OSU SPRING PREVIEW: The Running Backs

CORVALLIS – Oregon State will enter spring ball with a stable of running backs vying for reps but the big question is this: Can OSU run in 2014? Can the Beavs this spring lay the groundwork to eliminate memories of last year's one-dimensional offense, one that against the better teams was the cause of their undoing? And will OSU cast their lot with one RB, or continue the "by committee" approach?

Mike Riley may have a difficult decision to make heading into spring ball. Should Oregon State consider abandoning the run-by-committee approach and focus their collective offensive energy on a primary back?

The crystal ball is murky at this point, but keep an eye on senior-to-be Terron Ward in the backfield this spring.

That's because from my chair, he is poised to take over as the No. 1 running back if the Beavers go towards giving one player the bulk of the carries.

A good number of fans are wondering about current redshirt freshman Chris Brown as well. In the four games where Brown saw snaps in 2013, he looked sharp and agile, and after two years in the system that he is a solid runner with hints of impressive field vision.

But, and this is a big but, he's had issues with ball control. And he hasn't done much to establish himself as a receiving threat quite yet.

Both are important but the former is huge. Riley has, consistently over the course of his career, stuck with the guy he trusts most not to turn the ball over – regardless of how much potential a guy might have if Riley doesn't trust him to hang onto the ball, he's not going to be "the man."

BEYOND THAT, Riley offenses simply value experience, good receiving hands AND a proven ability to work a defense with one's legs. Pre-spring, Brown just doesn't fit that mold as snugly at this juncture as Ward or current sophomore Storm Woods do in my view.

Speaking of Woods, the latter half of the '13 season saw him appear to be rounding into more of a situational running back, one who is perhaps best suited for making plays in the passing and screen games. At least that's the narrative now. A bullish spring session and fall camp could change that up. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

This spring, Ward should display a consistent mix of the aforementioned and because of that, he may be the best option as a No. 1.

He has a good center of gravity, soft receiving hands and while he's not a burner, he has the ability to take one to the house if adequate blocking can spring him into open space. Ward is the most experienced running back the Beavers have in the cupboard, and he stays healthy, something Ward has been unable to do in his time in Corvallis..

FROM A BIG picture standpoint, and on the question of if the Beavs can run the ball, that can't be answered by the running backs alone, the offensive line has a little something to do with it.

That said, it's also true that there was many a time in the early part of the season where a hole was there, a lane was available, but the Beaver running back didn't take it or didn't see it. And if there's going to be a single running back OSU leans on, and if they're going to be successful running that ball, that has to change starting this spring.

As does the other elephant in the room. Riley and/or new offensive coordinator John Garrett are going to simply have to call more running plays. For the first 11 games, the Beavs ran poorly, no question about it. But there were games during that stretch where the Beavs didn't even try to run, not really.

So -- running backs, OL, play-calling -- there's a lot that needs to change. And that process of change needs to begin this spring if the 2014 Beaver offense is going to shift more back towards the run game.

ONE OTHER FACTOR to watch this spring when it comes to the running backs: proper rapport with likely fullback starter Tyler Anderson will go a long way in determining who shines this spring.

Anderson has started at fullback the past two season, and seems to have pretty well secured the position over redshirt freshman Ricky Ortiz and sophomore Michael Balfour.

NOTABLE NOTE:
  • Freshman running back Damien Haskins was a force with the scout team throughout the 2013 regular season. He's a bowling ball at 5-8, 223, but lack of experience running the OSU ground game and some suspect receiving abilities are challenges he'll have to overcome if he's to climb up the depth chart.

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