More running lanes figure to open in 2010

JACQUIZZ RODGERS WILL head into the 2010 season as one of the top running backs in all of college football. But the differences between his sophomore and freshman seasons provide a blueprint of what needs to happen up front, down in the trenches, if Oregon State is going to really blow the lid off their running game.

Simply put, the Beaver offensive line must improve their run blocking from last season.

On the surface, that seems a strange thing to say -- Quizz rushed for a boatload of yards, and more yards total and per carry in 2009 compared to a frosh campaign where he was named the Pac-10's Freshman and Offensive Player of the Year.

But the numbers themselves are deceiving. In 2008, Jacquizz Rodgers missed nearly all of the last three games of the season after suffering a first quarter shoulder injury at Arizona. But that's not the big one. This is...

In 2009, Quizz had six games where he was held under 100 yards in a season of 13 games. Six. That's double the number he had in 2008, if you take away the Arizona game where he sat out three quarters.

What was missing last year, what Oregon State needs to get back -- those 7-, 8-, 9-yard runs by Quizz where he zips through a lane and then makes the first man miss. Last year, Quizz had to go off in search of an open lane more often as the offensive line battled more to a collective stalemate rather than pushing their man off his line and downfield.

DON'T MISUNDERSTAND , 1,440 rushing yards and a 5.3 ypc are some pretty great numbers. But those six games under the century mark are alarming when you have a weapon of Quizz' caliber.

And take that 1,440 yards and then imagine what it, and the OSU running game, might have been with an offensive line that really owned the line of scrimmage.

THERE IS REASON to believe the 2010 o-line will be improved over the 2009 version, and the 2008 vintage as well.

The offensive line was rebuilding last season, replacing a star in Andy Levitre and inserting two underclassmen on the left side, one a true freshman and the other a walk-on. That seasoning that took place in 2009 should pay dividends this year.

Tackle should be a strength. Mike Remmers was a second year starter last year, and he'll only be a junior this coming season. Michael Philipp was a true freshman last season and true freshmen don't start on the o-line, not at this level. But Philipp is a special sort and with one year now under his belt in the Pac-10, it will be a surprise if he doesn't take a significant leap forward and Remmers should only improve.

Center is solid with Alex Linnekohl back. The senior grabbed hold of the starting job two seasons ago and has developed into one of the best centers in the conference under o-line coach Mike Cavanaugh.

THE BIGGEST QUESTIONS are at the guard spots. Grant Johnson was just a sophomore, and a walk-on, last year -- and a first year starter. He was originally the backup center headed into fall camp, forming with Linnenkohl what Cavanaugh called his best centers group in years, but was needed to start at guard. The Beavs will need to replace graduating senior Gregg Peat, with a number of candidates in the mix.

Ryan Pohl has been one of the top starting candidates the past two years but has never quite turned the corner. He'll be a senior this season, will this be the year he puts it all together? Junior-to-be Burke Ellis was listed as the No. 2 right guard behind Peat on the season's final depth chart (Pohl was listed as the backup center.) Also in the mix will be Michael Lamb, a senior-to-be while two Beavs spent this past season redshirting -- Josh Andrews and Tyler Thomas.

WITH THESE and other questions headed into spring, one other was laid to rest last year. Remember all the consternation about Quizz' shoulder, and all the naysayers who said Quizz (5-7, 191) wouldn't be able to take the pounding after his freshman season was cut short?

All Quizz did last year was start every game and handle the second most carries in the Pac-10 behind Toby Gearhart. As Mike Riley likes to say, Quizz may be short, but he's not small.

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