It's interesting that so many people turned out so often during preseason practices at Oregon St., to watch so many people who won't play a meaningful down in a game, if at all, run so many plays that won't ever be run, and so few attend actual game preparation practices, where what plays will be run, and who will be running them, is there to see.
We've discussed any number of questions Oregon St. still has to answer, and more than a few things that are not in question as the Beavers head into the season, but after observing preparations for the opener against Portland St., there are 5 things in particular that I'll be watching.
The defense is expected to be a strength, but a couple of key things to watch are with this unit, and may come as a surprise to a few.
Expect to see Dylan Wynn to line up at tackle, as well as both ends, as we have discussed, but also watch to see how many plays Wynn is off the field for.
It's going to be hot Saturday, and in addition to rotating extensively to ensure key players aren't completely gassed late in the game, defensive line coach Joe Seumalo is understandably also interested in leveraging all the tools he has, more than have been in his tool box for some time.
As a result, Wynn may wind up off the field a fair number of plays. I'll be watching to see if that proves to be effective, or if his absence is an issue at some point.
I also expect D.J. Alexander to be the odd linebacker out the most, when Oregon St. goes with nickel coverage, which could be a lot of the time against a Viking squad that has some of its best players at the receiver positions.
Alexander has been lauded as a difference maker when healthy, and though he appears to be again, after being out for a lot of summer camp, it will be interesting to see if his absence is a factor in some productive plays by Portland St. out of the pistol.
Offensively, the injury to fullback Tyler Anderson appears to mean we will see a lot of single tail-back sets, whether its Storm Woods, Terron Ward, or Chris Brown in the backfield.
It will be interesting to see if the absence of a lead blocker, especially in conjunction with a still evolving offensive line, appears to be an issue as Oregon St. attempts to better establish a rushing game.
The other question mark is at wide receiver, and though I'm not amongst those who are in "want-to-see-it" mode with Victor Bolden, I am curious to see if we know more about who else will be a go-to target for Sean Mannion after the opener.
There is a lot of expectation that Richard Mullaney will become the possession, volume receiver, and there are lots of athletic options for the 3rd & 4th receiver. Whether anyone emerges, or whether we are still talking about a lot of athletic options, will be one of the most interesting developments to come out of this weekend.
Finally, field position is something to watch.
Oregon St. has struggled mightily to block a punt return the last couple of years, and there's been no indication that this issue is solved so far.
Combine that with the loss of 10+ yards on kickoffs with the loss of Trevor Romaine (special teams coach Bruce Read has already said the Beavers are going to have to cover kickoffs well, because there aren't going to be many touchbacks), and the Oregon St. offense and defense could both find themselves is less than the best position on the field with some regularity.
Another possibility could be Coach Mike Riley, as the play-caller, deciding to gamble on even more mid-range 4th downs that he should be taking field goals on, out of concerns about field goal range.
If field position issues arise, it could become a story over the state of the offensive line, and also magnify it.
Certainly all things to keep an eye on Saturday.