Offensive line seems solid, but some concerns still remain
CORVALLIS - Oregon State enters the 2011 season with more question marks than a punctuation primer from Grammar.com.
There are so many moving parts to the OSU lineup entering the season, it's hard to get a handle on how the Beavers might fare.
With injured team leaders James Rodgers, Joe Halahuni, Brandon Hardin and Kevin Frahm missing from at least the Sept. 3 opener against Sacramento State, and others - such as linebacker Cameron Collins and tailback Jordan Jenkins - working back into shape from surgeries, the early season could be trying.
'Football is funny,' 11th-year OSU coach Mike Riley said last week after injuries cost the Beavers Hardin and Frahm from the opener. 'When it rains, it pours sometimes. But the core of this team is growing. Even though we've taken some hits, this team has a chance to find its identity. I'm excited.
'Out of the mist is what looks to me some pretty good stuff on the way. And we have some cavalry coming, with a lot of our veterans on the way back. In the meantime, we've found out about some other guys. That picture is bright.'
For the second time since 1998, Riley's second season at the OSU helm, the Beavers could be without a stud running back.
The other year was 2004, after junior Steven Jackson left for the NFL. Dwight Wright, who inherited the starting job, rushed for only 784 yards and a 3.8 average. But Derek Anderson threw for 3,615 yards and 29 touchdowns, leading the Beavers to a 7-5 record and a 38-21 romp past Notre Dame in the Insight Bowl.
That doesn't mean junior QB Ryan Katz will be called upon to win games with an all-aerial attack. At least, Riley hopes not.
'We need balance,' the OSU coach says, 'and I think we'll have that. We have some running backs who can fill the bill.'
One of them is Malcolm Agnew, the 5-8, 190-pound true freshman from St. Louis. True freshman, 5-7, 190-pound Terron Ward from Concord, Calif., is another with star potential.
The Beavers need more than a quality tailback, though, to have a sound ground game. A year ago, with Jacquizz Rodgers toting the ball, Oregon State was ninth in the Pac-10 in rushing offense at 119.6 yards per game. That came against the strongest schedule of opponents in Division I, but it still was a reflection of a weak offensive line.
Things could be different up front this season, with returnees Mike Remmers, Grant Johnson and Burke Ellis joined by two highly regarded newcomers - sophomore guard Josh 'Juice' Andrews and junior tackle Colin Kelly.
'I'm not into predictions,' O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh grumps. 'But I expect us to be (improved) this season. We'd better be.'
Katz, who completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for 2,401 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, could be poised for a big year.
He has an able group of receivers, especially if Rodgers come back strongly from knee surgery.
Juniors Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop, redshirt freshman Obum Gwachum and true freshman Brandin Cooks could join Rodgers to form one of the Pac-12's premier wideout units.
Halahuni, when he returns from shoulder surgery, is one of the league's top tight ends, with junior Colby Prince and promising redshirt freshman Connor Hamlett joining him.
'It's going to take a little time for everything to come together,' says Danny Langsdorf, in his seventh year as offensive coordinator. 'There are still some unknowns, some things we have to work on. But we have some exciting prospects.
'The line is pretty solid, and the more they play together, the better they'll get. We have good talent at all the (skill) positions, but a lot of the young guys don't have much game experience. That will be an important back story as we go through the season.'
Tough five weeks
The defense will go into the Sacramento State game with only one returning starter - senior safety Lance Mitchell.
The line is a particular concern, especially if junior Castro Masaniai sits out the opener as expected due to a one-game suspension.
The starting tackles against Sac State could be a pair of walk-ons, senior Ben Motter and junior Isaac Seumalo, son of D-line coach Joe Seumalo.
Senior Dominic Glover could swing between tackle and end, with talented redshirt freshman Scott Crichton and junior Taylor Henry projected at starters at the ends.
Linebacker should be a position of strength, with juniors Feti Unga and Tony Wilson in the middle and Collins, juniors Rueben Robinson and Shiloah Ta'o, sophomore Michael Doctor and true freshmen D.J. Welch and Jabral Johnson on the outside.
The loss of Hardin hurts the secondary, but Mitchell and junior Anthony Watkins, along with standout redshirt freshman Ryan Murphy, provide stability at safety. Junior Jordan Poyer, perhaps the Beavers' most versatile performer, mans one cornerback while sophomore Rashaad Reynolds must earn his wings at the other corner in place of Hardin.
'Talent won't be the issue for our defense,' Mitchell says. 'We have some great young players. It'll be game experience - how fast the game moves compared to practice. You can't really simulate what goes on in a game.
'I think we'll be ready. We might make mistakes, but it'll be things we'll be able to play through.'
Senior Johnny Hekker enters his fourth year as the starting punter while true freshman Trevor Romaine, with plenty of leg, takes over the place-kicking duties from Justin Kahut.
Poyer and Wheaton have the ability to be among the Pac-12 leaders returning punts and kicks.
It seems likely Oregon State will start the season 1-1, beating Sac State while losing at Wisconsin.
The next five weeks of the season seem key - at home against UCLA, at Arizona State, home dates with Brigham Young and Arizona and a matchup with Washington State in Seattle.
If the Beavers could go 4-1 in those games while young players are gaining experience, the second half of the campaign could be interesting. If they go 2-3, it could mean for a long year.
Mike Remmers, Jesuit: The senior offensive tackle is an awards candidate and the Beavers' top offensive lineman, with the team's most career starts (33) going into the season.
Kevin Frahm, Central Catholic: The senior defensive tackle is the team's most experienced defensive lineman. He will miss at least the opening game versus Sacramento State while he continues to recover from surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee.
Michael Lamb, Jesuit: The senior offensive guard is regarded as the Beavers' top reserve on the offensive line. He backs up starter Burke Ellis from Canby.
David Vieru, Centennial: The freshman offensive tackle is running on the second string.
Joe Lopez, Aloha: The redshirt freshman defensive tackle is in the mix for rotation minutes on the D-line.
Micah Hatfield, Lake Oswego: The injury-riddled sophomore wideout was in line for a rotation spot until suffering a thumb injury during training camp.
Jack Lomax, Lake Oswego: The sophomore has been running fourth string at quarterback.
Keith Kostol, Tigard: The redshirt freshman backs up Johnny Hekker at punter.
Will Storey, Lake Oswego: The freshman safety is likely to redshirt this season.