Seumalo's health key for Beavers, who have question marks

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF KARL MAASDAM - Isaac Seumalo, Oregon States best returning offensive lineman, is likely to miss at least the first one or two games of 2014 as he continues to recover from two offseason foot surgeries.CORVALLIS — Will Oregon State be able to run the football? Will Isaac Seumalo be healthy enough to play?

Those were among the biggest concerns as the Beavers opened training camp Monday in preparation for their Aug. 30 season opener against Portland State at Reser Stadium.

A year ago, Oregon State was as one-dimensional as it gets in the Pac-12 this side of Washington State. The Beavers, behind record-setting quarterback Sean Mannion, were third nationally at 372.6 yards passing per game but only 115th of 123 FCS teams in rushing at 94.4 yards per contest.

Coach Mike Riley, beginning his 14th season at the helm, wants to increase the latter figure to 150 yards per game without sacrificing too much in the passing game.

That means more push and direction from an offensive line that did just fine in the pass-blocking department but was less than adequate in creating holes for running backs Storm Woods and Terron Ward a year ago.

"It's a difference-maker," Riley says of the need to establish the run. "It was the difference between us being (7-6 and) much better a year ago.

"It was all fine and good when we were playing against teams not as good defensively. When we played the top three defenses in the league three weeks in a row (Stanford, Southern Cal and Arizona State), then you're trying to pass-block all the time against those real good pass-rushers, and you don't have any run game to keep them at bay. Then life gets very difficult."

The Beavers lost three starters from their 2013 O-line -- tackle Michael Philipp and guards Grant Enger and Josh Andrews. Members of this year's front aspire to much great heights with the ground game.

"We need to be able to run the ball," says Seumalo, a 6-4, 295-pound junior who was second-team all-Pac-12 at center a year ago. "We have a great quarterback. If we need to throw, we can throw, but we need more balance than we've had the last two years. We'll put a lot of work in and be ready to go."

Last season, Oregon State averaged 48 passing plays and 25 running plays per game. New offensive coordinator John Garrett -- who is expected to call plays -- must commit more to the run for it to be more effective, those involved in the trenches say.

"We have to be consistent in calling the run," offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh says. "We have to make that effort to call it. And then (the O-linemen) have to do our job, with technique and by being physical and moving guys. I have faith we'll be able to do it. It's going to be fun."

Adds sophomore Sean Harlow, who started at tackle as a true freshman last season: "If we call the run plays, we'll be good. At the end of last year, we started to get the run game together. Our line is still pretty young, but we've all played. I'm not worried about that at all."

A key will be the health of Seumalo, who is in a walking boot after suffering a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone in the left foot late in the third quarter of Oregon State's 38-23 Hawaii Bowl win over Boise State. He has since undergone a pair of surgeries. During the first surgery on Jan. 3, the surgeon inserted a screw in the foot. In late April, a second surgery removed the screw and put in a new one.

"The healing had stopped and (the break) had gotten a little worse," the son of OSU defensive line coach Joe Seumalo says. "My fault, I think. I was so eager to get back quickly, I was doing a little too much on it."

The hope now is for Seumalo to return to practice on Aug. 18.

"If he can do that and he's healthy, he could be ready for the first game," Riley says. "But if anything, we're going to err on the side of caution with Isaac."

That could mean the preseason Remington Award candidate will sit out the first two games and, after a bye weekend, make his 2014 debut Sept. 20 at home against San Diego State.

"My goal is to be ready for Portland State," Seumalo says. "I'm thinking first game. If I miss the first, I'm thinking second. I want to get back as soon as I can, but it's up to the doctor. Whatever he tells me to do, I'm going to do it."

Worst-case scenario would be that the healing process is so slow, Seumalo chooses to redshirt.

"That possibility has crossed my mind, but I'll cross that bridge if it comes," he said. "I don't really want to think of that right now."

Cavanaugh intends to go with the flow.

"We're going through the process with Isaac, and we have to be smart," Cavanaugh says. "When he's ready, we'll be ready for him. He's our best player."

Which raises another question: If Seumalo is healthy, at what position does he play?

Truth be told, Cavanaugh admits, "We would like him at our left tackle (protecting Mannion's back side). It depends on how the other guys pan out."

Cavanaugh would prefer to have Seumalo and 6-5, 340-pound junior Gavin Andrews at tackle, 6-3, 290-pound sophomore Grant Bays and the 6-4, 295-pound Harlow at guard and 6-3, 290-pound junior Josh Mitchell at center.

