Following the announcement of the 2014 schedule, in which Oregon St. will have 7, but not 8, home games, Head Coach Mike Riley talked with the press to update everyone on a number of issues.
Recruiting is the first priority, and at this point, Oregon St. has 20 commits, which means they have 5 more to sign. Offensive linemen, which saw 3 starters graduate, and cornerback are the positions Riley anticipates concentrating on.
A couple of prospects we have discussed won't be in the immediate picture, though. Junior college transfer lineman Kyle Peko did not enroll this week for winter term, and may or may not be here for spring practices. Hopes and expectations have yet to align where Peko is concerned.
Texas running back Lawrence Mattison won't be either, though he could still be a Beaver further down the road. Mattison, who was an academic non-qualifier, has now moved back from a Kansas junior college to Kilgore College and Texas, but must complete his Assosiate Degree, normally a 2 year process, before he can become eligible to transfer to Oregon St.
Riley also announced that several players won't be participating in the contact work in the spring, including most notably center Isaac Seumalo and center/guard Josh Mitchell. Seumalo broke his foot late in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, and Mitchell had shoulder surgery over the winter break. Both are expected to fully recover in time for summer camp, though.
Reserve defensive back Charlie Okonkwo, who had a knee injury, and offensive lineman Fred Lauina, who had a shoulder problem, will also be on the sidelines for spring ball, but will be ready for summer camp.
Linebackers D.J. Alexander, who had surgery on his neck before the bowl game, and Michael Doctor are both expected to be fully healthy though, and as such, Riley said the coaching staff is considering moving Jabral Johnson to middle linebacker in order to keep him in the starting lineup as well.
It's not known whether MLB Joel Skotte will be in the mix or not yet though, as Riley has a meeting with Skotte and his father scheduled for Friday to discuss the Bend junior to be's football future. The concern apparently revolves around concussions. Hopefully, medical information that will allow Skotte to safely continue to play will become available, as the Beavers can sure use the depth, assuming its safe to do so.
In that vein, Riley also acknowledged that we will see more of a 3 man defensive front next season, some times coupled with nickel and dime coverage, as was the case for the first time this past season. But Riley also wants to look at some 3-4 schemes, though its still early in the process of deciding what the Beavers' normal set will be.
"We certainly will look at what's the best way to prepare this team, and it will depend on our depth and the line. We're starting to evaluate those types of things, but this is also crunch time in recruiting," Riley said "But we're also going to play some nickel and dime in a three-man front, and the combination of being able to go back and forth is a great weapon, to make offenses adjust, it's not totally unusual in our world right now, and we can use the 3 man front as a good curve ball. Whether we go to a 3 man front as our full-time deal, we're still in the early stages of evaluating exactly what we want to do."
Riley also mentioned a couple of position switches, one of which drew some interested stares. Riley said WR Obum Gwacham will give it a try at defensive end, which seems a strange fit for the 6'6" Gwacham, who only weigh about 225 lbs.
Gwacham saw his time at wide out dwindle as the season went along, but successfully made a sizable contribution on special teams.
"He's excited about it," Riley said. "I don't know if he can make the transition in this time period, but I know his work ethic and his character, and he transferred his energies into special teams this year. He wants a chance to play more."
With the departure of Brandin Cooks to the NFL, the graduation of Kevin Cummings, as well as Micah Hatfield and Mitch Singler, and the position shift for Gwachum, there isn't much experience, and only slightly more depth, at wide receiver, and another move is being made to address that.
Redshirt sophomore-to-be Kendall Hill, who has had ACL tears in both of his knees, and was originally recruited as a safety will probably move to receiver, though at this point, that's purely a depth move.
Richard Mullaney is the lone returning starter, and Riley feels his off-season needs to be spent mostly in the weight room.
"Richie needs to have a great offseason, strength-wise," Riley said. "He can catch the ball, but he needs to be able to handle press coverage and get off the line of scrimmage."
