Five questions with answers about Oregon State football as the Beavers begin their first of 15 spring practice on Tuesday morning:
How did the spring football philosophy evolve under coach Jonathan Smith?
For the first of four years of the Smith era, the Beavers drank from a fire hose to educate everyone on the philosophy of the engineering staff. But with most of the staff coaches attending their fourth OSU spring training session, Smith said they’ll be able to do more experiments during the spring.
What hasn’t changed is the emphasis on the individual, the position group, and then the side of the ball on improvement. Finding ways to instill those foundations that I think are so important to winning football games, Smith said.
Who’s in, who’s out?
At least a dozen players have left the program since the end of the 2020 season, most of them through the transfer portal. A few more came to light on Monday, in offensive linemen Onesimus Clarke and Jaelen Bush and linebackers Doug Taumoelau and Luke Loennig. Clarke, who was listed as a starting left guard a year ago before retiring from the season, will graduate this spring and can play as a graduate transfer next year.
Falling back Deshaun Fenwick (South Carolina) and receiver Makiya Tongue (Georgia), both transfers, will make their spring debuts with OSU. Smith said they are eligible to play this fall.
Defensive tackle Jordan Whittley, who missed the entire 2020 season with a heart problem, is allowed to do some limited training this spring. Also back are two players who signed out last season in cornerback Jojo Forest and defensive end Jeromy Reichner.
There is a new assistant in running coach AJ Steward, who replaces Michael Pitre. Steward is only the second assistant coaching change since the start of the 2018 season.
After diving into the 2020 game video, what stood out as areas to be addressed this spring?
The main thing is creating more takeaways. Three years after the start of the program, OSU is still not productive in this area. Last year, the Beavers had six takeaways in seven games, only one of which was a fumble. Smith noted that the takeaways change the game, as it is often momentum plays that lead to short field scoring opportunities. A good second is pass protection. A year ago, OSU gave up 12 bags, not a terrible number. But Beaver quarterbacks often ran for their lives, and it turned out at the pass completion, a 57 percent pedestrian.
The annual question: who plays quarterback for Oregon State?
We wouldn’t know until the last week of August. Three players are firmly in the mix, and what guarantees a fight to August camp is Tristan Gebbia’s health. Last year’s starter is recovering from hamstring surgery and is unlikely to take any snaps this spring. That means most reps with the first and second team fouls go to sophomore Chance Nolan and freshman Ben Gulbranson. This is the first full spring for both in Oregon State. At best, one of them separates from the other, but then has to deal with Gebbia in August.
Where will the hottest competition take place this spring?
Undoubtedly, it is the secondary. Oregon State lost two starting cornerbacks (Nahshon Wright, Isaiah Dunn) to the NFL trek and a safety (David Morris) to medical retirement. There is plenty of opportunity for those who come forward. Plus, as Smith puts it, there are often five defensive backs on the field (two corners, two protections, a penny) in passing situations.
We have some good players there. They can do it. There is a chance for those guys to earn a lot of game time, Smith said.
A close second is the receiver, where at least eight players compete for first and second team replays. Does this selection have a go-to receiver like Isaiah Hodgins in 2019? This spring, players like Trevon Bradford, TreShaun Harrison and Tongue are giving the chance to fill that role.
RemarkableSenior outside linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray has changed his jersey number from 49 to 2. Smith said he would like to play a traditional spring game on May 8, but it will depend on the health of the squad. It’s not Smith’s question of whether fans can watch the final spring game or practice, but he said hopefully he could do that well, come and watch us for a while and then go to the baseball game. OSU plays USC in baseball that afternoon.
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