Mitchell is "100 percent healthy" after off-season shoulder surgery, according to Cavanaugh, but Bays is still bothered by a disc problem in his back, though he was able to do most of the work during Monday's opening practice session.

"We'll be very careful with both Isaac and Grant through (training) camp," Riley says.

With the question marks, Cavanaugh and Riley regard the O-line group with a mix of optimism and realism.

"It's not that great right now," Riley says. "I still have high hopes that by the time the season gets rolling, or shortly into it, that we'll be good up front with a solid five starters, and then have the best depth we've had in a long time. This picture can change with the good health of Isaac and Grant.

"This could be a good picture. It's just average right now. We have a lot of work to do if this is the way it's going to be."

The sometimes cranky Cavanaugh is positively cheerful as he speaks about working with his 10th O-lne group at Oregon State.

"I'm excited," he says. "We have more depth than we've ever had. A lot of good numbers and a good freshman group."

Cavanaugh will be closely monitoring the competition at tackle, where junior college transfer Bobby Keenan, a 6-6, 285-pound junior, and tight end converts Dustin Stanton (6-4, 270 sophomore) and Will Hopkins (6-6, 275 redshirt freshman) are vying for playing time.

"If somebody grows up and wins that job, we'll use Harlow inside (at guard)," Cavanaugh says.

If Seumalo is healthy, Harlow could still play guard. Cavanaugh paid Harlow the ultimate compliment by comparing him to Tennessee offensive guard Andy Levitre, who was Cavanaugh's all-time favorite Beaver O-lineman (2005-08).

"Harlow is like Levitre was," Cavanaugh says. "He could be a tackle or a guard. You like to find those guys who possess that combination of versatility."

Harlow, who has grown 10 pounds in the offseason, says he doesn't care where he plays.

"I like to be versatile and help anywhere I can," he says. "It's good to know all the positions. It makes everything easier. I feel comfortable at tackle, but I'm starting to get a lot more comfortable at guard. Eventually, I'll probably end up there."

Andrews, who played little in 2013 after missing the first month of the season with mononucleosis, could be a major force at right tackle.

"I expect a lot out of Gavin, and he expects a lot out of himself," Seumalo says. "He has become a reliable player. He has been here awhile now and knows the position and has a good understanding of the offense. I expect great things out of him."

Andrews has gained 20 pounds since last season. Is 340 too much weight to carry?

"He was 330 when we recruited him," Cavanaugh says with a grin. "Believe it or not, it looks pretty damn good to me. He has good feet, runs well, moves well.

"I'm fine with 340. He's one of those big dudes. I don't know if we could say, 'You gotta be 320.' I don't know if he could get there."

There will be ample competition for the backup roles, including Stanton, Hopkins and Keenan at tackle, 6-4, 310-pound redshirt freshman Fred Lauina, 6-6, 310-pound sophomore Garrett Weinreich and 6-6, 295-pound sophomore Nolan Hansen at guard and 6-2, 275-pound senior Roman Sapolu at center.

Then there is true freshman tackle Kammy Delp, a 6-3, 345-pound behemoth from Pomona, Calif.

"Kammy is another big dude who is real athletic," Cavanaugh says. "He can run and move and has the lateral quickness and the ability to recover. He's one of those guys who physically may be able to come in and contribute right away, but he has a big learning curve ahead of him."

Cavanaugh has hopes for the development of Weinreich, who has switched from tackle to guard, and Lauina out of American Samoa. Weinreich has struggled with knee problems for two years.

"Garrett had a really good spring," Cavanaugh says. "One of the best things we did was move him to guard. The year we recruited Weinreich and Andrews, we thought we had two legitimate tackles. Garrett blew his knee out and can't handle the space, but he's a big, physical kid and good enough of an athlete to play inside at guard.

"Fred has a lot of physical talent, but his biggest thing was overcoming (the language barrier from) Samoan to English. Now he's talking Samoan to Kammy. He's like my interpreter."

There are several promising true freshmen, including Delp, Drew Clarkson, Trent Moore, Robert Olson and Yanni Demogerontas.

"I really like our freshman class," Seumalo says. "I told the freshmen, 'Expect a lot out of yourself. If you come in here scared, you're not going to play. If you come in expecting you're going to play, you'll be better-prepared if you do.' "

Cavanaugh seems unusually upbeat as he launches into camp.

"We're going to work real hard on technique and develop those attributes you need to be a good offensive lineman," the veteran O-line mentor says. "We want to be smart. We want to be great technicians. And we want to do that with toughness. That's what we're trying to establish."

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