Pac-12: Mike Riley offseason Q&A

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Q&A: Mike Riley, part 2

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
2:00
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Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has a lot on his mind these days. He has a new recruiting class with one of the top offensive linemen in the country -- which is good for him, since a large part of his O-line is still rehabbing from last season. There's talk of his seat being toasty next season, and what's the next step for his young quarterback and standout defensive linemen?

Here's part one of a Q&A with the OSU head coach.

Passing yards you were top 20 nationally, rushing yards almost last. Is making those numbers a little more balanced a priority next year?

Mike Riley: Oh man, it was so unlike who we've been. We've always prided ourselves on the running game. We've had great runners with great production through the years -- we've been a good running team and it's been a key to the success that we've had. Last year, not running the ball was an indication of the lack of success we had. As I visited with our coaches coming off recruiting, I basically said, "work on the running game. Find our identity. Get our people positioned correctly on the line of scrimmage and let's have a great plan going into spring practice of who we're going to be and how we're going to do it." That's our No. 1 priority offensively. We can throw the ball. We have a good quarterback and receiving corps. We'll tweak what we do in the passing game as Sean [Mannion] gets older. But none of it is going to matter if we can't run the ball better than we did a year ago.

Depending on who you talk to, some are considering next year a "hot seat" year for you. Do you buy that? And do you care?

MR: You know what, I don't think about those things. I think coaches probably feel the hot seat every game. I think that's natural. The biggest pressure you have in the world is the pressure you put on yourself and the team to do well. I've coached 36 years and I know that kind of talk is natural. It doesn't affect my day-to-day life or my day-to-day thoughts. I know what has to be done. We're the least satisfied of everyone who pays attention. The people right here in the coaches' offices are the ones who were most displeased by what went on. We want to win. The biggest pressure is the pressure we put on ourselves.

What's your impression of the four new coaches in the conference?

MR: I think they were exciting hires. As long as I've been in the league, you end up being pretty good friends with the guys you get to coach against. I was disappointed for the guys who were let go and I have a lot of respect for them and thought they were doing a good job. But life goes on. There have been some very exciting hires and I know they have given a boost of enthusiasm in those programs. It will be, for us, with new staffs, new preparation. It's not going to be building on a plan for how Arizona State has been with Dennis [Erickson]. We're going to have to look at a new team and a new scheme and study as it grows and not have much history. It makes it interesting. I think we play every team that has a new coach next year. That will be four new kinds of preps for us and the gathering of new knowledge.

What's the next step for Sean Mannion?

MR: I think continued efficiency. He's got great poise and great knowledge and a great desire to succeed. He's a tremendously hard worker. He's a really neat guy. Relatively quiet, but really well-respected by the team for the work he puts in and he handles tough situations like we were in last year very well for a young guy. It's just a matter of more knowledge, more growth, more repetitions. I think his efficiency can jump up. He threw for a pretty good percentage but he can be a higher percentage. We want to be able to throw the ball down the field and he has the accuracy and the arm to do that. We want to help him make better decisions about taking that shot down the field or dumping the ball tot the tailback. When we're going good, our tailbacks or fullbacks or tight ends should be catching a lot of balls. [Rodgers] caught 78 balls one year and Sean Canfield was at his peak of making decisions, throwing the ball down the field or dumping it to [Jacquizz Rodgers]. When we're doing that, we're at our best. That's where Sean needs to continue to grow. When to get that ball down and when to take that shot. We want to have a high yards per completion and we want to have a high percentage so we'll continue to grow him in those areas.

On defense, Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton both had very good years for youngsters. How exciting is it going to be to watch them develop and grow up side by side on the defense?

MR: I really am excited about that. Those are two pretty special guys to start as freshmen for us. I think they have talent and they also have a lot of tenacity. They play hard. Joe Seumalo does a good job coaching them. They are pups, but they have a lot of experience behind them. And they are two of our hardest working guys. I think they're going to do nothing but grow. What's going to help them is they have a base talent level, but they are hard workers and now they have played a little bit so I think that combination of being talented and having experience should push them into spring practice and fall camp being ahead of where they were.

You need good cornerback play if you're going to survive in this conference. Jordan Poyer comes back as one of the best in the country. Talk about his growth this year and what you expect from him next season?

MR: I just love that guy. He's an ultimate gym rat. He played football, basketball and baseball. Matter of fact, he could have signed a baseball contract out of high school. Pat Casey our baseball coach thought he was a great prospect. We were going to allow him to play both sports, but he opted just for football after playing as a true freshman here. He brings a special savvy for sports. You can put him in a ping pong match and he'd be good. He just competes and he stays on top of everything. You might beat him once, but probably not twice because he's so smart and so aware. He's got that big-play potential. He'll step in front of a ball and take it all the way. He has that knack to him. He's not overly fast, but he is a very good athlete with very good ball skills and a very good sense of what he's doing.
Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has a lot on his mind these days. He has a new recruiting class with one of the top offensive linemen in the country -- which is good for him, since a large part of his O-line is still rehabbing from last season. There's talk of his seat being toasty next year, and what's the next step for his young quarterback and standout defensive lineman?

