BF.C Fall Camp Preview: RUNNING BACK

CORVALLIS – Finally the waiting is almost over and the myriad of Oregon State running back questions are close to being answered. OSU wants 1,800 rushing yards this year. Will they get it? Who starts and will he start the whole season? BF.C delves into all of that and more with our fall camp running back preview.

Fall camp begins at OSU on Aug. 6.

Malcolm Agnew: (5-8, 204) Played in six games (starting in five) in the 2011 season due to hamstring injuries. Had 89 rush attempts for a total of 423 yards, averaging 4.75 yards-per-carry. Scored five touchdowns. Also had three receptions totaling eight yards with a 2.7 yard-per-catch average in 2011 (zero touchdowns).

Terron Ward: (5-7, 192) Played in all 12 games last season (started in three). Carried the ball 63 times for 211 yards with a 3.3 yard-per-carry average and one touchdown. Played a bigger role in the pass game than Agnew with 14 receptions totaling 76 yards for a 5.4 yard-per-catch average (zero touchdowns). Ward also pitched on special teams throughout the season, finishing with five tackles.

Jordan Jenkins: (6-1, 209) Also played in all 12 games last season, starting two. Had 19 rush attempts for 42 yards and a 2.2 yard per-carry-average (zero touchdowns). Showed up considerably in the pass game with 31 receptions totaling 251 yards with an 8.1 yard-per-catch average, scoring one touchdown. Jenkins also tallied six tackles while moonlighting on the special teams unit.

Jovan Stevenson: (5-11, 185) Played in nine games last season, also starting two of them. Had 57 carries for 240 yards during '11, averaging just over 4.2 yards-per-carry. Scored five touchdowns for the Beavs, tying with Agnew. Also factored into the passing game with 20 grabs equal to 159 yards and a 7.9 yard-per-catch average (one touchdown).

Storm Woods: (5-10, 202) Well known recruit out of Pflugerville, TX. Currently a redshirt freshman who some view as capable of vying for the starting tailback position – was considered a possible starter last year until the decision was made to redshirt him. Showed promise during the spring.

Chris Brown: (6-0, 195) Will be a new arrival at OSU in the fall and Mike Riley has indicated he has as good a shot at the starting job as anyone. He was ranked No. 33 in the nation at running back coming out of high school in the 2012 class.

The Good: Well, there certainly is not a lack of diversity at the running back position this year, and that never hurt anybody (knock on wood), which in turn leads to more versatility that can be schemed into the game plan.

The addition of Storm Woods was a big lift for the running squad this spring. He saw a lot of action in the backfield during the spring behind QB Sean Mannion, and shared the spring MVP nomination with Naji Patrick. Woods boasts arguably the best receiving hands of the corps, and he can be electric when he gets past the first wave.

Talented when it comes to toss and sweep plays. Woods also possesses solid side line speed and a juke move that works like a dream - "His breakdown move, I don't know how to describe it," Agnew said. "But it's really good. It works every time." Agile and potentially capable of making Reser erupt in a "storm" of noise. (sorry, couldn't resist) Look for him to put up some healthy competition for that starting gig.

Ward, Stevenson and Jenkins are all very reliable, multi-faceted players sure to be in the mix at running back, (albeit on third down more likely than not), both in terms of running and receiving. Ward and Jenkins looked physically impressive when setting blocks throughout spring, and Jenkins has sure hands when it came to screens and out in the pattern. Stevenson, while a bit smaller in size than the prototypical runner, possesses solid lateral/vertical movement. Shades of the Rodgers' brothers manifest themselves in Stevenson's game.

Agnew is the most solid starting bet heading into fall camp. He can really move. He is specially dangerous when running through the middle out of the "I" formation. Good vision and Agnew is strong, capable of breaking tackles from some of the bigger linebackers hoping to crash the OSU lines this year. He has also been receiving specialized training for his hamstring.

Two fullbacks will be setting the blocks for whoever inevitably starts at running back. Clayton York and Tyler Anderson are both versatile and have good agility when they meet their blocks. Look for more holes to appear this year than last as a result of the fullback work.

