Several backs in the running for Beavers
CORVALLIS — Ryan Nall is off to the Chicago Bears, but the cupboard is far from bare at running back for Oregon State this season.
Junior Artavis Pierce is the man with game experience, and there are plenty of other contenders for playing time at the position as the Beavers prepare for their season opener Sept. 1 at Ohio State.
True freshmen Jermar Jefferson and Kase Rogers and redshirt freshman B.J. Baylor are providing competition for Pierce, who has rushed for 846 yards and five touchdowns in his first two seasons at Oregon State.
A fifth running back, sophomore Calvin Tyler, injured a knee late in Monday's practice at Tommy Prothro Field. It was Tyler's second full practice after he had finally recovered from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss most of training camp.
"Calvin is a great young man," said OSU running backs coach Michael Pitre, who was waiting for a report on the severity of the injury. "That's the part you feel so bad about. He has such great energy and enthusiasm. His game and his team are important to him. You hate to see it happen to someone like that."
The 5-11, 200-pound Pierce, backup to Nall the past two seasons, is the likely candidate to start against Ohio State, though Pitre isn't ready to make that pronouncement.
"It's hard to say who the starter is," he said. "We're looking at it like, what's going to be the best thing for us as a team? We're probably going to use a few different guys and put guys in areas of their strengths. That way, you're keeping more guys engaged. If they know their number could be called at any moment, they're all preparing as if they're the starter."
Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren is on record as saying he prefers to go with one running back, as he did at Colorado with Phillip Lindsay, who rushed for 3,770 yards in his career with the Buffaloes from 2014-17.
"When you know you have the guy, you want to ride him and let him find a rhythm," Lindgren said. "If you're a bit unsure and there are a couple of guys you like, you give them some carries and see which one runs with it. But I still like to keep it at one. We'll see. I haven't made that determination yet."
The only running back on the roster besides Pierce who has played in a game for the Beavers is Tyler, who carried three times for 11 yards and returned nine kickoffs for a 20.2-yard average as a true freshman last season. Pierce is a veteran in a young and inexperienced position group.
"'A.P.' is having a good camp," Petri said. "He has been very consistent. He is doing a great job with his leadership. I've been very happy with him so far."
"We need him to be a guy we can rely on to get tough yards, to take care of the football and be consistent as a (pass) protector," Lindgren said. "And he shows the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield."
Jefferson is the running back who has caught the eye of OSU coaches and players with his performance during camp. In Saturday's scrimmage, the Harbor City, California, native carried six times for 105 yards and two TDs. During 11-on-11 drills Monday, the 5-10, 210-pound Jefferson took a swing pass from Jake Luton near the line of scrimmage and bolted 71 yards for a touchdown down the left sideline, outracing defenders to the goal line. Jefferson was lined up with the starters during the final 11-on-11 drill.
Jefferson, who turned 18 in April, rushed for 1,861 yards (9.1 average) and 34 TDs and caught 23 passes for 372 yards and three scores as a senior, leading Narbonne High to a 12-3 record and the state championship.
"We were fired up when we signed him in February," Lindgren said. "He has a different gear when he gets out in the open. Any time you have a back who has the ability to break one of those and turn a five-, seven-yard run into a big play, it's a difference-maker, and he did that a couple of times on Saturday.
"I'm excited about his future. For him, it's about continuing to learn the offense, getting more comfortable with it so he's not having to think so much. He's good on the pass protection when he knows who he's blocking. He's a physical kid, and he's not scared."
Added Pitre: "Jermar is an instinctual runner. There are certain things with running backs that you can't coach, and he has some of those things — like vision and great balance."
Maybe a half-step behind Jefferson is the 6-foot, 200-pound Rogers, a Houston native who led LaMar High to a 9-2 record as a senior and picked Oregon State over Utah.
"Kase is doing well," Pitre said. "He is showing some flashes of doing great things. He is a football junkie. He loves the game. He watches a lot of (video). He is a cerebral player and a crazy competitor. You see that during special teams stuff. It has been fun to watch."
Baylor came to OSU in the same recruiting class as Tyler a year ago and redshirted last season. The 5-11, 200-pound native of Wharton, Texas, rushed for 1,997 yards and 24 TDs as a senior in 2016.
"B.J. has done some really good things," Pitre said. "He has made a lot of growth in terms of his maturity, the way he approaches work every day. He wants to get better."
Behind them are 6-1, 215-pound sophomore Christian Wallace, who has converted from cornerback, and 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore walk-on Hunter Mattson from Corvallis High.
• Much like Pitre, offensive line coach Jim Michalczik isn't ready to announce his starters.
"It's too early to say," Michalczik said. "There are some guys stepping up and doing some things. We're moving guys around to see if they can play different spots. It's still a fluid deal.
"I'd like to say there are eight or nine guys (who could start), but it's not just about who's the starter. You're a snap away from being in there."
Like most O-line coaches, Michalczik normally goes the route during a game with his five starters.
"But if I have two guys who are close, I'll rotate them," he said. "One will go the first two series, the second the next two series, and we'll let them compete."
In recent practices, the starting five has included the four returning starters — 6-7, 305-pound junior Blake Brandel at left tackle, 6-4, 355-pound junior Gus Lavaka at left guard, 6-2, 285-pound senior Sumner Houston at center and 6-4, 290-pound senior Trent Moore at right tackle. The right guard has been 6-3, 285-pound senior Yanni Demogerantas, who is also the backup at center.
Brandel "is probably the closest" to being a certain starter, Michalczik said.
The next most likely starter is 6-3, 320-pound senior guard Kammy Delp, who has three career starts.
"He's battling in there right now," Michalczik said. "He could easily be a starter come the first game."
Michalczik has been impressed with several true freshmen, including 6-4, 270-pound Jake Levengood from Vacaville, California.
"Jake scraps," Michalczik said. "It's fun. I'm getting on his butt, and he's only a freshman. That means I have high expectations of him. He is doing a heck of a job learning the offense."
NOTES: Former Oregon State quarterback Matt Moore, now retired after 11 NFL seasons, was at practice Monday, watching a QB group that includes his brother, Nick, a redshirt freshman. Matt Moore spoke to the players as they met as a group after practice. ... Also attending the practice session was Randy Mueller, a former Linfield QB who was NFL Executive of the Year in 2000 while general manager of the New Orleans Saints. Mueller is GM for the Salt Lake City franchise in the Alliance of American Football, the same league in which OSU consultant Mike Riley is coaching the San Antonio team. Salt Lake City's coach is Dennis Erickson. ... Luton, looking more and more like the starting QB for the Ohio State game, was sharp during Monday's 11-on-11 and seven-on-seven sessions. "Jake has really hit his stride," Lindgren said. "He is starting to feel comfortable with the offense. He is processing things quicker and playing with more urgency. The last three or four days, I've been really impressed with him." ... Junior tight end Noah Togiai, still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, has taken part in all drills the past two practices. ... Several members of the secondary sat out Monday's practice, including cornerbacks Dwayne Williams, Jay Irvine and Isaiah Dunn and safety David Morris. And promising true freshman corner DeShon Wilson went down with a leg injury during practice. Lining up as starters Monday were corners Jaydon Grant, Justin Gardner and Jaden Robinson and safeties Jalen Moore and TraJon Cotton.