When Ryan Katz replaced Sean Canfield late in Oregon State's loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, it was a sign of change coming for the Beavers. When the NCAA turned down Lyle Moevao's appeal to be rewarded another year of eligibility because he missed last season with two injuries, it meant there was no question OSU was searching for a new starting quarterback for 2010.
Canfield and Moevao had shared the starting position for the previous three seasons, one taking over when the other was injured in two of those years. Now, the battle is between Katz, a sophomore who played in four games last season, and junior transfer Peter Lalich, who hasn't played since 2008 when he was dismissed from the team at Virginia after two games.
Changing quarterbacks is "always a big issue," as OSU coach Mike Riley noted. It's even more so with the Beavers, who seem set at virtually every other offensive position, save one starting spot in the line.
Defensively, the Beavers could put 10 returning starters on the field for the opener Sept. 4 against TCU, but again, it's a key spot that needs to be filled, at middle linebacker. The candidates there are all sophomores, Tony Wilson, Rueben Robinson and Feti Unga.
That opening was the most unexpected as returning starter David Pa'aluhi decided to forego his final two seasons of eligibility to enlist in the military.
"We think we have ability there and we will get a good (starter)," Riley said. "That group will be pretty good athletically."
Riley is also optimistic that ability will overcome the lack of experience at quarterback. Lalich did start two games in his two seasons at Virginia, and Katz will be in his third season with the Beavers.
"We've got two guys who are a little bit older and have been in the program," Riley said. "I like the talent there and now we'll see who emerges as the quarterback."
It will help that the offense still has the Rodgers brothers, Quizz to run the ball and James to run or catch passes. The Beavers are deep in receivers, though the starters besides James Rodgers need to be decided. And it will help the quarterback to have four of five offensive lineman back in 2010.
"The returning part is good," Riley said. "We can talk about a lot of things but whenever there's a changing of the guard at quarterback, that'll be big news."
SPRING OBJECTIVES: The Beavers need to find their quarterback and middle linebacker, or at least move in that direction, during their 15 spring workouts from March 29 and the conclusion of sessions with the spring game May 2.
There are options at each spot, and OSU coach Mike Riley said the Beavers may spend more of their spring in full team workouts to give an accurate picture of progress, particularly for the quarterbacks.
It's one thing to be an accurate passer in a seven-on-seven drill; it all changes with linemen rushing the quarterback into quicker decisions.
Ditto the defense, where the Beavers need to see how those young middle linebackers handle making decisions when linemen are blocking them, and they aren't sure if it's a run or pass play.
BUILDING BLOCKS: The Beavers should be strong up front defensively, with all-American candidate Stephen Paea back for his senior season.
Paea explored leaving for the NFL with a season of eligibility left but eventually decided he liked college football, and could use another season of experience.
"I was worried because he was going through the evaluation process," Riley said. "I guess I felt OK because Stephen went into it wanting to come back."
Offensively, the change at quarterback will be greatly aided by Quizz Rodgers being around to head up the running game, behind a veteran offensive line. The Beavers faltered on their rushing offense late in the season, and will look at some alterations to their blocking schemes in the spring.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll just let 'em play. We'll probably come out of it with maybe some determination but maybe the final determination could carry into fall camp." -- OSU coach Mike Riley, on settling on a starting quarterback in spring drills.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Beavers have gone down to the final game of the regular season in each of the previous two years with the Rose Bowl within their reach. This year, much will be known about OSU before the Beavers ever play a Pac-10 game with a nonleague schedule that puts them up against TCU and Boise State on the road and Louisville at home.
WR Darrell Catchings -- The expected starter at split end last season, Catchings played in only two games and was granted a medical redshirt year. He first had a wrist injury, then a severe ankle sprain. The split end is the featured receiver in OSU's offense.
LB Michael Doctor -- He was expected to be the most likely of the true freshmen linebackers to play in 2009, but academics delayed his enrollment until this winter. His speed and natural tackling ability make him a prime candidate for special teams, and he could earn a backup role as an outside linebacker with a strong spring.
RG Burke Ellis -- The one spot to fill on the offensive line is where all-leaguer Gregg Peat had started for three seasons. The Beavers like the work of Ellis, a former walk-on who earned letters his first two seasons in a reserve role.
- The Beavers are going
to be careful with their specialists in the spring after the backups to punter
Johnny Hekker and kicker Justin Kahut both
decided in the winter to transfer elsewhere to find possible playing time.
There are reserves expected for fall workouts, but for the spring, the Beavers
may be using machines in some of their kicking drills.
- Seeking more depth at
defensive tackle, end Kevin Frahm
was moved to the inside. That could put the two strongest Beavers, Frahm and
Stephen Paea, playing next to each other as the tackles.
OSU also has brought offensive linemen Ben
Motter, John Braun
and Nathan Hannah over to
defense in a quest for more depth.
was so impressive on special teams as a true freshman that the Beavers want
him on the field more. Thus, rather than being the fourth or fifth safety,
he'll get a look in the spring as a possible third cornerback. He's also be
the likely nickel back for next season.
- Among the Beavers being
held out of spring drills is starting left guard Grant
Johnson, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. The Beavers
are also unsure of the status of Wilder
McAndrews, long considered a potential contributor on the offensive
line but who has been hampered by injuries. Starting outside linebacker
Keith Pankey will miss the spring
after Achilles tendon surgery this winter, but he is expected to be full-go
- OSU resurrected its men's track program in the winter, allowing a handful of football players to compete in indoor meets. It's likely that receivers Jordan Bishop and Obum Gwacham will both compete in the Pac-10 championships as 7-foot high-jumpers, and the Beavers could put together a competitive 4-by-100 relay team. Riley said, however, that none of them will be allowed to compete in track meets until the conclusion of spring drills.