CORVALLIS - There's a short, but important, list of agenda items for the Oregon State football team to address this spring.
No. 1 is finding a starting quarterback.
Sophomore Ryan Katz begins with the first string and junior Peter Lalich on the second team. Coach Mike Riley considers this an open competition that will most likely go into training camp in August.
"Whenever there's a changing of the guard at quarterback, it will always be a big issue," Riley said. "We are going to try and go in without any preconceived notions and let these guys play. That will be a big part of spring ball."
One way of looking at this is it's Katz' job to lose because he's been in the program longer, was a Riley recruit while Lalich transferred from Virginia, and Katz played as the backup last season.
Riley sees that as a natural assumption, but doesn't go that far. Lalich started some at Virginia in his one-plus season, but there hasn't been substantial playing time for either player.
"In fairness to them and our team we'll let it play out," Riley said. "That happens because (Katz) takes the first snaps and people know him better, but in my mind we are not there, yet. We are going to have more than 1,500 plays between now and when we kick off the season. All those plays will be the test. I like the talent there. We'll see who emerges from that."
What one of them must do is not only make the passes, they must run the offense. That means make the right reads, play fast, lead the team and command the huddle. Intangibles and being consistent are what will set them apart.
One must do all those things to replace two three-year starters who did it all. Riley's worried about that, but feels one can be the next star to come out of OSU.
"It's about as good as it could be considering we lost two starters who won a lot of games," Riley said. "This transition at quarterback is always a mystery, but I like what we have."
Next on the list is finding a split end, go-to deep receiver. The Beavers need a deep passing threat to make the offense pop. Mike Hass and Sammie Stroughter are examples of recent standouts.
Junior Darrell Catchings will be given another shot to be that guy. He was hurt most of last year, when he was expected to have a breakout season.
This spring he's in a position battle with sophomore Markus Wheaton. Both have potential, but the competition is to get the most of out both of them.
"It's truly a wide-open competition," Riley said. "We've made the assumption James (Rodgers) is the starting flanker, so we let these guys compete for the split end. They are the next two top receivers who need an opportunity. There's a chance whoever doesn't win at split end will be the backup in both spots."
Offensive linemen make all this go. This year the Beavers must find one starter, at right guard. Ellis Burke, Colin Kelly and Colin Lyons are the first tested.
Starting left guard Grant Johnson is out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery, so if his backups Ryan Pohl, Michael Lamb and Tyler Thomas perform well they might move over to the right side in the fall.
"Burke has done a great job in our program, growing," Riley said. "He'll be ready to compete for that. Colin Kelly is talented moving from tackle to guard. We have high hopes for him. Colin Lyons, it's his time to step up."
The rest of the offense hopes to refine itself. There are reliable or standout starters in the other eight positions.
"As an offense, we just want go out there and click," Katz said. "We've been working the whole winter so we won't be off timing."
The last concern on the list for Riley is linebacker. The Beavers lost starting middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi when he decided to join the military. Then starting outside linebacker Keith Pankey ruptured an Achilles' tendon, and will miss spring practice.
Depth isn't a concern, but the loss of experience is the big blow. It won't be determined until training camp if Pankey recovers in time. If not, he can redshirt and return for 2011.
"We are looking at the good depth part because you want to look at the silver lining," Riley said. "But the fact of the matter, for spring ball we lost two starters. That's a lot of plays. We feel we have ability there so we won't miss out. But the experience end of it will have to be caught up. We can't replace that."
Tony Wilson, Rueben Robinson and Kevin Unga will compete for the middle spot. The third-place guy will moved behind Dwight Roberson at outside linebacker.
In Pankey's absence Devin Unga and Keo Camat will get good looks at the position.
The rest of the defense is stable. The young secondary from last year has grown up and hopes to improve, while the defensive line will tinker with its lineups but is loaded with veteran players.
Beyond those four areas where starters must emerge the Beavers go into spring trying looking to take the next step in development to be ready for the fall season.
"We have some guys who, just like always, will step up," Katz said. "We will see who steps up this spring. There are a lot of position battles. It's going to be good for competition. We have the guys to do it."