Oregon State looking for spring rebound

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
6:54
PM ET
How galling was Oregon State's first losing season since 2005 for coach Mike Riley? Well, Riley underwent surgical procedures to remove gallstones and then his gallbladder March 12 and 13, so apparently pretty galling.

Snare roll, cymbal crash! (But seriously, folks, I just flew in from Scottsdale and, boy, my arms sure are tired!).

While Riley is the sort who can remain good-natured through most things (even a horrific pun), losing is not really one of them. His seriousness about reversing the Beavers 2010 downturn was perhaps best manifested by a surprising staff change: the dispatch of long-time linebackers coach Greg Newhouse.

The Beavers head into spring practices, which begin Monday, with plenty of questions, but it stands to reason the veteran players are motivated by a disappointing 5-7 finish that was further aggravated by watching state rival Oregon play for the national championship.

[+] EnlargeJames Rodgers
Chris Morrison/US PresswireJames Rodgers is still recovering from an injury to his knee.
"You certainly hope it does," Riley said. "You'd like to think it's made everybody take it up a notch."

The biggest questions surround the Rodgers brothers. How will Oregon replace running back Jacquizz Rodgers and how healthy will receiver James Rodgers be after two knee surgeries?

The competition at running back includes senior Ryan McCants, junior Jordan Jenkins, sophomore Jovan Stevenson, redshirt freshman Malcolm Marabel and greyshirt freshman Terron Ward. Riley said he'd like to establish a pecking order as soon as possible and then figure out a rotation based on what skills each offer to the offense.

"It's probably very important to distinguish between No. 1 and No. 2 [this spring]," Riley said.

As for James Rodgers, things are fluid. He was granted a medical hardship year, but there have been complications with his recovery -- starting with the need for a second procedure -- and it's unclear if he'll be ready for preseason practices, or how long it will take him to get back to full-speed.

"We'll just have to see where that goes," Riley said.

Receiver is an interesting position for the Beavers. With Rodgers, it looks like a definite strength. Rodgers at flanker and junior Markus Wheaton at split end, with Jordan Bishop, Geno Munoz and Darrell Catchings providing depth, not to mention intriguing big target Obum Gwacham and H-back Joe Halahuni; that's a strong lineup of targets for QB Ryan Katz.

But Rodgers is a question, and the inconsistent Bishop is sitting out spring with a foot injury. Catchings and Gwacham aren't sure things, either.

And in terms of delivering the ball, Katz is coming back from a wrist injury, and Riley likely will be cautious with overworking him. That means more opportunities for Cody Vaz, Sean Mannion and Jack Lomax to compete for the backup job.

Some further notes:

Injuries and departures: Rodgers, Bishop, DT Castro Masaniai (shoulder) are sitting out. Fullback Will Darkins opted not to return for his senior year.

Additions and changes: Five greyshirts have been added to the roster. K Trevor Romaine, LB Will Storey, DT Fred Thompson, RB Terron Ward and LB D.J. Welch, as well as a true-freshmen in offensive lineman Darryl Jackson. Two JC transfer defensive ends will participate in spring practices: Rusty Fernando and Blake Harrah. Munoz has switched from split end to slot receiver. Tyler Anderson has moved from cornerback to fulback. Expected starting CB Jordan Poyer will practice football on Mondays and Wednesdays and play baseball on Fridays.

Coaching changes: Brent Brennan is the new receivers coach and Chris Brasfield will coach running backs. With the departure of Newhouse, defensive coordinator Mark Banker will coach linebackers. Banker oversaw safeties last season. Keith Heyward is now in charge of the entire secondary.

Offensive line reshuffle: The Beavers offensive line was a disappointment in 2010, so it's probably not a surprise that there are some changes, even with four starters returning. Sophomore Josh Andrews has been moved from center, where he was expected to replace Alex Linnenkohl, to left guard. Grant Johnson has moved from LG to C. Michael Philipp is the RT and Mike Remmers is the LT. Last fall, they were reversed. Remmers is a better pass blocker, which means he's better suited to protect Katz's blindside.

Filling in on D: The Beavers must replace six defensive starters, including a DE, a DT, two OLBs and a CB and a S. Poyer and Anthony Watkins are expected to fill the secondary voids, while Taylor Henry, Andrew Seumalo, John Braun and Fernando and Harrah are competing for the end spot opposite Dominic Glover. With Masaniai out, Kevin Frahm, Mana Tuivailala and Ben Motter are the top tackles, though Thompson is an intriguing talent. Cameron Collins and Michael Doctor are the top two candidates at OLB, though Riley is high on Shaydon Akuna and Michael Bibbee, a pair of redshirt freshmen.

Spread? Katz is a good all-around athlete, so Riley said there will be some experiments with the spread-option this spring. "We are going to mess with the zone read like we did with the fly sweep,” he said.

Ted Miller | email

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