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Spring ball will give Beavers chance to test four prospects

by: COURTESY OF KARL MAASDAM - Oregon State running back Chris Brown will get a serious look at future playing time during the Beavers spring camp.CORVALLIS — There may be no more competitive position during spring practice at Oregon State than at running back.

And the battle for playing time is not just between two-year starter Storm Woods, a senior, and junior Terron Ward, who came on late to become OSU’s leading rusher last season.

Also in the mix are flashy sophomore Chris Brown and fireplug redshirt freshman Damien Haskins.

Ward, who rushed for 521 yards and a 4.6 average last season, had a 145-yard game against Oregon. Woods, second on the team with 477 yards and a 3.8 average, carried 16 times for 107 yards and a score in the Hawaii Bowl victory over Boise State.

But Brown — who carried 19 times for 144 yards and a 7.6 average — and Haskins will get their chances this spring.

“With the two older backs, we pretty much know what they can do,” coach Mike Riley said Monday. “We’ll continue to build them and enhance them, and get them ready for the season. We need them both playing.

“But at this point in his career, Chris deserves a lot of work. We are very encouraged by his development.”

Brown was a ballyhooed recruit out of Fresno, Calif., having rushed for 5,018 yards and 65 touchdowns in his three varsity seasons. He developed mononucleosis while redshirting as a true freshman in 2012, “lost a lot of weight and strength and didn’t look himself,” Riley said.

But Brown was impressive on special teams and during his stints at running back last season.

“He opened our eyes in practice and during the little bit he played in games,” Riley said. “He’s ready for another step. Chris will be competitive with these other guys and will make those other guys work.”

The 5-10 Brown, who has bulked up to 210 pounds and runs the 40 in “4.4-something,” has made an impression on running backs coach Chris Brasfield, too.

“Chris has exceptionally quick feet,” Brasfield said. “His pace and tempo to the hole is really good. He has a good feel for openings, sees things well, and he has some explosiveness. He can hit the hole and accelerate through it naturally.

“It’s a matter of him getting a better feel for the pass protection and things like that. That’s the hardest thing for any young running back. The more comfortable they feel with technique and who they’re supposed to block, it gets better and better.”

Brown said he wants to help any way he can, but intends to play well enough to earn a starting role.

“I know I need to get better at ball security and pass protection,” he said. “It’s mainly technique. I just have to polish it up. If I become a starter, my goal would be six yards a carry. I returned kickoffs in high school and would love to do that, too. I’m going to talk to (special teams coach Bruce Read) about it.”

Haskins is an intriguing prospect, too, a different size — 5-8 and 225 — than Riley has had at the position during his 14-year tenure.

“Damien is freakishly strong,” Brasfield said. “His numbers in the weight room are like, ‘What?’ He’s naturally gifted that way. Now it’s about his comprehension of the offense, but he can do things nobody can coach. He’s the type that, when he hits the hole, (the tackler) better bring it or you’re going to feel it. He’s going to be fun to watch.”

Though Woods and Ward are listed as co-first teamers, Brasfield said it is a four-man competition.

“It’s spring ball,” he said. “Everybody will get their chances. (During Monday’s first practice), it was pretty even on reps. It’s a competition for anybody. I don’t look at it as anybody has anything set.

“All four guys are stronger than what they were a year ago. They bought into what Bryan (Miller, the sports performance coordinator) and his guys are pushing in the weight room and with nutrition. We’re anxious to see that transfer onto the field. Their bodies look great.”

The 6-foot Woods, who now weighs 210, said he considers himself the starter.

“But I’m not content, and I know I’m not the only guy,” he said. “We have a pretty good group. It’s going to be great competition. Each guy brings something different to the table.

“We don’t want to limit anybody’s contribution. Everybody can do something, whether it’s as third-down back or on special teams. Everybody will get a chance to get on the field.”

Does Woods think OSU’s run game — 115th among 123 FBS teams a year ago with 94.4 yards per game — will be improved this fall?

“Yes sir, I do,” he said, “because of the maturity level of our line and our running backs. We’re veterans. We know the ins and outs.

“What happened last year, we didn’t like it at all. There’s still a bad taste in our mouths. We have 15 days this spring. We’re putting our foot on the gas to improve the run game.”

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