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July 26, 2013

Beavers look to fill holes in 2013

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A year ago, Oregon State featured one of the most dynamic wide receiver combinations in the Pac-12 conference with Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks.

Together, Wheaton (91 receptions for 1,244 yards) and Cooks (67 receptions for 1,151 yards) accounted for 50.2 percent of the Beavers' total receptions and 60 percent of the total yardage (2,395 of 3,992 yards) in the passing game.

Beyond those two stalwarts, the next wide receiver you'll find on the receiving chart is Kevin Cummings with 18 catches for 208 yards. Running back Storm Woods (38 catches) and tight end Connor Hamlett (32) were third and fourth, respectively, ahead of Cummings.

With Wheaton now in the NFL after being chosen by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of April's league draft, Cook, voted a team captain earlier this month, is fairly secure in filling the vital role of No. 1 receiver.

Now the question becomes this one: who is the No. 2 wide receiver? No. 3? Intriguing questions we don't necessarily have the answers to right now. But, they're essential as well because without a reliable No. 2 target on the outside or slot, Cook will surely become the target of constant double teams from opposing defensive backs.

Nobody understands that possible scenario better than Cooks himself.

"I expect some double coverage early on," Cooks said Friday during Pac-12 Media Day in Los Angeles. "But we've got a lot of guys that have been working this offseason such as Richard Mullaney, Obum Gwacham and Malik Gilmore. I feel like one of those guys will step up and fill the void left by Markus and become a big playmaker and take the pressure off so they won't be able to do the double coverages."

Mullaney, Gwacham and Gilmore combined for 15 receptions in 2012, fewer than Cummings, who returns for his senior season.

Wheaton, though, is one of several key contributors from last season's 9-4 team no longer with the Beavers. Defensively, cornerback Jordan Poyer, middle linebacker Feti Unga and defensive tackles Andrew Seumalo and Castro Masaniai must be replaced.

But led by senior offensive tackle Michael Philipp (35 career starts), the Beavers with 294 combined career starts are back from the 2012 team, so there is experience oozing throughout the roster.

"We lost some real good players from a year ago," Beavers coach Mike Riley said Friday during Pac-12 Media Day. "So, we're looking for the guys that have been playing to step it up and do more. And we're looking for new people to come in and see if they can replace those great players."

Riley's biggest concern might be finding successors to Seumalo and Masaniai since quality performances from the interior of the defensive line are vital to success in keeping offenses out of the end zone. Several candidates will battle for the two starting jobs, including multiple junior college signees.

"Every team has to form their new identity. There are going to be people that leave and new people come in," Riley said. "Who's going to step up, all that kind of stuff. Specifically, we've got to find those replacements, for sure, and nail that down in fall camp and really look at the interior of our defense. Our defense played really well up front last year, so in order to continue with that we're going to have to find some people to do it."

Riley will be counting on new leaders such as Cooks and cornerback Rashaad Reynolds (second on OSU with 75 tackles and three interceptions in 2012), both of whom participated in Pac-12 Media Day along with the head coach, in the quest to better last season's nine-win mark and perhaps reach the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1960's.

"Our strengths are people like these two guys," Riley said, pointing to Cooks and Reynolds. "These are two of the best guys. Great leaders, good players and good examples for our team. The leadership formation of this team looks good. We have a lot of guys that have played in games that are back. That's always a good thing."

NOTES:

-- Riley said Oregon State has enjoyed a very good offseason since spring practice ended in late April. "Hopefully, we'll take a lot of what we learned a year ago about playing hard and playing within the confines of each ball game and taking advantage of getting ready for each game and giving it our best shot."

-- Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced new guidelines pertaining to the amount of contact allowed in practice for the 2013 season. Schools are limited to two full-contact practices per week during the regular season and two full-contact practices per week in the spring.

-- Riley threw his support behind the new practice guidelines, saying they were "a real good idea." He added that he was proud the Pac-12 is at the forefront nationally on the issue. "Our coaches were all very involved with input regarding that," Riley said. "I appreciate the league being inclusive with that. We're looking at every way possible to maintain our ability to get ready for a ballgame and look at avenues that might be better for the players regarding safety and the number of hits they actually take."

-- Scott contended the first year of the Pac-12 networks was "a resounding success that passed significant milestones for content, production and technology" with 550 live events. Scott added the Pac-12 networks turned a profit in 2012-13 and will see "significant increases" in programming and production with 750 live events planned in 2013-14.

-- Scott reported negotiations with DirectTV were at an impasse, despite the fact the satellite company was offered virtually the same terms as other carriers that have agreed to show the networks, and urged viewers anticipating the football season to take advantage of "ample opportunities" with other companies. Scott said a deal with DirecTV was "no closer" than a year ago. "Unfortunately, it's become clear they don't intend to take the network this year."

-- Like other commissioners around the country, Scott proclaimed the NCAA is "at a crossroads" due to an "eroding trust" in the organization and required "a new vision." However, Scott rejected calls for a radical overhaul of the NCAA (break away by major conferences) in favor of 'evolution into something better'. But he did call for a new structure providing for additional flexibility based on obvious divergent priorities and resources among institutions.

-- Scott criticized the "one and done" concept in college basketball allowing elite athletes to spend less than 12 months on campus before departing for the riches of the NBA.



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