Signs of progress abounded in Gary Andersen’s second season at Oregon State. The Beavers closed 2016 with a pair of victories over Arizona and Oregon and doubled their win total from Andersen’s first year at the helm. Oregon State loses a few key playmakers on both sides of the ball, but the Beavers are positioned to build on the progress made last season.
If Oregon State can stay healthy, the Beavers should challenge for the team’s first bowl bid since 2013. Reaching that bowl goal hinges on Oregon State figuring out who will run the offense and on the Beavers getting improved production from the defense in several critical areas.
5 Storylines to Watch in Oregon State’s Spring Practice
1. Who will be Oregon State’s quarterback heading into fall?
The starting quarterback job is up for grabs heading into spring practices for a third consecutive season. Five different players are in the mix to be the starter – including highly touted junior college transfer Jake Luton.
Senior Darrell Garretson started the first six games last season before a broken leg against Utah cut his season short. Garretson struggled to move the chains while healthy. He threw for only 617 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Marcus McMaryion started the final six games in Garretson’s absence with some success. McMaryion threw for 1,286 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions last season.
Luton could come in and seize the reins before spring football is done. The 6-foot-7 quarterback put up some impressive numbers at Ventura (Calif.) College last season, throwing for a school-record 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns. If his passing abilities translate to the FBS level, Oregon State’s offense could be much more dangerous this season.
2. Will new receivers emerge?
Oregon State will be a bit thin at receiver during the spring. Seth Collins will sit out after being hospitalized with a serious illness last November. Kolby Taylor also is out with a leg injury and Jordan Villamin will see limited reps because of a knee injury.
It opens the door for some younger receivers to step forward and get a chance to move up the depth chart going into fall camp. Isaiah Hodgins is one such player who could step in and contribute right away. Hodgins has good hands and is explosive off the line. His 6-foot-4 frame also gives him good enough size to be a mismatch with many defensive backs.
Returning receivers Hunter Jarmon, Timmy Hernandez and Trevor Bradford should all have larger roles in the offense. Hernandez totaled 241 yards and a touchdown on 19 catches a season ago.
3. Which players will step up in the secondary?
Replacing cornerback Treston Decoud and safety Devin Chappell will be no simple task for the Beavers. The duo formed the heart and soul of the secondary last season and they proved to be valuable playmakers. Decoud tallied 58 tackles, 10 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. Chappell finished with 77 tackles, seven pass breakups and six forced fumbles.
Xavier Crawford gives Oregon State a reliable anchor at one cornerback spot. Crawford enjoyed an impressive freshman debut, totaling 70 tackles, 10 pass breakups and an interception. Dwayne Williams and Jay Irvine could be in the mix at the other spot if they can overcome the injury issues that plagued them in 2016. Brandon Arnold and Jalen Moore are the leaders to step up and play bigger roles at the safety positions.
4. Can the defensive line improve?
Oregon State could not stop opponents from running the ball down its throat last season. The Beavers ranked 10th among Pac-12 teams in rushing yards allowed per game (218.0). Oregon State gave up 5.32 yards per rushing play and allowed 25 rushing touchdowns. The Beavers also struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They totaled just 18 sacks for 90 yards – the worst of any Pac-12 team a season ago.
Chad Kauha’aha’a will take over as defensive line coach again this season after Andersen oversaw the position in 2016. Kauha’aha’a has plenty of experience with this position group, having coached the defensive line for a decade during coaching stops at Weber State, Utah State, Utah and Wisconsin, as well as his first season at Oregon State. Kauha’aha’a wants to bolster pass rushing by establishing a more pronounced hard-nosed, aggressive mentality with his three-man front.
5. How will injuries impact key position groups?
The two-deep roster come the fall could end up being wildly different than what Oregon State fans anticipated before spring camp. Many expected contributors are expected to miss all 15 spring practices or see limited reps because of injuries.
Seth Collins (illness), Bright Ugwoegbu (foot), Joah Robinett (shoulder), Jay Irvine (shoulder) and Landry Payne (knee) are all sidelined during the spring. Jordan Villamin (knee) is among a group of several players who will see limited reps. It gives a chance for younger players to step up at receiver, linebacker and defensive back and earn a serious look going into fall camp.
Oregon State’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12
In some ways, Oregon State is following the same trajectory that Utah State followed when Gary Andersen rebuilt that program from 2009-12. The Aggies had two sub-.500 campaigns before finally breaking through and reaching a bowl game in Andersen’s third year. Oregon State showed potential to turn the corner a season ago. The Beavers won three Pac-12 games after going winless in league the previous season and had two other league games decided by five points or less. The guess is Oregon State can take another step forward in 2017.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.