Beavers O-Line Is Bare This Spring
By John Baker
To say the Oregon State football team's offensive line will be thin this spring is being kind — it'll be virtually see-through. The Beavers lost three starters from last year's squad, and the two projected starters who return — Isaac Seumalo and Josh Mitchell — will miss the spring while recuperating from injuries.
Not exactly the way coach Mike Riley wants to enjoy his spring football experience, but the long-time coach knows that in the end, the Beavers still have to find guys who can play. Missing virtually his entire starting line from a year ago offers the Beavers a chance to develop depth. What it doesn't do is allow this line to start to gel and solidify this spring. And that's crucial to reinvigorating a running game that was 115th out of 123 programs in 2013. Rushing for just short of 95 yards a game isn't what Riley wants to do out of his pro-style attack.
Seumalo and Mitchell don't appear to have injuries that will project into the fall, so the center spot and and one interior line position are in good hands. Now, the Beavers must fill out the other spots from among a bevy of contenders, a process that line coach Mike Cavanaugh and new offensive coordinator John Garrett will dive right into when practice begins.
As the start of spring practice dawns March 31, the Beavers are looking at a first team of Roman Sapolu (Sr.) at center, Sean Harlow (So.) at left guard, Grand Bays (So.) at right guard, Gavin Andrews (Jr.) at right tackle and junior college transfer Bobby Kennan at left tackle. Harlow got a start in the Hawaii Bowl game against Boise State and can play all over the offensive line, but that's it. After him, there's nothing but inexperience and potential. A few other faces may factor in, including Nolan Hansen at right tackle, Fred Lauina at right guard and Will Hopkins at left tackle. Hopkins is 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, but as he adds weight, he could be a factor because he's very athletic.
Riley wants to have a balanced offense. Last year's pass-heavy offering just isn't what Riley feels is going to win the Beavers the amount of games it should. Success for Oregon State in the past has come through a running game that churned out guys like Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Yvenson Bernard and others — guys the offense hitched its wagon to and allowed the passing game to devastate defenses with play-action. That's been missing the last few years and the record reflects that. And Riley knows it.. Quarterback Sean Mannion set a Beavers passing record for yardage, but the inability to run the ball effectively hurt this team, according to Riley.
The emphasis in the spring will be on returning Oregon State to its successful rushing ways of the past. Unfortunately, two key cogs won't be available to help the process of solidifying the offensive line play. That's the bad news. The good is that new faces will get plenty of reps and an opportunity to put their hats in the ring for starting jobs this fall.
Spring Practice Note
While finding a receiver or two to pick up the slack for the departed Brandin Cooks is a key this spring, don't forget the running backs.
It looks like there will be a battle between Storm Woods and Teron Ward to see who will be the top dog entering 2014. Woods is a two-year starter, but tailed off dramatically as the season wore on a year ago, providing Ward with more opportunities down the stretch. Oregon State finished the year on a high note from a rushing perspective with 231 yards against Oregon and nearly 200 more against Boise State. Ward led the way.
The pair are listed as co-starters on the OSU depth chart heading into spring, which indicates Riley is looking to find that "it" back who becomes the workhorse behind the hoped-for improvement from the offensive line. Keep an eye on that position battle.