Girding for the gridiron
Beavers have plenty of defense, a few questions on the other side
When Oregon State hauls out the pads next Tuesday for the start of spring practice, the major question marks will come on the offensive side of the ball.
The Beavers return 18 starters (including kicker Alexis Serna and punter Kyle Loomis) from the team that won eight of its last nine games, including a 39-38 Sun Bowl thriller over Missouri, to finish third in the Pac-10 with a 10-4 record and rank 21st in the nation.
The defense loses starters Joe Lemma, Ben Seigert and Sabby Piscitelli, but the holes will be plugged by veterans with ample playing experience.
Not so on offense, where quarterback Matt Moore, tight end Joe Newton and offensive tackle Adam Koets are off to what they hope are NFL careers. Competition for all three positions starts Tuesday.
Quarterback will get the most scrutiny, with Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao - both sophomores next fall - going in even in the battle for the starting job. The 6-4, 225-pound Canfield was Moore's backup a year ago while Moevao, a transfer from El Camino College, redshirted and served as scout-team QB.
'It's important we have more than one guy ready to play,' coach Mike Riley says. 'My goal is for Sean and Lyle to both have a good spring, a good summer and a good (training) camp, and make it a very hard decision for our coaching staff. If that happens, it will be a very good thing for the rest of our offense and the development of our offensive identity.'
The starter at left tackle will be Tavita Thompson, a 6-6, 320-pound junior-to-be who played some as a backup last fall and drew praise from curmudgeonly line coach Mike Cavanaugh for his development.
'It's ready or not for Tavita … but he should be ready,' Riley says. 'He's been here and worked in the wings long enough, and he's physically talented enough to take this on his shoulders.'
Oregon State suffered a loss, though, with the news that promising 6-4, 340-pound freshman Mau Nomani out of Tigard will take a two-year church mission and not play in 2007. Nomani, who redshirted last season, would have pushed Thompson for the starting nod.
'That's a hard one for me, but I appreciate the commitment he is going to make,' Riley says. 'We would love to have Mau, and his opportunity would have been good, but there are things in life an individual has to make a decision on. This is one of those that is important to Mau, and I wish him well. We'll see him in two years.'
Tight end may take two
Tight end isn't at all cut and dried, with both Newton and backup Jason Vandiver gone. Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf plan to go often with two wideouts, a tight end and an H-back next fall, meaning that there are basically two starting spots for tight ends.
Howard Croom (6-3, 250) and John Reese (6-3, 235) - who both played as backups last season as true freshmen - will open fall drills as the starters, Croom at tight end, Reese at H-back. Behind them are redshirt freshmen Brady Camp (6-4, 235) and Jake Hermeling (6-5, 230) and true freshman Joe Halahuni (6-2, 260), the latter a talented grayshirt whom Riley envisions a perfect fit as a pulling, blocking, receiving H-back.
'Croom is the most versatile, blocking and receiving,' Riley says. 'Reese is the best receiver, and Halahuni has a chance to develop into a real player at both spots.'
The list doesn't include Gabe Miller, the 6-3, 230-pound redshirt freshman who was so highly touted out of Lake Oswego High two years ago. Miller, who has undergone two surgeries to repair an Achilles tendon, will sit out spring ball but is expected to go full-bore at August training camp.
'Gabe is coming along great,' Riley says. 'We're playing it conservatively with him. We want to make sure he has more time to get ready for camp.'
Battles set for backup spots
The Beavers seem deep and talented pretty much everywhere on defense. Most of the major battles will be waged for backup spots.
Dorian Smith, a de facto starter at D-end as a junior last season, moves into Lemma's starting position. Junior-to-be Pernnell Booth takes over Seigert's spot, though senior-to-be Gerard Lee will share duties and could beat out Booth.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker considers juniors-to-be Al Afalava and Bryan Payton and senior-to-be Daniel Drayton all starters at safety, and they are likely to share time at the two spots in the fall.
'We have a good, deep group on the defensive line, the linebackers are really solid, and though we'll miss Sabby, he's the only guy not returning in the secondary,' Riley says. 'Spring ball will be a chance for a lot of (defensive players) to show us the hard work they've put in over the winter. It's going to be fun to see.'