Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Wide Receiver – Oregon State Beavers

By Sam Saig, August 3, 2009 8:47 am

While there are great expectations for the Oregon State offense in 2009, the wide receiver position will look a lot different than it did in 2008. The two leading receivers from last season, Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, are gone.

Stroughter (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) ended his prolific Beaver career with 164 career receptions for 2,653 yards and 14 touchdowns, including a team-high 1,040 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Morales also played a key role in the offense in 2008, totaling 54 receptions for 743 yards and eight touchdowns during a fantastic senior season.

While it will be difficult to replace all of that production, the Beavers do return a number of talented wideouts, including an all-purpose superstar that tormented PAC-10 defenses along with his brother last season.

Sensational junior James Rodgers enters 2009 as one of the most versatile offensive weapons in all of college football. He may not receive the notoriety of his brother Jacquizz, but his presence on the OSU offense is essential.

James Rodgers fights off defenders

James Rodgers fights off defenders

Last season, he amassed 1,833 all-purpose yards; a total that ranks third in school history. As a receiver, he was third on the team last season with 51 receptions for 607 yards and four TDs, while also adding 408 yards and five TDs as a rusher. Over his two-year career at Oregon State, Rodgers has averaged an astounding 10.9 yards per touch (as a receiver and rusher).

James Rodgers has become synonymous with the Beavers highly successful “Fly Sweep” formation. The popular offensive set has been instrumental in allowing Rodgers to gain 1,036 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs over the last two seasons. The fly sweep is designed to put Rodgers in space, allowing him to fully utilize his tremendous speed and quickness.

On top of being a rushing and receiving threat, the 5-7 185 pound Rodgers is also deadly on kick returns. Last season, he totaled 818 return yards and one TD (24.8 yards per return) on his way to garnering first team All-Pac-10 honors.

The Richmond (TX) native enjoyed a quiet spring in order to fully recover from a broken collarbone suffered last season in the Civil War against Oregon, but he should be full strength for fall camp. He will be the starter at flanker, and the focal point of the receiving corps in 2009.

Sammie Stroughter’s replacement at split end this season will be junior Darrell Catchings. As a freshman, Catchings looked like the next great OSU wideout, displaying an excellent skill-set and totaling 33 receptions for 386 yards and one TD. Last season, Catchings’ production was down considerably as he caught only 7 passes for 95 yards.

One reason for the slowed production was his struggle with type-2 diabetes throughout 2008. The Escondido (CA) native was diagnosed with diabetes before his freshman year, but it hadn’t affected his play until last season.

Catchings has taken the necessary steps to control the diabetes during the offseason, and the improvement on the field has been remarkable. He was the best receiver on the team during the spring, and over the course of two scrimmages he caught 13 passes for 423 yards four touchdowns.

The 5-11 173 pound receiver seems poised for a breakout year in 2009, and he has the field-stretching speed (4.39) that is necessary to offset the loss of Stroughter. Catchings will enter fall camp atop the depth chart at split end.

The likely candidate to replace Shane Morales is junior Casey Kjos. Last season, Kjos only made two catches for 15 yards, but he has impressed the OSU coaching staff during the off-season with his instinctual route running. He worked with the first team offense as the slot receiver for most of the spring, and will look to carry the positive momentum into fall camp.

At 6-2 210 pounds, he is a solid target with hands that remind some of Morales or even Beaver great Mike Hass. Kjos chose to play at OSU with the help of his first cousin, NFL veteran QB Jon Kitna. The Middletown (OH) native is an intelligent wideout, with a great understanding of the offense, and should provide the Beavers with a solid possession receiver.

One young receiver that will be too good to keep off the field is redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop. At 6-3 199 pounds, Bishop may have the best combination of size, speed and athleticism of any receiver on the roster. He excelled on the scout team last year and had an exceptional spring, leading all Beaver wideouts in the spring game with five catches for 95 yards. The Salem (OR) native will be Catchings primary backup, and should see significant playing time this season.

Tight End

One of the deepest positions on the OSU team is at tight end.  Head coach Mike Riley has always enjoyed employing multiple tight ends and H-backs; this year will be no different.

Senior Howard Croom is the veteran of the unit. Croom has accumulated 23 career starts, including nine last season. He only caught six passes for 37 yards in 2008, which was a significant drop from his 2007 campaign where he had 20 receptions for 188 yards and three TDs.

Howard Croom reaches out for the touchdown grab

Howard Croom reaches out for the touchdown grab

At 6-3 240 pounds Croom displays excellent blocking ability, and solid receiving skills. He is by no means a seam-busting mismatch, but he can be a serviceable presence in the intermediate passing game. The Long Beach (CA) native enters fall with a slight edge as the starter.

Right behind Croom on the depth chart is junior Brady Camp. Last season, Camp started five games, and led the tight ends with 12 receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns. He figures to see even more time this year, and could line up with Croom in two tight-end sets.

At 6-4 259 pounds, Camp has established himself as a physical blocker (especially in the run game) and a reliable pass-catcher. The Gresham (OR) native should be heavily involved in the offense this season.

The primary H-back of the offense will be senior John Reese. Last season, Reese played in all 13 games and totaled 10 catches for 109 yards. He has good size (6-3 240 pounds), while possessing the mobility to move around at the line of scrimmage. The Upland (CA) product should compliment the tight ends nicely as both a blocker and receiver.

Other receivers and tight ends competing for time are: freshmen Kevan Walker, Markus Wheaton, and Geno Munoz, sophomore Joe Halahuni, and seniors Taylor Kavanaugh and Demola Adeniji.

My Take

I am always amazed at this program’s ability to develop talent. Mike Riley is one of the best coaches in the country at finding players that fit his system.

Obviously, the headliner is James Rodgers who should continue to put up gaudy all-purpose statistics. The OSU offensive scheme fits his style perfectly, and he and Jacquizz should continue to flourish in the misdirection-based “fly sweep” formation.

The rest of the receiving corps may need a little bit of time to come together, but there is plenty of talent. I believe Catchings will return to his promising freshman form and give the Beavers offense the deep threat it needs. I am not expecting Stroughter numbers, but if he plays remotely close to how he did during the spring then anything is possible. Kjos seems to be the perfect fit for the slotback spot, and I expect him to be a serviceable performer throughout the season.

The tight ends are not spectacular athletes, but I think they are perfect for this offense. Utilizing Croom and Camp in two tight end sets is great for the running game, and Reese gives the Beavers some versatility at H-back.

Overall, the Beavers should have a balanced offensive attack in 2009.

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