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Beaver offense comes into focus

by: , MOEVAO

CORVALLIS - There are plenty of unknowns about Oregon State's offense as it heads into Saturday's 1 p.m. spring game. But coach Mike Riley figures some important strides have been made during spring drills.

'We've seen growth from a lot of guys in a lot of positions,' Riley says. 'It's been kind of piecemeal with the offensive line, but overall, we're close to putting some parts together that look pretty good.'

Junior Lyle Moevao has firmed up his role as No. 1 quarterback while the other contender, Sean Canfield, has missed practice following shoulder surgery. 'Lyle has had a good spring,' Riley says. 'He's made some good throws. He's been consistent with his reads.'

Canfield, who started nine games as a sophomore last season, continues to improve physically and expects to be full strength for camp in August. 'I've been impressed that Sean has stayed very engaged' through spring practice, Riley says. 'Guys in his situation tend to step back and disappear a little bit, but he's been great.'

A year ago, Canfield and Moevao battled through camp for the starting job. 'It will be a competition again,' Riley says, 'but the difference this time is it's a little more defined as far as who goes in as No. 1.'

Redshirt freshman Ryan McCants continues to run No. 1 at tailback, but junior college transfer Jeremy Francis - who soon will undergo minor knee surgery - is in the picture. 'Jeremy is versatile - a good runner and receiver, smart and tough,' Riley says. 'He made good progress before he got hurt. There's a place for him on this team.'

Redshirt freshman Ahmed Mokhtar, fourth on the spring depth chart at tailback, has left school for personal reasons.

The Beavers are in good shape at wideout with senior Sammie Stroughter at split end, sophomore James Rodgers at slotback and sophomore Darrell Catchings at flanker. Together with senior backups Shane Morales and Chris Johnson, 'that gives us five guys we feel good about, and (sophomore) Casey Kjos could be the sixth if he can stay healthy,' Riley says. 'He could be a Brandon Powers type of player.'

Tight end is a deep position, with junior Howard Croom leading the way but junior John Reese and sophomores Gabe Miller and Brady Camp all meriting playing time. Miller has missed most of spring ball with a broken bone in his left hand but will be ready to go in August. The 6-4, 260-pound Camp, out Barlow High, 'has elevated himself this spring,' Riley says.

A fifth tight end, redshirt freshman Joe Halahuni, impressed the coaches until suffering a knee injury that will require surgery.

Two years ago, Oregon State fielded only two tight ends - seniors Joe Newton and Jason Vandiver. 'We could barely line up with a tight end,' Riley says. 'We used (offensive tackle) Andy Levitre at tight end in practice. How times have changed.'

The offensive line has been the biggest challenge - specifically, at guard, where Jeremy Perry missed spring drills following knee surgery. The other starter, Adam Speer, has been out most of the spring with a chest injury. The third guard, Gregg Peat, also has had a bum shoulder, although he returned to practice and could play Saturday.

Among those who have seen duty at guard are sophomores Ryan Pohl and Alex Linnenkohl and walk-on redshirt freshmen Michael Lamb of Jesuit, Ben Motter of Philomath and Grant Johnson of Baker City. Before he hurt a knee, 'Lamb was doing well, too,' Riley says.

Levitre - a likely preseason All-American - is a fixture at one tackle. With Tavita Thompson probably out until Nov. 1 due to NCAA suspension, the other starting tackle berth is up for grabs. Walk-on redshirt freshman Mike Remmers of Jesuit, walk-on sophomore Wilder McAndrews and JC transfer Una Smiley are among those who will vie for that spot.

Senior Marcus Henderson, a three-year backup out of Lake Oswego, has held off Pohl for the starting center job. 'Marcus is pretty solid in there,' Riley says. 'His experience is showing up.'

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Next: Two equal teams will square off in Saturday's 1 p.m. spring game at Reser Stadium, with the No. 1 offense and the No. 2 defense going against the No. 1 defense and the No. 2 offense. Coach Mike Riley says the game will have two halves with a running clock, probably 40 minutes a half. There will be punts and punt returns but no kickoffs.

• Several injured players will sit out: quarterback Sean Canfield; defensive tackle Pernnell Booth; guards Jeremy Perry, Adam Speer and Michael Lamb; tight ends Gabe Miller and Joe Halahuni; tailback Jeremy Francis; and defensive tackle Tonu Tuimalealiifano. Guard Gregg Peat is questionable.