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MailTribune.com
  • COLLEGE FOOTBALL

    OSU has some questions to answer

    Wheaton's departure to NFL leaves hole in receiving corps
  • Fall camp began Monday for the Oregon State football team with the season starting on Aug. 31 when Eastern Washington comes to town.
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  • Fall camp began Monday for the Oregon State football team with the season starting on Aug. 31 when Eastern Washington comes to town.
    Here are five questions that the Beavers will work on answering in the next few weeks.
    How can OSU make up for the loss of Markus Wheaton?
    There's no doubt the Beavers will miss Wheaton, a precise route-runner with plenty of speed who piled up 91 catches and 11 touchdowns in 2012.
    The Pittsburgh Steelers draftee was part of a dynamic tandem with Brandin Cooks, and their speed on the outside put constant pressure on defenses.
    "We're not going to replace Markus Wheaton and just bang, just like that someone's going to go in and break the school record probably," coach Mike Riley said.
    Riley said he's looking at several receivers as candidates to step into a starting role, and the returning starters, such as Cooks, Kevin Cummings and H-back Connor Hamlett, have to improve to pick up the slack.
    "They need to step up a notch," Riley said. "We need to get the ball in our passing game more to our running back, more to our tight end and then we need that guy who replaces Markus to make plays and do a good job. So the better balance we can find with production throughout our group, the better we'll be."
    Who's going to fill out the offensive line at right tackle?
    The Beavers are in strong shape on the line with four starters returning — left tackle Michael Phillip, guards Josh Andrews and Grant Enger and center Isaac Seumalo.
    All but Seumalo are seniors, so there's plenty of experience.
    The one hole was left by Colin Kelly at right tackle.
    Sophomore Gavin Andrews (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) tops the depth chart going into the fall.
    Walk-on Nolan Hansen is also at the spot. The Beavers also have transfer David Keller and redshirt freshman Garrett Weinreich listed behind Phillip at right tackle.
    Riley said Andrews looked good through spring practice and was able to travel with the team last season.
    "(Andrews) is a talented kid, big, big kid but has good athletic ability," Riley said. "He's got big shoes to fill and he's got to be able to stay up with the crowd. He can't be our weak link. At that spot you're kind of as strong as your weakest link, so he's got to be able step up and play both physically and mentally with the group around him and if he can do that, then we're going to be OK."
    Who is going to return punts?
    Jordan Poyer was not just a top cornerback for the Beavers last year, he also held down the punt return duties, taking 10 for 71 yards.
    Wheaton had two returns and Terron Ward one.
    Poyer didn't break one for a score, but his steady, sure hands were key for the Beavers.
    Riley said Cooks is the front-runner with his elusiveness and breakaway burst.
    Ward and a few others are also in the mix.
    "With the way the punt game has changed with people using the spread punt, the return averages have gone down, so what you need first and foremost is a guy who can catch the ball," Riley said. "I know Brandin will do that and we can rely on him to do that and that's a great start to being our punt returner."
    Is the next great fly sweep runner in camp?
    Riley is always on the lookout for a receiver who has the ability to run the fly sweep at a high level.
    Some receivers aren't the greatest fit for the play due to size, speed or shiftiness.
    "There are guys who are good receivers that I wouldn't necessarily qualify as a fly sweep guy," Riley said
    "I know Cooks is and I know Wheaton was and I know James Rodgers was."
    Cooks will no doubt get some fly sweep calls. Freshman Victor Bolden has a reputation as a breakaway threat and will get a look along with newcomers Walter Jones and Hunter Jarmon.
    "One of these new guys may be that guy and that guy could make their mark, coupled with their ability to run, make plays and catch the ball and learn our system and be a viable guy in there when playing the games," Riley said.
    "If he could run the fly sweep, too, and be effective doing that, then that would give him an upper edge of being able to play right away."
    Who will start at quarterback?
    Yes, it could be some time before Riley makes his final choice between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz.
    Until then, the question will linger.
    After stepping in and throwing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011, Mannion was the clear-cut starter until he was derailed by a knee injury he suffered against Washington State in the fourth game of the season and missed two games.
    Vaz was steady in relief, going 20 of 32 for 332 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Beavers to a win over BYU in his first start. He wound up starting five games, including the Alamo Bowl.
    Mannion struggled at times after his injury and had tough games against Washington and Oregon. He has thrown 31 interceptions in the last two seasons. Vaz's numbers don't quite match Mannion's and he had a tough outing against Texas in the bowl.
    Make no mistake, this is an area of strength for the Beavers. There are plenty of teams looking for one quality QB and OSU has two.
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