The Bad: Although he has a lot to chose from in terms of potential starters, the fact that Riley and crew don't know who the starter is heading into camp is worrisome. It's hard to devise a cohesive offense around a running back when you aren't sure who the running back will be.

Will history repeat itself when it comes to Agnew's hamstring issues? It's a major concern at this point. He has had a notoriously hard time keeping healthy, even briefly sitting out a couple days during the spring due to the hamstring acting up again. It is really hard for Riley and crew to name a guy the definite starter when his ability to stay consistently healthy continues to create a question mark in the offensive strategy.

Again, and again, and again- Offense starts with the offensive line. As long as that remains a dilemma within the football program, the running game will suffer.

The ability to improvise on-field and read coverages while on the go remains a questionable quality for all the ‘backs. The raw talent is there, don't underestimate that. But the squad is young and suffers from a lack of consistency at the starting job since last season and it has affected their ability to read their own blockers assignments at times, with hints of that sprinkled throughout the spring practices.

Agnew must improve on his ability to catch the ball if he expects to start. There were glimpses of improvement during spring ball. But they were nullified by a lot of easy catches bouncing right off his chest, and those are a killer if they happen on Saturdays. Agnew said in a recent interview with BF.C that he's improved further over the voluntary workouts this summer.

Keep your eyes peeled: For some thunder and lightning. Riley appears to want to dictate pace more this season, in an effort to keep defenses on their heels. The speed of Woods matched with the power threats of Agnew and Ward are likely to be implemented in different ways -- both in the pass and run.

The Question: The obvious question, "Who starts?" But let's go with a less obvious one. Do we see a starting game share of 50-50 between the speed/ hands of Woods and the power/experience of Agnew? It is something to take into consideration in the early stages of fall camp.

Intangibles and Final Thoughts:With so many potential starters, it's going to be as competitive as it gets. That will help Riley better determine where each player's strengths ultimately lie in stressful scenarios.

There is a lot to be said about Woods regarding his obvious talent and various accolades. But do the Beavers need to have another redshirt freshman learning on the job this year, or a true freshman like Brown, and especially at such a key spot?

The wise choice for Riley, while maybe not the most popular, might be to go with Agnew. He has a good base of experience and knowledge from last year, and seems to have grown mentally and physically in his approach to the game. He is more physically capable than Jenkins or Ward, though maybe not as reliable in the pass game or in terms of staying healthy. He is a solid first and second down back who worked diligently during the spring. Attention and film study off the field does equate to increased awareness on the field, and Agnew has been watching a lot of film this offseason.

Still, this is historically one of OSU's most unique running crews in terms of physicality and diversity of talent across the board. Each guy offers something that another doesn't, and it can be said that keeping the defense guessing is a great way to win a game.

It's understandable Riley and crew want to turn the ‘backs loose for a bit and see what happens. On the flipside, it is a bad idea to have the coaching staff drag out a decision on the RB pecking order for too long. Anything beyond a couple weeks in fall camp could start to do more harm than good – the more the Beavs can practice game scenarios during fall camp, the better.

It's difficult to have a good pass attack without a formidable run game - and a solid run game will only develop if the offensive line can pull its collective self together and hold their blocks. Without a good line, no amount of "skill player" talent matters. The Beavers need to select a starting runner soon in order to build audible and blocking packages that can further support one individual's skill range.

Predictions: Agnew starts in 8 games and logs 173 carries for 1,250 yards and eight touchdowns.

Woods starts 2-3 games in order to keep Agnew fresh and put defenses on their heels. A crowd pleaser, he posts a solid 60 carries for 250 yards with two touchdowns.

Look for Jenkins, Ward, and Stevenson to end up in the mix frequently. Between the run and pass attacks these three should gain over 480 yards (total) and score 3-4 touchdown between them.

Brown is bound to make an impact at fall camp, but the early guess here is that Riley will, in the end, go with experience. Of course, if it turns out Brown's OSU fall camp debut is similar to the one by Jacquizz Rodgers a few years back, we reserve the right to change our minds after the first practice or two.

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