POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Cornerback

BRANDON HARDIN: In battle for starting job

CORVALLIS--Two longtime, productive starters from last year are now gone, both NFL Draft selections. Indeed, the cornerback position will undoubtedly be one of the more crucial spots for the Oregon State defense this year. And although consistent, vocal senior Tim Clark seems to have one of the islands locked up, the other appears in play.

And the spring ended with more questions readily available than were answers.

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When you're solid at corner, as the Beavers were last year, you can be more aggressive on defense, particularly with your linebackers and safeties, and both against the run and in putting heat on the quarterback.

The Oregon State coaches find themselves in new territory for '09, with new faces out on the corners and work to be done.

And so one of the more intense fall camp position battles appears set to kick off in August, with senior Patrick Henderson, injured on and off throughout the spring; junior James Dockery, also one of the more vocal players on the squad coming off a rehab year (knee) and sophomore Brandon Hardin, who was battling injury issues of his own throughout the spring.

Whoever ends up claiming the starting roles, the Beavs overall need sharper play out of their corners than was evident during the spring. It's not a dire situation, and it is not realistic to expect there won't be some drop-off from last season -- Oregon State is in effect replacing two guys who started four years and have now moved onto the league in Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis.

It also shouldn't be forgotten that Hughes and Lewis struggled in starting roles their first season.

THIS SPRING, Henderson and Dockery were burned a number of times by Oregon State receivers, particularly by junior wideout Darrell Catchings, who consistently held the upper hand over the 15 sessions.

Both played aggressively, and were especially susceptible to play-action by Canfield to Catchings on the deep ball. It's a foregone conclusion they'll both be working on that over the offseason and deep into fall camp.

THE MAIN ISSUE for a first time starter is usually consistency, and such was the case at corner this spring for Oregon State.

Clark, Henderson and Dockery, throughout camp, would make a fine play -- batting down a pass, intercepting a ball -- but then they would in turn follow that up with a lapse, biting on a play fake, getting burned on a deep ball.

Hardin, who had surgery on his hand from an injury that occurred last year, started out participating in a majority of Spring practices, but was required to sit out when he tweaked his quad.

The 6 foot 2, 206 pound sophomore is the biggest cornerback on the Oregon State roster. He has the size and straight ahead speed necessary to shut down the more capable Pac-10 receivers that the Beavers have seen in the past. The questions revolve around quickness, hip turn and the split second decision making that makes for an elite corner. Riley has said the Beavs will find a spot for the athletic, fleet Hardin, be it at safety or corner.

TWO OTHER CORNERS on the roster might not be ready to challenge for starting playing time this year based on the spring, but should make an impact on special teams.

Sophomore David Ross, a former four star recruit out of Compton, Calif., did not quite make a name for himself this spring in Corvallis. But he should have more opportunities to shine. Redshirt freshman Keynan Parker, however, certainly opened some eyes.

Parker has game-breaking speed and breaks quickly on the ball. A former prep track star at Thomas More Collegiate in British Columbia, he's arguably the fastest player on the Beavs' roster. Keep an eye on Parker as fall camp gets underway. If he puts it together quickly, things could get real interesting, real fast.

OREGON STATE looks set with Clark at one spot, but the corner play needs to become more consistent top to bottom than was shown this spring. With the group as a whole expected to be healthy entering fall camp, the fight for jobs could ratchet up a few notches when next the Beavs strap on the pads.

What might be key to the season, rather than counting on one of the young guns to make considerable gains, is if the experienced Clark can make a smaller leap to get to the level, or close to the level, of play that Lewis and Hughes exhibited much of last season.

In any event, the corner play should be ever so interesting to watch this year at Oregon State.

If you missed any of the BF.C post spring breakdowns, click to:
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Quarterback
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Wide receivers
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Running backs
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Offensive line
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Tight end
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Safeties
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Defensive Line
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Linebackers

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