What we've learned from spring: Beav RBs

CORVALLIS – So what is up with the OSU running backs after 15 practices? Does Storm Woods look more dynamic and able to better withstand injuries? Will Terron Ward keep the ball rolling and continue to produce big yardage for the Beavers in the fall? And what about Chris Brown – how is he doing? And how does the group shape up overall for running backs coach Chris Brasfield?

The Veterans
I wasn't all that bullish on Storm Woods as the 2012 regular closed out. But I reminded myself Woods was but a freshman, and players do grow…

Sure enough, something about this spring kicked Woods into high gear.

Maybe it was the notion that Terron Ward was supplying some friendly competition for a starting role – perhaps it was the difference a few months of lifting and film analysis can make.

Either way, Woods looked ready for prime time during spring ball. He frequently ran with the 1's, and proved that he could handle the weight of extra run and screen packages that OSU hopes to implement successfully down the road.

He now has a whole season under his belt – and that transition from rookie to veteran is a big step for most players. Sure, Woods will only be a sophomore in 2013 but he grabs the veteran moniker based more on improved intangible qualities than anything else. His ability to see the whole field and the holes in the defense went from decent to great by the culmination of spring, and he appeared much more poised when he had the rock tucked under his arm.

Granted, this was merely spring ball, but it was not hard to notice that Woods went from thinking he could to knowing he could.

With Woods focusing less on trying to do every little thing right, it gave him an opportunity to zero in on the physical aspects of his game that needed improvement. His receiving hands improved, and spring ball lent itself to Woods lowering his body into would-be tacklers more and generally becoming more aggressive when he had the ball in his hands.

He took less time to make his cut, and snuck out of the backfield quicker than I remember him doing last season. Woods holds onto the ball like a starving man holds onto a free Christmas dinner – he appeared to be enjoying contact a little bit more, and is really looking like the type of weapon OSU needs in the backfield to help make the passing game go in 2013.

Note: Woods sustained a concussion during the latter stages of spring ball and did not participate in the spring game. He is expected to be 100 percent for fall camp.

SWEETENING AN ALREADY sweet deal, OSU has Ward in the backfield. The junior is not entirely counter to what Woods offers to the Beaver running attack, but he certainly is a different style of tailback.

Ward is a smash mouth ball carrier – he likes popping defenders just as much as they like laying into him. Listed at 5-7, 200 with tree trunks for legs, Ward is a powerful, agile and smart runner whose motor is always going. Spring proved that he is more than just a potential replacement for Woods should the tentative starter incur an injury.

Ward is a very nice complement to Woods' style, and the type of guy that could easily get the first carry in a handful of games.

He fared well as a pass receiver, and his speed lends itself to those quick little one yard throws going for big yardage if the blocking falls into place correctly.

Despite Ward's pension for also being slippery and elusive, I feel that his real strength rests in his ability to excel as a downhill runner.

Indeed, Ward has a nasty habit of trying to be too slippery – he tends to go east to west before he makes his initial turn up-field. As a result, it is common to see Ward get dropped for a small loss or a small gain, when the play could have gone for more.

The junior could also be a factor on special teams – he saw the lion's share of kick returns in 2012 and Riley mentioned him in the special teams conversation quite a bit this spring.

The Youth
Chris Brown had a rough start to spring ball, characterized by some trouble in handling the pigskin and routes that seemed to run into – as opposed to away from – black defensive jerseys. He still seemed to be feeling his way too much to really be effective. But as camp progressed, Brown really caught my eye as he started to find his stride.

Brown was the only tailback that saw noteworthy time with the scout team and as such, he was the guy getting all the reps when the young guys would close out practice.

Those reps paid off, as Brown started catching the ball more consistently, displayed more agility once he did get the ball in his hands and showed that he could be an effective runner if the blocking was conducive to him breaking a big one.

I admire Brown for improving on one fundamental element of his game that was seriously lacking when I observed him last year – ball control.

Brown was a fumble machine with lard on his gloves just a few months ago, and I went into spring expecting similar results from the redshirt freshman tailback. I like being proved wrong, and Brown did just that after a short period.

Not only did his ability to control the rock improve as spring went on, but he did a much better job of seeing the ball into his hands before turning up-field when he got involved in passing scenarios. Brown is still pretty clearly behind Ward and Woods as far as potential playing time is concerned, but do not discount his ability to come up big if his number gets called during the fall.

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