We are 1 week away from kicking off the 2014 Oregon St. college football season, and looking ahead, there are some things I (and many members of Beaver Nation) are worried about. There are also some things I'm not worried about.
I'm certainly not worried about quarterback Sean Mannion; furthermore, he's the single main reason why a number of the things I'm worried about are not necessarily things Beaver fans should panic about. "In Sean We Trust" was a phrase coined during the early part of last season, and even though it didn't produce wins in the second half of the season until in Hawaii, the real reasons were elsewhere.
This off-season and pre-season has already shown us an even more mature, more polished, more detailed Sean, who will make up for many other issues. It's why I'm not even all that worried about whether Richard Mullaney can play with the consistency of playmaking he hasn't demonstrated during off season preparations until just the last couple of practices, like below.
That and the fact that I'm not worried about Victor Bolden. While many are rightly wanting to see him produce to potential before getting comfortable, I see James Rodgers, Markus Wheaton, and Brandin Cooks.
Not as we remember them at their peak, but as they were after their freshman years, when even Rodgers wasn't yet a sure thing. But just as with the three of them at the same point, at this point, I don't know if Oregon St. will win many games this year or not, but I'm pretty sure Bolden, below, is going to have a good year, and a better one to follow.
I'm not worried about Connor Hamlett, below. I'm not even all that worried about Caleb Smith jumping off sides at a critical moment.
I'm also not worried about the Oregon St. running backs, despite the difficulties the Beavers had running the ball much of last season, or the fact that Storm Woods was bothered by the same problem he struggled with at times last season, when hamstring issues arose.
Oregon St. is deep at running back, and diversified, so I'd expect the problem to be finding reps for Chris Brown and others behind Terron Ward and Woods.
I am worried about the offensive line, which will be the reason the running game or the passing game struggle.
I'm worried that Grant Bays' back may be an ongoing problem. I'm worried that it may be October before Isaac Seumalo is not just healthy, but settled into the flow of things. I'm worried that the consistency the offensive line ideally would have established in the spring not only still isn't established, it may still be a work in progress when San Diego St. comes to Reser in 4 weeks.
With the trip to USC to follow, and the deepest Pac-12 conference ever, the game against the Aztecs is as big a game as any all season will be, in terms of bowl destination, or maybe even bowl eligibility. Even though not a conference game, its a must win game, and right now, it might still be a game in which Oregon St. is sorting things out in. That's a bad combination.
In recent years, both ones the Beavers did pretty well in, and ones in which they didn't the defense has turned out to be where the biggest areas of concern have lied, and though this Oregon St. is without any doubt the deepest one the Beavers have ever had, when you consider the speed and athleticism spread throughout a depth chart that for the first time ever is actually worth filling out 3 and in some cases 4 deep, its still the source of several worries.
Linebacker isn't a concern, even though despite even Parker-esque unfounded optimism, there really are concerns defensively, and always will be during the Banker area. But as with Bolden, the combination of 3 senior linebackers and the depth that makes DJ Alexander's summer-camp injury less of a worry than it ever would have been in previous years, I think that regardless of whether the Beavers win many games or not, and whether the defense actually stops anyone or not, I think Trent Bray's bunch is going to have a pretty good year.
Despite the presence of 3 seniors in the secondary, I am concerned about it, though.
I'm not worried about Steven Nelson, other than whether he might get snubbed for first team Pac-12 honors or not.
I am waiting to see if the days of mis-communication between Ryan Murphy and Ty Zimmerman are a thing of the past, though. I'm worried that an increasingly aggressive defense that's been dominating an offense that's still trying to solidify its offensive line.
All that pressure is fine if it works, but if it doesn't get home, if there is no safety over the top, a huge play the other way is all too likely to occur again, just as happened too often last year.
I'm far less worried at this point about the defensive line than when summer camp started, because Jalen Grimble is in far better shape than he was last spring, and it appears the Obum Gwacham experiment is actually going to work.
I was never worried about Dylan Wynn, other than in his recent choice of barber, but I was worried about the fact that neither Wynn nor Jashwa James are very big. Nor is Gwacham. But if they don't have to be, then they are far more free to be what they are good at, and that's being freakish athletes.
Lastly, I am very worried about special teams, and by extension, field position.
Not because of the risk of big punt returns; Keith Kostol is quiet money, and Oregon St. is good as usual at kick coverage. Not because of the question about who will return punts; there are plenty of people who are fast enough, and will figure that out.
But the Beavers haven't been able to block for a punt return in years, and there's no evidence that that's been addressed at this point. Mannion will depart for the NFL owning every Pac-12 passing yardage record in the books, but part of the reason for that is he is having to drive the ball at least an extra first down distance several times a game than he should have to. And that will lose you a close game or two, I don't care how well Mannion might be throwing the ball.
And now, kickoffs are an issue, with Oregon St. facing the real possibility of a season without Trevor Romaine. Recent evidence suggests the Beavers are losing 10-15 yards per kick of range.
Between kickoffs and punt returns, it could be worth a field-length chunk of field position differential per game. That will magnify every other worry this team has as they get ready for the season, far more so with Oregon St.'s pro-style, sustained drive system, and a defense that benefits greatly from advantageous field position, than, say, Oregon and Washington St.'s supposed "we don't care about field position or time of possession" systems.
Mostly though, I'm worried about whether I can wait another week, but in the first season of the expanded college football playoffs, I'm not worried about the health of the greatest sport that there is; college football game day has been the best days of the year for 50 years, and they will be better than ever this year.
Of course, the more times the Beavers win, the more times that game day is even better!