Mike Riley finished the 2011 season with a nasty taste in his mouth after losing nine of 12 games. It was his worst season as the head coach in Corvallis and his defense was the issue. Last season, Riley reinvented the defense and it led to nine wins. Now that Oregon State is back in contention, Riley is faced with battling Stanford and Oregon for Pac-12 North Division supremacy. And it all begins this month with spring practice for the Beavers.
Oregon State Beavers 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 9-4 (6-3)
Spring practice dates: April 1-April 26
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7
Passing: Sean Mannion, 200-of-309, 2,446 yards, 15 TDs, 13 INTs
Rushing: Storm Woods, 192 att., 940 yards, 13 TDs
Receiving: Brandin Cooks, 67 rec., 1,151 yards, 5 TD
Tackles: Michael Doctor, 83
Sacks: Scott Crichton, 9.0
Interceptions: Rashaad Reynolds, 3
Redshirts to watch: RB Chris Brown, WR Malik Gilmore, DB Tyler Hasty, CB Zack Robinson, OL Garrett Weinreich
Early Enrollees to watch: CB Steven Nelson, DT Kyle Peko, DT Edwin Delva, DT Siale Hautau, DE Charlie Tuaau, DE Lyndon Tulimasealii
at San Diego State
at Washington State
at Arizona State
Offensive Strength: Running game and backfield. There is plenty of talent and depth in the backfield at both quarterback and running back. Four starters return to the offensive line as well.
Offensive Weakness: Passing game. Talent needs to develop around wide receiver Brandin Cooks for the passing game to be a strength and settling on one quarterback would help.
Defensive Strength: The back seven. This part of the defense returns fairly intact other than the loss of Jordan Poyer. Safety, in particular, is in good shape where both starters are back to quarterback this side of the ball.
Defensive Weakness: Defensive line. Replacing three out of four starters won't be easy so expect plenty of new faces in the rotation up front.
Spring Storylines Facing the Beavers
1. Replace the defense line. Riley worked minor miracles defensively to turn around his team in 2012, but he will have to provide an encore as three of four defensive line starters are gone. End Scott Crichton, who won't be able to practice due to a shoulder injury, was the best of the group and he returns, so finding a dependable player opposite him is what Riley needs to accomplish this spring. The tackle position is a more pressing matter, however, as both starters Andrew Aeumalo and Castro Masaniai moved on from Corvallis. Finding not only production but leadership from this group will be imperative after the losses up front this offseason. This is why Riley signed four junior college defensive linemen, including potential starters inside in tackles Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau. If the Beavers are going to compete with Oregon and Stanford in the North, they must play defense like the 2012 team, not the '11 edition.
2. Support Brandin Cooks in the passing game. Markus Wheaton was an all-time great for Oregon State and will be missed. That said, Brandin Cooks is one of the single most underrated wide receivers in the nation and will be just fine serving as the team's No. 1 pass catcher. The problem for the Beavers' passing game, however, is depth outside of Cooks and at tight end. Riley is expecting big things from an incoming freshman class heavy on pass catchers but they don't arrive until the summer. Tight end Connor Hamlett and rising junior receiver Obum Gwacham have great size and should step into much bigger roles this spring.
3. Find a way to replace Jordan Poyer. He was one of the top defensive backs in the nation — and school history — and won't be easy to replace, not only on defense but as a leader and special teams performer. Safety Ty Zimmerman is out for spring and Anthony Watkins is gone as well, leaving just safety Ryan Murphy and corner Rashaad Reynolds as the only ones with starting experience who will participate in spring practice. Reynolds has big-time potential and will be counted on to fill Poyer's shoes, but in an explosive conference like the Pac-12, providing him with support on the other side of the field will be key. Keep an eye on junior college transfer Steven Nelson and key veteran reserve Sean Martin as well.
4. Pick a quarterback. Sean Mannion is the starter and will be listed atop the depth chart, however, Cody Vaz is nipping at his heels and will get half of the reps with the starting offense this spring. This is the time for Mannion to show Riley that his excellent freshman season was no fluke and that he is the clear-cut choice to lead this offense. He has the talent to be a playmaker in the Pac-12 and, if asked off the record, the bet would be the coaching staff would like to see the rising junior separate himself from Vaz this spring. Although Riley has admitted that he likely won't make a decision until the fall, Mannion could make it easy on him and his staff with a great month of practice.
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