August 4, 2006

Are you ready for some football?

Fall camp has finally arrived - and not a moment too soon for the Oregon State football team. Coming off a disappointing 5-6 campaign last season, the Beavers are eager to prove themselves. There, however, is a lot of work to do before the Aug. 29 season opener against Eastern Washington. With that in mind, takes a look at five burning issues to consider as OSU opens fall camp.

5. Lost among the among the hoopla surrounding the losses of Mike Hass, Trent Bray and Keith Ellison is the fact the Beavers have to replace punter Sam Paulescu. Incoming freshman Kyle Loomis is expected to handle punting duties for the Beavers, making fall camp extremely crucial for him. Despite being one of the top punters in the nation coming out of Roseburg High School, Loomis will soon find out that the speed of the college game is far greater than that of the prep level. The question is, can he step up to the challenge and make the necessarily adjustments? It's a lot to put on a freshman. That's why there could be an interesting competition between Loomis and Jon Strowbridge this fall despite Strowbridge's inconsistency during the Spring Game.

4. Matt Moore is the No. 1 quarterback heading into the season - there's no question about it. That, however, doesn't mean there's a lot of pressure on him. He has to make better decisions and cut down on his interceptions or it could be a long season for the Beavers. That being said, it will be interesting to see how he carries himself during fall camp. Will he be more of a leader and hold himself accountable more often? And while his job is safe, Sean Canfield is the strongest backup quarterback OSU has had in some time, so will Moore be able to keep his composure? Or will he be constantly looking over his shoulder? The Beavers could have a very potent offense, but the x-factor is Moore. How he rebounds from last season's struggles will make or break this season. He better be ready to handle not only the wrath of opposing defenses but also the fans this season. How relaxed he is during fall camp will tell a lot about his mindset and ability to ignore distractions.

3. Will defensive end Joe Rudulph finally live up to his potential and claim a starting job once and for all? It's never been a question of talent. Rudulph has always had a good frame and excellent speed. Now that he's put on some weight, he appears to be a perfect compliment to the ever-improving Jeff Van Orsow. The problem is can Rudulph control his intensity and emotions enough to stay on the field? If he could, the job would be his to lose, because he's that much better than Joe Lemma. So Rudulph should be able to challenge Lemma easily. The Beavers desperately need to generate some sort of pass rush this season to take pressure of their much-maligned secondary. That's why Rudulph will have every opportunity to show the coaching staff he's ready.

2. At the end of spring ball, it appeared the wide receiver position could actually be a strength for the Beavers this season despite the loss of Mike Hass. After all, what the unit was lacking in experience, it made up for it with its depth and potential. And the return on Joe Newton opened things up for the whole offense. But it's funny how things change so quickly. Seniors Marcel Love and Ruben Jackson are on the bubble academically. Despite that, they are allowed to practice. It, however, will be interesting to see how many reps they get during camp. It doesn't seem fair to waste reps on two players who might not play. Both would be significant losses. Jackson was expected to start at flanker and is the burner OSU has lacked since Chad Johnson. Love was one of the few returning receivers with experience and enjoyed a strong spring after sitting out all of last season due to being academically ineligible. So keep your eyes on JUCO transfers Shane Morales and Chris Johnson. They may be called upon to help out sooner than expected. But that still leaves the question, who will be OSU's go-to receiver?

1. This is a crucial year for head coach Mike Riley. It's his fourth season at the helm of the Beavers since returning to Corvallis, which means he's had time to put his stamp on the program. With an extra game on the slate this season, anything less than eight wins and Riley should be on the hot seat. With that in mind, will there be a sense of urgency from the get-go, not only within Riley and his staff, but the players as well? Riley should set the tone early on in camp. After all, if he's more animated and lively, it will trickle throughout the team. And what could be better than seeing the Beavers play with the swagger and moxie of past squads? All that's for certain is this season will be a barometer of sorts for Riley. So here's hoping he and his retooled staff bring their "A" game during camp. It's the only way the Beavers will overcome their weaknesses and defy the media pollsters.

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