CORVALLIS–Day Seven saw a lot of running and a ton of looks at the red zone. OL Sean Harlow impressed once again, Mike Riley continues the hunt for leadership and we keep a watchful eye out for the front four on defense. Storm Woods and Terron Ward had strong outings, and the offensive line has one of their better days blocking. Here's the rundown and then some in this BF.C practice installment...
Practice Notes Offense
Isaac Seumalo has hardly participated in practice this week, and was listed as "limited" when Riley addressed spring ball a few short weeks ago. "It's supposed to be a day to day thing," Riley said. "But it might last all spring. There is a bone in his elbow that they want totally healed. It would be better if he was practicing, but we are developing some other guys at center."
Those other guys are Roman Sapolu and Josh Mitchell. Mitchell served numerous functions on the line last season, filling in wherever needed in the same fashion that Derek Nielsen did. Now Mitchell appears to have found a home as one of two backup centers who have gotten a lot of looks in the middle of the line in lieu of Seumalo's considerable time spent on the sideline this spring. Sapolu is taking a bit of a back seat to Mitchell at the moment, even though he was listed as the No.2 behind Seumalo in 2012. Most of Sapolu's time this spring has been spent with the scout team.
Riley has his eyes set on two offensive linemen who are making their presence known both in practice and in the locker room – "I think Grant Enger – quietly – is a really good leader offensively," Riley said. "And Michael Philipp looks like he is playing the best ball of his career. Whatever that is, leadership or not, it's a good sign."
Storm Woods and Terron Ward can run the ball, this is not news. Since spring ball started, they have been seeing an intense increase in the number of passes heading their way, and at first I was skeptical of their production capability in regards to the aerial game. What a difference a week can make though, as the last few days have shown that not only can the duo catch and run out of the backfield – they have a "short game" too. Both tailbacks have improved in their ability to catch, secure and turn up-field before opposing defenders get a bead on them, and those catches are starting to turn into some serious yardage.
Big News: It turns out, Brandin Cooks is not perfect. He is exemplary on a variety of levels – speed, agility, hands and vision – it's all there. But what I forget from time to time is that he is only 5-10, 181 – he has not yet in his career become a primary target when it comes to red zone offense. His speed may give him a bit of an upper hand in terms of outrunning a defender, sure. But redzone scenarios are often frenzies – bodies everywhere, hands up in the air. It takes a "big guy" to stand out in the crowd, and Cooks is not a big guy.
Cody Vaz struggled to keep his passes under control. He underthrew Caleb Smith on a few occasions, and put a couple balls out of reach for Brandin Cooks when the team ran red zone plays. Vaz has been hot and cold since spring ball started.
Sean Harlow continues to impress as spring ball transpires. He is a very aggressive blocker and has been giving Devon Kell and Dylan Wynn some heartache when the O-Line and D-line collide. Harlow came into spring ball unproven at the college level yet he has been making some serious waves, and presents a very appealing option, perhaps as a backup interior lineman and/or tackle.
Stevie Coury is making some headway with the receiving unit. A recent addition to the OSU roster, Coury (5-10, 148) has been seeing an increased role running screen and option routes with the scout team. Coury's most notable attribute is his speed – he may look small out there in comparison, but damn he can move.
The tight end unit got a wide variety of looks today. Caleb Smith and Connor Hamlett brought in a handful of passes during 11-on-11's and acted as primary targets for both Vaz and Mannion. Hamlett had a gorgeous catch in the end zone despite being absolutely blanketed by defenders.
As covered on BF.C on Wednesday, Siale Hautau is out for the rest of spring with a broken hand. "[Hautau] won't practice this spring at all," Riley said. "Hopefully he will have plenty of time at the end of May to rehab and condition."
While the prevailing question for many may be "how", I'm thinking the query needs to be more about "who". Who is in at defensive tackle in his stead? Blake Harrah saw some work with the 1's and 2's today, as did Mana Rosa and Brandon Bennett. But are these three a temporary fix while the bigger picture is considered (more JUCO talent heading into the fall, Hautau potentially healthy again), or are they legitimate candidates for starting time? Harrah and Rosa have some swagger, but are they physical enough to take that huge step? Only time will tell.
Rosa has become the utility player for Joe Seumalo's DL corps. It's common to see Rosa lining up as a defensive end, and shortly thereafter switching to defensive tackle. While this certainly speaks to the versatility of Rosa, it also serves as a subtle reminder that OSU's defensive line could be hurting for some depth right about…now.
But is it just Rosa serving this purpose? The answer is no, and Riley tells us why – "Watch us, because we are doing that with a lot of people," Riley said. "Dylan Wynn is doing it, [John] Braun is doing it – Devon Kell is even doing it. We are also practicing situational stuff, whereas you might not put Devon Kell inside on first and ten – but on third down he could be a factor movement wise against a guard. Getting in multiple position work – we are doing that with a number of guys right now."
Kendall Hill, Micah Audiss and Cyril Noland were a lot of fun to watch when it came to implementing pass defense in the red zone. All three of them have solid technique and explode to the ball when it leaves a QB's hands. Coincidentally, all three of these players are looking for additional playing time come fall, so the safety competition could get really interesting as spring camp continues.
Leadership Mike Riley indicated earlier in spring ball that the key to the Beavers success moving forward was going to depend heavily on whether or not a couple guys could step up and become leaders on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
He also mentioned that it wasn't just about replacing Markus Wheaton and Jordan Poyer – those two were just pieces of a surprisingly successful 2012 puzzle. Leadership implies more than just putting up numbers and making the crowd roar when it counts – leadership carries with it the responsibility of putting the team on your back when no one else can. Riley is hunting for those players during the spring, and he may have found a couple.
"I think a great leader by example right now is (safety) Ryan Murphy," Riley said Thursday. "I really think he is having a great spring. I think both of those outside linebackers (Doctor, Alexander) can be ‘those guys'. Another guy by example is Dylan Wynn - he has been around here for a long time now, and if Scott Crichton was practicing he would be the same way."
While it is comforting to know that leaders are indeed emerging when needed, it is a noteworthy that the first five names from Riley were all defensive players. Something to ponder.
The Gwacham Grading System – Day 7 Obum Gwacham put together a strong day running as the No.1 split end. He proved particularly effective in the red zone, where his large frame and impressive wingspan make him an ideal target for Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz. Even Richie Harrington had some success throwing to the 6-5, 227 junior Thursday.