A surprise this season, waiting to unfold

RYAN McCANTS

IT'S HARD TO find big guys who can run, says Mike Riley. That's why linebackers make up the heart and soul of special teams. But there's another Beav, one who plays offense, who could have a decided impact on special teams this upcoming season -- as well as positionally on offense.

And that would be running back Ryan McCants.

Mike Riley recently named McCants, along with offensive lineman Wilder McAndrews, as the two biggest surprises coming out of Oregon State's spring session.

"Ryan McCants, we were pleasantly surprised, although he works so hard maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise to us," said Riley. "He just looked like he was better than ever -- faster than ever, more physical than ever.

"He really entered back into a real viable candidate to be a No. 2 running back."

AND THAT'S NOT all. McCants is a solid 6-1, 228 pounds. He can get down the field in a hurry, in a way that belies his size. And that could mean some special moments this season on special teams.

Stuffing a return man deep in his own territory, making a big hit that amps everyone up, forcing a fumble -- these are the things that turn a game and can end up being the difference in winning and losing between two evenly matched teams. And McCants might well be involved in some of those moments this season.

"(This spring) he really took part in being on special teams, and I think we'll find a way for him to be a starter on one or two special teams, which is really important to our (success.) To find a guy like Ryan who can run down on a punt, protect and then run down. And then maybe be on the kickoff team or punt return team, that really adds to the overall strength of the team," said Riley.

McCANTS HAS HAD an uneven career at Oregon State thus far but it's also worth noting he's only a junior-to-be -- he's only just at the midway point of his collegiate career. Because he was such a physical specimen when he arrived at Oregon State, many expected him to star right away. But more often than not, it's a process at this level. It takes time to develop.

When McCants plays tentatively, as he has at times, he's simply a slower moving target. But when McCants runs with purpose, whether that be carrying the pigskin or zeroing in on a punt returner, he's a potential difference maker. And if he plays like he did this spring, the latter will become reality -- whether that's on special teams, as a backup running back, or both.

ANOTHER PLAYER TO watch for, both in the backfield and on special teams, is Jordan Jenkins. He played primarily on special teams last year and looks to play a larger role there as a sophomore, and to make some noise with the offense as well in '10.

"The other guy that made an impact, I don't know that we were surprised, Jordan Jenkins really stepped up. He'll play on special teams, and will be a backup running back for us," said Riley.

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