A view from inside the slot with Obum Gwacham

CORVALLIS – With Oregon State's 2012 season swiftly approaching, the question begs -- just what kind of team will the Beavs field this year? We put that question to rising Beaver wideout Obum Gwacham, and he was not shy with his answers. Also, from Gwacham's perspective, what's one of the things Sean Mannion is now doing differently, and better, this offseason?

The questions surrounding the Beavers are legion -- A 3-9 record last year, a young team for 2012, coping with relative instability on defense and the quarterback position the past two years. It's led to an ever growing skepticism from a segment of disgruntled fans.

But Obum Gwacham, a spring ball standout and the top candidate to start in the slot, sees success on the horizon for 2012, starting when the Beavs open camp on Aug. 6.

"It's definitely going to be a whole lot better than last year," Gwacham said. "We want to go to a bowl game -- the seniors on this team, they deserve to go to a bowl game. The school, the students, they want to see Oregon State in a bowl game. And that is why we need to do it."

THE BEAVS for the second straight year face questions galore at the running back position headed into fall camp. But the receiving corps and the passing game, says Gwacham, face no such uncertainty. A big reason why is the improved chemistry with QB Sean Mannion.

"One thing that has really impressed me with Sean, both him and Cody (Vaz), has been their ability to put air underneath the ball," Gwacham said. "Coach (Danny) Langsdorf talked about doing that (better) during the spring. This spring, every single fade they threw was on point. And as a receiver, just running and putting your hands out and just having the ball land there… is one of the best feelings in the world."

Gwacham hopes to experience that feeling frequently during camp and more specifically, during Pac-12 play. However, there are never any promises until game day.

"With the amount of receivers we have, people will definitely be fighting for a starting job. I'll be fighting, and you better believe they will be fighting. As of right now though, you can't just give the starting job to anybody."

GWACHAM, AT 6-5, 224 pounds, is the tallest receiver on the Beavers, (and one of the tallest wideouts in program history). He displayed improved vertical speed and strong hands during spring ball. And Mike Riley and wide receivers coach Brent Brennan desperately need a player who can fill the deep void left by record setting, all-purpose wonder that was James Rodgers.

But the Beavs are going to replace a 5-7 sparkplug in the slot with a 6-5 skyscraper?

Most likely, yes.

"Something I've been trying to work on is getting off my breaks a little quicker," Gwacham said. "For taller guys it's a little more difficult. But it's something I've worked on during the summer and I think I've gotten faster, stronger, and smarter."

His biggest improvement under the tutelage of Brennan?

"I think coming off the ball with speed has been huge for me." Gwacham said. "I want to improve from last year. I want to do more to help the team, and I think this will be my year. Another thing I'm looking forward to is our growth as a team. I mean, this summer I have been so impressed with the amount of work we have put in, it's unbelievable."

THE PERSONNEL LOSSES OFF a 3-9 team, however, are noteworthy. Brandon Hardin (Chicago Bears), Lance Mitchell (New York Jets), Cameron Collins (Miami) and Rodgers (Atlanta Falcons) are all gone.

"Coach Riley has faith in every person on this team." Gwacham said. "We have so many sophomores, young guys on the team, but they all seem to have the work ethic of juniors or seniors. Seeing them work that hard makes me want to work twice as hard."

The 2011 season is widely considered to be one of the Beavers' more dismal campaigns in recent memory. But Gwacham smiled when asked about any fan uncertainty that might exist headed into 2012. It's clear he's confident in his team and teammates. And he has reason to be.

He played a role in all 12 games last year. Gwacham's experience included special teams play and a spectacular 58-yard catch against Washington that lead to an OSU touchdown and fourth quarter victory.

Yet once fall camp comes, it's a clean slate. Spring camp tribulations and victories are but memories, and a player's progress is the key factor in determining who starts and who doesn't, who gets key reps and who watches the snap from the sideline.

"It's how you have developed in the summer through right now -- that will make the biggest difference once fall camp comes," said Gwacham.

Other slot candidates, junior Kevin Cummings (6-1, 181), along with sophomore *Brandin Cooks (5-9, 178) both boast the raw talent to make big plays. (*Cooks appears likely to start at flanker headed into fall camp.) But Gwacham possesses unparalleled height, as well as above average speed. That, along with a growing confidence, is likely to make him a consistent target for second year veteran Mannion.

A skyscraper in the slot for the Beavs? Indeed.

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