Can Oregon State finally climb out of the Pac-12 North cellar?
That's the question facing the Beavers once again as the team opened spring practices this week. Oregon State finished 2-10 overall in head coach Jonathan Smith's debut season. It marked the third last-place finish in four years for the Beavers and their fifth consecutive losing season overall.
Whether more success is obtainable is still a big question in 2019. Oregon State has improved depth at key positions. But the Beavers also reeled in the 12th-ranked recruiting class in the Pac-12 each of the last two seasons. If Oregon State can ward off the injury bug, and Smith can develop the players he has in the program, there's a chance for the Beavers to reverse their fortunes.
5 Storylines to Watch During Oregon State's Spring Practices
1. Quarterback battle
There is a two-man race to become Oregon State's starting quarterback in 2019. Sixth-year senior Jake Luton and sophomore Tristan Gebbia are battling for the job. Luton has experience as a starter. He split time with Conor Blount in 2018 and threw for 1,660 yards and 10 touchdowns. Blount is gone now, but Gebbia has the tools to keep Luton from taking over full time. The Nebraska transfer has a strong arm and is poised and confident running the offense. Luton has a history of struggling with injuries, so the edge may ultimately go to Gebbia.
2. Can Oregon State's defense improve?
Make no mistake, the Beavers struggled to win games last season because of atrocious defense. Oregon State allowed 45.7 points and 536.8 yards per game. Those numbers ranked dead last among Pac-12 teams in both categories. Much of the struggles started up front where the Beavers got pushed around at the line of scrimmage and could not stop the run. There's an opening for newcomers like defensive linemen Evan Bennett and Jordan Whittley and linebacker Omar Speights to step in and make immediate contributions.
3. Position switches
Oregon State has switched things up on the defensive side of the ball to try and make improvements. A pair of key position switches on the first day of spring practice included moving Isaac Garcia from defensive line to linebacker and converting Kee Whetzel from an outside linebacker to safety. The moves could pay dividends for Whetzel in particular. He had 39 tackles and a pair of sacks at linebacker and could be a stopper in the secondary.
4. Can Noah Togiai stay healthy?
Seeing Togiai sit out practice on Monday after injuring an ankle is a definite concern. The senior tight end finished with just 77 yards on 10 catches during an injury-plagued junior season. Togiai showed what he was capable of in 2017, after totaling 461 yards and two touchdowns on 34 receptions. The latest ankle injury isn't expected to sideline him long, but Togiai has a history of ankle problems which includes a pair of offseason ankles surgeries in the past.
5. Will David Morris bounce back to form?
Morris didn't take a single snap on defense a year ago after sitting out the season with a pair of foot injuries. It offered a major blow to a porous defense. The sophomore safety exploded onto the scene in 2017. Morris tied for the team in tackles among defensive backs in his debut season, finishing with 75 stops in 11 games. He has gotten off to a rough start on the injury front in 2019. Morris is recovering from a hamstring injury and is expected to be limited in his participation in spring practices.
— 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.
(Top photo by Karl Maasdam, courtesy of osubeavers.com)