Plenty of questions, not as many answers after OSU spring game
QB Vaz, tight end Hamlett shine for Beavers' offense
CORVALLIS - So, my riding companion asked on the drive back from Reser Stadium Saturday afternoon, what now do we know about Oregon State's chances in the fall?
The answer: Not a whole lot more than we did before the spring game. Simply too many bodies on the sidelines in street clothes due to injury.
Most of them will be back by the start of training camp on Aug. 8. The ones who may not:
• James Rodgers, the senior flanker who underwent a pair of surgeries to repair his left knee. Rodgers, walking normally as he watched Saturday's scrimmage, told me he intends to be back practicing by the start of camp.
'The sooner the better,' Rodgers said. 'I feel like I'm going to be around by the time (camp) hits.'
That's your hope, then?
'I don't hope - I know,' he said, smiling.
So he could be ready for the opener Sept. 2 against Sacramento State?
'It all depends on how I feel and if Coach (Mike) Riley wants me to play the first game,' Rodgers said.
I asked the coach the same question. Could Rodgers be ready for Sac State?
'Nobody else thinks that,' Riley said, 'but James does, and that's good enough for me.'
• Joe Halahuni, the senior tight end up who undergoes tests Tuesday on a left shoulder that has been bothering him since late last season.
'During the spring, it started to bother me more and more,' Halahuni said.
Surgery would mean Halahuni would miss the start of the season. Healing through rehabilitation would probably mean he'd be ready for camp.
'That's what I'm hoping for,' Halahuni said. 'We'll find out more on Tuesday.'
• Promising grayshirt freshman Fred Thompson, a 6-4, 320-pound defensive tackle, who underwent shoulder surgery last week.
'He'll likely redshirt this season,' Riley said.
The rest of the walking wounded - quarterback Ryan Katz, receiver Jordan Bishop, tight end Colby Prince among them - should be good to go.
In their absence, some things emerged out of Saturday's set-to that prove promising for the upcoming season:
• Cody Vaz has held off Sean Mannion as OSU's backup QB. And if Katz should go down to injury, the sky won't be falling.
Vaz completed 19 of 32 passes for 234 yards with one interception. The 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore - hey, he's three inches taller than Jonathan Smith - looked poised in the pocket and, after three spring practices, seems to have a good understanding of the offense.
'Vaz really looked sharp, especially early,' Riley said. 'When we worked in the red zone, he tried to force too many balls into the end zone instead of just throwing it away. Prior to that, there was a lot of good stuff on third-down conversions. He made a lot of good plays and had a really good spring.'
Mannion completed 13 of 32 passes for 156 yards with three picks. I figured the 6-5, 220-pound redshirt freshman - sort of a more mobile Derek Anderson - would beat out Vaz on talent, but he looks as if he is a year away.
'When Sean got going, he threw some great balls,' Riley said. 'He held the ball too long and was late at times and paid for it.'
• Nothing has been settled at tailback. Senior Ryan McCants (16 carries, 57 yards) and sophomore Jovan Stevenson (12 carries, 28 yards) carried the load with junior Jordan Jenkins (shoulder) and grayshirt freshman Terron Ward (knee) out of action. Neither McCants nor Stevenson distinguished himself.
Redshirt freshman Malcolm Marable, a probable situational back, had a 65-yard TD run on the final play of the day, but it was against mostly third-string defenders.
I think Jenkins and Ward will get their chances in training camp. So, too, will incoming true freshmen Malcolm Agnew and Storm Woods. It's probably going to wind up being tailback-by-committee, but it wouldn't surprise me if somebody steps up to win the job in camp.
• Redshirt freshmen tight ends Connor Hamlett and Tyler Perry stole the show offensively.
Hamlett, 6-7 and 260, hauled in 11 passes for 153 yards and looks like a star of the future.
Perry, 6-4 and 240, caught four balls for 79 yards.
Both will see action, along with Halahuni and the 6-3, 265-pound Prince, in the rotation at tight end and H-back in the fall.
Riley wants to re-establish the tight end as a key part of the offense, going back to the years of Marty Maurer, Joe Newton and Tim Euhus.
'If we can get this thing going with our tight ends again and get some of our (wideouts) back, we're going to have a really good receiving corps,' he said. 'We want to be able to look downfield, throw the ball low to the tight end and be efficient with it.
'And when we do, we'll be good. Same thing with the backs, who caught a lot of balls today. When we get them all going together, this offense could be a lot of fun.'
Oregon State seems to be in much the same situation as it was in 2004 after losing Steven Jackson to the NFL. With Dwight Wright as the lead tailback - he averaged 3.8 yards and gained 784 yards - the Beavers went to mostly an aerial attack with senior Anderson throwing for 3,615 yards and 29 TDs. They finished 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the Pac-10, beating Notre Dame in the Insight Bowl.
• The offensive line seemed pretty good Saturday. Riley believes as a group, it will be improved. Junior Colin Kelly started at right tackle instead of Michael Philipp - 'but we're not going to name the starter today for the first game,' Riley cautioned.
• There is better team speed on the defensive side. Sophomore outside linebacker Michael Doctor (10 tackles) stood out. So did middle 'backer Feti Unga, who levied a vicious hit on receiver Markus Wheaton that ended the junior receiver's afternoon. Not because of injury, mind you, but because of coach's caution.
'Left him in one play too long,' Riley said with a laugh.
The secondary, led by safety Lance Mitchell and cornerbacks Brandon Hardin and Jordan Poyer, looks sound. Backup safeties Josh LaGrone and Ryan Murphy made several noticeable plays. 'And we're developing more depth at corner than we've ever had,' Riley observed.
• The D-line remains a question mark. JC ends Rusty Fernando and Blake Harrah look promising, and a bigger (6-1, 255) but still quick Taylor Henry was a major factor in the scrimmage. Converted end Dominic Glover made a lot of plays at tackle Saturday. If injured tackle Castro Masaniai - 6-2 and 340 - makes it back healthy, the line might surprise as a strength, not a weakness.
Even with Katz, Bishop and Halahuni in good health, pundits won't be high on Oregon State's chances in the new Pac-12 this fall. I'm guessing the Beavers will be picked to finish ninth or 10th in the preseason media poll, ahead of perhaps only Washington State and Colorado.
Riley has been there before. He has his work cut out for him, but isn't that the Beaver way?