Ducks and Beavers spring into action
Coach Mike Riley must fill gaping holes in OSU lineup
Tailback. Backup quarterback. The left side of the offensive line. Receiver. The middle of the defensive lineup. Special teams.
If that is not a comprehensive list of the questions Oregon State hopes to begin to answer in spring practice Ñwhich begins April 3 and concludes with the May 1 spring game Ñ it is pretty close.
The Beavers lost 12 starters, including kicker Kirk Yliniemi and punter Carl Tobey, off their -8-5 Las Vegas Bowl championship squad of 2003.
'We have quite a few holes to fill,' says Mike Riley, beginning his fourth season as OSU head coach and his second season during his second tour of duty. 'There is a lot of production that must be replaced. All of our captains have gone on, so leadership and the team-building process will begin this spring.'
First and foremost is the need to replace All-American running back Steven Jackson, who left after his junior season to begin what most feel will be an outstanding NFL career. Senior-to-be Dwight Wright, who gained 432 yards in a backup role last season, is the heir apparent, and he will get competition this spring from sophomore-to-be Ryan Cole and redshirt freshman Yvenson Bernard.
'Dwight is the incumbent, but we will still have playing time (for others) if he wins the job,' Riley says. 'There is going to be a lot of competition between Dwight, Ryan and Yvenson.'
Senior-to-be Derek Anderson is entrenched as the starting quarterback, but prize redshirt freshman Ryan Gunderson will challenge senior-to-be Adam Rothenfluh for the backup spot.
'It is a big spring for Ryan,' Riley says. 'He has learned an awful lot since he arrived on campus. Now he will be able to begin to show what he can do.'
Starting offensive tackle Brian Kilkenny and offensive guard David Lose have graduated. Returnees Adam Koets and Josh Linehan and junior college transfer Chris Miller (6-5, 315) will share time at tackle this spring. Redshirt freshmen Roy Schuening, Kyle DeVan and Whitfield Usher, along with returnees Jason Fyda and Brent Bridges, will compete for the guard spot.
'And one of the guards will become our backup center this fall,' Riley says.
Finding dependable receivers alongside budding star Mike Hass will be 'big, big, big' for the Beavers, the OSU coach says. Veterans Cole Clasen, Josh Hawkins and George Gillett, along with JC transfer Kevin Swanigan and redshirt freshman Phil Ghilarducci, will get their opportunities this spring.
On defense, finding replacements for tackle Dwan Edwards, middle linebacker Richard Seigler and strong safety Lawrence Turner will be a key order of business.
'Those are big shoes to fill,' Riley says. 'I feel great about Trent Bray moving (from strong linebacker) to the middle, and I am real excited with the offseason work of (tackles) Alvin Smith and Sir Henry Anderson. They have made great strides.'
Junior-to-be Harvey Whiten, sophomores-to-be Sabby Piscitelli and Dallas Buck and redshirt freshmen Anthony Wheat-Brown and Eric Anderson will compete for Turner's vacant safety spot.
New graduate assistant Bruce Read, with five years of experience coaching NFL special teams, will begin the drive to shore up the Beavers' glaring weakness of a year ago Ñ particularly blocking and coverage on both kickoffs and punts.
'There will be some change in our schemes, much of it subtle,' Riley says.
There will be 15 practice sessions this spring. É Five veterans will not participate while recuperating from injuries: defensive tackle Ben Siegert (shoulder), safety Mitch Meeuwsen (shoulder), offensive tackle Jake Pratt (knee), tight end Pat Loney (shoulder) and linebacker Seth Lacey (neck). É Clasen will return punts again next season. The kickoff return job, Riley says, 'is wide open.'
JC linebacker Keith Ellison, who enrolled for winter term, will challenge junior-to-be Chaz Scott for the strong linebacker position. É Tailback Charles Burnley of Valencia, Calif., and tight end Zach Hagemeister of Lebanon, both late academic qualifiers from the 2003 freshman class, will participate in spring drills. É Tight end Dan Haines, a 6-4, 240-pound junior-to-be, will get plenty of repetitions behind sophomore starter Joe Newton this spring. É Incoming freshmen Burnell Wallace of New Orleans, Zach Tarver of Jesuit High and Sammie Stroughter of Roseville, Calif., could be in the mix for playing time immediately when they report to camp this summer.
Junior-to-be John Dailey and redshirt freshman Alexis Serna will battle for the place-kicking job. É JC punter Sam Paulescu won't be in camp until summer. Freshman walk-on Jon Strowbridge of Corvallis High will handle punting duties this spring. É The Beavers have 33 redshirt freshmen on their roster. 'We feel really good about that class,' Riley says. 'This is the time they will get a chance to take on more responsibility in our program.'