OSU Spring Preview: Quarterback

CORVALLIS -- You've got questions - we've got questions. Heck, there appears the real possibility Mike Riley has questions as to who the starting QB will be in 2013, too. So how do things shape up headed into the spring?

The Good
At some point last season, Mike Riley mentioned that the Beavers were lucky when it came to the quarterback position – they had two bona fide starters. Now, taking into account games such as those played against Washington, U of O and Texas – one may find themselves wondering what Riley's definition of luck is.

It all comes down one word – options.

Still, two is almost always better than one, and both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz showed that they were adept at making plays happen, amassing 3926 passing yards and 26 TD's when coupled together.

Having a senior (Vaz) and junior (Mannion) who will know your offensive playbook like the back of their hand is undoubtedly a benefit Riley and Co. are thankful for looking ahead to the spring. Knowing that an up and comer such as Kyle Kempt will be joining the QB ranks soon enough may well stoke a fire beneath the 2012 incumbents behind center. So yes, options are good.

Then you have Brent Vanderveen and Richie Harrington who are still in the developing stages. Harrington in particular looked more solid toward the end of the season, and Vanderveen has an ideal build for the position. While they pose little threat to snag the starting slot, depth never hurts a team.

The Bad
Vaz and Mannion ended the season with games pockmarked by injuries and mediocrity. And so the ongoing hunt for a consistent, reliable signal caller goes on -- it may well be the reason the Beavs were 9-4 last year instead of as a 10- or 11-win club.

Given Vaz's performance against Texas last December, the future is anyone's guess.

Indeed, options are good. But being forced to choose between those options at the mid-season and end-season markers is bad. Really bad, and this is particularly true with quarterbacks.

Furthermore, the flip-flopping of Riley, whether based on the less-than consistent play of both Vaz and Mannion or his own inability to choose a face for his offense didn't help and fans didn't like it. Yes, Mannion sustained a leg injury after the Washington State bout and yes things like that are generally unexpected. Yet the argument can - and should – be made that Riley removing Mannion in the final minutes of the Washington game did much more harm than good.

Indeed, it dug at Mannion's confidence like a pickaxe into wet earth.

It also threw Vaz into an awkward position to come in and pick up Mannion's slack, which he nearly managed to do. But spurts of stellar play in 2012 from Vaz were mixed with a lot of sacks and some throws that made fans cringe down the stretch.

And while having depth is good, not-a-one of the guys sitting beneath Vaz and Mannion on the depth chart has substantial game experience – thusly, Riley's options remain limited to well, Vaz and Mannion.

Side Note
Not entirely unrelated to the looming QB questions is the departure of Markus Wheaton.

In losing Wheaton, the Beavers lose their best offensive aerial weapon. The quiet, unassuming wideout sporting the familiar No. 2 on his back is gone, and so are his 11 touchdowns and 91 receptions from last year. While Brandin Cooks will undoubtedly make a big impact in the spring, there is little denying that not seeing Wheaton running drills will be a bit of a shock to the system of players and coaches alike. It's like Oregon State's offense is Linus from the Charlie Brown series, and Wheaton was their offensive security blanket. Time to learn and grow.

The Question
Will it be Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz in 2013?

The Answer
There is a very simple answer to this – Mannion. If he stays in shape, keeps his confidence up and can control his throws under pressure, he will grab the starting gig all over again. Mannion is physically superior when it comes to both build and his arm. Mannion can throw deeper, has more zip on the ball and takes big hits in stride that Vaz could not in 2012.

The biggest aspect of Mannion's game that potentially hampers his progress? Ball control, ball control, ball control. If Mannion doesn't prove to the coaching staff during the spring and fall that he can throw more touchdowns than interceptions in 2013, he might as well get used to watching Vaz from the sidelines.

Show no mercy, that's how you win a game in the Pac-12 these days. There comes a time when a coach has to draw the line, pick his guy, stick with him and continue to find ways to help him improve. The Mannion challenge is just as much as it is Riley's. More quick hooks are likely to damage Mannion's confidence, which based on his body language towards the end of last year had already taken a significant hit.

Keep your eyes on
Vaz will be in his senior year, and in spite of the fact that I feel that Mannion will indeed slate at No.1 when the depth chart is drawn up I don't want to count Vaz out.

Call the BYU game a ‘fluke' all you want, but Vaz had one hell of a day in Provo. He certainly has the skill to play the position otherwise he wouldn't have started in any games.

If last season wasn't an indicator that the QB situation at Oregon State is - to quote Elvis, "all shook up", then nothing is.

In the Wings
Vanderveen and Harrington still exist, despite being completely overshadowed last season - a circumstance not all that uncommon in college football when considering young QB's. Harrington in particular seems to be mastering the essential skills of the position a bit more than Vanderveen was in his first year, but that could change starting this spring. And the fact is that simply having these two around is a boost to the club, and their presence provided a lot of good looks for the scout team in 2012.

BF.C's Projected Pre-Spring Depth Chart – Quarterback
The 1's
Starter – Sean Mannion
Followed By – Cody Vaz

The 2's
Starter – Cody Vaz
Followed By – Brent Vanderveen/Richie Harrington/Kyle Kempt

Scout Team
Starter – Richie Harrington/ Kyle Kempt
Followed by – Brent Vanderveen


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