Markus Wheaton feels better prepared this season for the burden of being the go-to receiver for the Oregon State football team.

Now he just has to recover from a hip-flexor strain that has him listed day-to-day for Saturday's 1 p.m. season opener against Sacramento State.

The junior split end became the focal point of the passing game at midseason last year after all-purpose receiver James Rodgers went down with a serious knee injury in the fifth game.

When the Beavers wanted to stretch the field or needed a first-down, Wheaton was who they looked for.

Rodgers is expected to be out at least the early part of this season and may not come back at all. Wheaton enters the season knowing he must continue to be the No. 1 option in the passing game.

"It comes with the territory," Wheaton said. "James had to go through it and Sammie (Stroughter) had to go through it. It's something I have to expect."

Opponents know all about Wheaton because he was third on the team last year with 1,028 all-purpose yards.

Wheaton caught 54 passes for 660 yards and four touchdowns, and ran the ball 28 times for 235 yards and two TDs.

"He's ready for it," offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "He has had good game experience to this point. He'll be our go-to guy in a lot of situations. We expect him to have a lot of attention, but he is poised for a big year."

When Wheaton had 10 or more touches - either by pass or fly sweep - in a game last season, the Beavers usually won.

When opponents took him out of the game, the offense stalled. That's why he has added pressure on him - he has to find a way to get open so the Beavers can move the ball on a regular basis.

"That's always something you want," Wheaton said. "When you come into college you want to be that go-to guy. But it's a little more pressure, and that's a good thing."

Langsdorf plans to help Wheaton by moving him around to keep defenses guessing as to where Wheaton will attack them.

Wheaton's focus through spring practice and training camp was to break free of the double teams.

He also feels his experience the last two seasons, combined with his speed, will help.

"I feel pretty good and more confident than anything, and I know the offense now," Wheaton said. "Learning the defense is what you need the most. That's what I didn't have coming in. I just wanted to run routes, but you have to know what coverage they are in and what they are trying to do so you can find the holes."

Wheaton and quarterback Ryan Katz developed a stronger connection during the summer as they spent extra time practicing on their own.

Katz plans to lean on Wheaton in a pinch.

"We are clicking on all cylinders, and he's running routes well," Katz said. "Having that speed, and that he improved his route running, is tremendous. It's going to show this season."

Wheaton will also be aided by the depth at receiver. True freshman Brandin Cooks will start at flanker and be another big-play option.

Up-and-coming receivers such as Obum Gwacham, Geno Munoz and Jordan Bishop should complement Wheaton as well.

And if Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni return from their injuries at some point, the pressure will be gone and the Beavers can open up the pass more.

"I felt James was the receiver last year," Wheaton said. "We didn't have depth at all. This year it's totally different. We have a lot of talented young guys. If I do go down then we are not as damaged as we were when James did."

That may be tested Saturday, depending on how Wheaton feels. Gwacham will start in his place if needed with Munoz the backup.

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