Laybourn into limelight with Payton departure

THE WEALTH OF experience at OSU's safety position took a good-sized hit this week with Bryan Payton's departure from the program -- and the impact might not only be felt in the defensive backfield. Oregon State fans will probably not have to wait long to see how the depth at the position performs. Indeed, August 28 against Stanford could hold the answer to many questions at safety.

That's because Mike Riley has suspended starting strong safety Al Afalava for the season opener due to a reckless driving and DUI incident that occurred in February.

Meanwhile, Payton had been listed on the spring depth chart as a co-starter at free safety with fellow senior-to-be Greg Laybourn. Over at strong safety, Cameron Collins (6-2, 215) and Lance Mitchell (6-2, 202) are the co-No. 2's behind Afalava.

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For Stanford, based on the spring session, it would now seem probable for Mitchell to get the starting nod with Afalava sitting out and Payton gone.

Mitchell, who had a strong showing last season on the scout team, showed a proclivity this spring for both being around the ball and flatbacking more than a few ballcarriers. Collins could also figure in prominently.

At free safety, Laybourn now takes the starter's battle by default with Payton moving on. The reasons why Payton left the Oregon State program were not disclosed.

The Oregonian in a blog opined the cause may have been either academic issues or because he was a perpetual headache for the OSU coaches. At the same time, the blog said Payton was not dismissed and that it was Payton who elected to leave. Payton was coming off a very solid spring session, one where it seemed like he picked off a pass just about every day.

Laybourn, who at the least was going to figure in prominently this season if not win the job, now assumes the No. 1 role headed into fall camp. Laybourn has made himself into a heck of a player at Oregon State, the former walk-on is a smart and a sure tackler and is coming off a great spring.

Laybourn was the sixth leading tackler on last year's OSU team, with 49 tackles (28 solo), plus two interceptions and four pass breakups. Payton was No. 12 on last season's tackles list for the Beavs with 23. Still, the loss of a player like Payton, who started six games and played in 27 for the Beavers in his career and who also had OSU fans smiling with his performance on the field this spring, is a hit.

Backing Laybourn up at free safety, provided there are no big surprises and the depth chart remains the same, is Suaesi Tuimaunei (6-1, 206), who logged a team high six tackles in the spring game and also picked off a pass.

WHERE PAYTON'S DEPARTURE MIGHT also be strongly felt -- particularly in the opener -- is on special teams.

Mitchell, athletic, fast and a hard hitter, looked poised to become a special teams difference maker this season but becoming the starting FS could diminish his special teams role and/or preparation time against the Cardinal.

For Tuimaunei, the same could hold true though probably to a lesser degree. He would still be expected to see plenty of special teams play but, with Payton's departure, he's now just one play away from the No. 1 unit.

After Afalava's return in Week 2, here's the way the depth chart could look:
STRONG SAFETY
9 Al Afalava Sr., 5-11, 215, Laie, Hawai'i
10 Lance Mitchell Fr-RS, 6-2, 202, Pasadena, Calif.
40 Cameron Collins Fr-RS, 6-2, 215, Santa Monica, Calif.

FREE SAFETY
44 Greg Laybourn Sr., 5-10, 205, Portland, Ore.
28 Suaesi Tuimaunei So., 6-1, 206, Laie, Hawai'i

Other players who could factor in here include James Dockery (6-1, 174). He's the No. 2 corner behind Brandon Hughes but he's also a playmaker who has free safety skills. A great athlete, he picked off a pass in spring game while adding three tackles.

Josh LaGrone is a grayshirt who the Beavs planned to redshirt this season.

Austin Hall is a special teams veteran who would appear to face an uphill battle for playing time at safety.

Players report for fall camp on July 31, just over four weeks from today.

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