O-line, running back, front seven biggest concerns
CORVALLIS - The offseason news on Oregon State football has not exactly been encouraging to denizens of Beaver Nation.
Jacquizz Rodgers leaves for the NFL draft. James Rodgers' delayed second knee surgery leaves his status for a senior season unknown. QB Ryan Katz has surgery on his throwing wrist. Receiver Jordan Bishop will miss most or all of spring practice with an ankle injury.
All of this after a 5-7 campaign and the Beavers' first non-bowl season in five years.
Coach Mike Riley asks only for some calm before any storm.
'I know there have been a lot of things for Beaver fans to fret over,' says Riley, whose team begins spring practice on March 28. 'And losing Quizz, one of the best players we've ever had in our program, is tough.
'But everybody has to remember that offseasons are full of this stuff. The rest of it is just football. For the injured guys, the real goal is to be ready by Aug. 8 (the start of training camp). Whatever we lose in the spring with Ryan and Jordan, we'll make up for by having a great summer with those two throwing the ball.'
Riley will know more about Katz's rehab progress after a March 21 doctor's appointment.
'Reports I've gotten have been positive,' Riley says. 'There's a chance we might break him in a little slow, but I'm pretty sure he'll practice in the spring, and it's possible he'll be fully ready for the start of practice.'
James Rodgers underwent the second surgery on his left knee in late February and has been at his Richmond, Texas, home since then, rehabbing and finishing winter-term classwork on-line. He'll be back in Corvallis for spring term on March 26 and will serve as Riley's 'personal helper' during spring ball.
Riley hasn't talked to team doctors about Rodgers' progress, but has a gut feeling the senior receiver/return specialist will be ready early in the season, if not for the opener Sept. 3 against Sacramento State.
'We just want to make sure we have no setbacks with him,' Riley says. 'We won't use him until he is healthy and ready to go. But with James, it's full speed ahead as far as rehab.'
There will be plenty of other things to focus on during spring practice, including an offensive line that underperformed last season.
With the loss of center Alex Linnenkohl, O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh will move Grant Johnson - a starter last season at guard - to the middle. The 6-3, 285-pound senior-to-be from Baker High started his OSU career as a center. Last year's back-up center, sophomore-to-be Josh Andrews, will be penciled in as the starting left guard.
'Josh has what it takes ability-wise to play center,' Riley reasons, 'but we want to take away the complications of having to snap the ball and make calls from him as a young player. Grant is poised, smart and experienced. It just makes sense.'
Senior Burke Ellis is back at right guard. The starting tackles will flop, with senior Mike Remmers moving to the left side to protect Katz's backside - 'Mike's our most experienced lineman,' Riley said - and junior Michael Philipp switching to the right side.
'Development in the performance and camaraderie in that group will be one of our keys to success next season,' Riley says. 'Even though we had some struggling moments with the line last year, Johnson, Ellis, Remmers and Philipp have played a lot of football for us. There's nothing like experience at those positions.
'We have to get the best football of their lives out of those four, and i'm very excited about the capabilities of Andrews and (reserve guards) Grant Enger and Michael Lamb, among others.'
Among the 'others' is 6-6, 335-pound grayshirt freshman Darryl Jackson, who could move in quickly as the third tackle.
Running back will be another focus during the spring.
'We're entering new territory after losing one of the greatest players we've ever coached, but it doesn't have to be a negative,' Riley says.
Among the candidates to replace Quizz are senior Ryan McCants, junior Jordan Jenkins, sophomore Jovan Stevenson, redshirt freshman Malcolm Marable and grayshirt freshman Terron Ward.
'There are a lot of possibilities there,' Riley says. 'I'm not discouraged by it. Maybe we use three or four guys.'
Don't be surprised if the 5-7, 185-pound Ward distinguishes himself early. The product of the great De La Salle program in Concord, Calif., is put together physically and reminds some of Ken Simonton with the way he runs the ball.
With James Rodgers and Bishop out of commission this spring, other receivers will get the opportunity to carve their niche. The starters will be juniors Markus Wheaton at split end and Geno Munoz at slotback and senior Darrell Catchings at flanker. Behind them are redshirt freshmen Obum Gwachum at split end and Micah Hatfield at flanker and sophomore Kevin Cummings at slotback.
Riley will watch the 6-5, 220-pound Gwachum - a 7-2 high-jumper - and the 6-foot, 160-pound Hatfield with particular interest. Gwachum reminds Riley of former split end Damola Adeniji.
'Obum is very athletic, and he has gained a bunch of weight,' Riley says. 'I like a big body out there at (split end), throwing those routes on the boundary. Micah runs the fastest '10' on the team. He's quick and comes out of breaks very well. If he can stay injury-free, he'll be fun to watch.'
Fullback Will Darkins has left the team to concentrate on finishing his degree, Riley says. Walk-on Tyler Anderson, a redshirt freshman who played with Ward at De La Salle, will challenge returnee Clayton York for the job.
'Tyler would have been De La Salle's running back, except they had Terron,' Riley says. 'He's a very impressive player who has a chance to make his impact.'
Early reports on grayshirt freshman placekicker Trevor Romaine are positive, according to special-teams coach Bruce Read. Romaine has been booming the ball during informal winter workouts.
On the defensive side, competition for playing time in the front seven draws the major focus.
Starters Taylor Henry and Dominic Glover at end will get a push from JC transfers Blake Harrah and Rusty Fernando, along with promising redshirt freshman Scott Crichton, 'a great prospect who will factor right away,' Riley says. Returning is junior backup Andrew Seumalo, son of D-line coach Joe Seumalo.
At tackle, senior Kevin Frahm is back. The other projected starter, junior Castro Masaniai, will be available only for limited duty as he rehabs from shoulder surgery. That opens the door for grayshirt freshman Fred Thompson, redshirt freshmen Mana Tuivailala and Joe Lopez, sophomore John Braun and senior Ben Motter to show what they can do.
The 6-3 Fernando has gained 25 pounds, to 225, since arriving in January. So, too, has linebacker D.J. Welch, a 6-1, 225-pound grayshirt freshman who will compete for time at an outside linebacker spot.
Projected starters there are senior Cameron Collins and sophomore Michael Doctor, with junior transfer Shiloah Te'o and redshirt freshman Shaydon Akuna on their heels.
Middle linebackers Rueben Robinson and Tony Wilson shared the position last season, but they'll get competition from junior Feti Unga and redshirt freshman Michael Bibbee.
The strength of OSU's defense should be in the secondary, with returnees Lance Mitchell at safety and Jordan Poyer and Brandon Hardin at cornerback.
Junior Anthony Watkins is expected to step in as the other safety, though he'll get a push from junior Josh LaGrone, sophomore Dax Dilbeck and redshirt freshman Ryan Murphy. Backing up at corner are sophomores Rashaad Reynolds and Sean Martin and junior Keynan Parker.
'I like the whole picture in the secondary,' Riley says. 'We have depth, talent and experience there.'
After spring ball, Riley will have a better idea about the other position areas. The really important stuff, though, starts Aug. 8.