By Nick Daschel

The Oregonian

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Oregon St. spring game

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

TV: Pac-12 (Ore)

CORVALLIS — Thursday was by far the nicest weather day of Oregon State’s 2019 spring practices. With brilliant sunshine and few clouds overhead Reser Stadium, it seems like a good time to take a look at one of the brightest areas evolving this spring, the Beavers’ defensive line.

There was nothing smiley-faced about the defensive line in 2018. It was dreadful, one of the worst position groups in FBS. Opponents had their way running the ball and setting up big pass plays.

No one is saying OSU’s defensive line has suddenly become a strength just six months later. But for a couple reasons, it is noticeably better. If OSU’s defensive front could just get somewhere close to average, it gives the Beavers a chance in a lot of games with an offense that should be productive in 2019.

First, the Beavers had to get over the hangover that was 2018, when they ranked 118th or worse nationally in run defense, sacks and tackles for losses.

It did not take long.

“It was a good learning experience,” said rising sophomore Isaac Hodgins. “When (defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa) met with me when I came back, he said my biggest advantage is that I have experience. That’s the biggest thing going from year 1 to year 2.”

Suiaunoa expected growing pains last season, given a new staff was teaching a defense to a group that had not been very successful in 2017.

“Lot of reminding,” Suiaunoa said of last season. “Whereas guys are now living it. That’s the big difference. When guys are living it, it means they understand it.”

Hodgins was quick to point out rushing statistics from the scrimmage portion of Tuesday’s practice. Eight rushing plays yielded 48 yards, but most came on one play.

“As you guys can see, we’re making plays now. Making big plays for loss,” Hodgins said.

Many of the characters from 2018 remain the same this spring, with one big addition and changes from linemen who are supposed to lead.

The presence of Jordan Whittley, a 6-2, 338-pound nose guard, should upgrade the defense. Whittley is a junior college transfer who has one year of eligibility remaining, and when healthy this spring, has been a menace to the offense.

“It’s nice to have a dude who can push the pocket easily,” Hodgins said. “Not many dudes can take a Pac-12 O-lineman and put him in the lap of the quarterback. Jordan can do that.”

The biggest body on OSU’s roster appears ready to deliver on his size in 2019 in Elu Aydon. Listed at 385 pounds, Aydon appears to be a little less than that this spring.

“He’s sprinting to the ball every play. He’s not as tired … he has a way better motor. His game has gone up 100 levels,” Hodgins said of Aydon.

Suiaunoa said Aydon took offseason training seriously, as well as his diet, and it has paying off on the field.

“There’s no question he’s running faster,” Suiaunoa said. “I think he knows that in order for him to be the best football player he can be, he has to handle business in the weight room and control his eating.”

Filling out the frontline depth around the combined 723 pounds of Whittley-Aydon are Hodgins, defensive end Jeromy Reichner and defensive tackle Lamone Williams.