Riley wants to see more consistency, holes in defense filled
CORVALLIS It starts for real on Monday at Tommy Prothro Field, the second time around for Mike Riley as head football coach at Oregon State.
There are great expectations, yet significant questions, about the Beavers as they start preparing for the Aug. 28 opener against Sacramento State at Reser Stadium.
A look at some of the questions, with Riley's responses:
Q: Junior quarterback Derek Anderson is coming off a record-setting season, but he completed only 47 percent of his passes, and inconsistency was a problem. What can be expected from him this year?
Riley: 'Quarterbacks have the best opportunity to get better by playing. Derek had a whole season as a starter last year. That, coupled with the fact he has worked hard and is surrounded by players he has a lot of familiarity with, are positive things that will give him a chance to thrive.
'I looked at Derek's mechanics during the spring, and he is pretty darn natural. He gets rid of the ball quickly, has a nice strong arm and doesn't need a lot of extra space to get rid of the ball.
'Derek's decision making who to throw the ball to, when not to throw it, when to take off and run will go a long way toward determining the success we have as an offensive unit.'
Q: Junior tailback Steven Jackson was the Pac-10 Conference leader in rushing with a school-record 1,690 yards and was a third-team All-American last season. What can he do for an encore, and will the OSU line open holes for him?
Riley: 'We hope Steven will be able to duplicate and even surpass what he did. He is a terrific talent who will be a focal point of our team and will provide us not only some great ability but also toughness.
'We lose only one starter (guard/tackle Mike Kuykendall) off last year's team, and I feel pretty good about what we have back, with Matt Brock at center, David Lose and Kanan Sanchez at guard and Brian Kilkenny and Doug Nienhuis at tackle. There are also some talented younger guys who may be ready to step up. We want to have seven, eight or nine guys we feel comfortable playing. That is going to be really important to our season.'
Q: Seven starters are gone on defense (end Noah Happe, tackle Eric Manning, linebackers Nick Barnett and Erik Tuma, cornerbacks Terrell Roberts and Dennis Weathersby, and safety Calvin Carlyle). Can they be replaced?
Riley: 'I am really excited about our front seven, and I feel good about our safeties (Mitch Meeuwsen and Lawrence Turner). I am not unhappy or overly concerned about our cornerbacks, but anytime you play a position with guys who haven't been front-line players, there are question marks.
'If the season started today, we would probably go with (junior) Aric Williams and (redshirt freshman) Brandon Browner. Brandon is 6-4 and about 195. If you draw up a prototype corner, he would be it. I never had anybody in the NFL that tall and rangy. He is not overly fast, but he has long arms and can get them on receivers.
'I like the intensity and speed of our front seven. (End) Bill Swancutt is an incredibly impressive player, and (tackle) Dwan Edwards is so talented, he will draw a lot of attention. The play of our other tackles, Alvin Smith and Henry Anderson, will be key, because blockers will be so focused on Dwan.
'We have five good linebackers with experience Richard Seigler, Jonathan Pollard, Seth Lacey, Jason Lowe and Trent Bray and they all run 4.6 or better. We are going to find a way to get Trent on the field. He has a nose for the ball. In the spring game, he was all over the field making plays.'
Q: Jayson Boyd, ticketed to start at flanker, has flunked out of school. How will you replace him?
Riley: '(Sophomore) Josh Hawkins, who had a great spring, will move from split end to the Z spot (flanker) and get a shot at the starting job along with (junior) George Gillett. We also lost Travis Brown to grades, so we are thinner than we expected at receiver. But with James Newson, Kenny Farley and Cole Clasen, we have some guys who can catch the ball and do things with it.'
Q: Which of the 29 redshirts will be ready to play this fall?
Riley: 'We already mentioned Alvin Smith and Brandon Browner. I love (tight end) Joe Newton. He has a great work ethic, and there is a lot of talent there to be developed. (Defensive end) Brandon Scales lacks beef he's 6-5 and about 220 but he is quick and fast and very talented. He might get into the mix for playing time. And we have some offensive linemen Brandon Lockheart, J.C. Ronnfeldt, Josh Linehan I want to get a look at.'
Notes: Riley says his No. 1 question in training camp is how the offensive line performs. After that, the main questions are the play of his cornerbacks and who wins the starting flanker position. É Brown was being seriously considered to serve as punt return specialist. That job now could go to Williams or Hawkins. Dwight Wright and Brandon Catanese are the likely kickoff return specialists. Defensive end Dan Rothwell is expected to replace Happe as deep snapper.
With four quality tight ends in senior starter Tim Euhus, Newton, sophomore Dan Haines and junior Pat Loney, Riley will use a double tight-end formation at times. 'I can't tell you how much,' he says, 'but it is probably our strongest position. We will determine in camp what is our very best offensive group. Is it with two tight ends or a third wideout? The second tight end and third wideout are starters in my mind, because they are going to play a lot.'
Reserve offensive tackle Adam Koets had knee surgery this summer but is expected to be ready for Monday's drills. Two Beavers won't be ready reserve tackle Jake Pratt, still recuperating from a respiratory illness, and cornerback Jamaal Jackson, mending a broken jaw.