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Offense has returning tools for another productive year

Vikings' coordinator likes stable of QBs, RBs, O-linemen


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Kieran McDonagh has started at quarterback most of the past two seasons and is returning for his senior year at Portland State. Portland State’s offense has been the strength of the team since Bruce Barnum became the Vikings’ offensive coordinator in 2010.

And Barnum believes it can get even better.

“We’ve gotten better every year in the past four years,” Barnum said on the eve of spring practices, which began Monday. “There’s a lot to shoot for. This group can do it. We have the tools, it’s just how we’re going to come together and how we’re going to piece it together this year. That part is fun as a coach.

“Spring is fun because it’s an open book. That’s how we treat it. Everybody gets equal reps on offense. Hopefully we find some surprises, and get the guys who have already contributed better.

“I like who we have coming back. At all positions, I still feel like we’re young. That might not make sense, because at some positions we have seniors. But some of our players haven’t been on the field as much as we had hoped because of injury or other things.”

Portland State — 6-6 overall in 2013 but 3-5 in the Big Sky — returns quarterback Kieran McDonagh. The junior has been a starter in both his years on the Park Blocks. However, toward the end of last season, the 6-2, 240-pounder was benched in favor of senior Collin Ramirez.

Barnum says McDonagh, who threw for 1,936 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013, was relegated because of injury.

“Kieran got injured in the UC Davis game,” Barnum says. “It hampered him and led to a revolving door at quarterback toward the end of the season. Bu, he’s finally healthy. So we’re excited about that. We know he’s special.”

The Vikings also return Paris Penn, a 6-1, 215 sophomore QB out of Grant High. Last season, Penn completed 10 of 14 passes for 85 yards and one TD. Barnum says Penn had to battle through injuries last year, as well.

“He got injured in the Montana game,” Barnum says. “He’s healthy now. We know he’s special. We’re excited to have him.”

A dark horse at quarterback is 6-0, 195 freshman Josh Kraght, who Barnum compares to former Vikings star Connor Kavanaugh.

“I wouldn’t count him out,” Barnum says, of Kraught, from Lynden, Wash. “He’s a winner, I like his leadership. But he has a little stronger arm than Connor.”

The Vikings have some receivers back, too, although two stars, senior Roston Tatum and sophomore Darnell Adams, are struggling to get healthy.

“They aren’t going to be with us” in the spring, Barnum says.

Last season, the Vikings had a very effective thunder-and-lightning running back combination with DJ Adams and Shaquille Richard, who combined for 1,944 yards. The 5-8, 180 Richard will be a junior this season, but Portland State graduated Adams’ 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Sophomore Nate Tago, 5-11, 215, from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., also is back, after rushing for 216 yards and three TDs.

“We saw things from Nate that make me think he’s going to be better than what we’ve had,” Barnum says. “We also have Ray Vega (5-10, 195 frosh from Modesto, Calif.), who we redshirted last year and are expecting big things from. And we have other guys who can back up and contribute.

“It’s a good core of people. But it’s the one position we’re still kind of searching for.”

Barnum says he is very happy with the linemen who will be blocking for his backs when the season kicks off Aug. 30 at Oregon State.

“That’s always been a strength of ours,” Barnum says.

Cornelius Edison, a 6-3, 295 senior, will lead the group, probably moving from guard to center.

Left tackle Kyle Smith, 6-5, 310, “is one of the best I’ve seen. He played every snap last year and was an impact player as a redshirt freshman.”