OREGON STATE CAN blitz linebackers as much as they do because of the corners -- without the lockdown skills of Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis, OSU would not be able to turn the front seven loose nearly as much for fear of getting burned. One key down the stretch will be if Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis, who have been dinged this season, can keep from getting bit too hard by the injury bug.
LC: Keenan Lewis (Sr.) Tim Clark (Jr.), Brandon Hardin (RFr.), Keynan Parker, (Fr.), Brian Watkins (Fr.)
RC: Brandon Hughes (Sr.), Tim Clark (Jr.), Patrick Henderson (Jr.), James Dockery (So.), David Ross (RFr.), Kaua Olds (Fr.)
*Not an official depth chart but based on observation of games and practice.
A look back at the storyline this summer: Hughes was named to the preseason Lott Trophy and Thorpe Award Watch Lists and Lewis is an honors candidate as well -- some may have forgotten but not long ago, three years to be precise, Hughes and Lewis were young freshmen forced into action. And they got torched on deep patterns time and time again. Getting beat over and over could have destroyed confidence and put a damper on their careers but it instead made them stronger. And they headed into the season looking for sweet syrupy payback.
A look back at the storyline in fall camp: Hughes and Lewis looked at times to be in midseason form. But a corner can't lock down forever, eventually even a below average receiver will get open, and the inability of the d-line to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, and the nature of a fall camp where making contact with your own QB is a no-no, led to some concerns heading into the season. Tim Clark emerged as the first cornerback option off the bench. Keynan Parker, who is redshirting this year, was moved to corner from the offensive side of the ball.
A look back at the storyline after two games: With a combined 65 career starts heading into the season, Hughes and Lewis were both very physical at the line of scrimmage and had plenty of pass breakups. What was wrong with the defense early on this season didn't have much to do with what was going on out on the islands.
The storyline headed into the final stretch run: Both corners have been dinged up, Hughes (hamstring) missed the Utah and WSU games while Lewis' injury (turf toe) has slowed him a bit but didn't force him to miss any starts. The increased pressure from the front seven have masked some of the inevitable drop off from the start of the year but guys like Clark are still playing reasonably well. A lapse across the board in the defensive backfield against Washington, when the UW completed several long high arching jump balls didn't hurt the Beavs, but is something that will need to be corrected.
The bye week comes at a good time for the two starters, who will need to be as close to 100 percent as possible with some huge games coming up that will determine the fate of Oregon State's postseason dreams.
Clark had a solid year this past season in a part time starting role while being the first off of the bench and has continued that role this year. He possesses similar skills as Hughes and Lewis with a nose for the ball and is tough at the line of scrimmage, though he has had a few more high profile completions against him than you can feel comfortable with -- as was shown in fall camp, he will gamble at times and feast or famine is the usual result.
The Beaver coaches will continue to try to get Brandon Hardin, Patrick Henderson, James Dockery, and David Ross as many repetitions as the situation allows, but expect to see a lot of Hughes, Lewis and Clark and expecially in crunch time. Dockery and Henderson are experienced special teams members and are expected down the stretch to perhaps again hunt down the opposition on kickoffs and punts. Dockery is a playmaker but like most youthful playmakers, needs consistency to match.
Final thoughts: Enjoy it while it lasts because when Hughes and Lewis graduate there could be some growing pains in '09. Hughes has developed into one of the premier cornerbacks in the conference with the ability to lockdown a side of the field. He is excellent at supporting the run and has increased his upper body strength significantly to fight through blocks and tangle with bigger receivers.
Incoming recruit this past fall: Keynan Parker
Walk-ons who arrived this fall: Kaua Olds
Expected to redshirt: Walker, Olds