OSU SPRING PREVIEW: The Wide Receivers

CORVALLIS – Spring ushers in some key questions at Oregon State when it comes to the wide receivers. Who will land the coveted X slot? Is Brandin Cooks ready to have an increased role in the offensive game plan? The Beavers welcome back 12 receivers this spring – how many of them are looking at increased playing time in 2013? BF.C's got you covered in this spring position preview…

The Good
Oregon State will jaunt into spring ball with some depth at wide receiver, including Kevin Cummings, Micah Hatfield, J.C. Grim and Mitch Singler, along with Blair Cavanaugh and Tym Pearson. The Beavs also add a walk-on in Stevie Coury that will help bolster the ranks.

Brandin Cooks is your headliner, but Malik Gilmore and Obum Gwacham are going to get a lot of work this spring in lieu of Richard Mullaney sitting out with shoulder concerns.

They both represent raw talent that has slowly but surely developed within the system and the upcoming schedule of practices should seek to single out one player who can make a consistent impact moving into the fall and subsequent slate of games. Mike Riley expects both of them to step up and contribute – is this the beginning of Riley's search to find a guy who can line up across from Cooks come game day?

But spring won't just be about finding the new "X" receiver -- this will be where we get to see how Cooks slides into his new role of go-to-receiver at the flanker position. More than that, Cooks has been in the conversation for kick returner, given that his speed is blinding and he has some nasty when he gets to go going downhill.

Can Cooks take over where Markus Wheaton left off whilst vying to fill a void that was vacated when Jordan Poyer graduated?

Even more intriguing will be observing how the coaching staff levels their expectations of Cooks with those of the other players. Wheaton leaving could be a growing experience for the entire organization, not just the players who will actively take a shot at his empty seat. With Wheaton gone, game plans change, habits of developing players and personnel changes and coaches start considering weapons that may have previously been neglected.

The Bad
Some weapons remain in need of development - at the onset of fall camp last year, I was a Gwacham fan. At 6-5, 227 he presented the possibility of being a commanding threat in the slot and an excellent target for Sean Mannion due to his height. But Gwacham's hands need attention and saying he had some drops may be a bit an understatement. Between that and some route running issues, Gwacham has a lot of building to do – will an intense spring session make a difference, especially now that he is listed as the starting split end?

Mullaney's injury throws a serious kink in what I was hoping to observe in the spring. I'm not overhyping the guy without justification – he is a killer wideout with a nasty streak when it comes to getting to a ball. His hands are magnets - he has above average speed and runs clean routes 95 percent of the time.

Mullaney saw some field time in 2012 to the tune of nine games, grabbing 13 receptions and a TD in the process, I felt as if he would be the guy who benefitted the most from spring ball, and now the question becomes: Will this down time limit his potential impact and development in 2013?

Does tossing Cooks into the discussion of kick returner potentially put him at risk for injury? Perhaps spring is a bit too early to ponder this question, but it is worth noting. The last thing Riley and Co. need is for Cooks to go down due to an injury he received while returning kicks – especially when there are other capable players who can play that role.

The Question
Who is in contention for significant playing time alongside Cooks?

The Answer
Four guys come to mind. Cummings, Gwacham, Gilmore and Mullaney.

As far as spring goes, we can scratch Mullaney off the list, which leaves three.

Cummings has enough time spent within the program to make a legitimate bid for more playing time as a slot receiver. As a junior he played in all 13 games and amassed 18 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown.

He is the reliable option here - a solid blocker in the open field and plays patiently, rarely miscalculating a route or losing track of the ball. The main thing working against Cummings is that he lacks the speed of guys like Gilmore and Gwacham, and doesn't quite match the physical talent of Mullaney. But when it comes to needing a trusty target in three/four wide receiver sets, Cummings is your man.

Gilmore is the mystery, a possible sleeper if you will. I didn't get a great handle on the 6-3, 214 wideout until the Beavs began prepping for their bowl game, where he showed that he had a knack for grabbing tough passes and dominating in the red zone. Gilmore's closing speed surpasses that of Cummings and Gwacham, and he is a great route runner. Will he remain quiet, or burst onto the scene and generate some heated competition for playing time?

With the glaring exception of Gwacham's hands, he's becoming a more well-rounded player who should be able to make an impact at X in the spring. Receivers Coach Brett Brennan has him pegged for having all the measureable talent to put up healthy numbers. The biggest obstacle for Gwacham this spring could be route recognition. If he cleans that up and holds onto the ball, then Gwacham could shine.

Brennan did a great job with the receiving corps last season, propelling the OSU wideouts to a dominant tier in their conference, with accolades for second best passing offense in the Pac-12, averaging 307 yards per game.

He is an incredibly active coach in practice who works hard to physically show his players how to make adjustments and properly hang onto the ball. His level of energy day in and day out is partially responsible for the growing success of the OSU passing attack.

In the Wings
Hatfield played a small but noteworthy role in the success of OSU's aerial attack during his junior season, claiming nine receptions for 86 yards and two TD's through 11 games. At first (and second) glance, Hatfield doesn't look like a prototypical wideout – but he is fast and has some of the better hands in the receiving group. Unfortunately, the senior has battled injuries during each of his seasons at Oregon State and it has hampered his progress.

My guess is that Cavanaugh will be looking to make more of an impact on special teams, perhaps splitting time at kick returner with Malcolm Marable and/or Terron Ward. Cavanaugh's height (5-8) makes it hard to consider him a legitimate threat at wide receiver in 2013, but the youngster has a lot determination to get the job done – spring could see him claiming a more pronounced role in the offensive and special teams strategies.

J.C. Grim and Tym Pearson both showed some promise toward the latter stages of the bowl game practices, but nothing worth jumping around about. Tough to say whether or not they will experience time beyond the scope of the scout team.

Singler is the no.2 slotback behind Cummings and will be a strong option for OSU should something happen to Cummings, who is injury prone.

Oregon State Official Spring Depth Chart - Wide Receivers
Split End
1.) Obum Gwacham
2.) Richard Mullaney
3.) Malik Gilmore

1.) Brandin Cooks
2.) Micah Hatfield
3.) Blair Cavanaugh

1.) Kevin Cummings
2.) Mitch Singler
3.) J.C. Grim

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