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Beavers' roster full of question marks

OSU heads to training camp with defense, quarterback positions undecided


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Oregon States Connor Hamlett, picking up yardage after a catch against Utah last season, returns at tight end for the Beavers.There are plenty of issues to address at Oregon State’s three-week training camp, which begins Monday.

The biggest:

• Who is the quarterback, junior Sean Mannion or senior Cody Vaz?

• How will the Beavers be up the middle on defense — at the two tackle spots and middle linebacker?

“Those are the biggest question marks, along with who will surface to play Markus Wheaton’s (split end) position,” Mike Riley said on the eve of his 13th season as OSU’s head coach.

Mannion, who started eight of Oregon State’s 13 games last season, goes into camp dead even with Vaz, who started the other five.

“We used the spring not to win the (starting) job, but to get better, and both of those guys did,” Riley said. “We used the summer to evaluate (video) and see how things were. Now we’ll take the time at the start of camp to solidify our thoughts one way or the other.”

Riley isn’t putting a deadline on a decision, “but I’d like to have some kind of definition fairly early on,” the veteran OSU mentor said. “I don’t want it to go three weeks into camp.”

Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said as he went about town in Corvallis and spoke to people via telephone this summer, the quarterback decision “was the hot topic, for sure.”

“We have two veteran guys who can play,” Langsdorf said. “When you look at how often the No. 1 guy goes down during the course of a Pac-12 season, that’s a great thing. We’re looking for the most consistent player there, the guy who makes the least amount of mistakes, takes care of the ball and makes the best decisions.”

Riley said the Beavers won’t have a scrimmage until the second week of camp, meaning that much of the issue could be decided with performance during seven-on-seven drills the first two weeks.

Defensive tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo and middle linebacker Feti Unga were seniors last season.

“The first thing we have to solve (during camp) is right down the middle on defense,” Riley said.

Senior returnees Mana Rosa and John Braun will line up as starters on the first day of camp, but they’ll get plenty of competition from JC transfers Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau, both of whom were on hand for spring practice. Hautau has recovered from a broken hand suffered early in the spring.

If JC transfers Kyle Peko and Charlie Tua’au qualify academically as expected, they’ll be in the mix, as will 6-3, 285-pound sophomore Brandon Bennett-Jackson.

“If we have everybody, we could have some pretty good depth there,” Riley said.

Joel Skotte, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore out of Bend’s Mountain View High, is the likely starter at middle linebacker, backed up by 6-1, 230-pound junior Josh Williams and 6-2, 240-pound redshirt freshman Rommel Mageo.

“I love Joel as a player,” Riley said. “He had a good spring. The only downfall to him is not much experience, but he has all the makings to become a good player there. He’s a better athlete than Unga and a better football player than (Rueben) Robinson. We don’t have to go backward. We should get better there.”

Wheaton, who caught 91 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 142 yards and two scores, was among the best receivers in the country a year ago. He’ll pass the mantle to junior Brandin Cooks, who had 67 receptions for 1,151 yards and five TDs and added 82 yards rushing.

“Any time you lose a player like Markus, the next man up has to make plays,” Langsdorf said. “Brandin will be our go-to guy. You lose a player the caliber of Markus, it can be frightening. But over the years, we’ve had to replace Mike Hass and James Newson and James Rodgers and done a pretty good job. Other guys will emerge as playmakers.”

Candidates include Obum Gwachum, the 6-5, 225-pound junior who had eight catches for 147 yards a year ago.

“I’d like to think ‘Boomer’ is ready to make his presence felt,” Langsdorf said. “He had some moments in the spring and did great work this summer. Now we’d like to have him make plays in games.”

Mannion and Vaz have both mentioned they expect big things from Richard Mullaney, a 6-3, 190-pound sophomore who missed spring drills with shoulder surgery. He had 13 catches for 156 yards and a TD last season.

The running back position is set, with starter Storm Woods, who gained 940 yards and 13 TDs rushing as a redshirt freshman in 2012, and junior backup Terron Ward.

“Storm is an all-around back who did some great stuff for us as a freshman,” Langsdorf said. “He’s a very good receiver out of the backfield, and he improved last year in pass protection. I like Terron giving him a break and providing a lot of the same things Storm does.”

The tight end/H-back is probably Oregon State’s deepest position, led by 6-7, 265-pound junior Connor Hamlett, who had 32 receptions for 403 yards and three TDs last season, and 6-6, 265-pound sophomore Caleb Smith.

“We feel good about that group,” Langsdorf said. “Connor is a very good athlete, a heck of a basketball player, which worked pretty well for guys like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez. It’s great to have a playmaker at that position. And Caleb has some real physical tools, too, running and catching, and has a great understanding of what we’re doing with our offense.”

Four starters return on the offensive line, including sophomore All-America candidate Isaac Seumalo at center and fourth-year starter Michael Philipp at left tackle.

“That’s a close-knit group with a lot of experience,” Langsdorf said. “For us to go as

an offense, they have to be good. We have to be able to protect the quarterback and run the ball.”

Gavin Andrews, a 6-5, 320-pound sophomore, will fill Colin Kelly’s spot at the other starting tackle. With sophomores David Keller and Josh Mitchell and redshirt freshmen Grant Bays, Garrett Weinreich and Chase Endredge as backups on the O-line, “we have better depth than we’ve had in a long time,” Langsdorf said.

In 2012, the Beavers averaged 32.5 points, 431.5 yards total offense, 307.1 yards passing and 124.4 yards rushing. Langsdorf wants those numbers to go up this fall.

“We have high expectations offensively,” he said. “I like the experience we have at quarterback and the depth and quality of the line. You start with those two elements, you have a chance to be pretty good.”

On defense, the strength will be with third-year starting ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn, quicksilver outside linebackers Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander and a secondary that features returnees Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman at safety and Rashaad Reynolds at cornerback.

NOTES: Riley said only redshirt freshman safety Kendall Hill, who suffered a knee injury during the spring, will be limited physically at the start of camp. Fullback Tyler Anderson, who had knee surgery near the end of last season, is close to 100 percent. “We are going in virtually healthy,” the OSU coach said. ... Punter Keith Kostol has been awarded a scholarship that was previously used by Tim McMullen. McMullen will serve as the backup punter and holder for placekicks. Riley said the Beavers are at 84 scholarships, one below the limit. ... Vaz had left shoulder surgery after spring practice but was throwing by June and said last week he is in the best shape of his career. ... Riley said the Beavers may use some no-huddle offense, “which would be a great curveball” for opposing defenses. “It’s all about putting pressure on the defense. We normally do that by using different personnel groups throughout the game, by shifting, going into motion and that sort of thing. That doesn’t mean we can’t go no-huddle to give the quarterback more time to look at the defense at the line of scrimmage, too.”

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