Riley Meets The Press
Aug. 11, 2004
'Welcome, everybody, to our opening day of fall camp. It's a great, great, exciting time of year. We welcomed our team in Tuesday, started the first thing out with a memorial service for Justin (Williams, the redshirt freshman cornerback who was killed in an auto accident in July), then went into all of our stuff last night with what we normally do at the start of football season. So I'm very excited about this camp, and enter it with a lot of expectations, obviously, but also a lot of questions. I think this camp will probably have more things, heading in, where we have some great competition than if you compared it to where we were a year ago coming in. 'Our flanker position, our slot receiver position, the offensive line a little bit - those will be very interesting places to watch. I think we have good players there, but we'll have to do a lot of coaching and evaluating early and get those guys in place in the order in which they're going to play in a ballgame. We've got to get old fast at some spots. We've got to find some people who are reliable playmakers who can go in and play, but I feel real good about our group. This is always a season of optimism on the first day of practice. I think we have a well-intentioned, hard-working group that will continue the tradition of playing hard at Oregon State.' (Who are some players for whom you have high expectations to step up at wide receiver?) 'I would look to some of the veteran guys first - Josh Hawkins, George Gillett, Cole Clasen. They've been here; it's their time to step up and take charge of a position - they'll be given that opportunity. I think Anthony Wheat-Brown, Marcel Love ... Brandon Powers had a very good spring. So we're looking at an assortment of guys, and we're going to have to run a lot of guys through and get them a lot of work. I'm real anxious to see how that plays out. I think there are a lot of good football players there, but who's going to take charge and make plays and be reliable - that's what we're looking for.' (Does opening against Louisiana State rather than a Division I-AA school change anything?) 'This is one of the great non-league games in the history of our school. I'm excited about the opportunity for our team to go down there and play. We'll play no tougher team in no tougher environment than down at LSU, and I think that's great for us. Does it make a difference? Absolutely. Just in the talk in the off-season from fans and boosters and media and our team, I think it's a very exciting game that will be very tough. It adds to a schedule that's very tough, also. So we literally have to live in the moment this year - we have to take advantage of each day now that we're going through. This is a major time for us. As we look at our fall camp, we look at it in a way that we form the identity of our team now. What we do, and can do well coming out of fall camp, is who we will be. In our team periods, we'll run upwards to near 1,000 plays, which is equivalent to a whole season of plays, so we have to get a lot of work done in order to be able to compete and have the poise and confidence it takes to compete down in Death Valley.' (How concerned are you about the offensive line?) 'Absolutely we have a big, big job ahead of us in that regard. I'm excited about the individual talent there; I think there are some good players. I think we can develop into a very good offensive line; it's how fast we can do that that's the key. Working against the speed of our defense will be big, and we can get outmatched sometimes against a guy like (OSU defensive end) Bill Swancutt, but that's good for our guys. Adam Koets was hurt at the end of the spring; he was the frontrunner going in at left tackle and he'll start out there Thursday. I feel great about his athletic ability; he hasn't played a lot, but that's where we're going to be with three spots there - big, big spots. It will key our offensive season, really, how that thing jells, so it's big for us.' (You don't replace a running back like Steven Jackson, but do you think Dwight Wright will be the main guy there?) 'The running back situation for us is very interesting. We're not going to have Steven Jackson, but nobody else is going to have Steven Jackson. He's gone; he's a unique guy. He was an every down back, for sure. I made the point that we're not going to necessarily be `running back by committee.' Dwight is sort of the incumbent; he'll start out there Thursday. He'll get strong competition from Ryan Cole and Yvenson Bernard going in. Those guys are all good football players. Now, will we play more than one back? Absolutely. We played more than one back last year; Dwight got to play certain parts of ballgames - he was already set to go in, we had a rotation for that. We will also look hard at who's the best situational back; it may not be the starter. One guy may be the starter, one guy may be the third-down back, the other guy may spell the other guy. I think they're all capable of playing. I think we'll run the ball well, I think we'll gain yards running the ball - and I say that because we have to. We are not going to be a one-dimensional football team; things don't go well when that happens. We're going to strive hard to be a good running team first, play-action pass, and be more efficient in the passing game - that's our goal.' (Getting back to the season-opener at Louisiana State - will that lead to putting in the game plan a few days earlier in fall camp?) 