Welcome to the unknown

GARNER ADDS DEPTH RILEY'S BEEN TALKING ABOUT

FALL CAMP is barely a sneeze away, and so Sunday night will feel a little like the night before Christmas. And not just because the bad taste from a losing season is one virtually everyone in black and orange is ready to get out of their mouths, but also because this season brings something new to the table.

The unknown.

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There's a brightly wrapped 2011 football season under the tree - the only question is, what's in the box? It could be just what you always wanted, it could be empty, or it could be a lump of coal.

More than any season in recent history, the 2011 Beavers are an enigma. There are boatloads of potential along with an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions - totally unlike what Beaver Nation is accustomed to embracing. That's the glass half full.

On the glass-half-empty side, the lines on both sides of the ball are question marks unlike any your humble scribe can remember.

Reach back through the cobwebs of your mind and try to remember a single season where not one member of either line is regarded as a "star" (apologies to Mike Remmers, who honestly is quite underrated). There is no Stephen Paea, Jeremy Perry, Andy Levitre, Kyle DeVan, Victor Butler, Bill Swancutt, Dwan Edwards.... no, not a one in this group. Not one big nasty guy on either side of the ball that you absolutely know is keeping an opposing OL or DL coach up at night wondering how the heck to handle him.

Now that we're through the doom-and-gloom portion, there exists loads of potential in this particular Beaver squad. With a few lucky bounces, this is a 9-win team. Of course the biggest bounce has a name -- James Rodgers.

J-Rod is the type of put-you-over-the-top-player who can get you a couple of wins all by himself. He really is the complete weapon -- rushing, receiving, returning kicks, returning punts. There's a sense that if Mike Riley was willing to let him, he'd show that he's a solid defensive back as well.

With all due respect to Quizz, and the great Sammie Stroughter, and even Steven Jackson, James Rodgers is the most dangerous player in the modern era of Beaver Football. A healthy James Rodgers changes everything.

MEANWHILE UP FRONT, Geoff Garner is poised to become the new Andy Levitre edition Swiss Army Knife, and he's a player that OSU fans should keep an eye on. This is a guy who is physically mature, took a 2 year LDS mission, played in four games as a true freshman, redshirted in 2010, and has been moved from tackle to backup center to fill the hole left by the injury to Roman Sapolu.

Garner is an athletic guy -- he's 6-5 and 308 pounds but in a previous iteration, he caught 45 passes for 987 yards and 7 TD's as a prep standout. And now the 23 year-old sophomore is showing off his versatility by moving over to back up at center. When Riley says that the Beavers have much better depth on the O-Line than last year, as he's done repeatedly these past several weeks, I think he's looking right at Geoff Garner. He can play OT, C, and even some TE if necessary. Remember Stanford's Heavy Set with Toby Gerhart and 3 OT's?

While we're on the subject of the o-line, something to note -- many posters on the BF.C message boards have mused about Michael Philipp moving inside to guard. It was considered last year by the staff, but Riley said he "took a deep breath" and decided against it. Now Philipp is locked in a battle for the starting RT job with Colin Kelly, and the discussion renews.

But the reality is, Oregon State simply doesn't have the ability to move Philipp to guard. With Garner moved to center, OSU has 3 tackles to work with -- Kelly, Remmers, and Philipp. Philipp is the backup at both tackle spots.

FINALLY. THERE'S A sense the MLB dilemma has been solved -- and before a single fall camp practice. Fans watching all year wondered why Feti Unga sat third in the rotation, when he appeared to many to be the most talented MIKE on the team -- this author wondered on multiple occasions on the BF.C boards about whether Ruben Robinson belonged at OLB instead. So what happened?

Defensive coordinator Mark Banker took over linebackers.

Robinson immediately moves to outside linebacker, and Unga leapfrogs to starter at MIKE. Sources close to the OSU program in background conversations have said that former LB coach Greg Newhouse's selection of most of his starting linebackers, and in particular the MLB rotation, as well as the high minutes for a still-recovering Keith Pankey (while Cameron Collins was limited to one start in 2010), were hotly contested debates within the staff.

No one has ever questioned Newhouse's ability to develop players. But the opinion from this chair is that his tendency for favoritism over "his" guys rather than the most effective player, coupled with a seemingly poor effort in the recruiting department, apparently forced Riley's hand.

The conclusion is that Oregon State's linebackers should be vastly improved this season. If you're a Beaver fan, that's very good news.

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