CORVALLIS – Is Cody Vaz playing better than Sean Mannion already? Is Sean Harlow in a position to challenge Gavin Andrews for playing time as camps progress? Where will Steven Christian fit into the defensive schemes, considering his increased impact on the defense during spring ball? Answers to those questions plus a big 'ol boatload of notes to close out Week One of Oregon State's spring drills.
was very impressed with his tailbacks at the culmination of Friday's practice session, praising his returning rushers for the strides they have made in the offseason.
"I like (our tailbacks) – I like the look of it a lot," Riley said. "I've seen some really good stuff from all three of them. I kind of have a good idea about Storm and Terron, and I am really interested in continuing to watch Chris Brown
Riley maintains that it is too early to "make any lavish statements" about the shape of his RBs squad, but he is nonetheless pleased with their progress up to this point.
"You know, what you see more than anything is confidence," Riley said in reference to the development of Woods and Ward. "It should be very appropriate that they become leaders."
Practice Notes – Day Four
*Notable Note – Friday belonged to the offense in an all-encompassing sense. The white jerseys just had one hell of an up-tempo day. For the most part, defenders were left to smack their hands together and hang their heads when the white and black jerseys lined up across from one another during the latter part of practice.
Cody Vaz spent more time with the 1's than Sean Mannion did on Friday. Subsequently, the senior QB saw a higher volume of snaps than his junior counterpart and was more active in game-time simulations. Whether this is by design or due to the fact that Mannion was having a comparatively rough day throwing the ball is anyone's guess. Riley has implied that he will be persistently mum on the topic of the QB battle until fall camp draws to a close.
*Notable Note – Vaz's deep throws are becoming more accurate and concise, and he has a bit more zip on throws of 25-plus yards than last season. The physical improvement appears to be there – What about the mental side though?
Mannion had a rough day? What does that mean? – It means dropped snaps, poor reads and errant throws typified his performance on Friday. Frankly, he just looked frustrated. It wasn't horribly ugly, but it wasn't pretty either. Still, it will surprise no one if Mannion steps up his game as the spring progresses.
Isaac Seumalo as expected continues to see limited action as OSU slowly transitions into a more aggressive practice format. However, the standout sophomore did see action on the offensive line during the first half of practice when drills were slightly less contact oriented. He was cooperating pretty closely with Josh Andrews – the duo worked out more effective ways in which to close gaps in the interior line. Seumalo even gave a few pointers to the less experienced members of the O-line.
For the first time during this slate of spring practices, the running backs dedicated some serious time and energy to pass blocking under the supervision of Chris Brasfield. Storm Woods and Brown were particularly successful in setting some solid blocks.
Woods had a banner day running with the 1's and 2's. Not only did he show terrific acceleration into the gaps provided by his blockers – the sophomore tailback made a big impact in the receiving game out of the backfield as well. He caught a highly contested, 20-plus yard pass from Vaz as practice was winding down, and in doing so looked more like a big play wideout than a running back. His catch generated cheers from the offensive players.
Friday's practice was pass heavy compared to the three that preceded it, and a lot of those passes were aimed at tailbacks. Riley mentioned prior to camp starting that he was interested in incorporating his runners into the passing game more and today's practice exemplified that notion.
Beyond Woods and Terron Ward, Brown showed up big in terms of receptions on Friday. The redshirt freshman caught a lot of passes, and on one route he laid a juke on a defensive back that would have landed a normal person on the medical bench with a broken ankle.
Kevin Cummings has consistently been a reliable target in the passing game, no matter who is behind center. Cummings runs routes very much by the book, executes his cuts smoothly and efficiently. He also has soft hands that can pull in just about any catch on a good day. But today was not the best day for Cummings, who dropped a few passes and got more and more frustrated with each miss.
Kellen Clute had a strong day running with the TE's. His hands have been suspect in the past, but they are slowly but surely improving and the redshirt sophomore proved that today when he made a stellar catch on a ball from Mannion that was zipped into double coverage. When a TE is ticking off defensive backs, you know he's doing something right.
