace it more this year. And take that next step.
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