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Tailback takes heir apparent role in stride

OSU's McCants is the early favorite to succeed Bernard
by: , MCCANTS

CORVALLIS - With Oregon State's patchwork offensive line overwhelmed by the Beavers' defensive front, Ryan McCants was mostly a punching bag during last Friday's scrimmage at Tommy Prothro Field.

You won't hear the redshirt freshman tailback calling out his blockers, though.

'I wouldn't blame the line,' McCants says. 'Some of that was my fault as well.'

It's typical of McCants, a soft-spoken, genuinely humble Corona, Calif., native who is heir apparent to Yvenson Bernard as the Beavers' starting tailback.

Coach Mike Riley noted there weren't many holes for McCants to run through, in part because the Beavers' top three guards - Jeremy Perry, Adam Speer and Gregg Peat - were missing from the scrimmage.

'Most of our rushing yardage was pretty hard to get, but we'll be better than that (in the fall),' Riley says. 'I've been really pleased with Ryan this spring. He's a tough guy. He just keeps going.'

McCants will get plenty of work at Reser Stadium during Saturday's 2 p.m. spring game, which concludes Oregon State's spring practice session. Riley will be looking for improvement from McCants in seeing interior opportunities.

'Ryan's a good outside zone runner,' the OSU coach says. 'He still has to work to get a better feel inside.'

Riley says McCants will enter August camp as the No. 1 tailback. But he will have competition from JC transfer Jeremy Francis - who soon will undergo minor knee surgery but is expected to be ready for camp - and incoming freshman Jacquizz Rodgers.

'Ryan is leading, but I wouldn't put too much stock in that yet,' Riley says. 'Ryan will probably get the first turns, but Jeremy was looking very good before he got hurt, and Jacquizz will be given an opportunity to compete (for playing time).

'I'm excited about the competition. We have a chance at some real depth at the position.'

The 6-2, 230-pound McCants is fast and physically imposing, much like an ex-OSU tailback he admires - Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams.

'To be compared with somebody like that is an honor,' McCants says. 'I still have to prove myself.'

McCants, a 'yes sir, no sir' type of youngster, doesn't expect to be handed the starting job.

'It's still a wide-open competition,' he says. 'I need to get a better feel for the playbook and the offense as a whole. I need to work on situational running and picking up blocks in the passing game.

'We'll go into camp and see how things go.'

Last season, McCants gained invaluable experience as the scout-team tailback.

'I learned a lot by watching the senior running backs - Bernard, (Matt) Sieverson and (Clinton) Polk,' he says. 'And I learned by running against the starting defense ranked No. 1 in the nation (against the run) - that was a great learning experience.'

Bernard, McCants says, 'was such a complete running back. He did everything well. That's something I'll try to do in perfecting my craft.'

McCants already has bonded with new running back coach Reggie Davis.

'It's working out great,' McCants says. 'He's always on us about the little things. In the end, that will make us all better running backs.'

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Next: The spring game is 1 p.m. Saturday at Reser Stadium.

• OSU coaches and offensive tackle Tavita Thompson won't comment on the senior's NCAA suspension for illegal substance use. As it stands, Thompson - who continues to practice - won't be eligible until the Beavers' Nov. 1 game against Arizona State. The 6-6, 295-pound senior from Honolulu admits it's not been an easy situation to accept.

'It hurts,' he says. 'But at the same time, I'm here for the team. Whatever I can do to help my teammates get better.'

Thompson remains hopeful Oregon State's ongoing appeal for restored eligibility will be granted.

'There's no guarantee I won't be playing until Nov. 1,' he says. 'I could maybe play the first game. Will that happen? I don't know, but I have to be ready.

'But like coach (Mike Riley) told me, I have to come out every practice and play like it's a game. That's what I've been trying to do. It's hard. Everybody else is playing like it's just practice. I have to take every practice a little more seriously than the next guy.'

• Among those who will miss the spring game are tailback Jeremy Francis, tight end Joe Halahuni and defensive tackle Tonu Tuimalealiifano - all ticketed for knee surgery - and tight end Gabe Miller, who has a broken bone in his left hand.

• Sophomore kicker Justin Kahut has solidified his position this spring. The punting job remains a competition between redshirt freshman Kyle Harper, junior college transfer Sean Sehnem and freshman Josh Makepeace, all walk-ons. Another walk-on, freshman Johnny Hekker, will join the battle in training camp, and coaches also hope to bring in another candidate in August.

• Senior defensive end Keith Robertson missed Friday's scrimmage with a minor knee injury but says he expects to play in the spring game. The ex-Lake Oswego High standout, who transferred last year from Foothill College in Los Altos, Calif., is in the best shape he has been in since arriving in Corvallis and hopes to contend for playing time next season.

'Keith has worked really hard to get to this point,' Riley says. 'I'm going to reserve comment on him until I see him at the spring game and see how he progresses going into camp.'

- Kerry Eggers