Spring battle: Running back

THE BATTLE TO replace Yvenson Bernard as the Beavers' starting tailback, and his 1,214 yards in '07, gets started later this month when spring ball kicks off. The early returns are that Ryan McCants looks like the real deal, and his performance this spring figures to be one of the most watched. But he will also have competition.

Ryan McCants, a redshirt freshman, comes into the spring as the No. 1. But don't forget about the recently arrived Jeremy Francis.

Out of El Camino JC, Francis is a bruiser, a 6-1, 220-pound junior-to-be who has solid hands and can do a little bit of everything -- run, block and catch. He could also fit nicely into the Beavers' scheme as an h-back.

No question, McCants looked sharp and opened eyes on the coaching staff last season. Much of last season he went up against the Beavs' No. 1 defense in practice, a very solid group as it turned out, and McCants acquitted himself well.

He'll now look to transfer that to the field on gameday, he redshirted last season.

And if not for Bernard, there's a decent chance McCants would have earned playing time as a true frosh. Even with Bernard, McCants made it a difficult decision for Mike Riley to preserve his eligibility for these next four seasons at OSU after performing well in the fall camp scrimmages.

As big a back as Francis is, McCants checks in at 6-1, 236 pounds this spring. And he's already drawn media comparisons to Beaver great Steven Jackson, ones that Riley says are premature.

He may not be quite as fast as was Jackson but what he does have is an innate ability to cut and slam it up in there, surprisingly so for that big a back.

"It's hard for big backs to redirect and go fast, but he can slash... The guy was impressive physically in camp, but I've seen a lot of progress naturally running the ball," Riley said of McCants at the end of last season.

Oregon State also lost Matt Sieverson and Clinton Polk to graduation. Expected to compete to fill their shoes will be Patrick Fuller and Ahmed Mokhtar.

While McCants and Francis are the clear frontrunners, Fuller and Mokhtar will also be looking to show the coaches they've made enough strides since last season ended to earn turns and make their own climb up the depth chart.

The entire group will get competition later this fall in the form of Jacquizz Rodgers, the most lauded of all the incoming Beaver recruits this signing class.

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