BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Injuries already take toll, though O-line stays intact

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Timmy Hernandez is among the wide receivers making that position group look formidable for the Oregon State Beavers.What we know as Oregon State swings into its final days of preparation for the season opener Sept. 1 against No. 5-ranked Ohio State at Columbus. ...

• OSU's final scrimmage Thursday at Bend was spirited and lively, with both the offense and defense having its moments.

"There was good energy on both sides of the ball," sophomore linebacker Kee Whetzel says. "We were able to stop them at times. They were able to make plays on us. That's what it's all about."

• It has difficult to tell how good a team is from an intrasquad scrimmage. Does the offense succeed because the defense is weak, and vice versa? Does familarity create opportunities that a real opponent won't have?

It is easier to read individual performances in scrimmages. The winners Thursday included place-kicker Jordan Choukair and quarterback Jake Luton.

Choukair nailed all six of his field-goal attempts, from 22, 32, 47, 48, 52 and 54 yards. The junior from Poway, California, was good a year ago, making 13 of 16 attempts from 49 yards or closer. The kicking leg appears stronger now, and it appears the 6-1, 195-pound Choukair will get opportunities for tries from greater distance this season.

"We think he's a weapon," coach Jonathan Smith says. "He has a great leg and a ton of confidence."

Smith said he expects to release at least most of his depth chart on Monday, but it's clear Luton will be the starter against Ohio State. The 6-7, 230-pound senior — who has led the "ones" from the first day of camp — completed 11 of 17 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown in the scrimmage and ran the first-team offense crisply.

Sophomores Conor Blount and Jack Colletto took turns with the first-, second- and third-team offensive groups. Blount connected on 6 of 15 passes for 56 yards with an interception. Colletto was 1 for 4 for 10 yards passing but had a couple of nice scrambles and a "quick-kick" punt that rolled to the 1-yard line.

Blount will probably serve as the backup against the Buckeyes because of experience, but Colletto — a transfer from Arizona Western JC — could get a chance to move up with experience through the upcoming season.

• Junior Artavis Pierce — who carried five times for 41 yards Thursday — will be the starting tailback, but it won't be a surprise if true freshmen Jermer Jefferson and Kase Rogers and redshirt freshman B.J. Baylor get some opportunities to run the ball against Ohio State.

Smith singled out the 6-foot, 200-pound Rogers after the scrimmage.

• Injuries to key players have already taken a toll on Oregon State's depth chart.

Prior to the scrimmage, the Beavers had lost starting safety David Morris and defensive end Jeromy Reichner to foot injuries and reserve tailback Calvin Tyler to a knee injury. Then starting tight end Noah Togiai — who had rehabbed from offseason foot surgery and was starting to look like himself — went down with a knee injury during the first offensive series Thursday. He was to undergo an MRI Friday, but was on crutches after the scrimmage, and it didn't look good.

The Beavers are left with senior Quinn Smith — a transfer from Lafayette who played mostly special teams a year ago — and true freshman Isaiah Smalls and Teagan Quitoriano at tight end.

• If there is a position group that has improved through training camp, it's the wide receivers. The starters will be senior Timmy Hernandez, junior Trevon Bradford (in the slot) and sophomore Isaiah Hodgins. The 6-4, 210-pound Hodgins could develop into one of the premier receivers in the Pac-12 before the season is through.

Behind them is a solid group that includes true freshman Jesiah Irish and redshirt freshmen Kolby Taylor and Champ Flemings.

"I feel great about the group," Luton says. "There's a lot of talent. The chemistry is great with the receivers. We've been working hard at it all summer, making sure we're all on the same page, making sure those timing routes are down."

"We're a bit of a younger group, but we have guys stepping up, making plays," Taylor says. "Timmy being the lone senior is really helping guys out — me especially."

The 5-11, 200-pound Taylor took a slant pass from Luton over the middle and raced 54 yards to paydirt in the scrimmage.

"That's a great play by him," Luton says. "I gave him the ball and he made a play. Any time you can give a guy a five-yard slant and he can take it to the house, that's big time."

Hernandez will serve in another capacity, too. He'll be the holder for Choukair on placekicks.

• The starting offensive line is as it began in camp — tackles Blake Brandel and Trent Moore, guards Gus Lavaka and Yanni Demogerantis and center Sumner Houston. All but Demogerantis was a starter a year ago.

"We're still working to learn a lot of the new offensive stuff (O-line coach Jim Michalczik) wants us to do," Lavaka says. "But to have Blake and Sumner on each side of me, where we know our own calls and are familiar with each other — that part is pretty good."

• The defense was able to get some pressure on the quarterbacks, gave up only one big play — the Taylor TD reception — and held its own most of the scrimmage.

"We've scrimmaged three times (during training camp), and the defense has improved each time," Smith says. "Our tackling is better. You can tell how much more comfortable in the scheme they are. I like that side of the ball and what they've done."

• When OSU is in a three-man front, the starters have been senior Kalani Vakameilalo, true freshman Isaiah Hodgins and redshirt freshman Isaac Garcia. With a two-man front, Garcia comes out and there are four linebackers and five defensive backs.

Linebackers coach Trent Bray seems to be favoring a five-man rotation at linebacker, with Whetzel, junior Andrzej Hughes-Murray and sophomore Hamilton Rashed on the outside and senior Jonathan Willis and junior Shemar Smith on the inside.

Secondary coach Greg Burns is using redshirt freshman Jeffrey Manning and senior Jalen Moore at safety and senior Dwayne Williams, junior Shawn Wilson and redshirt freshman Kaleb Hayes at cornerback and nickel back.

• Cornerbacks Isaiah Dunn and Jay Irvine and safety Omar Hicks-Onu joined the likes of Morris and Reichner on the sidelines, making it appear as if they won't be available at Ohio State.

• Smith has indicated he expects a large number of true freshmen to play against the Buckeyes. That group includes Isaac Hodgins and Smalls, who could both start, along with Irish, Jefferson, Rogers, Quitoriano and perhaps cornerback DeShon Wilson.

• Urban Meyer's three-game suspension means co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day, who has been acting head coach through training camp, will serve in that position for Ohio State in the opener against the Beavers.

How much will the loss of Meyer affect the Buckeyes? Day has run the show since the opening of camp, and he has plenty of help. The other co-offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson, is former head coach at Indiana. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is a former head coach at Rutgers and with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

One gambling site says the loss of Meyer is worth 2 1/2 points. But another site, Bovada, dropped Ohio State from a 37.5-point favorite against the Beavers to 37 points.

"We're not worried about (the spread) too much," Whetzel says. "We're looking at it as just another opponent. We're going to try to do what we want to do, and if we accomplish that, we'll come out on top."

• The Buckeyes have a new starting quarterback in sophomore Dwayne Haskins and a new backup in redshirt freshman Tate Martell. A year ago, they went 12-2 — winning the Big Ten East with an 8-1 mark, then beating Wisconsin 27-21 in the conference title game — and knocked off Southern Cal 24-7 in the Cotton Bowl.

• The Beavers say they are eager to get the season started.

"I'm definitely excited for that," Isaiah Hodgins says. "I love competing with my teammates, but we're all super ready for the season to get going."

"We've been working hard," Luton says. "The chemistry is there. The execution is there. It's time to put it on the field."

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