BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/'I'm hoping the players are excited about it being a fresh start'

CORVALLIS — More than three months into his first gig as a college football head coach, Jonathan Smith hasn't been crushed under the weight of heading an FBS program.

After four years as offensive coordinator at Washington, Smith is running the show at his alma mater, Oregon State.

With the second of two letter-of-intent days passed and nearly a month until spring practice begins on April 4, Smith has some time to catch his breath and reflect on his role as a head coach.

"The job is different," Smith said in a Valley Football Center interview this week. "It's more broad-based, more than I was dealing with as an offensive coordinator. You're spending time getting things established in academics and compliance and being responsible for more players. I've had some speaking engagements. It's been busy, but I've enjoyed it."

Smith and his coaches have spent hours watching video of last year's team, and he has met with all of the players during some group sessions.

"I like the group, I really do," the quarterback of OSU's 2001 Fiesta Bowl championship team says. "I think there's potential there. I haven't had a chance to talk to everyone on a one-on-one basis yet. We'll do that in May after spring ball ends."

Smith doesn't want to go into spring ball with too many preconceived notions about the talent on hand.

"We feel like we're giving them all new life, the opportunity to compete," Smith says. "Sometimes, new life can be really good. Change can be good. I'm anxious to get around the guys. Everyone is getting a fresh start."

Only two players with remaining eligibility from last year's team have indicated they won't return — running backs Ryan Nall, who declared for the NFL, and Thomas Tyner, who has decided not to pursue an extra medical redshirt year.

NCAA rules limit each player to eight hours of instruction — including group work and weight training — per week at this time of year. For two hours a week, coaches can do some individual football work, but without a ball.

During the group meetings, "we've introduced some schemes to them," Smith says. "We've talked football to them, about how we're going to practice, about day-to-day expectations and how we're going to operate. We've been able to show them the big picture scheme-wise."

There will be 15 practices between April 4 and the April 28 spring game, during which coaches can work with players for 20 hours a week. Smith chose not to split up spring ball between winter and spring terms — as predecessor Gary Andersen did last year — for several reasons. With a new coaching staff, he wanted more time to prepare. If you split between terms, you're dealing with two different class schedules from the players. Also, three JC transfers arrive for spring term and will be able to take part.

Smith is an offensive guy, and he has spent ample time convening with his offensive staff — including coordinator Brian Lindgren — to discuss philosophy. Lindgren was coordinator or co-coordinator at Colorado the past four years.

"Brian and I are on the same page in a lot of ways," Smith says. "He's talented. He has good ideas. He has done it before. I'm letting him run the thing. There are some big-picture items that I like that we'll use, but he'll be in the lead role on the day-to-day stuff.

"My influence will be similar to the other assistants on offense in contributing ideas. It's a group effort. Brian will package the thing together, and he'll call the plays."

Smith says for his first season at the OSU helm, he'll tailor his offense around the existing personnel. He'll use spring practice to determine that.

"We'll lay the foundation, such as how we call things formationally," he says. "We'll find out a ton in April about what we've got. Once we get through April, we'll have a better idea."

Smith says he'll use ideas beyond the offenses from recent years at Washington and Colorado.

"It's going to be a blend of not just those two offenses, but also from Arizona (with O-line coach Jim Michalczik there the past five years)," Smith says. "And (assistant head coach) Mike Riley has good ideas offensively. We'll have remnants of the pro style, but even Stanford uses some stuff with the quarterback running the ball."

Does Smith like the no-huddle offense?

"I do," he says. "I don't see us coming into a huddle all that often, but that doesn't mean we'll be going ultra fast. I see benefits to the shotgun, but I don't think we'll be 100-percent shotgun."

Defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar will use a 3-4 set as his standard defense.

"But there will be some multiplicity," Smith says. "You can't just live in just one scheme. We'll start with three down (linemen), but we'll definitely have four at times, too."

Smith has spent some time with senior quarterback Jake Luton, who started the first four games last season before going down for the season with a thoracic spine fracture against Washington State.

"He's working hard and absorbing information at the meetings," Smith says. "I expect him to be fully ready to go by the start of spring ball."

QB Jack Colletto, the Camas (Washington) High grad who transferred from Arizona Western JC, will be one of the transfers starting school spring term and will be available for spring ball.

Three incoming freshmen from OSU's early signing period — defensive tackle Isaac Hodgins, cornerback DeShon Wilson and tight end Isaiah Smalls — enrolled for winter term. Colletto and two other transfers — offensive tackle Brandon Kipper and defensive end Jeromy Reichner — will join up for spring term.

About a half-dozen veterans will be unable to participate in spring ball. Smith declined to mention names, but it's known that three are tight end Noah Togiai (foot) and safeties David Morris (foot) and Omar Hicks-Onu (knee).

Smith says there will be full contact at times during the spring, but he wants to balance it with being careful about injuries.

"We have to hit some, but I don't think hitting is always the best way of finding information on how guys can play," he says. "I have to see our numbers and how our health is as we go through the spring. I'm not too worried about the scrimmage piece. Instruction will be at a premium. They'll be taught a lot of things this spring, because it's all new. But we'll do some live hitting, too."

The Beavers will stage a two-hour practice at Beaverton's new high school, Mountainside, on April 14.

"It is a change of scenery for our players, and getting closer to our largest fan base is important," Smith says.

Smith says the Beavers will return to Bend for a portion of their August training camp.

"I'm not sure that we'll be there for a full week," he says, "but we'll go at least for a couple of days."

After a thorough review of Oregon State's facilities, Smith offers a thumbs-up.

"You can always be better, but overall, we're in good shape," he says. "I'm anxious to practice. Our practice field is as good as there is in the league. The indoor facility is nice. We're glad to have the refurbished Valley Center. The auditorium is first-class. We have what we need to do our stuff day-to-day."

Smith and his wife, Candice, have purchased a home in north Corvallis. They'll move in with their three children on April 1. The two school-age kids are already in school.

"We're getting acclimated," Smith says. "We've seen some old friends. That part of it has been fun."

Many former OSU teammates have stopped by to say hello, included Jared Cornell, Marty Maurer, Dustin Janz and Ryan Atkinson.

"People are excited," Smith says. "I'm excited. I'm hoping the players are excited about it being a fresh start. We're anxious to get going. We've got a lot of work to do."

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