Q&A: Black and Orange Offense

FIVE QUESTIONS to ponder this summer about the OSU offense. After all, the countdown is on to the Beavs' fall camp and 2008 season. Will the passing game will take a big step forward, why will the incoming recruits will have a leg up, what's the story at running back are a few of the topics. And they'll be answered sooner rather than later -- fall camp starts a mere eight weeks from today.

Q: The Oregon State passing offense ranked No. 87 out of 119 D-IA teams. (It's called the Bowl Subdivision Championship these days but it'll always be D-IA to me) So why should Beaver fans expect the passing game will be better this year?

A: Sammie Stroughter, for starters. The guy who led the Pac-10 in receiving yards the year before was missed in Corvallis in '07. Out for the last 12 days of the '07 fall camp, he saw action in only three games before losing the rest of the season to a bruised kidney. Stroughter is simply a gamebreaker, capable of taking a 7-yard out or a punt return to the house at any given moment. His impact will be felt this year.

Meanwhile, fellow WR Darrell Catchings may have "turned the corner", the one when things start clicking in place for some players after their first year or two and they start to flourish. James Rodgers is becoming a more complete player as well. There's also Lyle Moevao's improvement at quarterback, as seen this spring. If Sean Canfield returns and earns the starting job, he'll have to do it over a guy who looks more comfortable than last year and made better decisions. Either way, that's a win-win for the Beaver passing attack.

Q: Schools aren't allowed to expand their rosters until classes begin. That means OSU can't go over the 105 limit until the end of September. And for Oregon State, that also means with the recruiting class coming in, they'll be limited to appx. 20 walk-ons at the outset of the fall camp until classes begin on September 29. How do the Beavs overcome that kind of handicap for their first four games?

A: It's a disadvantage over some other Pac-10 schools, no question. Washington State begins their fall semester on August 25, for example. USC starts classes on August 27. Some might say one of the reasons OSU starts slowly and then comes on strong some years is because the depth and practice competition get a boost after the fourth game or so. In other years, it might not matter one whit. But it's not that far fetched to see how it might be a tipping factor.

One way Oregon State is combating it is through their "bridge program". This year, the entire incoming recruiting class is expected to arrive in Corvallis by July 6. Because those rookies will enroll in summer coursework, they can start participating in the football program's offseason voluntary workouts, a rather large head start before fall camp. There are a number of incoming Beavers, Jacquizz Rodgers would be one, who are expected to help Oregon State immediately and who will benefit from the early start.

Q: Ryan McCants, Jeremy Francis or Jacquizz Rodgers?

A: How about all three? Mike Riley says the heart and soul of the OSU offensive attack is a 1,000 yard rusher, and McCants gave evidence this spring he just might step in and pound out that kind of yardage. But Francis, before he was injured about two-thirds of the way through the spring, also opened some eyes this spring around Corvallis. He's a different style of running back, with some shake in his trunk.

Rodgers was a prolific runner in high school and some of the most successful backs in college football, the guys who go out and put some crooked rushing numbers in the record books, are often those types of guys who can get lost between the tackles -- quick, shifty runners who frustrate a defense. He could also provide a nice complement and change of pace to McCants' smashmouth style -- although McCants has more quickness and speed than his size would suggest.

Q: The backs and receivers get the limelight but everything up front always starts with the offensive line, and that unit had injuries and inconsistent play to deal with at times this spring? Are they going to be ready come fall?

A: A definitive answer won't be forthcoming until fall camp breaks and the games begin, but there are more reasons for optimism than pessimism. Honors candidate Jeremy Perry is expected to be ready to roll by the time fall camp opens after sitting out the spring following bone spur surgery on his knee. Still, he must remain healthy. Andy Levitre, says line coach Mike Cavanaugh, is capable of Pac-10 stardom. He spent time moving around this spring to compensate for injuries to Perry, Adam Speer and Gregg Peat and others.

If the Beavs are as healthy as projected to start fall camp, they could field a line that looks much different than they did this spring. In the meantime, there were lots of repetitions for everyone else this spring. That means Ryan Pohl, before he got nicked up, Peat, and others got in work that will pay dividends down the road this year. Don't forget that Cavanaugh's starters began the season last year and started just one game as a group in '07 and the Beavs still went 9-4.

Q: What's going to be new on offense this year?

A: The change, will be change itself. Don't be surprised if something new comes out of the box this season, a la the fly sweep of last year. Riley has shown he's flexible, he didn't think the fly sweep would be that great a weapon, and thought the Beavs would use it maybe once a game on average. But when James Rodgers started tearing up the turf, the Beavs adjusted and went to it early, often and at points in between.

Riley has hinted this year could see another similar offensive innovation. The OSU coaches are spending this time, the summer months, scheming up different things to fit their personnel -- potentially who and what might be involved has yet to be determined.

But speed kills, as the Pac-10 and the rest of college football discovered with Rodgers last year. And incoming Beaver Keynan Parker has a boatload of it. Parker, the Canadian out of St. Thomas More Collegiate in Burnaby, British Columbia, is a running back and the Beavs barring injury are pretty well flush there. But if he can help the team this year, at running back or lining up elsewhere, in motion or on special teams, he might be one of those black and orange true frosh making an impact sooner rather than later.

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