The Offseason Storylines series welcomes James Crabtree-Hannigan ("figgi4life") of Building The Dam to help us preview Oregon State.
Two years ago, JacQuizz Rodgers was a dependable, star running back for the Beavers, and before the start of the season Oregon State ran a Heisman campaign for him. Two years ago, Stephen Paea was a dependable, star defensive lineman who ended up winning the Pac-10 defensive player of the year award.
Unfortunately before 2011, both players moved into the NFL, which compounded with other key graduations and led to the Beavers rushing for 86.9 yards per game (last in the Pac-12), surrendering 196.8 yards per game on the ground (last in the Pac-12), and ultimately going 3-9 on the year. If Oregon State is going to improve on that record, they will need to improve on those stats.
Both the pass offense and defense should be dependable for the Beavs. Senior CB Jordan Poyer, who is already garnering NFL attention, returns along with sophomore QB Sean Mannion, who took the job from Ryan Katz last year and has a year's experience under his belt. The Beavers have a strong secondary including senior Safety Anthony Watkins, and a receiving corp led by senior wide receiver Markus Wheaton. Oregon State is set to move the ball through the air, and prevent opponents from doing the same.
Barring injury, the run defense should improve from last year. The Beavers are deep at linebacker. Senior starting middle linebacker Kevin Unga, who sprained his knee in the loss to BYU, looks to build on his great junior campaign; he led the conference in tackles when he was injured. Outside linebacker Michael Doctor had a great 2011, starting all but one game and finishing 2nd on the team in tackles. OLB D.J. Welch, sophomore, has speed and potential.
The defensive line is strong and experienced. Both starting DTs are 5th-year seniors, namely Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo. Masaniai hasn't been able to stay healthy, playing in just 12 games over the past 2 seasons. When he's been on the field, he's been impressive. Last year was Seumalo's first as a starter was 2011, and he was performed well, ending the season with 34 total tackles, including 5 for a loss.
Defensive end is also a strong position for the Beavs, both starters are sophomores who started all of 2011. Dylan Wynn set a Beaver record for fumble recoveries in a season (5), and Scott Crichton did the same in forced fumbles (6). The latter was named to numerous Freshman All-American teams, as he led the nation's freshman with 74 tackles. Should the DEs improve on their impressive first seasons, and the tackles stay healthy, the Beavers defense will do a better job of stopping the run.
The less stable side of things, undoubtedly, is the offense. The Beavers still don't know who the starting running back will be, and there are 5 players in the hunt. In 2011, Malcom Agnew won the starting job as a true freshman, but hamstring injuries sidelined him at times, and when he was healthy, he tended to fumble the ball too often. Having started 5 games last year, and leading the team in rushing yards, he's as close to an incumbent as OSU has.
Senior Jordan Jenkins was a special teams player who played sparingly on offense until last year, when he was used as a third-down back. Terron Ward is another sophomore who got significant playing time last season, stepping in for Agnew when he went down with injuries. Redshirt freshman Storm Woods and true freshman Chris Brown, both 5'10" and around 200 pounds, are definitely in on the competition as well.
Once coach Mike Riley decides who will be carrying the ball, there is still concern about the offensive-line. The only position where starting experience will be a problem is center. True freshman Isaac Seumalo, brother of D-lineman Andrew Seumalo, will start there despite playing guard in high school. He will be surrounded by veterans: senior Colin Kelly and RS junior Michael Phillipp at tackle, juniors Josh Andrews and Grant Enger at guard. The last of those isn't set in stone, however Enger is leading the competition thus far.
Kelly won the starting job last year and started every game. Phillipp has been a starter since his freshman year, but has suffered from injuries the past two seasons, which is why he redshirted in 2011. Josh Andrews was the starter last year, but injuries held him to just 6 starts. Grant Enger started 5 games in Andrews' place at left guard, and started 4 more at right guard.
The 12 other O-Lineman on the roster are incredibly inexperienced. 9 are freshmen, and only 2 of them are redshirts. One of the more promising of those 9, 6'6", 285 lbs. Garrett Weinreich, went down with a season-ending knee injury during fall camp. The other 3 are all third-year sophomores. Derek Nielson leads the group in games played with 2, Michael Beaton follows with 1, and Roman Sapolu hasn't played a game in his career.
Not only do the Beavers and their fans have to hope the starters stay healthy, they have to hope that they've improved overall. The return of Michael Phillipp should help; he was named to some Freshman All-American Teams for his 2009 campaign, the only year he's been healthy. Essentially returning 3 starting lineman is great in some senses, but when those 3 were part of an underwhelming performance the previous year, it becomes somewhat less of a pleasant thought.
For the Beavers to not have a repeat of 2011, they must play like it's 2010.
Much thanks to the folks at Building The Dam for helping preview the Beavers.