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Spring Camp Preview: Offensive Line

The Beavers kick-off spring practice a week from today. One of the biggest question marks in 2017 is on the offensive line as the Beavers look to replace three starters. Peter Riley Osborne takes a look at what to expect.

Watching the last two Super Bowls was a good reminder of the legacy of offensive linemen we have seen at Oregon State.  Both Mike Remmers and Andy Levitre were huge staples of some pretty stout offensive lines for the Beavers.  Last year we saw a rocky start lead to a strong finish by a line that was really a tale of two eras.  

Outgoing senior starters Sean Harlow, Gavin Andrews and Dustin Stanton all had over 20 starts to their names at Oregon State with Sean Harlow finishing as a 2nd Team All-Conference selection.  On the flip side were two Freshmen starters in redshirt freshman Blake Brandel and true freshman Gus Lavaka. While others like Yanni Demogerontas, Branden Kearsley and Fred Lauina all started and saw considerable time on the line, the final five starters were the most effective group of the season.

Key Returners

  • Blake Brandel (RS Sophomore): Started all 12 games at right tackle for the Beavers.  While there are no specific stats for linemen, the improvement from Minnesota to the Civil War for Blake was striking.
  • Gus Lavaka (Sophomore): Started 8 games for the Beavers, coming off the bench for the injured Fred Lauina.  In his 8 games as a starter, Gus not only earned Freshman All-American honors, but led the team in knock down blocks.  
  • Sumner Houston (Junior): Moved over from defensive line to offensive line, Houston is set to start spring ball as the starting center for the Beavers
  • Fred Lauina (Senior): Fred has started the last 3 seasons and looks to try and crack the starting 5 with the loss of Andrews, Stanton and Harlow

Newcomers

Note: None of the newcomers will be on campus for spring practice, however here is a look at the newcomers who will be at Oregon State later this spring.

  • Clay Cordasco (Junior): The 6-foot-6, 310 pound JC lineman from Los Angeles Valley College is a 3 years to play 2 seasons transfer.  The aggressive and athletic lineman from Maine will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact.
  • Justin Sattelmaier (Junior): At 6-foot-7, 300 pounds,  JC transfer Justin Sattelmaier is also looking to make an impact early for the Beavers. Having redshirted already, Justin has 3 years to play 3.
  • Onesimus Lutu-Clarke (Freshman): Lutu-Clarke was an all state performer in Hawaii and made a huge impact in the Poly Bowl this winter.  At 6’5” and 290 pounds, Lutu_Clarke may be the most immediately ready high school  linemen in this class.
  • Brock Wellsfry (Freshman): Welsfry was the first lineman to commit to Oregon State and has been a key part of the peer recruiting of this class. The 1st Team All-State lineman from the Tri-Cities will push the incumbent linemen for playing time this fall.
  • Travis Mackay (Freshman): The Central Catholic (Portland, OR) product will travel down I-5 looking to make an impact at Oregon State.  The highest rated high school lineman, MacKay had a great senior year and will be a key part of the Beaver offensive line in the future.  

3 Things to Watch

Losing 3 senior linemen is rough and never easy.  With the constant evolution of football teams every year, it is hard to project what the 2017 offensive line will look like because there are only a handful of known quantities.  Here are my 3 Things to Watch:

  1. Sumner Houston: Sumner is a high motor, explosive player that was a solid defensive tackle for the Beavers.  That personality will serve him well on the offensive line as the Beavers try and be the hammer and not the nail in the trenches.  The biggest questions will be on pass plays and recognizing what defenses are doing and adjusting.  I think Houston will adapt well and surprise some people, but until we see it on Saturday's (or Thursday's) it will still be a question that has to be answered.
  2. Who takes over the guard and tackle spots that are still vacant:  Will Cordasco and Sattelmaier step in and start day one or will Fred Lauina, Will Hopkins, Sam Curtius,  Trent Moore, Kammy Delp and Yanni Demogerontas make moves to take over for the departed Harlow and Stanton?  Or will we have another Gus Lavaka step up as a true freshman?
  3. Will the Oregon State offense be better: The Beavers were one dimensional last year en route to finishing with the worst total offense, worst total pass efficiency and second worst passing offense in the conference.  Even with a solid run offense, they were only 7th in the conference in rushing. What will the new look offensive line do to correct this? This is the 3rd season for this offensive staff, and all of the players that will take the field will have had more seasons in college with Coach Woods than without.  So what will the impact to the offense be?

 

Final Take

The last four times we have seen the Beavers replace more than 2 linemen, we have seen a distinct drop in performance (2000, 2005, 2010, 2013).  While that has no bearing on this year, it is a reminder that losing three starters up front is not easy and requires a bit of patience.  In the case of 2010, the Beavers didn’t help themselves out with their early schedule and in 2013 there were several injuries that caused the loss of veteran linemen.

So for Oregon State this year, the Beaver are going to need Brandel and Lavaka to make big strides and continue with the progress they made last year.  They are also going to need to see some improvement from some of the veterans like Hopkins, Delp, Moore, Demogerontas and Fafita.  

A new center playing his first year of college football at the position is also a difficult situation that can cause some early season lumps. While the schedule this year is a bit easier early on, it is still going to be a big stage and there will most likely be some early lumps.

I honestly don’t really know what to make of this offensive line.  It is thin in experience and has four players that have gotten considerable playing time.  If I had to put money on it, I would say that overall they will be a bit behind last year’s group heading into the season.   Especially in Pac-12 play.

While the Beavers ended strong, their three wins came against teams with defenses ranked 115th or worse in the nation.  To make a jump in wins for 2017, they need to be able to move the ball on decent defenses and to get consistent yards on the road (USC, WSU, Cal, Arizona and Oregon).

Outside of USC, that is not a Murderer’s Row of road defenses (though it will be interesting to see what the Ducks and Cal’s defenses look like) so there is a chance that if this team grows and improves like last year’s squad, they could be playing their best ball at the end of the season in arguably the easiest 4-game stretch of their schedule.  If that is the case, I think we remember this line quite fondly.


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