Here's part one of a Q&A with the OSU head coach.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Kelley L. Cox/US PresswireThe pressure is on Mike Riley to avoid a repeat of last year's 3-9 season.
This past year, 10 true freshman and 23 first-time starters played. Once the injuries started to pile on, was the thought just to get these guys as much playing time as possible and hope it pays off in the future?

Mike Riley: When you're right in it, the immediate thought is we have to get the best players into the game because I've always had the philosophy that the best way to do well in the future is to take care of the present. We didn't just shove freshmen into prominent roles. There was either an injury or they earned the opportunity. It was the nature of our team last year. We had obviously lost some good players, like [Jacquizz) Rodgers, so it was open competition. Malcolm Agnew originally won it and then he had a significant hamstring and missed four or five games. We played them because we thought they were the best players and gave us the best opportunity to win. Even though we had a bad record, I liked the team. I think with that youth, they kept their spirits up and kept working hard and hopefully now it does pay off for the future.

You have 17 starters coming back and 58 players who saw time last season. What sort of dividends will that pay in the next few years?

MR: If we and the players use it correctly, it should pay great dividends. There is nothing like experience, especially if you can combine it with talent and in the offseason you can enhance your talent with good, hard physical work. When you come into spring practice, you should carry much more knowledge and much more physical preparation into the next year. That's very encouraging to me. I think we have a hard-working team. I think guys will take advantage both of their work and of their experience.

Speaking of spring ball, give us some rehab updates. Are you expecting most everyone to be ready for spring?

MR: I think we'll be very limited with a couple of guys that played a lot in the offensive line. Colin Kelly had surgery on his ankle and he won't be ready for spring. Grant Enger had surgery on his shoulder and I don't think he's going to be ready for spring. Malcolm Agnew continues to go through a specific rehab program for his hamstring. I think he will be practicing and hopefully full speed in the spring time. I think the offensive line -- we won't be deep in spring ball and that's the reason we signed seven guys in this class. I think we'll have to do a lot of individual development because I don't know what it will look like as a group in total. One good thing is Michael Philipp, who was injured and redshirted because of his injury after he started for two years, he'll be back in spring. I'm very excited about that and getting him going and hopefully he'll be a stronger, better player when we get to spring ball. We're looking at developing some new faces on the line while we wait for that class to come in.

What are your first impressions of your recruiting class?

MR: The realistic look at it is that I think it was an outstanding class in almost all ways. The disappointing factor -- we had four corners committed going into the last week. We got one of them. I'm very excited about Tyler Hasty from Bellevue, Wash. We're probably going to play Zach Robinson out of Tahlequah Ok., we're probably going to try him at corner first. He's a long body that can run. Was a real good receiver and defensive back. He might be that big corner we're looking for. But the rest of the class, I think we hit all the marks. Offensive line was a priority in recruiting and we got seven kids I'm really excited about then. Then, defensively, we needed more defensive backs in general and we signed three safeties. Nice-sized kids, good athletes. Two of them in particular played major roles as receivers. They are all around football players. Linebackers, we got two junior college linebackers which should help us right away and then we signed a couple of underclassmen that I think will be real good players down the road, Caleb Saulo and Joel Skotte. Then on offense, we just needed kind of one of each. We ended up with two tight ends I'm really excited about. Caleb Smith is a well-known prospect from the state of Washington and Dustin Stanton is not well-known, but he has tremendous potential. Big, 6-6 kid that runs well. Real good basketball player and a really good athlete for his size. We were really after one wide receiver. At the end, I thought we were going to get two. But we got Malik Gilmore and he was our first pick from the beginning. I'm really excited about Malik. Then I think we got an outstanding running back and quarterback. Kind of the bonus at the very end was we ended up signing the kicker from Arroyo Grande. Really good athlete, was a wide receiver.

I think we saw in the conference that you need kickers?

MR: Oh my gosh, no kidding. I have a great special teams coach in Bruce Read, been with me for many years here at Oregon State and then with the Chargers. He stayed in the NFL for a while and we got him back. He's a great evaluator and a great coach. We've always had some really good specialists here.

It's usually tough for offensive linemen to come in right away and play. Do you see Isaac Seumalo and or/ Garrett Weinreich being able to make an immediate impact?

MR: We're going to let them go in there and play. We know Isaac so well and he's a real talented kid. Who knows exactly where he'll go with it. But we're anticipating great things from him. As we place our group, we'll be very careful as to where we put him. He can play every position on the line. He could play center, guard or tackle. As we place our players we have to be very aware about him and everyone else. We're really excited about Stan Hasiak. He has experience starting in the conference. Coming out of high school we thought he was a really good player so we're expecting his competition right away. I also really like the talent and the tenacity of Grant Bays from Oceanside, Calif. I think physically and mentally he could fit in right away too. It's a good group.

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