'We met as a staff, did all the installation and set some days - probably earlier than normal - to get ready for that ballgame. One of the reasons, though, is that we're going to travel a day earlier than we normally would. We're going down there on Thursday; Thursday's practice is not going to be the same Thursday practice that we get during the year, so we're going to start back a little bit. We've done a lot of preparation for the game. We feel like every game's approach should be our 100 percent effort in everything we do, so I can't say we'll approach it much differently as far as everything we'll do to get prepared for the game. But there's definitely an added emphasis and a knowledge that we're going into a pretty good ballgame.' (What kind of potential does this group have with the question marks you have on offense and the experience you have on defense?) 'You know, if I had a choice, I'd rather have stability on defense and feel good about it. And I think with the people we have, we have a chance to continue in the tradition of our defense here. I still contend this is `Linebacker U.', and that'll be a strength of our football team and I feel good about our linebackers. I like the speed of our defensive line, our defensive ends. I like the fact that we've had a couple of guys that have had great offseasons working, because they're going to get a lot of work - Sir Henry Anderson and Alvin Smith are going to be very important for us in the middle to go with Ben Siegert, and we need that kind of depth there. We need those guys to play well, and they've worked extremely hard to change their habits and their bodies. They've done a very good job that way, so I feel good about that. One of the most stable positions we have is in our secondary, which is very comforting. In our conference and in the games we play, they'll be tested, but it's a good group, a conscientious group, a tough group. We lost Lawrence Turner, but I'm excited about the guys who are there trying to replace him. Sabby Piscitelli, Harvey Whiten, and we're going to have some freshmen - more freshmen, for sure, than any year I've been here - who are going to contend. I'm talking about the secondary, but maybe in every position on our team. I feel good about our defense, I feel they have an opportunity to grow into the kind of defense we're used to here.' (Playing at LSU, then having a short week before playing at Boise State on a Friday night make it maybe the toughest two first games you've faced?) 'We're looking at a real tough turnaround there, and that's why the emphasis for our team has to be the moment. We can't go in thinking too much about how hard it's going to be to come back and then go to Boise on Thursday and play there Friday night. We'll have to approach that when it gets there. We have to take each day right now and get the most out of it to get ready for our season, then later on focus in on that first game and then go on from there. But that is out there, and as coaches we have to make a plan for that and how we're going to handle a short week coming off a long trip.' (How has quarterback Derek Anderson approached getting ready for this season?) 'Derek, since I've known him two years now, has always been a very hard worker, very conscientious. I've seen him prepare really hard, but he's maturing all the time - like all of our kids do - but as far as the shape he's in, I'm sure it's the best shape of his life. The exposure that he's had dealing with the media and dealing with other people around the country - he was our representative at the Pac-10 media day, he worked at the Payton Manning Passing Academy down in Louisiana as a counselor, he went to the Elite 11 camp - so he's got some exposure. I think the expansion of his world is growing, and that's really good for him. And he's worked extremely hard. Derek has a lot of ability. I'm excited about the year for him, but I'm concerned about finding the right pieces around him that can produce and make plays for him. I believe he grew a lot through the year last year and kind of topped it off with one of his very best games here in the bowl game. He had a very solid spring as we worked through different personnel things around him, and I think he's excited and ready to go for this season.' (Is it fair to expect improvement from Derek Anderson, numbers-wise, given the loss of Steven Jackson and Tim Euhus and James Newson?) 'I'm not focused on the statistics. It will be very difficult to match some of the numbers we put up last year, so that cannot be our focus. Our focus has to be `What do we find with this team is the best way to win a game?' I'm not worried if Derek throws for 4,000 yards again - that was a unique thing, he was the second guy in the history of this league to do that and that's not going to happen all the time. And that's not what we're going to be about; we're going to be about finding that mix, the things that we do well and the efficiency we can play with, and getting people around him making plays. That's what we have to do so that we become a very good third-down team, so we don't turn the ball over, and so we're efficient in the red zone. Those kind of statistics are going to be more important than the yards we put up.' (Do you still plan on throwing to the running back and tight end after losing Steven Jackson and Tim Euhus?) 'Steven was a good receiver and developed more and more as a receiver as the season went on. Not every back we have in that group that's going to compete is the same type of receiver. I think Yvenson Bernard has some good qualities in that way. If I was going to look at it right now and if Yvenson was our third-down back, I would say there's some good stuff we can do with him there. Tight end? Tim Euhus literally doubled his career production last year. He had 49 catches in his career going in and he had 49 last year and became first team All-Pac-10. He became a very consistent threat. The thing about Tim is, he's very smart. He knows the game and is able to incorporate his own subtle way of getting open and did a nice job for us. At that position, I'm excited and, at the same time, know that there's going to have to be a lot of good work going on to get that kind of production. Joe Newton has a ton of ability - I'm excited about Joe. If we had to replace Tim Euhus, I'd pick Joe Newton as the guy I'd like to start with, so I feel good about that. But the great thing about sports is, you have to prove it on the field, so we have to go out and make some things happen and get him involved and make him a consistent playmaker for us to be good. We need balance. We need the running back to contribute, we need the tight end to contribute. Mike Hass is going to contribute; he's a good player and a tough guy and knows how to play and I think he'll do a good job, but we need to find people around him who will be that reliable and we need balance badly if we want to be good.' (Do you feel better about this program now than when you left it after the 1998 season?) 