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August 13, 2013

10 things we learned in week 1

The first week of preseason camp is in the books. Less than three weeks remain before the 2013 season opener against Eastern Washington. Here are 10 things we learned from the first week of preseason camp:

1. The quarterback battle will extend into Week 2: In order to keep the battle as fair as possible, Mike Riley allowed Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz to alternate snaps with the first team offense on a day-to-day basis throughout the first week of workouts. But he isn't ready to name a starting quarterback just yet. So, the closely watched competition continued when practice resumed on Monday. Riley said he faces a difficult choice.

"Right now, I'm just letting them play," Riley said late last week. "I'm not surprised. I thought I would see two guys that were prepared and ready to go. They're competing, but also getting ready for the season. That's what they're doing. It's a difficult separation. They both have some distinct differences and those are strengths for each guy. So, we'll look at it closely in the next short while. I don't want to wait too long. But I'm really glad we have them both."

2. Last season's success means Riley is feeling years younger: The 2013 season marks Riley's 38th year as a football coach, a long and distinguished career that began in 1975 as a graduate assistant at California when he was fresh off the Alabama campus.

"You always feel that anxiousness," Riley said. "I feel like a rookie. I have a new team. We're tweaking some stuff in football. It's been fun. I definitely have that anxiety about the year. We can learn from last year, the confidence we gained and the development of individual players. But now we have to go play. The conference is going to very, very competitive. It's going to be a great year. The guys that are going to be playing in the games are in great shape. They've worked hard."

The new crop of freshmen has impressed Riley so far with how much they've learned both on and off the field, giving him optimism that the future of Oregon State football is in good hands.

"It's a good group in general," Riley said. "It has a good talent base, good attitude. They were very good in the bridge program as far as doing what they're supposed to do. Character issues, talent, work ethic, fitting in, those are all good."

3. Expectations by the defensive line are high: Even with Oregon State working in a new pair of defensive tackles, defensive end Dylan Wynn acknowledges he still expects the Beavers defensive front to enjoy a strong season. Wynn and Scott Crichton are battle tested at defensive end.

"The D-Line is really coming together as a unit," Wynn said late last week. "Being comfortable with your D-tackles and the D-tackles being comfortable with the ends tightens the stunts. Just being able to trust that the other guy is going to perform his assignment is key. The individual skill of each D-Lineman has really gone up. Our depth is going to be fine. We have enough guys that have gotten enough actual playing time that we'll be fine."

4. Trevor Romaine is booming his kicks: Romaine is working on a streak of 12 successful field goal attempts, a stretch covering 42 quarters of football. His last misfire occurred in the final seconds of the second quarter during the thrilling 38-35 victory at Arizona last Sept. 29 when he pulled a kick wide from 35 yards out. His longest field goal last season came from 45 yards out against Arizona State. Could he boom a 50-yarder through the uprights in 2013?

"Trevor Romaine is really kicking the ball well," Riley said Saturday. "I don't know about being better accuracy-wise yet, but we hope that's true over the course of time. His leg strength has really improved. He's having a great camp. Consistent work over the offseason helped."

5. The productivity of the tight ends should escalate this season : Connor Hamlett (32 receptions in 2012) and Caleb Smith could form one of the top tight end/H-back combinations in the Pac-12. If anything, Hamlett (6-foot-7) and Smith (6-foot-6) have the size to engage blockers and present matchup nightmares for linebackers. The loss of last season's leading receiver Markus Wheaton opens the door for the tight end spot playing a more prominent offensive role in 2013.

"We fell into some stuff last year with our tight end packages," Riley said. "We feel great about Connor and Caleb Smith played last year. But if you're going to play two or three guys, you need some depth. This group, as whole, really changed their bodies during the offseason. Tight end is one of those hybrid positions where you have to be able to block a defensive end and then outmaneuver a safety. It's a tough combination of skills."

6. The Beaver players understand how valuable Brandin Cooks is: Coming off a season in which he collected 67 receptions for 1,151 yards and five touchdowns, Cooks is one of the top returning receivers and perhaps one of the most valuable offensive players in the entire Pac-12. Clearly, his teammates on defense realize the impact he could make this season considering the number of times he has run free on routes. Are the OSU defensive backs concerned about injuring Cooks? Riley didn't rule anything out, describing the measures as a sign of respect.

"He's now coupling great ability with the knowledge of how to run a route," Riley said. "Frankly, the stuff we do, he should get open. Between his knowledge and ability and what we're trying to do with him. . .and the guys are pretty respectful of him. They're not going to tug him or hit him. That's what happens with guys like that. They get a lot of that."

7. Joel Skotte will start at middle linebacker: The departures of defensive tackles Andrew Seumalo and Castro Masaniai and middle linebacker Feti Unga opened a gaping hole through the middle of the Oregon State defense. Riley is confident Skotte will prove a capable replacement for Unga, who had 56 tackles last season. Skotte, whose new role was cemented when Josh Williams was dismissed shortly before the start of preseason camp, had seven tackles in 2012 in limited action.

"I have a lot of faith in Joel," Riley said. "My guess is he has a chance to get better and better each day. He's a good learner."

8. The point of no return is approaching fast for three JUCO transfers: JUCO defensive linemen Kyle Peko and Charlie Tuaau have missed all of fall camp so far because they're still waiting to qualify academically and get the green light from the NCAA Clearinghouse. Early last week, Riley described the state of affairs as 'never-never land.' What are their chances of qualifying? '50-50,' Riley said.

9. The new uniforms are a hit with the captains: Oregon State introduced glittering new uniforms for the 2013 season in the spring as part as the 'ReBeaved' marketing campaign and so far they've proven a hit with veterans such as Cooks. In fact, Cooks wants the seniors making the choice of uniforms each week.

"Coach Riley said he didn't know who will pick the jerseys, and I said let the captains do that," Cooks said. "At least give us some options and let us pick through those options. I feel we're responsible young men. I love the new look. It looks a little different. But we've added a little spice and that's what it's all about, that swag."

10. Mike Riley wants his players to enjoy themselves: Major college football is often a pressure cooker for players with hefty demands from coaches, fans, media and professors when school is in session. Riley, though, let his players cut loose on Friday with a post-practice water balloon fight. Few coaches or players were spared the wet stuff. Even Pac-12 Network commentator Rick Neuheisel, who was in Corvallis to conduct interviews with coaches and players, got drenched.

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