Riley: Spring focus is up front

SPRING BALL gets underway March 31 in Corvallis and OSU head man Mike Riley this week said there would be two primary areas of focus -- one on each side of the ball. He also updated the status of Jeremy Perry and Sean Canfield, and talked on the return of Sammie Stroughter, and how the receiving corps and running back depth stack up.

Oregon State is facing a formidable challenge on defense this year, replacing the entire starting front seven. On offense, it always starts with the line because when you're solid there, all sorts of other things become possible.

Those are the two points of emphasis this spring, said Riley Tuesday night on Beaver Sports Talk.

"The front seven on defense and the offensive line... The development and identity formation of the defensive front seven and the offensive line will be really big for us going into fall camp. Spring practice is when we expect to find some players that will surface and start to take hold of some positions. We are excited about some freshman lineman on both sides of the ball," said Riley.

To that end, offensive guard Jeremy Perry will miss the spring due to a knee injury.

"Jeremy is going to have surgery - they know exactly what they are going in there for, but a little bit will be to explore and see. We anticipate a pretty clean situation. They know what to take care of and hopefully that is all there is to it. It won't be too long of a rehab period. My goal for Jeremy is that he just feels better. He has had trouble with that knee for some time and I just want him to be able to workout consistently and not be hurting. Hopefully by fall camp that will be accomplished," said Riley.

Complicating matters on the d-line, tackle Pernell Booth will miss the spring practice session as he recovers from ankle surgery.

WHILE THE TASK in the short term would appear formidable -- 14 of 22 starters from a year ago were lost to graduation -- the long term development of the program, said Riley, is on an uptick.

"We redshirted 29 players and I love that," said Riley. "When you can focus a program on growth and development both on and off the field - growing up as young men and also as football players - you have the best chance of reaching those young men's potential. As for the redshirted guys the expectation of them is to move into jobs. It is an exciting time. Spring ball is huge for us in that way.

"It is a great time for coaches to teach. It is a great time for players to learn and to jump forward. Keep an eye on those two areas as we move forward."

THE COMPETITION AT running back will also command attention this spring, with Ryan McCants penciled in atop the depth chart and Jeremy Francis playing into the mix.

"We have a pretty good feel, even though we don't know how it is going to shake out, for our running back depth. Now whether or not we can get the production we have got from our last three tailbacks at Oregon State - that remains to be seen. But I feel real good about the depth," said Riley.

ANOTHER AREA TO keep an eye on is at wide receiver, where Sammie Stroughter was granted a medical hardship and granted another year of eligibility. He'll return to his split end (or "X") position.

"The other thing that is really exciting to me is the placement of the receivers," said Riley. "Sammie Stroughter is going to go back to X, and we have Darrell Catchings, who I think is very good, James Rodgers, Shane Morales who is a veteran, Chris Johnson and Casey Kjos who have both been chomping at the bit for playing time, Kyle Brown - there should be good competition, but where we place those people and how they play within our group is huge for us going into spring and then into fall camp."

Even though Stroughter had a strong case and that others in similar situations had been granted another year of eligibility, Riley said he was still nervous waiting for the NCAA to make their decision.

"I was, even though I had a very good sense that everything was going to be okay, because we have a very good compliance person. Everything in the past would indicate that he was going to get this year back and they used words like 'slam dunk' and 'everything is going to be just fine' and I said, 'Well, I have seen some slam dunks go off the back rim and this is one that we don't want.'

"It was awfully nice to hear the final word that Sammie was going to get the opportunity to come back. It will be good for him as an individual to get to play his senior year and have a chance in his final year that he is healthy. It is obviously really important to our team because if we can get that production back again that would be awesome for us."

RILEY ALSO UPDATED the status on quarterback Sean Canfield, who was the Beavs' starter last season until an injury against USC. He is expected to be ready in time for fall camp after undergoing surgery this offseason for a torn labrum.

"Sean is doing everything that he is supposed to be doing. He is right on track according to the doctors and Barney Graff, our trainer, as far as he can be at this point. He has been assured by his doctor that it is only a matter a rehab and that he will be back to 100% as far as his ability to play football, throw the football and handle the quarterback duties. Both of them (Perry and Canfield) will just be a matter of time and then work during rehab," said Riley.

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