How Oregon State's football team is taking shape
CORVALLIS — From a conversation with second-year coach Jonathan Smith as the Oregon State football program swings into summer ...
• June and July are off-hands months for coaches, who can have periodic meetings with the players but are prohibited from workouts or practice sessions with footballs until training camp begins on Aug. 1.
So the focus for Smith and his assistant coaches is on camps and recruiting.
Oregon State will play host to a pair of single-day individual camps (the first was last Sunday, the other will be on Sunday, June 9. About 280 high-schoolers took part in the first camp, "a little more than we had last year," Smith says.
OSU assistants handle coaching responsibilities at the camps.
"It's a chance for us to see some athletes, but also to give back to kids," Smith says. "Not all of them are college prospects. We've had very positive responses."
Smith's assistants also work a number of satellite camps throughout the West Coast, including a pair at Lewis & Clark and Pacific last weekend.
And they're hitting the recruiting trail, hosting recruiting weekends on campus, while also beginning to prepare for training camp and the Aug. 30 season opener against Oklahoma State at Reser Stadium.
• All of Oregon State's returning players will be in Corvallis working out and taking summer classes, with quarterbacks Jake Luton and Tristan Gebbia leading the unofficial workouts several days a week.
"The quarterbacks are more or less the leaders of it, but we have a bunch of leaders on the team from different position groups," Smith says. "They'll get together and do some individuals, some one-on-ones, some seven-on-sevens."
Strength and conditioning coach Mike McDonald and his staff work closely with the players for about five weeks, beginning the last week of June through the end of July.
• Oregon State went 2-10 in Smith's inaugural season at the helm, beating Southern Utah and Colorado. Neither opponent is on the Beavers' schedule this season. After the Friday night opener against Oklahoma State on FS1, they visit Hawaii on Sept. 7 and play host to Cal Poly on Sept. 14. Following a bye week, OSU begins Pac-12 play at home against Stanford on Sept. 28.
The Beavers miss Colorado and Southern Cal among Pac-12 schools this season. Besides Stanford, they face Utah, Washington and Arizona State at home and UCLA, California, Arizona, Washington State and Oregon on the road.
"It's a difficult schedule," Smith says, "but it's a great league we're in. You're going to have to bring your 'A' game every week. We're excited about the opener, playing against a strong program from another part of the country."
Smith won't be pinned down to a prediction on how many games the Beavers will win in his second season.
"We should be better," he says. "What that exactly looks like, we'll find out. I expect us to be better in all three phases.
"But we don't focus on how many (games) we think we should win. We focus week to week. We'll give our best crack on those 12 Saturdays (actually 10 Saturdays and two Fridays). I don't want to shoot too low or too high."
• Oklahoma State finished 7-6 last season, beating Missouri 38-33 in the Liberty Bowl. Oklahoma State had a prolific offense but some trouble on defense. The Cowboys gave up at least 28 points in each of their last nine games, including 48 apiece to Iowa State and Oklahoma.
Oregon State was 128th of 129 FBS teams in scoring defense at 45.7 points per game allowed. Oklahoma State was 97th at 32.5. The Cowboys were 13th in scoring offense (38.4), the Beavers 90th at 26.1.
• Smith says he came out of spring practice feeling "way better about Year 2 than Year 1."
"Our kids have improved," he says. "Spring ball felt more competitive, more physical. I feel great for continuity purposes that nine of our 10 coaches are back for our second year together."
The lone change is at secondary coach. Blue Adams replaces Greg Burns, who left to fill the same role at USC.
Adams, 39, played four years of cornerback for Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati in the NFL. He coached four years for the Miami Dolphins and as defensive backs coach at West Virginia (2016) and South Florida (2017 and '18).
"I've been impressed with Blue," Smith says. "The guys really like him. He's young but experienced. He coached and played in the NFL and at the (FBS) level. That resonates with the guys. He did a great job in spring practice, diving in, learning the schemes, and even brought a couple of tweaks to it. He brings good energy."
• Oregon State's starting quarterback will be either 6-7, 225-pound senior Luton or 6-2, 195-pound sophomore Gebbia, the latter a transfer from Nebraska who sat out last season on the OSU campus.
Luton, who has started 12 games the past two seasons, will get the first snaps in training camp, but is being pushed by Gebbia.
"We feel we have two guys with whom we can score points in this league," Smith says. "Luton has really improved, and part of the reason is because of the competition Tristan has created. Tristan's good. He's an accurate passer. He's smart. The game means something to him. He did some really good things in the spring. With both of those guys, I feel better about that position that I did last year."
OSU has the most depth on the offensive side at running back, led by 5-10, 215-pound sophomore Jermar Jefferson, a consensus Freshman All-American who set a school true freshman rushing record with 1,380 yards along with 12 touchdowns.
Artavis Pierce, the 5-11, 200-pound senior with five career starts, could be the best back-up in the Pac-12. Behind him are 5-11, 210-pound sophomore B.J. Baylor, 5-8, 205-pound sophomore Calvin Tyler and 6-1, 210-pound true freshman Ta'Ron Madison.
"B.J. had a great spring, and Calvin (coming off ACL knee surgery) should be full go by the time camp starts," Smith says. "We're anxious to see what he can do."
• There is good depth at receiver, too, with returning starters Isaiah Hodgins (6-4, 205-pound junior who had 59 receptions for 876 yards last season) and Trevon Bradford (6-0, 180-pound senior, 56 catches for 649 yards), along with 5-9, 190-pound sophomore Tyjon Lindsey, a transfer from Nebraska who sat out last season on the OSU campus.
