by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - CRICHTONCORVALLIS — Oregon State springs into the new year with holes to fill and question marks to ponder, but none bigger than the decisions regarding three draft-eligible juniors: Brandin Cooks, Scott Crichton and Sean Mannion.

It's difficult for OSU coach Mike Riley to plan until he learns whether any of the trio will stay in school and play next season or opt to leave early for the 2014 NFL draft.

Cooks and Mannion filed applications with the NFL College Advisory Committee, which evaluates players' draft chances. Crichton did not, but his cell phone message directs agents to contact an attorney he has retained, an indication he is seriously considering a move to enter the draft.

After being told by the committee he can expect to be chosen in the second round, Cooks has petitioned to make himself available for the draft. The Biletnikoff Trophy winner has until Jan. 18 to formally withdraw, and he then could return for his senior year if he hasn't signed with an agent.

Cooks seemed to indicate on Thursday he won't be back.

"It's a full-go process" to the NFL draft, said Cooks, who is in the interview process toward getting an agent. "Who knows what can happen the next couple of weeks? But right now, I have my head toward going to the draft."

Mock drafts have Crichton going in the second to the fourth rounds. Odds are he will opt to move on as well.

The committee has told Mannion he projects to be a third-round pick. That could be in the gray area in a quarterback-heavy draft that features several expected first-round picks, including Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Fresno State's Derek Carr, Central Florida's Blake Bortles and UCLA's Brett Hundley.

Bortles, a junior, and Hundley, a draft-eligible sophomore, have yet to make a decision. Should they return to school, that might affect Mannion's choice in a year when Alabama's A.J. McCarron, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Wyoming's Brett Smith, Georgia's Aaron Murray and San Jose State's David Fales all could be drafted in the first four rounds.

Cooks, Crichton and Mannion have until Jan. 15 to declare. If all come back to school, Oregon State would return 19 starters -- including kicker Trevor Romaine and punter Keith Kostol -- from its 2013 team that went 7-6 after beating Boise State 38-23 in the Hawaii Bowl.

Riley knows he must replace three starting offensive linemen -- guards Grant Enger and Josh Andrews and tackle Michael Philipp -- as well as cornerback Rashaad Reynolds and the top reserve at that position, Sean Martin. Other seniors who will depart include defensive tackles Mana Rosa and John Braun and receiver Kevin Cummings.

The O-line is in excellent shape at center with Isaac Seumalo and at tackle with Sean Harlow and Gavin Andrews, though the latter could get a push from Bobby Keenan, a 6-7, 280-pound transfer from American River College in Sacramento. Guard is a bigger question mark, though Grant Bays, Josh Mitchell and Roman Sapolu all return with starting experience.

The defensive tackle position will be replenished by Jalen Grimble, a 6-2, 290-pound transfer from Miami who sat out the 2013 season in Corvallis, and Kyle Peko, a 6-2, 295-pound JC transfer and 2013 signee who is expected to enroll for winter term and be available for spring ball. Grimble and Peko would join Brandon Bennett-Jackson, Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau -- who all got rotation time this fall -- at the position next season.

Oregon State seems well-stocked at receiver even if Cooks departs, with Richard Mullaney, Victor Bolden and Malik Gilmore along with redshirt freshmen Jordan Villamin, Hunter Jarmin and Walter Jones. The 6-4, 240-pound Villamin, who was on campus but ineligible to practice this fall due to academic eligibility, remains in limbo with the NCAA Clearinghouse.

"We're working to get him eligible so he can participate in spring practice," Riley said. "At the least, he should be available for next fall."

The Beavers return their full complement of tight ends, including Connor Hamlett, Caleb Smith, Kellen Clute, Tyler Perry and Will Hopkins, along with fullback Tyler Anderson.

The strongest position could be linebacker, with Michael Doctor, D.J. Alexander, Jabral Johnson, Rommel Mageo, Caleb Saulo and Joel Skotte all returning with starting experience and Cyril Noland-Lewis providing depth.

Third-year starters Tyrequek Zimmerman and Ryan Murphy at safety and Steven Nelson at cornerback anchor the secondary.

If Mannion leaves, Oregon State will be forced to go with a quarterback who hasn't taken a snap in a game. Sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt would be the only returning squad members. Zach Kline, who is expected to be on campus next summer after a transfer from California, must sit out next season.

The Beavers have verbal commitments from two high school senior QBs -- Marcus McMaryion of Dinuba, Calif., and Nick Mitchell of Snoqualmie, Wash.