Victor Bolden, who progressed steadily as the season went on, is the heir-apparent to Cooks. And while Riley continues to be excited about Malik Gilmore, he struggled while Cummngs was out following the Stanford game until he returned for the bowl game, and the 3 freshmen who redshirted, Walter Jones, Hunter Jarmon and Jordan Villamin, will all get a good look, and have the opportunity to step up, as the competition at wide receiver is likely to be one of the most contested, and important, battles of spring and summer practice.
Fortunately, the entire tight end group of Connor Hamlett, Caleb Smith, Kellen Clute, and Tyler Perry will all be back. Tight end is easily one of the strongest and deepest position groups the Beavers have, and with the uncertainty and inexperience at wide receiver, sure to be instrumental in any success Oregon St. has this fall.
There also won't be a quarterback competition this year, as there was last season between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz. With Mannion electing to return for his senior season, after finishing #2 in the nation in passing, and passing up early entry into the NFL, and Vaz graduating, there's no one else on campus who has ever lined up at quarterback in a college game who has any eligibility.
That's not to say spring and summer ball won't be important at the position, though, as Mannion refines his NFL skills, and Oregon St. works to get a backup ready.
"We'll make sure we get lots of work for Brent VanderVeen and Kyle Kempt; that will be a big factor in spring practice," Riley said. "We want to continue to grow Sean, and we'll have a specific plan for him. We don't want to overthrow him, but we'll continue to grow him."
"I think that was the right decision," Riley added about Mannion electing to return. "At that position in particular, development is big, and more development and playing more football will prepare him for a longer career in the NFL. He can prep to stay in it, not just get in it."
Advanced development of Mannion and getting VanderVeen and Kempt ready to play will be a balancing act Riley and quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf will have to figure out.
"Whatever new we add, it's only as good as the comfort level of our quarterback," Riley said. "We've got to get our backups as prepared as we can. We know they're only one snap away from being in the game. Quarterback competition will not be a topic this off-season, though. That part will be pretty simple."
Competition at running back will take on another look though, as both Storm Woods and Terron Ward return, and Riley said Chris Brown, who was the 3rd string tailback this past season, will also get a lot of reps. Riley recognizes that the late season resurgence of the running game against Oregon and Boise St. will have to come much earlier next season, which could be a challenge with 3 departing offensive linemen, and 2 more who won't practice in the spring.
Sean Harlow and Gavin Andrews should hold down the tackle spots, and Grant Bays, who showed improvement as the season went along, will be first in line for time at one of the guard spots. Seumalo will again anchor the line at center, and Mitchell, who backed Seumalo up at center and also played guard, will likely round out the line, but it will be summer before the unit can begin to work together.
"The persistence part was important in getting the running game going," Riley felt about last season. "We just kept going at it, and we got better continuity with our line through the last part of the season. It finally came around, but absolutely, we have got to run the ball next year."
Riley also addressed the decisions by Cooks and DE Scott Crichton to leave for the NFL, and Mannion's decision to return.
"I was not surprised at any of the decisions," Riley said. "It's one of those deals where it becomes a personal decision for the most part, and those guys all did a good job of really making well thought out decisions, and doing it right. Once it's done and done right, you wish them them well and cheer them on as they go forward."
"It's hard. We're losing two of our very best players," Riley added. "I wouldn't say that's a good thing as far as the 2014 Beavers go, but certainly for them from an individual perspective, it's a chance to go after a dream they've had for a long time. People making that decision usually rely on the people who have cared the most about them through the process of them growing up and being coached. What always scares me is outside influences that are often selfish influences that sometimes get involved, like an agent, people who don't have the kid's best interests at heart."
Riley also spoke to the upcoming schedule, specifically why the opportunity for the extra game wasn't capitalized on.
"(Athletic Director) Bob (De Carolis) chose to do that," Riley explained. "I think the 12-game schedule is fine, that's plenty. What we hope to do is get in the best bowl game possible, and play in the conference championship. We met on scheduling a couple times throughout the year, and frankly I don't ever remember adding a 13th game coming up."
Spring practice begins on March 31, and concludes with the Spring Game May 3 at Reser Stadium, tentatively scheduled for 1 PM.