Oregon State’s running back crew wouldn’t mind picking up where it left off in 2013.
Last season, the Beavers were just one of nine FBS teams to average fewer than 100 yards, coming in at 93.5 per game. But those holes got bigger over the last three games with OSU averaging 177.3.
“We know we have to run the ball better to be a better team, so we have to make a valid effort to do that and do everything we can to find a way to improve it,” coach Mike Riley said. “We understand the issue and we’re going to try to make it work.”
Terron Ward and Storm Woods seemed interchangeable at tailback with 521 and 477 yards, respectively.
“We want to be a major part of the offense, the unit that when we need yards, that’s what we go to. We want to produce,” Ward said. “We want to be able to at least do 150, so that’s what we’re working for right now.”
Riley has said that he wants to see a more balanced offensive attack and that naturally means developing a more effective running game. Woods (6-0, 212 pounds) hopes to see that balance as well, but understands how the game plan can change.
“I’m a team player. If that means I have to block for Sean (Mannion) most of the game for us to win, I’ll do it,” Woods, a junior, said. “If that means I have 50 carries, I’ll do it. Whatever it takes for the win.”
Hauling in receptions out of the backfield just might be a big part of the tailback’s role.
“Out of high school, I was receiver and running back ... and receiving is something I enjoy,” Woods said. “I joke with the DBs and receivers that I have the best hands of the team.”
Last season, Woods had 47 catches for 440 yards while Ward had 34 receptions for 280 yards.
“I’ve got a really good room, some talented guys that are eager to learn, eager to get better,” running backs coach Chris Brasfield said. “They’ve worked hard and you’ve got a senior, junior, sophomore, freshman, another freshman, so we’ve got some depth.”
Ward (5-7, 201), a senior, describes himself as a tough player who’s smart and loves the game.
“I’m just looking to be a better player, you know. You’ve got to love this sport to be good,” Ward said. “I love it a lot and just want to be the best that I can.”
The biggest transition for Ward to college football was picking up blocking assignments.
“Coming from high school, you don’t have that many things to worry about,” Ward said. “You’ve got that guy and that guy only. Here, you got this guy, this guy, possibly that guy, if he checks the play you might have another guy. So just having that whole concept down, knowing who I got and how to block them, that’s what I’m improved on.”
Woods redshirted in 2011, when he worked as the primary running back on the scout team. He says simply running the ball has been his biggest area of improvement.
“In high school, you’re taught to just run,” he said. “Here, you have to be patient, know when to run for speed, know when to go 75, know when to get in and out of your cuts. In high school, blocking is not so essential as it is here. If you don’t block, you don’t get on the field.”
Sophomore Chris Brown (5-10, 202) and redshirt freshman Damien Haskins (5-8, 232) will also be vying for playing time at tailback.
“At some point, they’ll all get a chance to get in there and make plays for us,” Brasfield said. “They’re all ready and they’re one play away (from getting into the game), so they just need to be ready when their number is called.”
As for fullback, the Beavers bring back two-year returning starter Tyler Anderson, now a senior. Anderson has battled injuries during his career at OSU, and earlier this week he pulled a hamstring.
Anderson (5-10, 226) said the fullbacks have been getting in some good reps over the first one-plus week in practice.
“I think we’re seeing the holes well. All of us work hard on and off the field,” Anderson said. “I think we’re learning every day and I think that’s what we need to do is learn and get better every day.”
Ricky Ortiz (6-0, 230) could see more time on the field this season. A sophomore, Ortiz converted from tight end two years ago.
“Ricky is my backup and he’s great, he’s strong, he’s fast, he knows his plays,” Anderson said. “He pushes me and I push him, so I think as a whole, we’re getting better.”
All in all, Riley believes the players know what is expected.
“The players aren’t unaware of what we need to do better,” Riley said. “This is a good group of kids. I have had no glitches in camp. This team has been very easy to coach so far, so I feel real good about that.”