CORVALLIS - It has been a difficult winter for the Oregon State football team.
No, it hasn't been as disastrous as Oregon with its rash of legal woes to star players.
The Beavers have dealt with worse offseasons than this one in recent years under coach Mike Riley in terms of criminal behavior.
The program's stability since those dark days in 2005 has created a new phenomenon. Two key players leaving and a starter suffering a major injury became startling.
One regular poster on my blog asked for reassurance that everything would be fine. I chuckled about that since no one can really say.
And the season is still six months away.
However, spring practice is in two weeks. Football withdrawal and anticipation are a high level. Anxiety is understandable.
Those kind of reactions to a program are a good thing because bad things are not happening or expected.
It's even better when the team is confident there will be answers by the time the spring game concludes May 1.
OSU is in that position.
The biggest blow came at linebacker when David Pa'aluhi left the program to join the military. It was a sudden move to those on the outside.
He would have been a starter as a junior. Pa'aluhi was a quiet leader and started the popular voluntary early-morning Saturday workout program.
A veteran middle linebacker is crucial for the Beavers. The defense generally funnels ball carriers to the linebackers, and the guy in the middle should be part of most running plays.
Tony Wilson and Rueben Robinson are sophomores with plenty of upside to replace Pa'aluhi. Wilson is coming off knee surgery and has yet to play in a game and Robinson saw limited time last season as a true freshman.
Can you feel the tension now?
Both exhibited know-how and toughness needed to be in the center of the defense. It's just a matter of being prepared going into games, taking some lumps, adjusting and getting better.
Using two rookie middle linebackers wouldn't be so bad with veteran outside linebackers, but Keith Pankey, a vocal leader, went down last month with a ruptured Achilles' tendon during a scheduled training session.
Pankey plans to be ready for the season, and he may be, but the chances are slim. Once fully healed, Pankey must catch up in conditioning.
If there are any delays in the rehab, he could redshirt and come back for his senior season in 2011. That may be the wise thing do anyway, but time will tell.
That leaves Dwight Roberson as the only veteran linebacker.
Are pulses at least quicker now?
Ready to step in are the Unga brothers, Devin and Kevin, who played significantly as true freshmen. Linebacker coach Greg Newhouse raves about them.
Between those four up-and-coming linebackers, recruits, others in developmental stages and veteran reserves such as Keo Camat and Walker Vave, the Beavers will press on.
Watching them develop in April will be interesting. The coaches must sort through who wants to take advantage of these opportunities.
The same can be said after receiver Casey Kjos retired due to chronic back injuries. He was a starter at slot back when healthy and a spiritual leader in the locker room.
Jordan Bishop showed glimpses of brilliance last year in place of Kjos. Aaron Nichols came through with his chances. More of the same will be needed from both.
From chatting with the coaches in the winter, they are excited about what they have to work with. They know there are natural holes to fill due to graduation, and surprises such as these three.
They went into this business to work hands-on developing talent. And this group has a strong record of doing just that.
So is that reassurance that everything will be fine?
No, but the stability developed in approach, training and accountability won't let it become a disaster.
Your breathing can return to normal for now.
Cliff Kirkpatrick covers the Oregon State football team for the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Read more about the Beavers on his blog at cliffkirkpatrick.mvourtown.com.