CORVALLIS -- Notes, quotes and observations from Oregon State's practice session Tuesday at Reser Stadium.
With starting right tackle Gavin Andrews expected to be out three to four weeks with mononucleosis, junior Roman Sapolu will start at right guard in Saturday's season opener against Eastern Washington, with starting right guard Grant Enger sliding to tackle to replace Andrews.
Sapolu, a 6-2, 285-pounder, was a backup center during his first three years in the OSU program and was switched to guard in training camp. This would be his first career start.
"He's had a really good camp," O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh said. "He's stronger, more physical than he was a year ago."
"Roman is really smart," tackle Sean Harlow said. "He knows his stuff. He'll do great."
Cavanaugh's other option was to start Harlow and keep Enger at guard. But Harlow, a 6-4, 285-pound true freshman who graduated from high school in Anaheim, Calif., early to enroll at OSU last winter term, is still learning the offense.
"Sean is doing great," Enger said. "He's working his butt off. But it's tough for a true freshman to come in and play right away."
The 6-6, 290-pound Enger spent his first two years in the program as a tackle before switching to guard, where he is in his third year as a starter.
"Anything to help the team," Enger said. "Whatever the coaches think is best, I'm going to do."
Since the start of camp, Cavanaugh has lost tackles David Keller (retired due to repeated concussions) and Garrett Weinreich (knee). And sophomore center Isaac Seumalo has been held out of practice for nearly two weeks with a knee bruise, though he is expected to be ready to go Saturday.
It leaves the Beavers thin up front. Sophomore Josh Mitchell is the backup center. Harlow is the third tackle, with walk-on redshirt freshman Nolan Hansen the player behind him. Redshirt freshman Grant Bays would seem to be the next option at guard.
"What are you going to do?" OSU coach Mike Riley asked about the injury situation on the O-line. "You have to prepare the guys who are healthy and do everything you can to win the game. We're not deep enough there, but we have guys who are getting ready to play, and I'm sure they'll do a good job."
With the O-line problem, "we have to be aware" of tactics the Eagles might use to exploit Sapolu, or if he sees action, Harlow, Riley said.
"We have to do some things," the OSU coach said.
It could mean the Beavers will use two or, at times, three tight ends more often. Junior Connor Hamlett and sophomore Caleb Smith are the first two at the position, with sophomore Kellen Clute, junior Tyler Perry and redshirt freshman Dustin Stanton behind them.
Why did Riley wait until Monday to announce that Sean Mannion is the starting quarterback over Cody Vaz?
"Why not?" Riley asked. "It was a close competition. I saw no need to change the path of what they were doing. As much as you can prevent it, you never want to go backwards.
"It might be overkill, but what if during practice before the first game, the starter gets hurt? Then you have to go back to the other guy. So we just let them play (during training camp). Both of them got lots of turns. Both of them are ready to go."
Riley has changed his mind, incidentally, about playing both QBs against the Eagles.
"There is no set plan for a rotation," he said.
So if it's a competitive game and Mannion plays well, he might go the entire way?
"We'll see," Riley said.
Mannion said Tuesday he is pleased to be Oregon State's starting quarterback. But his selection as a team co-captain in a vote by teammates for the second straight season "is my proudest achievement in football," he said. "To have that kind of respect from my teammates means a lot to me. It comes with a lot of responsibility. Hopefully, I can live up to the expectations my teammates have set for me."
The 6-5, 220-pound junior said the Beavers won't look past Eastern Washington, which reached the FBS semifinals last season and is ranked No. 4 in this year's preseason poll.
"We've hit on that many times in our offensive meetings," Mannion said. The Eagles "will be an outstanding team. From what I've seen on (video), they look sharp, they're sound, they disguise their defense well. I've been impressed with what they do. They are a national title contender.
"It's evident this is a team we can't overlook. But ultimately, it's about us. if we play our best football, we'll let the game take care of itself."
Vernon Adams, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore, will quarterback Eastern Washington's spread offense. Adams, who split time with senior Kyle Padron last season, finished the year ranked fourth nationally in passing efficiency, completing 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,961 yards and 20 touchdown while rushing for 342 yards.
About three-quarters of the Eagles' offense came from the passing game a year ago.
"What I see is they throw the hell out of the ball," OSU defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. Adams "can run, too, so we may see more of that Saturday. But they're a wide-open, spread passing team with some pistol read zone mixed in."
Banker loves the continuity on OSU's defensive coaching staff. He and Joe Seumalo have been together for eight seasons, while Trent Bray (linebackers) and Rod Perry (secondary) are beginning their second season. "We're all real comfortable with each other," Banker says.
If Banker has a concern about his defense, it's the lack of real hitting the Beavers did during training camp in order to prevent injuries. That could lead to some sloppy tackling from rusty defenders in the opener.
"I'm concerned that we didn't scrimmage," he says. "There's nothing like live bullets. But the guys practiced well. We threw a lot of scheme at them very fast, and scheme has not been an issue. We have a lot of juniors and seniors who played when they were freshmen. This is the third and fourth go-around for some of them. That's a very important element of any defense."
NOTES: About 3,000 tickets remained Tuesday for Saturday's 3 p.m. game. Andrews is the second Beaver to come down with mono. Defensive back Steven Christian has missed most of camp with the illness. The disease is contagious, but OSU medical officials can only guess if Andrews caught it from his teammate. Christian said Tuesday he hoped to begin taking part in at least part of practice again Wednesday. Redshirt freshman Chris Brown, OSU's No. 3 running back, sat out Tuesday's practice due to a stress reaction in his left foot. "I'm guessing he'll miss Saturday's game," Riley said. Senior Sean Martin will start at cornerback alongside senior Rashaad Reynolds, with JC transfer Steven Nelson the first backup at both spots. Probable returners for the Beavers Saturday: junior Brandin Cooks on punts and true freshman Victor Bolden on kickoffs. OSU coaches haven't named a starter at split end between sophomore Richard Mullaney and junior Obum Gwachum. The guess here is it will be Mullaney. Kevin Cummings will start at slotback and Cooks at flanker. Backups will include Bolden, senior Micah Hatfield and redshirt freshman Malik Gilmore.
Riley on redshirt freshman Brent VanderVeen, running third string at quarterback behind Mannion and Vaz: "I'm really excited about Brent. If he continues to grow like did between last year and today, he is going to be right in the thick of things a year from now." OSU coaches project Jesuit senior Christian Martinek, who has committed to the Beavers for both baseball and football, as a linebacker. Banker on junior end Dylan Wynn: "He is a great ball of energy. He is going to give you every ounce he has. He's a worker, first and foremost." The Beavers are at 83 scholarships with the retirement of Keller and the defection of freshman linebacker Terin Solomon; that's two below the limit. They could use one or both spots on a walk-on currently in the program, but it seems likely Riley will choose to save the scholarships at this point. Officials from Oregon State and Alabama talked about lining up a game between the schools two years ago, but there has been no conversation about it since then.