• The run game that came alive during the Beavers' final two games -- the 36-35 loss at Oregon and the Hawaii Bowl victory -- provided Riley a look at what he hopes will be a more balanced offense next season.

"I would envision a picture of what we saw the last two games," Riley says.

Why were the Beavers able to average 213 yards rushing against Oregon and Boise State after averaging 73 yards in their first 11 games?

"Two things happened," Riley says. "We were disrupted early (through illness and injuries) in the offensive line and lost some continuity from what I thought was going to be a good running team. We had good success throwing the ball, and we relied on that. When we needed the run, we weren't good enough or persistent enough with our blocking, and I went with the pass more than I really wanted to.

"In the last two games, we were more determined to get things done with the run game, and the guys just did a better job all the way around. It gave us a more complete picture of what we'd like to be like in terms of overall offense."

• Riley said he will spend the offseason doing a complete evaluation of the Oregon State offense, in particular the run game -- "what's good for us, what we need to add, what we need to throw out … a real concise plan."

Oregon State finished the season ranked third nationally in passing offense at 372.6 yards per game and 115th in rushing offense at 94.4 yards per contest. Riley wants the latter number to increase significantly next season.

OSU will continue to employ the pro-style offense, "but we're going to continue to look at anything that will help us," Riley says. "We haven't had the mobile quarterback, but we''ll look at all sorts of possibilities."

Riley said he will study the offense of several pro-style teams -- including those in the NFL -- to determine what kind of changes he'll make for next season.

"You look at Denver and New England -- they don't have running quarterbacks, but they run a lot out of the shotgun and are very successful with it," Riley says. "They're pro-style teams with a different flavor. We can expand some into a shotgun run game that will be a good complement for what we do, and we can do a little up-tempo when we want to."

Does a no-huddle, fast-paced offense interest Riley?

"It does, but for reasons other than just going fast," he says. "We're going to continue to change personnel groups with our H-backs, tight ends and wideouts, but we can still incorporate some up-tempo and figure out how that works in our system."

• Part of the offseason will be spent with Riley huddling with coordinator Mark Banker and the defensive staff about potential schematic changes. Riley wouldn't say whether that will include the possibility of using the 3-4 as his base defense instead of the 4-3, given Oregon State's returning group of linebackers.

"I'm excited about our depth at linebacker," he says. "We'll study everything and determine what we can do to provide more versatility in our defense."

• Oregon State's solid performance in the Hawaii Bowl was exactly what the coach expected.

"I was telling people quietly that I would be really surprised if we didn't play well," he says. "We practiced great from the minute we started bowl practice. I thought they would be ready to play, and it was good to see that the guys were."

• Riley's summarization of how the season went:

"We started with a real setback (the 49-46 loss to FCS opponent Eastern Washington), then settled into some pretty good football. When we hit a tougher part of our schedule, we failed. We didn't play well enough to win. We had a total meltdown against Washington. The last two games were really important for our program -- for this year and for the future. I was really encouraged by the way the guys responded."

NOTES: Riley says he will "look at all the possibilities" regarding assignments in his coaching staff — but don't expect any changes. "I have a great group of coaches, a good mixture of older and younger guys, with three solid, bright, hard-working coordinators (Danny Langsdorf on offense, Banker on defense, Bruce Read on special teams)," Riley says. "They know the players well and provide a good foundation moving forward." … Riley says he intends to scrimmage more during spring practice and during August training camp. Last season, the Beavers scrimmaged sparingly because of injuries. Riley feels that impacted the play of the defense early in the season. "We're going to try to scrimmage as much as we can," he says. "I'll have to make a plan for that." …

Kline is expected to enroll at Berkeley (Calif.) City College for winter and spring term and be in Corvallis in the summer. Kline will have two years of eligibility remaining. … Center Isaac Seumalo broke a foot in the Hawaii Bowl and is facing surgery. "Everything will be clean," Riley says. Surgeons "will repair it. They think he'll make a full recovery." Riley isn't sure whether Seumalo will be ready for spring ball. … Sophomore Akeem Gonzalez, a third-string defensive tackle who made one tackle in four games this season, asked for his release and has left the program. … Linebacker Michael Greer is expected to enroll winter term as a grayshirt. … The tailback position will be a competition in the spring between senior Terron Ward, junior Storm Woods and sophomore Chris Brown. "We're going to give Chris a good shot," Riley says. "He has come a long way. He had real good fall, played well on special teams and looked good in practice and when he got into games."

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