Oregon State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren has to be excited about the plethora of weapons he has at the skill positions this coming football season.
In the mix are:
Two returning starting wide receivers — junior Isaiah Hodgins (59 catches, 876 yards) and senior Trevon Bradford (56-649).
Two returning starting running backs — senior Artavis Pierce (54 carries, 425 yards) and sophomore Jermar Jefferson (239-1,380), the Pac-12 freshman of the year last season.
A starter at tight end in senior Noah Togiai (10-77, three TDs), who played through injury last season.
And that’s just a few of the weapons returning. The receiving and running back groups are both deep, and all the tight ends return.
That experience should pay dividends in 2019 for an offense that averaged 404.8 yards per game and scored 26.1 points per game.
Oh, and quarterback Jake Luton is back after receiving a sixth season of eligibility. Yes, he is battling Tristan Gebbia for the starting position but it seems as if the job is Luton’s to lose.
“Anytime you’ve got, one, a quarterback that’s played for you and done some things, and the depth at that position in adding Tristan Gebbia to compete with Jake, I think is huge,” Lindgren said Wednesday morning at media day. “But just having guys another year, another spring, so much more reps in what we’re doing and the concepts that we’re installing (is big).
“I just think it’s easier to call (plays) and takes a little bit of pressure off you. I feel like those guys can go out there and make adjustments within a game and go make plays for you.”
Bradford said last year was “OK” as far as the offense was concerned and expects 2019 to be more productive because the players have a better understanding of the system and can play fast instead of at times wondering what to do, as was the case last season.
“Just having that extra year under our belt, that experience, it should help a lot,” he said.
While that is certainly a positive, with so many weapons and just one football to go around, how on Earth can Lindgren keep everyone happy?
He’s not that concerned.
“It’s one of the things that I think is really cool about the unit and the coaching staff is I don’t feel like we’ve got a lot of 'me' guys, and I didn’t see a lot of that if at all last year,” he said, noting he has had issues with that in the past at other schools.
“Guys want the ball but it’s a thing where the ball, I think within the offense, is going to find guys and I think you saw that last year with three starting receivers had 50 (receptions) and we had a couple running backs that put up some yards. So I think the ball will find you in this system and it’s a matter of just going out there and executing your responsibility.”
Bradford said it makes no difference to him who makes plays and he expects everyone to have an opportunity at one time or another.
“It’s fun. Nobody is selfish,” he said. “We don’t care who gets the ball. I feel like it’s going to be based more off like schematically week to week what the defense gives us. If we’ve got to run the ball 30 to 40 times with that monster backfield, we’re going to do that. And if we’ve got to throw the ball 50 times I’m not going to complain. Whatever the coaches call, we’ve got to go execute. It should be fun.”
With that experience back at the skill positions, there is no doubt the Beavers will add a few wrinkles to their playbook. However, the main focus will still be on mastering the core of what was installed last year.
“We’re always looking to study other offenses from around the country and see how we can add that to what we do,” Lindgren said. “So there will be some minor tweaks. Definitely the package will be a little bit bigger but we won’t be adding a ton. We’ve just got to get better at the system that we have.”
One area that may increase is the use of the tight end with a healthy Togiai, who is on the watch list for the Mackey Award.
“It'd be huge just to be able to use him in the passing game,” Lindgren said. “I felt like last year the ball didn’t find the tight end quite as much and part of that was by design because I don’t think he was 100 percent, he was 75-80 percent a lot of the year and he just wasn’t able to do what he had done in the past as far as getting down the field to be a threat vertically in the pass game. So getting him healthy I think is huge, it just adds another element to what defenses are going to have to defend.”
While the skill positions are in good hands, the offensive line must replace three starters. Back are Blake Brandel and Gus Lavka, who coach Jonathan Smith said is probably in the best shape of his life.
Nathan Eldridge, a graduate transfer from Arizona, could lock down the center position.
“He’s one of the ones I’m really excited to get out there and watch him compete and play,” Lindgren said. “Everything I have seen and heard about the kid leads me to believe that he’s going to be a real positive for us.”
Smith said the Beavers have 18 offensive lineman on the roster so there should be plenty of depth.
No matter who gets the starting nod, the line will be the key to what the Beavers can do offensively.
“We’ve talked about it as an offense that we can’t have as many negative plays, and I don’t want to put that completely on the offensive line but it has a lot to do with it,” Lindgren said. “We talked about playing more physical up front and I do think we’re going to have a little more depth at that position.
“But it’s a challenge for those guys, and the offense kind of goes as the offensive line goes. … When those guys are rolling it just makes calling the game and everything so much easier because you can run the ball and everything kind of goes and feeds off that.”
Beavers add three
The Beavers announced three additions to the roster on Monday —linebacker Kyrei Fisher, punter Jeffrey Nelson and offensive lineman Andre Beall.
Fisher, who played two seasons at Arkansas, is not yet eligible and Smith said he may miss the first couple games.
"He should be a go at some point this season. I don't have the exact date, but probably a game or two and then good to go," Smith said.
Fisher was rated the No. 11 player in Oklahoma by Rivals and No. 14 by 247Sports coming out of high school.
Nelson is from Clackamas High and Beall is from North Salem.