Oregon State coach Mike Riley is getting ready for spring practice and looking to build on the success of last season.
The Beavers went from a 3-9 record in 2011 to 9-4 and an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. They’ll open spring practice April 1 and conclude with the annual spring game April 26.
Oregon State has not been able to play an actual spring “game" the past several seasons because of injuries and absences. But this year the Beavers are fairly healthy and might be able to offer more than just a glorified practice for the televised event.
They will, however, have to do it without some familiar faces from last season. Cornerback Jordan Poyer and receiver Markus Wheaton have graduated and turned their attention to the NFL draft.
Poyer, an All-American, was a dynamic playmaker for the Beavers with seven interceptions last season. He also returned punts. Wheaton, meanwhile, caught 11 touchdown passes and averaged 95.7 receiving yards a game.
“Those are big shoes to fill, both in character and on the production," Riley said Tuesday during a conference call previewing spring practice.
In addition to filling those roles, probably the most obvious issue for the Beavers is the ongoing quarterback competition between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz.
Mannion started at the beginning of last season and is listed first on the depth chart, although Riley said nothing should be read into that.
“We’re going to split their time evenly," he said.
In Oregon State’s first four games last season, Mannion averaged 339.5 yards passing to rank sixth in the nation. But the 6-foot-5 quarterback injured his left knee and required arthroscopic surgery, and that meant that Vaz would make his first start since high school.
Vaz competently stepped in and won two games, giving the Beavers their best start since they also went 6-0 in 1907. Oregon State climbed to No. 7 in the AP’s Top 25, its best ranking since 2001. The Beavers were ranked No. 20 in the final poll of the season.
Mannion threw for 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions in 10 games. Vaz, hampered down the stretch by an injury to his left ankle, threw for 1,480 yards and 11 touchdowns, with three interceptions in seven games.
Riley said he doesn’t expect to decide on the Beavers’ starting quarterback until the end of fall camp: “unless somebody takes the bull by the horns and separates."
“We’ve talked to both of them that’s there’s going to be competition. They’ve got to learn how to handle that and how to be a great leader and a great teammate," Riley said.
The Beavers will also be without running back Malcolm Agnew, who decided to transfer to Southern Illinois.
Agnew ran for 692 yards and six TDs in two seasons at Oregon State. As a true freshman in 2011, he ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns against Sacramento State in his first college game. But he was hampered by a hamstring injury that season.
Agnew’s brother, Ray, is a fullback for the Salukis.
The players who won’t be participating in spring drills because of injury include defensive end Scott Crichton (shoulder), offensive lineman Garrett Weinreich (knee), safety Tyrequek Zimmerman (toe), fullback Tyler Anderson (knee) and receiver Richard Mullaney (shoulder).
The Beavers will take the field at Reser Stadium for the spring game wearing their new uniforms for the first time. The football team is previewing the new look, courtesy of Nike, which will spread to the rest of Oregon State’s teams this fall.
The rebranding, unveiled earlier this month, includes a more stylized Beaver logo, as well as new lettering and numbers — although the team’s familiar orange and black color scheme remains.