What we've learned from spring: OSU QBs

CORVALLIS – With spring ball over, Oregon State is still in the hunt for a starting QB and will remain so until sometime in fall camp, says head man Mike Riley. So let's look a little closer at the spring session and see if we can read the tea leaves…

I remain skeptical of both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz after watching fourteen practices and a spring scrimmage fly by. But at some point, the benefits of competition end, and detriments take hold.

The Veterans
Can Vaz lead the Beavs over the long haul to a season on par with 2012? That's the question. He is short, has smallish hands and often below average throwing power – not a combination that screams prime-time pocket passer.

But Vaz is a talented passer when all is said and done, and he remained the most consistent and reliable man that OSU had behind center this spring.

The senior has control of his throws and decent field vision. He may not have a rocket arm, but a quick release and some finesse on deeper passes holds its own rewards.

Vaz seemed in control – he threw far fewer interceptions than Mannion, he saw a lot of reps with the 1's, and showed improved recognition of opposing coverages. From what I observed, the vast majority of his throws were timely and more often than not, they were accurate.

However, the 6-1, 202 signal caller has flaws. Vaz is built like a scrambler – the problem is, he doesn't scramble. He was a veritable statue in the pocket for a good portion of the spring and would have likely averaged close to three sacks a game if this were the regular season.

Vaz's inability to switch gears from stationary to mobile was a problem against Texas and remained a problem in the spring. Vaz may not be particularly fast, but I've seen him move around outside of the pocket with some agility and purpose. Given the increasingly speedy nature of defensive linemen, Vaz could benefit greatly from honing one last dimension of his game – his legs.

MANNION IS THE main reason why the QB situation remains in flux. All in all, the spring did not paint a pretty picture of what the junior QB would do with starting time in the future. He continued to toss a high volume of picks, and had a lot of poorly thrown balls that sailed over helmets and hands, or out of bounds.

I felt that Mannion would find better luck this spring, seeing as how he had taller, more visible targets to toss to in Obum Gwacham and Malik Gilmore. I also hoped the junior would get over the emotional hump of not being slated as the starter against Texas or headed into the spring - such did not appear to be the case. Mannion seemed off more than he was on, and it was most apparent in his body language.

However, there were a few notable improvements in Mannion's game.

The latter half of the spring practice session saw the junior dial it in a bit. He tossed some beauties that landed right on the mark and earned the praise of Riley and Danny Langsdorf.

Mannion also displayed a heightened sense of awareness in the pocket and was more mindful of where his receivers were in relation to where he could feasibly toss a completion.

The measureable talent is there – Mannion is 6-5, has a strong arm and knows how to put some mustard on the short and midrange passes.

Yet the intangibles – confidence, poise under pressure and reliability - were generally lacking in Mannion's spring performance.

If early on fall camp continues on the same path, and I were Mike Riley, Mannion would remain primarily with the 2's, with Vaz seeing the lion's share of snaps with the starting unit and being groomed for the beginning of the season.

From this chair, the thing Mannion needs the most in order to succeed is a stable, constant running game that forces a defense to play off the blitz a little more and compensate for effective tailback play.

The less pressure Mannion feels throughout the game, the more consistent, smart and accurate his throws become.

The Youth
Brent Vanderveen logged a mildly successful spring, but has improved significantly since I last observed him prior to the Alamo Bowl. Six months ago, a lot of Vanderveen's tosses were wobbly and inaccurate – he looked like a place kicker that was trying to throw touchdowns. While observing him during the spring, I noticed a new confidence and sense of purpose when he came onto the field.

Perhaps the fact that he moved past walk on Richie Harrington in the QB rotation early on spurred the redshirt freshman onward, giving him that boost that allowed him to get some real quarterback play in with the scout team.

Vanderveen was fond of throwing to the likes of J.C. Grim, Micah Hatfield and Gilmore, and had a good handle on tossing successful screens. He's well back of the other two quarterbacks but the redshirt freshman played good football relative to his time with the scout team, and had a great spring game where he accumulated 153 passing yards and went 15-27.

Vanderveen has impressive throwing power, and as his comfort in the pocket grew as spring transpired, so did his willingness to move around and try to make something happen outside the pocket.

Richie Harrington had a very minimal role in the offensive schemes, seeing limited time with the scout team. Harrington struggled to make plays happen during the spring – he bobbled snaps, took too long to get rid of the ball, and when he did get rid of the rock it was kind of a crap-shoot as far as throw accuracy and power are concerned.

To Harrington's credit, he is probably the quickest, albeit not the most athletic, OSU quarterback. And he showed toward the tail end of spring that he was comfortable moving around in the pocket to open up shorter throws. He has the potential to excel as a more mobile passer, but Harrington's spring session left a lot of room for improvement.

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