'I can look back even further to when I first came here the first time, let alone when I left it the first time. It's been a phenomenal growth in not necessarily the easiest economic time, so people from Oregon State have dug deep. And it's all kind of worked together - the success of the program brings more success in the overall picture of what's going on. I think it builds on each other. I look around this campus and see a new baseball stadium, a new softball stadium, the Valley Football Center, the new AstroTurf that's just five years old, the new practice fields, a new hotel on campus, the indoor practice facility ... that's all six, seven years time that that's all happened, so the whole picture of this place has drastically changed, and it's a very exciting thing. Now you add the major league project with the addition to the stadium, and things are really looking different and better and up here. I contended the very first time we were here, when we moved into the Valley Football Center, and that was due to the foresight of (former OSU) President (Paul) Risser. Something had to happen to show some of these kids being recruited out there that football was important at Oregon State, and that has just grown and been really amplified through the years.' (You have a new starting kicker, a new starting punter and a new special teams coach - talk about the emphasis on special teams) 'It's not comforting to lose a kicker as solid as Kirk Yliniemi was, and also Carl Tobey, the punter. Those two kids were really good players and reliable, and that's a big word. We did not play well around them, but they did a good job for us. So we're going to replace the punter and the kicker. We've got great competition at the kicker position; I think we're going to come out of that with a good kicker. We have recruited a punter I have a lot of confidence in, that we did a lot of work on and we're very, very excited to have him; now it's his job to come through and do a good job and I think he's very capable of it - Sam Paulescu. Then the next part of the job is surrounding those people, the specialists in our program - the returners, the kicker, the punter - with good special teams. Good coverage, the opportunity to have good returns - solid, sound play. I think there's no question that some of our production offensively and defensively was set back by some special teams plays in different ballgames. I think special teams can set the tone for a game, and I think that did not help us a year ago. Major, major emphasis, a big deal for us to make an improvement in our team. If we want to be improved, then we've got to improve on special teams.' (After losing so many leaders from last year's team - like Richard Seigler - who is likely to step into that sort of role?) 'Leadership is an interesting thing. I don't think you can ordain anybody; it has to happen. It happens through a hard-work example, and kind of an elevation within the team of respect to get that, but it doesn't happen overnight. I walk into our offices and I look up at that picture on the wall of those four captains walking out on the field a year ago, and I think, `Wow, that is an impressive group of young men.' James Newson, Steven Jackson, Dwan Edwards and Richard Seigler - those guys made an impact at Oregon State, were great young men and put their heart and soul into this thing. Everybody recognized that; they were overwhelmingly voted captains. And we had a similar situation this year. The captains that were voted by our team for this year (Derek Anderson, Jonathan Pollard and Bill Swancutt) were overwhelmingly voted as our team captains. Bill Swancutt - you couldn't have a better guy on your team. The way he works at the game, plays hard every game ... I wouldn't want to be the left tackle playing against him, because you're going to have a headache by the end of the day. Derek Anderson, who has committed more to this team than almost anybody, and is a great example of what we need in the form of hard work and leadership. And Jonathan Pollard, who has been a core of that defense, is part of Linebacker U., and has a lot of pride in what he does. So we have some guys who are in place. But like I said, leadership takes place over a period of time, not overnight. These guys have obviously earned some respect from this football team. It started in the past, but it all forms as we go through this preseason. We need good habits, and we need a whole bunch of guys who are working hard, and then the leadership will emerge from that.' (The strength of schedule is out of the ranking system this year ... ) 'That's too bad.' (Are you concerned about what the impact on a national ranking could be given the tough schedule you have?) 'You know, I'm not really worried about that. That's all interesting for fans to look at; for our team - and I don't know how to emphasize this - we need to live in the moment and take each game at a time. Then we'll look back after our last game - hopefully a bowl game - and see what we did. But we really can't be worried about rankings, we can't be worried about stats. We have to be worried, right now in particular, about finding our identity to win football games. So I don't put a lot of stock in that, I don't think about it.'