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OSUs Anderson hopes to fulfill star potential

The quiet junior quarterback is his own toughest critic

CORVALLIS Ñ He is a quiet young man, with an aw-shucks grin and small-town demeanor. Whether the endeavor is cards or video games or a round of golf, Derek Anderson is good company.

But soon, the real fun and games will start.

The spotlight shines on Anderson as Oregon State prepares for its Aug. 28 opener against Sacramento State at Reser Stadium. That's both bad and good for the junior quarterback from Scappoose.

Anderson is used to being the main man. That part is no big deal. And he knows that public criticism goes with the territory in major college football.

Really, though, Anderson has to answer only his toughest critic this fall Ñ himself.

'That's the way I've always been,' says Anderson, a private person in a very public forum. 'I push myself. I've done some good things here at Oregon State, but there's always room for improvement.'

Anderson's numbers in his first year as a starter last season included school single-season records for passing yardage (3,313), total offense (3,082) and touchdown passes (25). He was sensational in the Beavers' 45-24 Civil War romp over Oregon, completing 21 of 37 passes for 370 yards and four TDs with no interceptions.

'Judging from the Civil War game, he's a great player,' says Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who offered Anderson a scholarship out of high school. 'He was inconsistent Ñ even he would tell you that Ñ but potentially he is a very good quarterback. He fits well in a shotgun and three-step drop system.'

Seeking more respect

Anderson has gained a measure of respect Ñ Phil Steele's Preseason Guide ranks him 11th among the nation's quarterbacks, third in the Pacific-10 Conference behind Washington's Cody Pickett and Arizona State's Andrew Walter Ñ and there could be much more recognition ahead.

Last season, he completed only 47 percent of his passes, the worst of any Pac-10 starter. At times, he overthrew receivers or tried to force passes through defensive traffic. He also had trouble avoiding the pass rush, losing 296 yards via the sack.

Anderson was apprehensive about learning a new system when Mike Riley and his new coaching staff arrived this spring.

'He worries because he cares,' offensive coordinator Paul Chryst says. 'He has been doing some good things in training camp. For Derek, he needs to work on things like footwork and decision making and getting comfortable with receivers and understanding where they are going to be. The things he can control, he is doing fine. I mean, the kid is talented.'

Riley calls decision making 'the No. 1 quality in quarterbacking Ñ making good decisions about what you are going to do with the ball.' Anderson has made that a major goal.

'I am working on progressions,' he says. 'Going from that first read to the second read to the third one. I think I'm doing all right (in camp). I miss throws sometimes I know I can make. I guess that's the most frustrating thing.'

A wealth of potential

The 6-6 Anderson, who ballooned to 250 pounds as a freshman, weighs 225 and is in the best shape of his college career. He looks a little quicker and hopes that will help him avoid the rush during the two or three times a game that it becomes a factor.

Riley was offensive coordinator at Southern Cal when quarterback Brad Otton Ñ about the same size as Anderson at 6-6 and 235 Ñ led the Trojans to the 1996 Rose Bowl championship.

'Brad had the ability to move in the pocket a little bit and get the ball out of his hands to avoid a sack and get a completion,' Riley says. 'And Derek is more athletic than Brad was.'

Ace receiver James Newson has spent the summer working out with Anderson in Corvallis.

'I see great improvement from where Derek was a year ago,' Newson says. 'When you can communicate with each other like we do, when you have a feel for each like we do, good things happen. He can still improve on a couple of his balls, but he has been looking real good.'

Anderson's goals for the season are simple.

'I want a higher completion percentage,' he says, 'and I want us to win a lot of games. If those things happen, a pretty nice bowl game will come hand in hand.'