Preparations for the 2004 football season will begin just five days from now in Corvallis. Fifteen practices littered throughout April will provide the players the opportunity to move up or down the depth chart heading into fall practice in August and give the coaching staff a small amount of time to evaluate the incoming talent.
The drills also give fans starving for OSU football a small taste of college ball just before the long summer months.
"The opportunity to see the players up close is something I look forward to every year,” said longtime OSU fan Patrica Starbird. “I highly recommend visiting at least one practice and at the very least attending the spring game.”
Since agreeing to play the defending BSC National Champions in balmy Baton Rouge Beaver Nation has been abuzz with excitement. Although the program must replace NFL bound players Dwan Edwards, Steven Jackson, James Newson, and Richard Seigler a solid defensive unit returns along with an experienced quarterback.
“I’m excited about our returning players, we have a great core of veterans to build around,” said Riley who guided his team to an 8-5 record last season and a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl. “At the same time we have lost some guys who have been huge in the playmaking area.”
There will be several key battles to watch during the drills as the coaching staff look to fill two wide receiver positions and the starting running back job. Special teams will also be a focus as the Beavers struggled in that area last year.
“Dwight is a very good runner and he’s also an intelligent player; he’s readied himself to be the next running back here,” Riley said. “I anticipate tremendous competition and partnership at this position. Ryan and Yvenson are younger guys who will play a part at this position.”
Filling the gaping hole left by Newson, one of the most consistent receivers in OSU history, will another focal point for the staff. Junior college transfers Kevin Swanigan and Marcel Love will be push for starting spots while veterans Josh Hawkins, George Gillett, and Cole Clasen are looking to breakout after having mediocre seasons in 2003.
“This is a crucial time for our veterans,” said Riley who has a 16-19 record in three seasons at Oregon State. “Those guys will have competition from our youth. Powers had a great redshirt year practicing against our defense and appears to be a player who will be a threat to our veterans.
“Swanigan and Love bring excellent credentials from the junior college ranks, and I believe a true-freshman could enter into the picture. Nate Johns (6-1,180), Sammie Stroughter (5-11, 180), Burnell Wallace (6-0, 185), and Zach Tarver (6-5, 190) are all excellent athletes who may play a part. Basically, our receiver positions are wide open in the spring.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the most contested battle will take place on the defensive line as a host of players have game time experience, but need to solidify their game.
“For us to be good on the line we need Smith and Anderson to step forward; they both have the physical capabilities to be much improved,” Riley said. “I’m looking forward to (Chris) Scott and (Derek) Hall making solid improvement, and (Curtis) Coker is a young talent who can help us.”
The opening game against LSU will be a nationally televised game and with the enormity of the contest it should keep the players focused throughout spring and fall camps.
Riley likes his team’s chances in 04’ despite the brutal schedule and the difficult task of replacing a class of seniors that contributed so much to the program.
“I like our prospects to improve,” Riley said of his 2004 squad. “There is a lot of good talent and a lot of possibilities for this team, but to be a better team than a year ago, we need some players to grow.”
And that is what spring practice is for, the development of the players.
Dan Norz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.