Among those behind them are 5-11, 170-pound redshirt freshman Jesiah Irish.
"We expect big things against from Isaiah and Trevon," Smith says. "Tyjon is dynamic with the ball in his hands. Jesiah can run, he's tough, he catches it good. With those three guys and the way Irish is coming along, we're pretty good there."
Another comer is 5-10, 160-pound true freshman Anthony Gould from West Salem, who was on hand for spring ball. He might play immediately and could figure in the return game.
"Anthony is smart and he is tough," Smith says. "We knew he could run. He learned both the inside and outside (receiving) positions in the spring, which is tough to learn for a first-year guy. And he made some plays against our starting defense."
• Senior tight end Noah Togiai is healthy after coming back from a knee injury a year ago, when he caught only 10 passes all season.
"I'd like to see his production go up, but I'm not here to say it's an emphasis to try to get him 80, 85 balls," Smith says. "We have a lot of guys at other positions to throw the ball to."
• Oregon State was hit heaviest with losses in the offensive line, graduating four of the top six (center Sumner Houston, guards Kammy Delp and Yanni Demogerantas and tackle Trent Moore). But perhaps the best of the starters are back in seniors Gus Levaka (6-4, 360-pound guard) and Blake Brandel (6-7, 305-pound tackle).
The front-runner to start at center is 6-3, 290-pound grad transfer Nathan Eldridge, who started 25 games for Arizona from 2016-18.
And Brandon Kipper, a 6-6, 280-pound sophomore who played a little last season after a transfer from Hawaii, is the favorite to start at right tackle.
The remaining guard spot could be taken by 6-2, 285-pound junior Nous Keobounnam, who can also play center, or 6-5, 315-pound senior Clay Cordasco, who can also play tackle.
"I feel like we're going to be better (in the O-line) than we were a year ago," Smith says. "Kipper has a chance to be a good right tackle, and Eldridge has started in this league, though both of them have to go earn their spot. We've created some competition and a little more depth with guys like Clay, Nous and (6-4, 285-pound redshirt freshman) Jake Levengood."
Another prospect who could fit in is Joshua Gray, a 6-4, 280-pound true freshman tackle from Rancho Cucamonga, California, who was on hand for spring ball.
"He had a good spring and has gotten bigger," Smith says. "We like him."
• The strength of the defense should come at linebacker, especially on the outside.
Lead candidates to start are 6-4, 235-pound junior Hamilcar Rashed and 6-2, 240-pound senior Andrzej Hughes-Murray. Also contending are 6-4, 245-pound sophomore Addison Gumbs, a transfer from Oklahoma; along with sophomores John McCartan (6-5, 220) and Matthew Tago (6-2, 225). Isaac Garcia, a 6-4, 255-pound sophomore, has been moved from defensive end to linebacker as a pass rusher on the outside.
On the inside are 6-1, 235-pound senior Shemar Smith and 6-1, 230-pound sophomore Avery Roberts, the latter a transfer from Nebraska. Other contenders include 6-2, 225-pound junior Dough Taumoelau, 6-foot, 220-pound sophomore Isaiah Tufaga and 6-1, 225-pound Omar Speights, a promising true freshman from Crescent Valley and the younger brother of senior defensive end Jeromy Reichner.
"It's a good, deep group that we expect to be considerably better than they were a year ago," Smith says.
The defensive line remains a question, though JC transfers Jordan Whittley (6-2, 340 senior) and Simon Sandberg (6-3, 265 junior) will help and could start. "Jordan had a good spring, and he wasn't even in shape," Smith says.
Elu Aydon, a 6-3 senior, has slimmed 20 pounds to 365. "We need something from him this season," Smith says.
Isaac Hodgins, a 6-foot, 270-pound sophomore who started 11 games as a true freshman, will be a key along with Reichner, a 6-2, 270-pound senior who missed much of last season with a knee injury. Evan Bennett, a 6-2, 280-pound true freshman from Sacramento, may be ready to be a member of the two-deep, too.
The secondary has plenty of contenders with experience, but they need to prove themselves.
The starters at safety should be 6-foot, 215-pound senior Jalen Moore and 6-3, 210-pound sophomore David Morris, but the latter missed most of last season and the spring with injuries.
"If David can stay healthy and be who we think he is as a player, we're in good shape there," Smith says.
Also competing for time at safety are 6-1, 195-pound senior Omar Hicks-Onu, 6-3, 205-pound junior (and converted linebacker) Kee Whetzel, 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Jeffrey Manning and 6-1, 195-pound sophomore TraJon Cotton.
Cornerback seems wide open, with 6-foot, 185-pound junior Isaiah Dunn, 6-1, 190-pound sophomore Kaleb Hayes, 5-9, 195-pound senior Shawn Wilson, 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore Jayden Grant and 6-foot, 180-pound redshirt freshman Jaden Robinson among the candidates.
• NOTES: There won't be a visit to Bend for part of training camp this August. ... Offensive lineman Keli'l Montibon and receiver Mikey Alfieri are coming off ACL knee surgeries and won't be ready for the start of camp. ... Senior Jordan Choukair will open camp as the starting place-kicker, but after a shaky junior year will have to beat out Jeffrey Nelson, a walk-on true freshman from Clackamas. "We're trying to create some competition," Smith says. ... The OSU coach says he's in a good place with the members of his staff and his players. "There are some really good people around me, and I like our guys," he says. "They're working. I'm enjoying it."
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)