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Beaver Football Review: Running Backs & Offensive Line

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Stanford Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

This is part 2 of Building the Dam’s recap of the 2023 football season and status of the 2024 roster. Part 1 can be found here.

Part 1: Offense and Quarterbacks

Running Back: Damien Martinez (489), Deshaun Fenwick (271), Isaiah Newell (98), Isaac Hodgins (56), Jake Richele (10), Gavin Haines (3)

2023 Recap

The running back position was expected to be a strength for OSU going into the season and that proved to be the case. Damien Martinez was named to All-Pac 12 first team in his sophomore campaign. He averaged the same 6.1 yards per carry as last year but tacked on an additional 33 runs to break the 1000-yard mark for the first time. His 3.82 yards after contact per attempt was 11th best in the country, and when paired with an elite run-blocking offensive line was the engine that drove the offense.

OSU’s coaching staff worked to manage Martinez’ workload early in the season. He had between 38-41 snaps in 6 of the first 7 games of the year, the exception being a 10-snap game against UC Davis which was well in hand before the end of the first half. That enabled him to top 50 snaps in three of the last four games, including 60 against UW and 40 against Oregon. The variable in that equation was Fenwick, who saw his usage decrease towards the end of the season despite an also impressive 5.4 yards per carry. It has been a workman-like career for Fenwick at Oregon State as he has backed up BJ Baylor, then Martinez during his three years in Corvallis, but been an effective runner in doing so.

2024 Forecast

Incoming Transfers: Anthony Hankerson (Colorado, 92 snaps), Jam Griffin (Ole Miss, 16)

Other Players on Roster: Dyontae Navarrete (Jr)

Recruits: Salahadin Allah (3 Stars), Cornell Hatcher (3 Stars)

Martinez has been vocal in his support for the program and desire to stay at Oregon State throughout the turmoil of the last few months. He will be one of the few returning starters in 2024, but if you had to pick, he would be towards the top of the list. Newell, Hankerson, and returning Beaver Jam Griffin will compete for change of pace role behind Martinez. Newell is the biggest of the three and closer to Martinez’ size, and Hankerson had 16 catches in Colorado’s pass-heavy attack, which would have lead OSU backs last year. Griffin only saw 16 snaps in his season at Ole Miss after seeing 117 in his 2022 campaign alongside Martinez and Fenwick. He is likely hoping for a return to that workload, and the Beavers would appreciate the 5.7 yards per carry he delivered on those as well.

Offensive Line: Tanner Miller (817), Taliese Fuaga (701), Joshua Gray (680), Heneli Bloomfield (629), Jake Levengood (550), Grant Starck (460), Jacob Strand (171), Tyler Morano (110), Tyler Voltin (64), Flavio Gonzalez (47), Dylan Lopez (30), Luka Vincic (13), Nathan Elu (6)

2023 Recap

The offensive line was expected to be the strength of the team coming into the year and that was indeed the case. Fuaga was the standout of the group, and the only Beaver to be named an All-American. He was the 3rd highest graded lineman in the country at 88.8, and the highest graded run blocker at 91.7. Look for his name to be called towards the end of the first round of the NFL draft.

Fuaga may have gotten the most individual accolades, but the entire line was special this year. The Beavers were named semifinalists for the Joe Moore award presented to the top offensive line unit in college football (an award ultimately won by Washington). Both Fuaga and Levengood were named 1st team All-Pac-12, while Miller and Gray were named to the 2nd team.

The starting unit of Fuaga-Bloomfield-Levengood-Miller-Gray was together for 7 of OSU’s 14 games. Stark was the first lineman off the bench and filled in admirably while Levengood was out for a four-game stretch in the middle of the season. It was no surprise the offense struggled the most against Oregon and Notre Dame, the two games where more than one of that starting five was missing from the line.

2024 Forecast

Incoming Transfers: Gerad Lichtenhan (Colorado, 827), Van Wells (Colorado, 740)

Other Players on Roster: Marco Brewer (R-Sr, 3 Star), Tommy Spencer (Jr, 3 Star), Jason White (R-So), Ryan Berger (Fr, N/A), Thomas Schnapp (Fr), Zander Esty (Fr, 3 Star), Jacob Anderson (Fr, 3 Star), Ben Hartman (Fr, N/A)

Recruits: Dylan Sikorski (3 Stars)

“Hard Commit”: Adam Hawkes (2 Stars)

Similar to the tight end position, the Beavers lost O-line coach Jim Michaczik to Michigan State. In his place Trent Bray has brought in former OSU offensive lineman Kyle DeVan to rebuild a unit that is losing 4 of 5 starters from 2024. DeVan has served as an offensive line coach with Arizona, Colorado, and most recently Charlotte, as well as spending time as an offensive assistant on Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan.

Gray is the only primary starter slated to return, and having a reliable left tackle to build around is a great starting point. Stark will likely move into a regular role, whether that be at guard (where he played most of his 2023 snaps) or tackle (where he lined up for Nevada before transferring to Corvallis). Brewer is an experienced veteran coming off multiple injuries. There is a chance he can get a medical redshirt and come back next year if that’s something he chooses to do.

Beyond that, it will be an interesting position to watch in the spring and early fall. Incoming transfers Lichtenhan (left tackle) and Wells (center) were both starters for Colorado, a team that publicly struggled with protecting the QB at times last year. This position in particular is one where Bray, DeVan and the rest of the team may be focused on as the transfer portal continues to churn.