Riley has much to address in offseason

IT PROMISES TO be a long winter for Oregon State, which at 3-9 (3-6 Pac-12) lost nine games for the first time since the 1996 season, which then prompted the firing of Jerry Pettibone and the initial hiring of Mike Riley as the head coach. There's a quartet of players who redshirted this year who will be expected to play key roles in 2012. All four play on the offensive and defensive lines.

Four of the arguably most important players for next season were redshirted in 2011 for injury reasons -- offensive tackles Michael Philipp, a starter in 2009 and 2010, and Darryl Jackson and defensive tackles Fred Thompson and Castro Masaniai, the latter a starter in 2011 until suffering a broken leg bone.

But there still remains work to be done this offseason by the staff.

"We'll look at this thing real hard," Mike Riley promised of a planned evaluation of the program. "We'll try not to look at it through rose-colored glasses."

The Beavers have endured two consecutive losing seasons. They were 4-3 midway through the 2010 season and anticipating their usual late surge, but instead lost four of their final five games that season. They have gone 4-13 since October of 2010.

OSU wasn't competitive with the elite teams it played in 2011, as it was dominated by Wisconsin (35-0), Stanford (38-13) and Oregon (49-21). The Beavers especially had problems with teams that were physical on the interior of the offensive and defensive lines, losing to UCLA, BYU, Utah and California, teams which weren't dominating against many other opponents.

The key issues for next season are to rebuild both the offensive and defensive lines, especially in the middle, to keep the Beavers from being physically pushed around as they were in 2010.

Even what was the one OSU strength, its passing game, faltered because of the lack of strength up front, with quarterbacks sacked 29 times. Putting that kind of pressure on freshman quarterback Sean Mannion also led to him throwing 18 interceptions.

Riley has been steadfast in his defense of his system, and his assistant coaches. He did push out longtime defensive assistant Greg Newhouse last winter, and he forced a change in trainers. Could there be more personnel moves coming this winter? Riley says no.

Offensively, the Beavers feel they have a passing game for the future in Mannion and a host of experienced receivers returning, but the Beavers simply must find a running game to balance the offense.

"We'll be spending a lot of time between now and spring (practices) talking about it," Riley said. "It was a major factor in what we did this season, or didn't do."

GAME OF THE YEAR: Sacramento State 29, Oregon State 28 -- The Beavers had to mount a comeback from a 15-point deficit to get into overtime, and then lost it when the Hornets converted a two-point conversion on their touchdown in the extra session. This was an early indication it would be a difficult season for the Beavers, and it certainly turned out that way.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CB Jordan Poyer -- The junior led OSU with four interceptions and 12 passes broken up, and led the Pac-12 with 16 passes defended. He also averaged 15 yards on punt returns and was OSU's primary kickoff returner.

FAST FORWARD: The Beavers only lose 17 seniors from this team, returning as many as 59 players for the 2012 season who have game experience. That could include as many as nine starters on offense and eight on defense. There needs to be improvement across the board, and the Beavers will again miss out on those extra bowl practices, increasing the need for a solid spring session of workouts. OSU won't be picked as a contender in the Pac-12 in 2012, and some think it will be a challenge to post a winning record, with nine league games plus nonconference contests against Wisconsin at home and BYU on the road.

DE Scott Crichton -- He recorded 13.5 tackles for lost yardage in his first college season, and also set the school record with six forced fumbles. He's going to force offenses to scheme away from him in future years.

WR Markus Wheaton -- With 73 receptions in his junior year, he led OSU and was among the Pac-12 leaders. Those numbers figure to only increase in 2012, and his role as a runner on reverses and fly sweeps will be another element to the offense.

QB Sean Mannion -- He had 11 consecutive games of passing for more than 200 yards once he took over the starting role, and takes that streak into next season. Mannion finished the season with 3,328 passing yards as a freshman the third-best single-season mark in OSU history, trailing only Derek Anderson in 2003 (4,058) and 2004 (3,615). Mannion's season-total also moves up up to ninth in OSU career passing, a category he's likely to lead before he's completed his OSU career.

WR James Rodgers -- He figured to be a prospect as a kickoff and punt returner but now that's in question. After two knee surgeries following an injury in the 2010 season, coaches didn't feel confident putting him out for kick returns and he only played receiver in 2011. NFL teams will want to examine that left knee, and see Rodgers returning kicks.

OLB Cameron Collins -- He's only been a linebacker for two seasons, and this year was limited by summer abdominal surgery. At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, the former safety presents an intriguing athleticism for a professional team.

S Lance Mitchell -- His senior season was hampered by a constant issue with an abdominal muscle, but he had surgery scheduled for immediately after the season so that his rehabilitation will be complete in time to work out for scouts in late January. Mitchell has NFL size at 210 pounds but he'll have to prove he's quick enough to cover receivers at that level.

P Johnny Hekker -- Besides averaging almost 44 yards on punts, Hekker has the versatility of also kicking rugby style, which may appeal to some NFL teams. His best attribute as a punter might have been his ability to make the football land so it doesn't roll forward, which resulted in 20 punts downed inside the 20 this season. He's also been the holder on place kicks and NFL teams love a player who can do something besides his primary duty.

--OSU has seldom had to deal with injuries like the Beavers did in 2011. Of the players projected as starters before the season, two never played a game in cornerback Brandon Hardin (shoulder) and Michael Phillip, and 13 others missed at least one game. It meant only six players on offense and defense started every game, the fewest for OSU in at least 15 years.

--QB Ryan Katz announced on the day after the season ended that he was leaving OSU, with a season of eligibility remaining. The starter in every game in 2010, Katz essentially lost his first string position at halftime of the opening game.

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