THE QUARTERBACK POSITION is suddenly unsettled this spring with the possibility that starter Ryan Katz' slow-to-heal broken bone on his throwing hand will prevent him from participating in some or all of spring drills. So what does that mean in the here and now, and in terms of the big picture?

It's not, as Mike Riley told the Oregonian last week, the end of the world if Ryan Katz can't go this spring.

But it's not great news either, not for a team already charged with replacing its best running back and defensive lineman (Jacquizz Rodgers, Stephen Paea; NFL), with star receiver James Rodgers (knee) out this spring and slotback Jordan Bishop still battling a balky ankle as well.

Katz is a redshirt-junior to be and well-versed in the OSU offense. But there's a lot of work to be done and improvement to be had coming off a 5-7 season and the familiarity, the cohesion with the receivers, a new center (replacing NFL-bound Alex Linnenkohl) and a new running back, is something that takes place over time. Spring ball is part and parcel of that.

But even if Katz can't go this spring, it's not all doom and gloom.

ESPN did a recent article where they tweaked FBS quarterback pass efficiency ratings from last year by adding into the equation the opponents' pass defense strength. Katz was among the top four QBs in college football who made the biggest jump, suggesting he could be in for a breakout 2011 season.

MEANWHILE, IF KATZ isn't out there this spring, the Beavers have three other quarterbacks on the roster who should be primed to see a lot of work – Cody Vaz, Jack Lomax and Sean Mannion.

And what this spring might be most about is solidifying their place on the depth chart heading into fall camp.

Vaz (6-0, 200, R-So.) figures to come into the spring as the No. 2 since he earned the backup role last offseason and that's where he ended last year.

He doesn't have Katz' cannon arm or scrambling ability but he's an accurate passer with good zip on the ball, and he has a lot of poise. Riley says his arm is plenty strong, stronger than people realize, and the Beavs love his release.

Vaz saw limited action last season, attempting 16 passes and completing five of them, and looking like he needed to adjust better to the speed of the game. But he'll get plenty of chances to impress starting on March 28. And he's done a lot already during his time in the program to make believers out of the staff.

MANNION SPENT LAST year redshirting but he turned some heads. Mannion (6-5, 204, R-Fr.) needs to get bigger physically, though that weight in parentheses is from last year (updated heights/weight have not yet been officially released by OSU).

But Mannion had his share of success last year in fall camp going against the No. 1 defense, and one of the main reasons why was how quickly he picked up the OSU offense.

LOMAX HAS EARNED notice with the OSU coaches because of his work ethic. And he put up big numbers in the spring game last year.

What remains to be seen this spring is if he can climb up the depth chart, and start enjoying that kind of success against the Beavs' top defensive units.

THERE ARE lots of questions, lots of areas of concern fans have about the quarterback position this spring, though Riley remains unfailingly optimistic.

At least when there's a "quarterback controversy", it's usually a question of one guy or the other. This spring, the guy may be on the shelf. And the three guys behind him are more than anything else, great unknowns.

By the time April 2, the last day of spring practices rolls around, that doesn't figure to be the case.

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