CORVALLIS – It was another beautiful day on the Tommy Prothro practice field, but not everything was bright and sunny for OSU. We have some observations on a hard-to-tackle running back, a wideout may have found his stride and Ryan Murphy makes more waves. We also offer some insight on backup QB Richie Harrington. And has the injury bug manifested itself once more prior to Friday's spring game?
Practice Notes – Day 13
Storm Woods sat out of practice today with "symptoms of a concussion" according to Mike Riley. The sophomore tailback incurred the injury yesterday, and while Riley was not specific as to when the injury happened, it sounds like it happened during a collision with Ryan Murphy. It is unclear whether or not Woods will play in the Spring Game taking place on Friday night.
Terron Ward continues to show up big, whether or not he runs with the 1's or 2's. On Tuesday he was with the 1's in lieu of Wood's absence and showed an aptitude for making guys miss when he got the ball in the open field. Ward is an interesting passing option out of the backfield – his size (5-7, 200) makes him a smaller target but also difficult to spot amongst a slew of defenders/o-linemen moving around. When used properly, that smaller stature makes him a "slippery" player in a way similar to Jacquizz Rogers. You may think you have him wrapped up, but next thing you know your hands are slipping over his shoulder pads and he bolts out from underneath for another couple yards.
About halfway through practice, Mannion got picked off by Ryan Murphy. Mannion's pass was intended for a man going toward the sideline but the 6-3, 210 standout safety had a bead on the ball and swooped in to take the slightly errant throw away from Mannion's intended target. Murphy has had a great spring session.
Micah Hatfield had a strong afternoon on Tuesday. The senior wideout has steadily been seeing an increased role in a variety of offensive formations, and his attributes are becoming easier to spot with this increased production. Hatfield's game appears to be predicated on speed and agility and frankly, it has to be considering he stands at 6-1, 180. Still, Hatfield's acceleration off the snap and above average speed/agility makes him a legitimate threat in the open field and the red zone. However, the question remains – is he a big enough target to have an impact when simulations become games and opposing man coverage turns into a battle for every inch?
Fullback Michael Balfour got involved in a few offensive schemes on Tuesday. He had a particularly nice grab with some space in front of him, and he turned upfield to pick up a couple extra yards. Balfour's role this spring has been limited simply due to the fact that the fullback is not out there on every down. But when he has seen action, he has performed well and showed a knack for setting efficient blocks on the move.
Riley called on the young guys to finish out practice, and he actually let them go full bore for a little while. Below are some notes on the young guys that stood out in the crowd on Tuesday… for better or for worse.
Brent Vanderveen tossed a solid couple of passes, but frequently stalled in the pocket. Had defenders been looking to lay into the QB as they would in a game, Vanderveen would have been sacked two or three times. He would also have had one hell of a headache based on the speed with which the would-be tacklers had amassed.
Sean Harlow is showing improvement within the OSU system and had a solid day at left tackle.
While Josh Mitchell was holding down the center position with the No. 2 offensive line, his backup, Roman Sapolu was putting in work at right guard.
Walk on freshman Tyler Ropp also saw time on the O-line when the young guys were on display. He showed some potential in opening up holes for Chris Brown.
A note on Richie Harrington – He isn't going to challenge Mannion or Cody Vaz. Obviously, he is a walk on, young and there is a steep learning curve at quarterback. There is also only so much you can teach a player until he needs to swim on his own. His passes this spring have often been a bit wobbly, he struggles with accuracy and leading a receiver is not his forte. The thing is, Harrington can move around in the pocket and he looks more confident doing it than Mannion, Vaz or Vanderveen. Because of that, you can't count him out two years from now when the collective Vaz/Mannion joyride has ended. If he stays with the program and finds a touch more accuracy, he could be give a scholie QB a run for his money down the road.
It was another good, but not great, day for the secondary corps. Malcolm Marable and Steven Christian were in on multiple installations. Christian has started to catch my eye – mostly because I am wondering where on earth he will end up on the defensive depth chart. He seems to drift between corner and safety slots frequently – whether or not this speaks to the diversity of Christian's game or indecision on Rod Perry's behalf is up in the air. Every coach will tell you that they are "just trying to find where guys fit" – a generic response which essentially equates to, "I don't know. Ask me later."
The defensive line is another spot where guys have been moving around, especially when it comes to the defensive tackle position. Ever since Siale Hautau sustained an arm injury, the defensive line has seen the likes of Blake Harrah, Brandon Bennett and even Dylan Wynn (intermittently) inhabit the vacated spot on the 1's. Today Mana Rosa got a turn or two, but failed to put forth an eye opening performance. The senior defensive lineman had a rough go of gaining penetration and almost jumped the gun on a down.
Today, the combination of Edwin Delva (6-3, 295) and Bennett (6-3, 280) was the most frequently observed duo at the DT position, and perhaps the most successful. The pair complement one another nicely and are at about the same skill level as one another so when they push, they push as a unit. That oftentimes it leads to clean penetration, albeit a bit delayed from time to time.
OSU defenders have one hell of a time stopping certain short passes this spring. I say this knowing full well that spring ball is ultimately about installation, figuring out where various players fit into various schemes and running certain plays constantly in order to perfect them. But the overall ability of the Beaver D to stop certain plays in their tracks has been sorely lacking at this juncture. In fact, it has been so bad that at times I find myself wondering whether or not these apparent failures in coverage actually occur by design in an attempt for the coaching staff to get a good look at how a play is developing post-snap. In lay terms – it's been so striking it almost seems intentional.
The other candidate for potential playing time is Josh Williams, who saw a minimal amount of reps at the MIK on Tuesday behind Joel Skotte. Riley has mentioned before that he is confident both Williams and Johnson can make an impact during the regular season should hard work and dedication remain facets of their practice regiment heading into the fall.
On the whole, the LB squad managed to keep receivers and tailbacks out of the end zone on Tuesday. Trent Bray has been encouraging his players to pursue the ball until the play is dead. Bray basically wants constant vigilance out of all of his guys and has been preaching that sermon all camp long. While you can often see the frustration in a player's body language when Bray takes a trip onto the field to dole out criticism, from an objective point of view one can also see that it is working. Tuesday's demonstration of this occurred when Terron Ward received a handoff and tried to bust it through a wall of defenders for six. Ward was wrapped up by two defenders on top of a pile of white jerseys, but kept pushing for that extra inch or two and almost got there. Had it not been for ‘backers making an effort to topple the pile toward green turf instead of a black end zone, Ward may have snagged six.
The Gwacham Grading System
Just an average day for Boomer, but that he's found that consistency, that he's having ‘average days' is the real story. Gwacham's improvement has been stead of late, despite an early going marked by suspect hands and a lack of familiarity with certain routes/formations. What I've seen these last few practices are a more intense and somewhat more aggressive wideout trying hard to take the next step and earn some playing time.
Defensive Line – Dylan Wynn (DE), Edwin Delva (DT) Brandon Bennett/ Mana Rosa (DT), John Braun (DE)
Linebackers – Michael Doctor (Strong Side), Joel Skotte (MIK), D.J. Alexander/ Jabral Johnson – briefly (WIL)
Cornerbacks – Rashaad Reynolds, Sean Martin/Steven Nelson
Strong Safety – Ryan Murphy
Free Safety – Cyril Noland/Micah Audiss