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August 10, 2013

5 players destined to become household names

Every season, or so it seems, a new group of players emerges and they become popular for their contributions to the success of the Beavers. Here are five players we predict are destined to become household names among Oregon State faithful in 2013:

1. Joel Skotte (LB): In the wake of Feti Unga's graduation, Skotte engaged in a battle with Josh Williams for the starting linebacker job throughout the spring. The competition was expected to continue into preseason camp, but Williams was suddenly dismissed by Mike Riley on August 1 for disciplinary reasons, leaving Skotte, a sophomore, as the lone experienced option at middle linebacker.

Because his playing time is assured of rising dramatically, Skotte's number of tackles should grow by at least six or seven-fold from the seven stops he had last season. Unga had 56 tackles, two for loss, one interception and on forced fumble in 2012. Will Skotte match those numbers?

"We're actually pretty thin there, and we're very thin in experience," Riley said Monday. "I have a lot of faith in Joel Skotte. I don't think there is any reason whatsoever that we should go backwards at that position just because he's young. He has all the tools, he's smart, he's diligent and if he has a good month of practice right here, that should be good for us."

2. Ryan Murphy (S): Riley views the 6-foot-3 211-pound Murphy as the prototypical safety for today's defenses in the quest to keep spread offenses from wreaking more havoc. Murphy is big, strong and fast, which is why Riley said last week he would sign '10 Ryan Murphys' every year in recruiting if he could.

Murphy had 67 tackles in 2012, 16 more than Jordan Poyer, but it was the latter who garnered most of the attention on a weekly basis due to his big-play ability - Poyer had seven interceptions and seven pass breakups. Together, Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman could form one of the more underrated safety combinations in the Pac-12, and are two major reasons Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker plowed ahead with diversifying the defensive schemes last year.

"With what offenses around (college football) are doing now, you have to be versatile and diverse with what you do and how you approach the game," Riley said. "There is a premium on speed and guys with a lot of flexibility. Ryan Murphy can look like an outside linebacker as a nickel or play free safety."

3. Connor Hamlett (TE): Hamlett could be the Oregon State offense's version of Murphy. Tall (6-foot-7), fast and difficult to cover, Hamlett exemplifies the rise of the tight end and H-Back as reliable passing targets in college and pro football. He was OSU's fourth leading receiver in 2012 with 32 receptions for 403 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore.

Markus Wheaton's departure has Riley looking for new targets when OSU throws the football. Hamlett should offer matchup problems for opposing linebackers or safeties. Who will emerge as the No. 2 receiver behind Cooks? Don't be surprised if Hamlett is the one. Either way, Riley eyes an upgraded role for Hamlett specifically and the tight end position in general this season.

"We need that to happen," Riley said Tuesday. "One of our goals in the offseason was to enhance that position's production in the passing game. He (Hamlett) has made nice strides each year. We hope to get that again. We hope teaming up with Caleb Smith, that is a real good duo. It provides us with two good guys. I like having a lot of depth at the tight end position. That gives us some versatility and with the way we play, that's a nice thing to have.""

4. Richard Mullaney (WR): Mullaney has shown that he can make the catch even in heavy traffic. His sure hands and dependability make him one to watch this season as many expect a break out year from the sophomore.

Hampered by the injury bug over the past two years, he is healthy and has been impressive so far throughout the first week of practice.

5. Victor Bolden (WR): Looking for the true freshman most likely to click in 2013? Bolden could be your guy. Possessing blazing speed. Bolden heads an impressive wide receiver class - Hunter Jarmon and Walter Jones are two others - that opened eyes during summer workouts.

"Sean Mannion mentioned him (Bolden) to me," Riley said. "He threw to him the other day. He said he looks like Brandin Cooks when Brandin was younger. That made me feel good because if you can compare somebody to Brandin Cooks, we'd like lots of them. He's a great kid."

Not only are the Beavers probing for another go-to receiver to complement Cooks with Wheaton no longer around, they are looking for candidates to run the fly sweep, a play that has become a staple of the Oregon State offense in recent years. The freshman group should get a chance in preseason camp to showcase their skills and convince the coaches that they should play right away.

"Somebody may surface as the guy that could give us some added speed at receiver, be a punt returner and a fly sweep runner," Riley said. "One of these new guys may be that guy. A guy can make his mark by coupling his abilities to run, make plays, catch the ball and learn our system and be a viable guy in there during the games. If he can run the fly sweep too, that would give him the upper hand, for sure, of being able to play right away."

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