COMMENTARY: Million-dollar question for Beavs

THERE ARE MANY things known about the 2010 Beavers -- a Heisman candidate running back, potentially the best defensive tackle in the country, an All-America candidate at wide receiver, four returning offensive linemen, a veteran secondary. But none of that has to do with the million dollar question when it comes to getting a handle on the Beavs' potential for success this season. But this is…

"How good can Ryan Katz be?"

And the answer is.. Very good.

SPEND A LITTLE time rattling around the confines of cyberspace and you'll hear as many different OSU QB theories and angles as you can possibly imagine. Let's start with the first, most common piece of conventional wisdom.

New starters at quarterback have traditionally struggled in the Oregon State system under Mike Riley.

And it's borne out by looking over the stat lines from first-year starters. And it's hard to argue -- there's no point in nitpicking a young Sean Canfield's promising start until a late (and some would say "dirty") hit at USC right when Canfield seemed to have hit his stride.

Indeed, the first few games for Canfield, Matt Moore, and Derek Anderson were all a bit rocky.

Despite that, there is a sense of optimism that this year may be different. And it's not all just wishful thinking.

One theory is that Ryan Katz really is just that special. Even the habitually conservative Riley has been, relatively speaking, downright effusive in his praise of Katz' potential, and his feeling that Katz will be successful. Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf has marveled about Katz' arm strength. So have the pundits -- ESPN's Ted Miller has raved about Katz' cannon arm and he isn't the only one.

THERE'S A LOT of discussion about Katz' feet as well.

The prevailing wisdom -- Katz has better footspeed than any quarterback since Tim Alexander. Derek Anderson and Jonathan Smith were never fleet of foot, and Sean Canfield was never considered very mobile.

Matt Moore was a legitimate baseball prospect though, and it would be fair to call Moore a good athlete. Whether Katz' footspeed is really as advertised and not just hyperbole – we'll find out soon. There wasn't quite enough evidence from his limited playing time last year to authoritatively state beyond a doubt.

And of course there is discussion - and it has merit - about Katz' supporting cast.

Matt Moore had WR Mike Hass and TE Jonas Newton, along with Yvenson Bernard, Jeremy Perry, Adam Koets and Tavita Thompson.

Now, with all due respect to those players, a Heisman candidate running back -- and a possible All-America wide receiver who can stretch the field vertically like James Rodgers can, while also boosting the rushing game, well that's something different altogether. And there's one other big question to answer, and it has nothing to do with measurables.

ON THE BF.C MESSAGE boards the other day, I read where a poster, in discussing Katz' potential success this season, hit upon something.

'The 6 most important inches for a quarterback are between the ears,' the post read.

And really, I think that's where the answer lies on how good can Ryan Katz be this season. It also made me think of Trent Dilfer.

Dilfer, now a commentator on TV and the radio, was the perfect example of how a quarterback with everything between the ears can overcome not having the fastest feet, strongest arm or greatest accuracy. And listening to Dilfer explain all that was positively enlightening.

He said a good offensive coordinator can make an average quarterback great, and the OC doesn't have to be particularly imaginative. Asked to elaborate, Dilfer said that it wasn't just about cleverly designed plays and the right playcall -- it was about the diversity in the looks that you show the defense.

When a defense watches film they're looking for recognition, trying to find patterns in what the offense does. When they show a certain look in a certain down and distance, if you can diagnose what the play is, you can jump the route and either blow the play up or create the dream scenario -- a turnover.

What the offense can do to slow down that recognition is show different looks.

Motion, shifts and variations on the formations. Say you have 5 base formations, and then you have 5 variations on each. That's 25 different looks. But then you add 4 different ways to shift the formation, and 3 different types of motion. Your 5 base formations just became a whopping 300 different looks a defense potentially has to look at and try to solve.

And then the big reveal... So why don't all offensive coordinators use that many variations? "Well... it's a lot to digest," Dilfer said.

SUDDENLY, IT MAKES a lot of sense why Oregon State quarterbacks, and QBs in general, tend to struggle when they first take over the starter's mantle. Not only do you have the pressure of stepping on the field and leading the team, playing in front of 40-70,000 fans, but you have every play, formation, motion and shift to memorize to the point it's second nature.

Every variation on every route up and down the route tree of a West Coast Offense. And knowing them all isn't good enough -- you need to develop the timing on all of them.

Katz will need to look at the defense and know instantly whether the receiver is going to stick, shake, stab, or drive -- and then he has to be able to deliver the ball on time and on target.

That all just takes time, it takes repetition, and it takes a lot of work. But that's also the good news - Katz has been in Corvallis for three springs, and has been the heir apparent since last season. This is his third fall.

That puts him, markedly, in front of Derek Anderson and Matt Moore before they took the reins. Canfield was in a similar situation as Katz in terms of time to prepare, but certainly he was not the beneficiary of being "the guy" – there was this other player here at the same time named Lyle Moevao and the staff divided their focus between them.

THIS SEASON, IT'S a veteran offense. And with a QB who has three years of experience in the system.

If there ever was a situation where a new quarterback was set up to succeed, Oregon State in 2010 would be it.

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