The offensive line spent a good portion of practice working on fundamental slide protection and blocking schemes. Cav seemed pleased with the overall progress of his blockers. Then again, he may just be pleased that he has some depth to work with this spring.
Sean Harlow and Gavin Andrews had very impressive days working with the 1's and 2's. Harlow in particular shows promise blocking at tackle, and he is significantly more agile than Andrews – could there be a future position battle in the making?
David Keller, Grant Bays and Tyler Ropp all received some individualized attention from Cav and graduate assistant Tavita Thompson on Friday. These three youngsters are slowly becoming key cogs in the offensive line depth, and are experiencing a higher volume of rotation with the 2's when it comes to play simulations.
Steven Christian is playing like he really wants to put that fifth year of eligibility to good use. He has been in on a lot of plays recently due to the absence of Tyrequek Zimmerman and is proving to be a dependable option should Zimmerman's health concerns carry over into fall camp. Christian represents a solid mix of adept zone coverage skills and he is good about keeping within inches of his assignment when he is operating in man coverage.
Speaking of cornerbacks – remember Jovan Stevenson? He converted to the secondary from the running back corps at the onset of fall camp in 2012, and really struggled to get a grasp on the responsibilities of his new role at first. But the senior has really come into his own since then, and today he was very aggressive when defending the air attack. Sans a few miscues when he was given the chore of trying to keep passes out of the hands of Brandin Cooks, Stevenson was an impressive force.
Dylan Wynn spent time as both the left and right defensive end on Friday.
Larry Scott continues to be one of the more physical and determined corners when one considers the younger guys behind the likes of Rashaad Reynolds, Sean Martin and Steven Nelson. Scott and Kevin Cummings got into some heated interaction on multiple occasions during Friday's 1-on-1's. Scott came out on top a solid 6o percent of the time by my count.
Naji Patrick, Kendall Hill, A.J. Hedgecock and Tyler Hasty all had good days defending passes during 1-on-1's.
Overall, the defensive line had a rough day when it came to getting penetration against running formations and putting pressure on the QB. Mannion and Vaz had all day to throw for the most part, and a couple runs that should have gone for negative yardage ended up turning into 5-10 yard gainers due to missed assignments and guys not finishing tackles.
Mana Rosa has been seeing increased playing time at the left end slot on the scout team. He is a paradigm shift considering the last few seasons at OSU have lent themselves to lighter, speedy defensive ends. Is Rosa trying to make a bid for playing time LE by using his considerable size and strength to his advantage?
Rommel Mageo and Noke Tago are a strong ‘backer/DT combo when it comes to stopping runs from breaking past those first five yards. The duo appears to have a strong chemistry with one another, and it translated to success when they performed with the 2's on Friday.
The Gwacham Grading System
So I have come to the realization that Obum Gwacham's hands are too unpredictable, and generally tend to fluctuate from terrific to poor not on a day-by-day basis, but rather a pass-by-pass basis. So instead of consistently reporting that over and over, I have decided to rank his hands on a scale of 1-10 in each of my following practice reports in order to present a more tangible measure of how he performs each day. Note: I am a tough grader.
Today = 4.
Running with the 1's
QB – Cody Vaz/Sean Mannion
TB – Storm Woods/Terron Ward
FB – Michael Balfour
TE – Connor Hamlett (TE/H-Back), Caleb Smith (TE)
WR – Brandin Cooks (Flanker), Obum Gwacham (Split End), Kevin Cummings (Slotback)
OL- Michael Phillip (LT), Josh Andrews (LG), Roman Sapolu (C), Grant Enger (RG), Gavin Andrews (RT)
Defensive Line – Dylan Wynn (RE), Siale Hautau (DT), Edwin Delva (DT), John Braun/Devon Kell (LE)
Linebackers – Michael Doctor (Strong Side), Joel Skotte (MIK), D.J. Alexander (WIL)
Cornerbacks – Rashaad Reynolds/Steven Nelson, Sean Martin
Strong Safety – Ryan Murphy
Free Safety – Steven Christian