The Oregon State Beavers are looking to replace 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks in 2014 in order to keep their prolific passing game rolling this season. But that didn’t stop them from taking one of their receivers, senior Obum Gwacham, and switching him over to defense to bolster their depth on that side of the ball. While that isn’t news in and of itself, the fact that he’s making the switch from receiver to defensive end makes Gwacham a very interesting player to watch in 2014.
Gwacham is a big-bodied former sprinter that coaches had high hopes for in the passing game. At 6-foot-5 and with great sprinting and leaping ability, he seemed tailor-made to become an impact player at receiver but never seemed to take to the offensive side of the ball. After three seasons, he has recorded just 11 total receptions, including only one catch for six yards in 2013.
So this spring, coaches move Gwacham to the defensive side of the ball to see if his unique talents would be better served at defensive end. The team is in good shape for every-down defensive ends with Dylan Wynn on one side and either Jaswha James, Lavonte Barnett, or Titus Failauga on the other. That will allow Gwacham to hone his ability as a pass-rusher, using his great length and athleticism, to get after the quarterback in passing situations.
It’s not every day that a wide receiver makes the switch to get down in the trenches on the defensive line. But that’s what makes Obum Gwacham so intriguing heading into the fall. The young man is an elite athlete who, for one reason or another, couldn’t catch on with the offense. Will he be able to provide a spark for the defense?
The Oregon State Beavers had one of the best passing offenses in college football last year, but it couldn’t completely mask the other issues that plagued the Beavers. After a 6-1 start, Oregon State football lost its final five contests and limped into the postseason. During that stretch, even the offense sputtered and observers were left wondering if the first half of the year had simply been an illusion. In 2014, Oregon State could have a very similar season, with a very good passing game and a schedule that could set them up for another late-season collapse.
The key to whether the Oregon State offense can match its historic output from last season will most likely be the development of the offensive line. The Beavers should still be able to pass the ball better than most, but they return only two starters on the line, so pass protection could become an issue. The Beavers will also want to improve their rushing offense this season. Oregon State averaged fewer than 100 rushing yards per game and ranked near the bottom in rushing in the Pac-12 last year. Replacing three starting offensive linemen isn’t a good way to get the running game going, but they do return Terron Ward and Storm Woods at running back. Ward and Woods led the Beavers in rushing a season ago.
The good news is that QB Sean Mannion is back after throwing for a Pac-12 record 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns last year. Mannion will most likely end up carrying the Beavers’ offense once again this season, but he will have to do so without Biletnikoff-Award-winning wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Richard Mullaney is back, though, and should be Mannion’s new No. 1 target, after finishing second in receiving yards last season.
The Oregon State defense will need to improve in 2014, after giving up 31.4 points per game a season ago. The Beavers could pile up passing yards with the best of them last season, but finished the regular season 6-6 mainly because they couldn’t stop opposing offenses. In fact, giving up 69 points to the Washington Huskies was only the second-most embarrassing performance of the season for the Beavers, as they began the season by giving up 49 points in a loss to the FCS Eastern Washington Eagles.
The good news is that the Beavers will have plenty of experience at linebacker and in the secondary. The bad news is that they need to replace nearly their entire defensive line. Scott Chrichton opted to enter the NFL Draft, so the only remaining starter from last season is DE Dylan Wynn. They may look to Miami Hurricanes transfer Jalen Grimble to fill a gap at defensive tackle, but the interior of the line is a significant question mark. The defensive line could be much better at the ends, with Jashwa James and Lavonte Barnett stepping into larger roles this season.
Oregon State will kick off their season with a trio of relatively easy out-of-conference contests before getting into the grind of the Pac-12 season. If the Beavers are going to get back to a bowl this season, it will be important for them to start the season 3-0, because after their games with the Portland State Vikings, Hawaii Warriors and San Diego State Azteks, the Tigers will have to travel to Southern California to play the USC Trojans. They could potentially find wins against the Colorado Buffaloes and Utah Utes in the following weeks, but the pickings get slim after that.
If the Beavers get through the first half of the season 5-1, bowl eligibility should be on the table, with a shot at win No. 6 coming at home against the Washington State Cougars later in the season. However, if they start 4-2, it could get dicey. The schedule is definitely back-loaded, with the only upside being that the Beavers will host the Oregon Ducks and Arizona State Sun Devils.
Odds are, Oregon State will manage about six wins and attain bowl eligibility again. They probably have too many issues in the trenches to be considered a serious threat in the Pac-12, but their offense should be explosive enough to make sure they win at least a few conference games.
The Oregon State Beavers are looking to reload their passing attack for 2014 following the loss of Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks to the NFL. While there is still talent in the wide receiver group this fall with players like Richard Mullaney and Victor Bolden set for larger roles, the key to the passing game could be a reliable set of hands in the middle. Can tight end Connor Hamlett become a favorite target for Sean Mannion this fall?
Last season, Hamlett enjoyed a strong season, finishing fourth on the team with 40 receptions for 364 yards with five touchdowns (second most on the team). At 6-foot-7, he’s a huge target down the middle with the athleticism and soft hands to be a matchup nightmare for defenses, especially when the Beavers get in close to the endzone.
In recent years, we have seen what a good pass-catching tight end can do for a team, especially when their options on the outside are less than a sure thing. Mannion has the ability to be one of the most prolific passers in all of college football this season but has to distribute the ball a bit more this year without having Cooks to rely on. Having Hamlett step into a more prominent role will help Mannion and the Oregon State offense maintain their high-powered attack going this fall.
With enough opportunities, Connor Hamlett could emerge into one of the premier pass-catching tight ends in the country next season. His development into a featured role on the Oregon State offense could make all the difference for the Beavers in 2014.