CORVALLIS — If there is a position group question mark for Oregon State, it's in the secondary, where the top two players from 2016 — cornerback Treston Decoud and safety Devin Chappell — have departed.
Decoud, a fifth-round draft pick by Houston in the NFL draft, is with the Texans. Chappell is still hoping to get picked up as a free agent after being waived by Kansas City in the spring.
Even without them, OSU coaches are hopeful they'll have a deeper and ultimately more successful unit on the back end.
The group is led by Brandon Arnold, the 5-11, 205-pound senior safety who started 11 games a year ago.
"Brandon's the lead dog back there," says John Rushing, OSU's new safeties coach. "He gets everybody going. He's our quarterback back there.
"I like his knowledge of the game and command as far as making calls and getting everybody lined up. Plus, he can play dime or nickel."
The other starting safety will be either Jalen Moore, a 6-foot, 215-pound sophomore who started four games as a freshman, or David Morris, the 6-3, 195-pound true freshman out of Sherwood High.
"Those two guys have created some great competition in (training) camp," Rushing says. "David has all the physical tools to be a great player at this level. I love the way he competes. He's smart. He takes to time study the defense. He's getting better every week. He still has a ways to go in terms of fundamentals and techniques, but that's part of being a true freshman."
More often than not, Oregon State operates out of a 3-3-5 defense, meaning Dwayne Williams, Xavier Crawford and Jay Irvine will be designated as starters.
The 5-9, 185-pound Williams, who started five games during an injury-plagued sophomore season in 2016, will start at nickel back in Oregon State's season opener Aug. 26 at Colorado State. Crawford, a 6-1, 195-pound sophomore who was a first-team Freshman All-American last year, and Irvine, a 6-1, 200-pound sophomore, are the starting corners. Irvine returned for Saturday's final scrimmage at Reser Stadium after missing more than a week of practice with an undisclosed injury.
"I like Dwayne at the nickel," coach Gary Andersen says. "When you have corner depth, then you feel a lot better about playing nickel. If you have only three or four healthy corners, like we did last year, that makes you a little nervous. The healthier we get, the more nickel we'll play."
OSU is still without sophomore corner Shawn Wilson, who has missed time with an undisclosed injury but is expected back by the first game. And Isaiah Dunn, a 6-foot, 175-pound true freshman corner out of Antioch, California, is sitting out practice sessions to concentrate on completing academic requirements for eligibility.
"Isaiah has the elite skill set you need to have to play in this league," Andersen says. "We expect him to be in the corner rotation at Colorado State."
That might also include Kyle White, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior who converted from running back last year. White made several pass break-ups during the Saturday scrimmage.
"Kyle is a tremendous story," Andersen says. "He has dug in and fought like crazy. He wasn't overly excited about the (position) change at first, but now he has completely wrapped his arms around the challenge. He has worked himself into a spot to compete to be on the field."
Adds cornerbacks Cory Hall: "Last spring was Kyle's first getting to focus full-time on corner duty, and you can see the strides he's made."
Williams played most corner when he was healthy last season.
"But nickel is an exciting position," he says. "You get the best of both worlds. You can blitz, you're in there against the run, and you get to cover the slot receivers.
"I like corner, but I'll do what's best for the team. (Coaches) feel like I fit best right now at the nickel. It's almost our base defense, so it's not like I'm missing a lot. I have two competitive guys on the outside to play with in Xavier and Jay, so it's good."
Crawford, Williams says, "had a phenomenal freshman season. He's poised and mature."
But Crawford says he won't rest on his laurels.
"I'm never satisfied with how I'm playing," he says. "I always feel like I can get better. The accolades were nice, but I don't think too much about that. I just want to improve myself as much as I can.
"I feel like I'm improved a lot from last season. I've put on 12 to 15 pounds. I feel a lot stronger, a lot faster. From winter until now, I've been working real hard. The whole team has. We've made a lot of strides."
Hall says the Beavers have more options in the secondary than they did a year ago.
"We can put Xavier at the nickel and Dwayne outside," Hall says. "Xavier is an all-purpose player for us. Jay will be our long-range cover guy at the line of scrimmage. Dwayne will do his role being quick and aggressive at either corner or nickel.
"We have more depth and experience. Last year, when (the opponent) was rotating in receivers, we had to keep Treston and 'X' in. We don't have that problem this year."
The Beaver back-enders have lofty ambitions for the upcoming campaign.
"To be respected around the Pac — that's our goal," Williams says. "We want to be the best secondary in the conference."
"Our goal is to goose-egg (the opponent), to put a zero on the board," Crawford says. "That should be the goal every week."
NOTES — Junior slotback Seth Collins suffered a hand injury during a Thursday practice session that may cause him to miss at least the opener. OSU coaches were waiting for MRI results to determine how long he will be out. Sophomore Trevon Bradford started at slotback in Saturday's scrimmage. … Senior running back Trevorris Johnson, a transfer from Texas Christian, was on crutches after suffering a sprained ankle in the scrimmage, but team officials said they didn't believe the injury was serious. … Calvin Tyler was back receiving kickoffs and punts during the scrimmage. The other true freshman running back, B.J. Baylor, had three impressive runs from scrimmage, including one where he reversed field and went for about 30 yards. … Aiden Willard, a 6-2, 190-pound true freshman QB from Napa, California, spearheaded one nice touchdown drive, connecting on several passes and consummating it with a 15-yard bootleg keeper for the scorer. OSU coaches hope to redshirt Willard and sophomore Conor Blount, the third-string QB, this season.