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The Portland Tribune: Kavanaugh leads way as PSU breaks camp
Author: By Stephen Alexander
Posted: May 13, 2010

It has been said that change involves three things.

First, a dissatisfaction with self. Portland State's football team went 2-9 last season and 1-7 in the Big Sky Conference. Check.

Second, a decision to change to fill the void or need. The Vikings replaced Jerry Glanville with coach Nigel Burton over the winter. Burton has installed the "Pistol" offense and a 4-3 defense. Check.

Third, a conscious dedication to the process of growth. The Vikings spent the spring learning Burton's offense and defense in preparation for next season. Check.

"I like the way they're playing. Nigel's done a really good job getting the kids excited and staying on them," former PSU coach Mouse Davis said Saturday afternoon after he led his White team to a 14-13 victory over the Green team as an honorary coach in the Vikings' spring game at Hillsboro Stadium.

Any new coach has to walk a fine line between installing his system and not alienating his players. Burton realized that and had a plan in place to make the transition as easy as possible for the Vikings.

"It wasn't a thing where we came in and said, ‘Do it this way or get out,' " he says. "We really did a nice job establishing relationships with the kids and getting them to trust us first. There's still a ways to go with that. But we convinced them. We didn't just slam them over the head with it."

The Viking offense struggled last year. The Viks rotated starting quarterbacks, using both Drew Hubel and Connor Kavanaugh. The two were able to generate only 21.1 points per game.

"We would throw for a first down and then get a holding call or a false start," Kavanaugh says. "They were little things, but they killed drives."

Hubel did not participate in spring practices because of a knee injury that ended his 2009 season. Although Hubel is expected to be healthy by next fall, his injury left the door open for Kavanaugh.

"Coming out of spring, (Kavanaugh) is the guy," new offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum says. "We grade every practice and  turn it in to Coach Burton. And right now, grading wise, if we were playing tomorrow, Connor would be our starting quarterback."

At Lincoln, Kavanaugh thrived in former Cardinals coach Chad Carlson's spread offense. The left-handed QB is an accurate passer. However, his greatest strength is his ability to tuck the ball and run. He was second in rushing for the Vikings last year with 72 carries for 390 yards, which for a quarterback includes the minus yards he accumulates on sacks.

Kavanaugh has good speed and excellent quickness. The 6-0, 180-pound junior is an elusive runner with the ability to slip through and around tackles.

The no-huddle, hurry-up offense in the plans at PSU fit Kavanaugh's style of play, too.

"I love it," he says. "You get a lot of plays in during a game. It's up-tempo, which I like. You've got guys flying around."

Taking shotgun snaps in the "Pistol" also may help Kavanaugh next season.

"You can see more of the defense than when you're tucked up under the center," he says. "It gives you an extra five yards farther back at the snap of the ball. It always gives the D-line more problems, because they've got to move to their left, move to their right. And you get a chance to step up and have more room."

Barnum admits that the offensive depth surrounding Kavanaugh is not great. Staying healthy will be a top priority. However, Barnum believes the Vikings have the talent on offense to be good.

"It was a great spring," Barnum says. "We gave them the bread and butter. They've got the tempo down."

The Viking defense was as big of a problem as the offense in 2009. The Viks, who allowed 33.8 points per game, are hoping that the new four linemen-three linebacker look can cut down on some of those points.

"I love this defense," says defensive end Carl Sommer, who transferred from Oregon State, which ran the same formation. "(The 4-3) is the best defense in the nation. Personally, I'm settling in, and I think all the other guys are settling in, too."

Sommer has big expectations for the Viking defense.

"I don't want anyone to run the football on us," he says. "I don't care if they're the Dallas Cowboys or the Florida Gators. I don't want them to run the football on us. As far as the secondary goes, I want all our corners to be shutdown corners, and I want all our safeties to be shutdown safeties. I don't want anyone to put up any points on the board."

In the spring game, linebackers Ryan Rau (six tackles for the White team) and DJ Macarthy (eight tackles for the Green) were busy, while returning standout cornerback DeShawn Shead intercepted a pass for the White.

Kavanaugh completed 6 of 8 passes for 30 yards. Also in the quarterback mix are Tygue Howland (4 of 6 for 88 yards), Nick Green (4 of 6 for 62 yards) and Justin Engstrom (3 of 5 for 25 yards), along with Hubel, who has passed for 6,358 yards and 42 touchdowns in three seasons at Portland State.

It remains to be seen whether the Vikings can take the gains they made this spring into next season, when they will make Hillsboro Stadium their home field while PGE Park is under construction for the Portland Timbers.

But there is no question that the Vikings have changed. And change is the end result of all true learning.

"They've done a great job adjusting; they're sharp kids," Burton says. "So now it's just a matter of continuing to master the system. I expect them to get better every time they hit the field."