The NFL Draft is finished. The 2004 schedule is set. The spring game has been
played and the players have registered for summer classes. For almost four months
football news from Corvallis will be reduced to a trickle.
In the meantime, endless debates and analysis with family, friends, and coworkers will fill our summer days. While we are involved in our own debates the coaching staff will be sifting through their notes, examining hours of tape, and formulating a plan to address the areas that need improvement.
"We've got a lot of work to do in certain areas,” head coach Mike Riley said. “and that would include our receiving corps.
“We also need to shore up our offensive line early in fall camp. Those are two areas for sure that need some attention, but you can say every area needs work."
Going into spring camp the staff had several positions and areas they knew needed special attention. One of the most critical and focused upon area of the team was the offensive line.
Despite having a host of talented individuals and a good mix of veterans, the unit as a whole struggled. A few players battled injuries while others had academic problems. The main focus heading into April drills was to address the left side of the line, finding replacements for two departed seniors. At the end of the month, the offensive line as a whole needs to be evaluated.
"I would not want to play a real game tomorrow," Riley told the Oregonian. "We've got a lot of work to do. We have the work ethic and the talent to be pretty good, but we are not ready."
The expected three way battle for the starting running back position erupted during spring ball. Senior Dwight Wright and sophomore Ryan Cole split starting duties along with redshirt freshman Yvenson Bernard.
Out of the three backs, Cole performed the best during the spring game showing an excellent blend of power and speed between the tackles.
"Ryan Cole took advantage of his opportunities," Riley said. "I thought he ran well, and ran very, very hard." The battle between Cole and Wright will continue into fall camp.
The coaches experimented the most at the wide receiver position this spring. Cornerback Brandon Browner, running back Charles Burnley, and cornerback Anthony Wheat-Brown all received the chance to showcase their catching skills as on the offensive side of the ball. The Beavers still lack a player who can stretch the defense and the coaches are willing to try anybody out to find that elusive player with game breaking speed.
Junior Mike Hass solidified his position as one of the Beavers starting receivers and their go-to guy. The other two positions are still up in the air with Kevin Swanigan, George Gillett, Josh Hawkins, a host of underclassmen and the defensive players vying for the starting spots.
Senior quarterback Derek Anderson improved steadily throughout camp as his passes became sharper and his footwork improved. Anderson looked comfortable in the pocket and more mobile then last year. Junior Adam Rothenfluh and redshirt freshmen Ryan Gunderson are in a still in a battle for the backup position, although Riley said Rothenfluh has a slight edge right now.
The defensive side of the ball looks better than the offensive side. Senior defensive end Bill Swancutt wreaked havoc on the offense during the spring game and had another excellent spring camp. Several defensive tackles, including redshirt freshman Curtis Coker and junior Derek Hall, improved their stock while sophomore Brandon Scales played well on the other end.
The talented, vociferous, and energetic starting linebackers showed that they will anchor the OSU defense and provide the Beavers with leadership and a winning attitude. Junior college transfer Keith Ellison might have played himself into a starting role and at the very least plenty of playing time. The veterans, junior Trent Bray, senior Jonathan Pollard, and junior Chaz Scott, also performed well.
The cornerback starters were already set before spring camp and they remain the same as the dependable senior Aric Williams and the extremely talented sophomore Brandon Browner each had good camps.
The safeties struggled with injuries for the majority of April as sophomore Sabby Piscitelli and junior Harvey Whiten each battled muscle strains. Redshirt freshman Eric Anderson had a nice spring and might have earned himself some playing time come fall.
The Beavers open up the 2004 season in Baton Rouge on September 4 against LSU. Plenty of work remains to be done and Riley is glad the season does not begin soon.
"We've got so much to do before we play that ballgame," Riley said.
Dan Norz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.