BF.C Fall Camp Preview: OFFENSIVE LINE

THERE IS NO sugar coating it. For the last two seasons, Oregon State has struggled to run the football, struggled up front on the offensive line. Mightily, at times. So what's in store for 2012?

First, we have to go back to 2010. Even with former star tailback Jacquizz Rodgers handling the carries, the Beavers struggled more on running downs. But Quizz was a master of making something out of nothing, and so the ‘10 offensive line woes were somewhat glossed over.

Quizz' absence in 2011, having left early for the NFL, shone the cold hard light of day on the situation, and a year late. The '11 season hammered it home that the Beavers were outmanned on the offensive line and as a result, the run game was all but nonexistent. The onus was placed entirely on Sean Mannion and his receiving corps to move the chains.

In Mike Riley's system, this is always a bad thing. A lot of attention has been paid to the running back battle, and it should, as traditionally Riley offenses have relied on a workhorse tailback and not a running back by committee.

But (at least) an equal amount needs to be allocated to the state of the offensive line and what it means that Isaac Seumalo, a true freshman who has yet to take part in his first OSU practice, is one of the Beavs' most promising prospects up front right now.

SEUMALO ARRIVES WITH plenty of fanfare, a once-in-a-lifetime type talent for the Beavers, the pundits say, and it's hard for us to disagree with them. That he was Joe Seumalo's son and generally thought to be a lock to go to the Beavers is probably the only reason that he didn't draw as much or more recruiting attention as any player in the nation.

Nobody is anxious to crown an 18 year old kid that has never played a down of Pac 12 football as Oregon State's best offensive line recruit ever, but there is no doubt - that's the reality. Mario Edwards, Florida State's top defensive end commit, told Scout.com earlier this year, "The toughest is Isaac Seumalo...He knows how to sit back and judge our hands and how to sit on it, so we have to counter and do all of those things."

Seumalo has an unusually quick first step, eye-opening power - and here's the kicker - speed. It all has Seumalo slated to start his career in a Beaver uniform at center, according to longtime Portland Tribune scriber Kerry Eggers and others.

THE 2012 CAMPAIGN also marks the return of the last highly-decorated OL recruit in Michael Philipp, who sat out last year rehabbing his knee after surgery. A former Freshman All-American who played most of his sophomore season hurt, OSU desperately needs Philipp to return to form. He brings with him 2 years of starting experience and a fresh, injury free body. He should open some eyes with his performance this season.

Oregon State's best returning offensive line player from last season, Josh Andrews, returns at guard and should have a banner season paired up with a physical center in Seumalo.

The expectation is that Andrews' experience will be counted upon to help make the line calls and will ease Seumalo's transition into Pac-12 play.

Grant Enger is a multi-dimensional player in the Andy Levitre Swiss-army-knife style who is the odds-on favorite at LG opposite Andrews, and he has plenty of game experience (notching 10 starts last season) as well as sound technique to work with.

It looks as if Colin Kelly will be the fifth member of the starting lineup, remaining at right tackle (BF.C's educated guess will be that Michael Philipp by the end of camp will be protecting Mannion's blind side), and with 12 career starts he's no newcomer either.

It's an exciting turnaround in process. The Beavers have a nice mix of experience and a few players with overwhelming upside - but the real difference between this season and the struggles of the last two is the sheer depth of the group.

The backups are Pac-12 size and fairly well loaded with talent, something that couldn't be said in looking back on the past two seasons.

Jake Welch, Justin Addie, Michael Beaton, and Roman Sapolu are all capable, seasoned backups, and it's not out of the question at all that they might force some position battles starting Aug. 6. Sapolu and Welch were 1-2 at center coming out of the spring, and Welch is perhaps the strongest Beav on the team. Addie and Beaton might both be ready to take the next step.

And the newcomers are impressive: Grant Bays and Garrett Weinreich both are deserving of mention but the one who has eyebrows raised all round is Gavin Andrews who merits acclaim true offensive tackle prospect. He has roots in wrestling and possesses uncommon size, strength and agility. It would be fair to say he has as much upside as any - even Seumalo, though he doesn't likely arrive with as much polish.

THIS MIGHT READ like it's being viewed through rosy glasses, but it's important to remember that this has hands-down been the best 2 year run of offensive line recruiting in the history of the program. As a footnote, there is still a chance that former UCLA OT Stanley Hasiak may get his academics in order with enough time to spare to figure into the picture for the offensive line – there may be some developments on that by Aug. 6, the first day of camp.

We don't see Hasiak being an instant starter but it would not be surprising to see special packages developed to put 3 offensive tackles on the field similar to Stanford's power rushing attack, should the Beavers want to field a physical runner such as Storm Woods or Chris Brown.

And the Beavs, though potential-filled and promising on the o-line, are thin and do not have great numbers. Having Hasiak in the cupboard would certainly help lower the anxiety level if and when injuries bite.

RILEY WANTS HIS offense to produce 1,800 yards rushing this season. It's a tall order. But we think he's seeing the same thing that we are - that smashmouth Oregon State football is about to make a return in a big way in 2012. Here's why.

The very best offensive lines at Oregon State haven't always included mammoth tackles - as a matter of fact, the Beavers have gotten it done with a variety of guard-types playing at tackle. Andy Levitre is a wonderful example who is now making his living in the NFL playing guard. But the best offensive lines at Oregon State have done it with a center who has a good top gear and can move out in space. Kyle DeVan is a perfect example.

OSU has used their sweep/toss sweep play like a weapon in the past: Pull the center and get him out in front of the RB running off tackle like a monster fullback. Usually when OSU pulls a guard, it's their more classic Power-O play... the playside OL blocks down and the guard pulls to lead. When the offense is really clicking you will see the OG pull on play-pass and block the C-gap. Incredibly effective because 99% of your defensive players see the pull and think 'RUN!!!' because that's a power running play..

The Beavers used this like an absolute weapon with Kyle DeVan and Yvenson Bernard. It makes the entire offense more effective because it forces the linebackers and safeties to freeze when they read run or pass, because they can't trust what their eyes are telling them.

And a repeat of sorts on the o-line is certainly possible in 2012.

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