Mike Riley breaks down the Beavers
CORVALLIS - The coach sits in his office, nodding, smiling as he gazes out the window into the sunshine flashing down on Reser Stadium.
He understands the hand-wringing of Beaver Nation after a 5-7 campaign, and with all the question marks Oregon State carries into next season.
Stephen Paea, gone. Jacquizz Rodgers, gone. James Rodgers, an unknown commodity after major knee surgery. And rehab from injuries for a number of offensive skill-position players, such as quarterback Ryan Katz, receiver Jordan Bishop, tight end Joe Halahuni and tailback Jordan Jenkins.
'There are a lot of reasons for people to worry,' concedes Mike Riley, who will begin his his 11th season at the OSU helm with the start of training camp on Aug 8. 'In football, sometimes it feels like when it rains, it pours.
'But these are all things you individually deal with. The thing that's most important with this team is where are we physically on Aug. 7.'
With that, Riley provides an update and his expectations for those on the injured list two months before camp begins:
Rodgers: 'James is on a treadmill, jogging, walking without a limp. He can jog out on the field. I'm encouraged, although conservatively. I don't want to put any unreasonable or unknowledgeable expectations. The doctor thinks he'll be ready to play football this season. He thought James might be a little late getting into camp, but he didn't put any more restrictions on it than that.'
Katz (wrist surgery): 'He is still not totally cleared. He is not taking direct snaps, and he can't do all the lifts. But he's able to do a lot of the stuff that's important, like throwing the ball and running.'
Bishop (ankle surgery): 'He's running on the treadmill in water. The prognosis is he will be running in July. For him to have a good year, he's going to have to be running and catching balls all through July to catch up on what he missed.'
Halahuni (shoulder surgery): 'The doctor said he will be ready to go by the first of September. To me, that means it's probably another month before he's playing in a game.'
(I run into Halahuni, whose shoulder is no longer in a sling, outside the coaches' office and ask his goal for a return to action. 'Sometime in August,' he says.)
Jenkins (shoulder surgery): 'He's out of the sling and doing well in rehab. He should be at full speed by the start of camp.'
Besides the injuries, the Beavers have many concerns as they head into the first season for the Pac-12. Riley liked what he saw during spring ball.
'There was a lot of progress made in the spring, especially defensively and on the offensive line,' Riley says. 'We have to have our defense play better as a whole, and we need our offensive line to grow from last year. Those will be big factors in our success.
'I've seen these core issues improve since last season. I feel realistically optimistic about what this team can do. We could be pretty good.'
For that to happen, Katz has to take the same step Matt Moore did in his second season as a starter. The O-line, mediocre at best last season, has to improve despite the loss of its best player a year ago, Alex Linnenkohl.
Somebody has to emerge at running back. That didn't happen during the spring. With Jenkins out, senior Ryan McCants, sophomore Jovan Stevenson, redshirt freshman Malcolm Marable and grayshirt freshman Terron Ward took turns handling duties.
'There is not a leader (among the candidates),' Riley says. 'We're still looking at different roles for different guys. Nobody has surfaced as an every-down, all-around back. Jordan had the best chance to be that guy, but he missed all of spring.'
True freshmen Malcolm Agnew and Storm Woods arrive on campus next month. They're going to get a chance to play right away.
'The two freshmen will get an opportunity to work in, just as Quizz did as a freshman,' Riley says. 'If either is the best guy, he will play.'
I get the feeling the player who might win the starting job is Ward, the 5-7, 190-pound former star at De La Salle High in Concord, Calif.
Ward - built in similar fashion to Quizz - missed the final 2 1/2 weeks of spring ball after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on a knee, but he should be full speed by the start of camp. Ward is the most versatile of the candidates, a good receiver and probably the best blocker.
I also think Agnew and Woods are both going to get good looks from the OSU coaching staff, too.
Riley and OSU administrators haven't yet determined a punishment for defensive tackle Castro Masaniai, charged in May with second-degree kidnapping, coercion, disorderly conduct, harassment and criminal mischief in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. The charges are expected to be downgraded, however, and Masaniai might be able to avoid being suspended for a game or games by meeting community service and counseling demands.
It has been a productive period since the end of spring practice for Riley. Head coaches are prohibited from recruiting in May. While OSU's assistants were on the road, evaluating prospects and identifying potential recruits, Riley spent eight days doing one-on-one interviews with each of his players - 92 of them in all.
'I've done this for three years now, since they took (head coaches) off the road,' Riley says. 'It's maybe as valuable as anything I do in the program - learning about what the kids are doing.
'I love it, and I think they appreciate it, too. With so many players, how much time do you really give them one-on-one? We talk about football, but it's also about, 'Where are you living? How is your money holding up? What are your plans for summer? Where are you with school?' And I have weight-room, grade and study-hall reports on each kid. If there's a red flag, we hit it.'
For Riley, June means speaking engagements, OSU functions, recruiting organizational meetings with his staff and player camps for youths and high school students.
Riley estimates the Beavers have extended about 60 scholarship offers.
'That's probably typical for us,' he says. 'It's different than some programs. Some offer 160 scholarships knowing they can only give 25. We're not going to offer (a ride) until we've done a thorough job looking through every guy. We're probably at the right number, knowing we'll wind up at between 20 and 25.'
Among those 60 offers, some are to four- and five-star recruits Oregon State has little chance of landing.
'We make the offer and get in on the initial stages of the recruitment in some of those cases,' Riley says. 'In the next couple of months, those kids who have 40 offers are going to be narrowing things down. If you're not in their top five or 10, you put your energies into someone else.'
Riley believes all of his incoming freshmen have cleared academic hurdles and are qualified and ready to go in August. The only veteran definitely out of action is offensive tackle Rory Ross, who is on the medically disqualified list due to chronic knee problems. He will retain his scholarship, but his career is likely over.
New coaches Brent Brennan and Chris Brasfield have made a strong impression on Riley and the rest of the staff.
'They're hard workers, good coaches and good people who fit in well,' Riley says.
Oregon State also made an upgrade with the hiring of trainer Ariko Iso, the OSU alum and former Portland State trainer who was hired this month to head the Beavers' training staff. Iso had been an assistant trainer with the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2002.
I ask Riley if he feels the losing season - only his second in the eight years of the 'Riley II' era - has hurt him on the recruiting trail.
'No, I don't,' he says. 'We've been here long enough to have a history of who we are.'
Riley pauses, then smiles.
'It interferes with my comfort level personally,' he says, 'but I don't think it negatively impacts our recruiting.'
If the Beavers are 'pretty good' next season, as Riley hopes, the coach's comfort level should fit once again into an acceptable range.