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A few question marks remain as OSU heads into spring game

CORVALLIS — There are some answers, yet still some questions. As Oregon State swings toward Saturday’s Spring Football Showcase at Reser Stadium, coach Mike Riley and his staff know more about where they are headed in the fall, but not all they need to know.

Saturday’s scrimmage — it should start at about 1 p.m. — will be part of a two-hour show for the Pac-12 Networks that will include some fluff and some real tackle football.

“We’ll have some individual breakdown-type groups, some skeleton drills, some run periods, some tackling drills, and we’ll mix fans into some stuff,” Riley says. “We’ll also have two sessions of live scrimmage.

“We have to be mindful that we don’t have two full teams. We’re down some (due to injuries and position changes) on the offensive line and at tight end. We can’t put those groups too much at risk. But we want to scrimmage and do other drills that will be good practice for us.”

Spring ball, Riley says, “has been good.” Offensive coordinator John Garrett has learned the system and augmented some tweaks Riley feels will be of benefit in the fall.

Quarterback Sean Mannion seems poised for a standout senior season, and Riley and Garrett have been pleased with the early performance of Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio and the progress of sophomore Brent VanderVeen behind him. If redshirt freshman Del Rio is ahead of the 6-4, 205-pound VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt in the battle for the backup job, VanderVeen is not far behind.

“I like Luke’s ability,” Riley says. “He has caught on amazingly fast for not having been here (last season). Brent is much better than he was a year ago. John has done a nice job with him. He’s throwing the ball much more confidently and with more consistency.”

The play of Del Rio, VanderVeen and Kempt might be the most interesting thing to come out of Saturday’s scrimmage sessions.

Riley considers the running backs — with senior Terron Ward, junior Storm Woods, sophomore Chris Brown and redshirt freshman Damien Haskins — the strongest position group on offense. Ward and Woods are still running 1 and 1A. Brown, who sat out Monday’s practice with a minor foot injury, is next, with Haskins right behind him on the depth chart.

“I really like both Chris and Damien,” Riley says. “Chris is going to play some football for the Beavers next season, and Damien is going to be a good player for us, too.”

Expect Ward and Woods to get light work Saturday and for Brown — he says he’ll be ready to go — and Haskins to carry the heavy load.

The receiving corps has talent but a lack of experience, with Brandin Cooks moving on to the NFL and Richard Mullaney sitting out Saturday’s scrimmage with a sprained ankle.

“We have a lot of work to do overall with the receivers,” Riley says. “The guys who are breaking in have to continue to grow. Every one of them has to step up in (August) camp from where he is right now.”

Sophomore Malik Gilmore and redshirt freshman Hunter Jarmin and Walter Jones will join sophomore Victor Bolden in carrying the bulk of the load Saturday.

“Victor has had the best spring” of the receivers, Riley says. “Malik is improved, for sure. Hunter and Walter are both great athletically, but they need work on technique and assignment.”

The offensive line is piecemeal right now, with the anchor, center Isaac Seumalo, and potential starting guard Josh Mitchell sidelined this spring with injuries.

“We’ll get to the camp and configure the guys, with the best five playing,” Riley says.

It could be sophomore Sean Harlow and junior Gavin Andrews at tackle, junior Mitchell and sophomore Grant Bays at guard, junior Seumalo at center. Senior Roman Sapolu and junior Bobby Keenan will be in the mix, too.

The defense looks solid everywhere but at cornerback, where two of the top three players from last season — Rashaad Reynolds and Sean Martin — have departed. Senior Steven Nelson will man one side, and promising redshirt freshman Dashon Hunt is starting on the other. Junior Larry Scott, who will battle Hunt for one starting spot, has missed most of spring with a hamstring injury.

“We still have a way to go at that position,” defensive coordinator Mark Banker says. “Dashon is doing well; he just needs to know how to play, and he has to learn quickly.”

Banker hopes that transfer Demarlon Morris, who is finishing up academic work at Mesa (Ariz.) College, will arrive in the summer and be ready to to help immediately at a corner position.

Safety is well-manned, with returning senior starters Ty Zimmerman and Ryan Murphy, backed by junior Micah Audiss, sophomore Zack Robinson and redshirt freshmen Brandon Arnold and Justin Strong.

Riley considers linebacker the strongest position group on the defense; six players with starting experience man the three spots. Seniors D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor on the outside and Jabral Johnson in the middle could be the best crew in the Pac-12. They’re backed by junior Caleb Saulo and sophomores Darrell Songy and Rommel Mageo.

There’s plenty of depth in the front four, too, with senior and four-year starter Dylan Wynn leading the way at end. All-Pac-12 Scott Crichton has departed to the NFL.

“It’s important to replace the production of Scotty — that player who makes a real difference in your team,” Banker says.

Junior Lavonte Barnett is starting on the other side, with competition from redshirt freshmen Baker Pritchard and Titus Failauga and senior Obum Gwachum, who has switched from receiver. The 6-5, 230-pound Gwachum could wind up being a third-down speed rusher.

“ ‘Boomer’ is going to find a niche,” Riley says. “He’s always been a great worker. If we can find ways to utilize that size and speed off the edge, we’ll do it.”

There are plenty of able candidates at tackle, including seniors Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau and juniors Jason Grimble and Brandon Bennett-Jackson. Banker is hoping for more help from junior college transfers Kyle Peko and Luke Hollingsworth, who could arrive this summer. Peko is on campus and in school this spring, making up the final English class that would gain him eligibility.

With good health and the addition of the three transfers on defense, Riley envisions a team that will have as much or more depth as any of his 13 teams at Oregon State.

“Besides a couple of spots, we probably have the best depth ever,” he says. “And we might look OK in the offensive line by the time we start camp, too.”

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