What we've learned from spring: OSU WRs

CORVALLIS – Who will step up at split end? Can one player manage to put up similar numbers to the departed Markus Wheaton, thusly negating some of the pressure that will be allocated to the new Beav go-to guy, Brandin Cooks? Which of the young guns are making a bid for playing time? How did the Gwacham-Gilmore battle go and what can we expect from them moving forward?

From this chair post-spring, the Beavers remain sure of just one guy when it comes to the wideouts – flanker Brandin Cooks.

The Veterans
I took some time during spring ball to look closely at Cooks. I looked for, and expected to see flaws. And I didn't see them.

Cooks is a machine – his speed has no apparent off button, and it is not a stretch to say he has the best hands on the team as well as the highest ceiling in regards to those manning the receiver platoon.

Cooks excelled in spring ball, and I mean truly excelled. He was beating defenders left and right – beating guys who are aware of his tendencies and have been defending against him for the better part of three years. I can only imagine how that will translate as far as potential regular season production goes, where Cooks will be facing opposing corners who are not entirely privy to his habits.

I would consider the junior wideout to be a guy that emerged as one of the oh-so-desired leaders Riley and Co. hoped to see in April. Cooks is not a very loud player – he is simply leading by example. He brings stability to the receiving unit and is one of the few players on the OSU roster who managed to provide me with more answers than questions as spring transpired.

If OSU were to release a tentative depth chart tomorrow based solely on what we saw in spring ball, you would likely see Obum Gwacham as the starting split end. I'm struggling with that notion, because Gwacham put together an uneven performance overall during the month of April, with his strongest play coming in the second half.

Gwacham is a talented athlete, there is little disputing that. But from this seat Gwacham has got a way to go before he can run with the big boys in the Pac-12.

I started the Gwacham Grading System this spring in an attempt to quantify and accurately keep tally of the junior's progress during the 15 practices. I noted frequently that Gwacham had suspect hands, some issues with proper route running and a certain absence of physical presence despite measuring in at 6-5, 227. He frequently rested between the 5-7 ranges (rating scale of 1-10) for skills running the gamut from hands to possession capability.

I was let down by his play for the first few weeks of spring – then something clicked, and Gwacham started to find his stride as spring came to a close. His hands improved, his route running as well, and best of all he started to get aggressive with the guy lined up across from him. My intuition tells me that Gwacham will continue his progress when fall rolls around – but with Richard Mullaney expected to return in August, could Gwacham's reps dwindle when fall camp begins? And if so, will his performance be hindered by fewer looks?

Elsewhere on the receiving front, Kevin Cummings had an average spring, characterized by average speed, average hands – well, average just about anything. Cummings is a good ball player, but he doesn't excel in any one particular area.

But he showed that he's reliable during the spring and I think that is ultimately the attraction of starting Cummings as the slot back come fall.

Riley and Co. know what to expect from him moving forward – a solid amount of yards per game and an occasional touchdown. Cummings won't outrun the fastest pursuers, but he is aggressive and seems to enjoy frustrating his opponents by being a little handsy in the open field.

Cummings can block too, mostly due to strong technique rather than physical power.

Behind Cummings is Micah Hatfield, another senior vying for time at the slot and split end positions. Hatfield stepped it up this spring, and showed that he has all the weapons necessary to make an impact on the Beaver offense in the fall.

Hatfield is of average height and light (6-1, 180) – he has above average speed and brings a level of maneuverability to the wide receiver corps that was partially lost with the graduation of Markus Wheaton. Hatfield is also one of the more versatile players, and he brings dependable hands and an in-depth knowledge of the playbook to the table. Hatfield's role appeared to be increasing as spring ball came to end – it should be very interesting to see where the senior lands in August.

Mitch Singler is a go-to guy…. on the scout team. Singler's productivity has remained somewhat constant since the beginning of last fall – his hands have improved, but all in all he had a mediocre spring session that indicated he will probably remain a scout/third team receiver heading into the fall and regular season.

The Young Guys
Malik Gilmore was in competition with Gwacham for playing time in the spring, and in my view he did not come out on top. Gilmore had a successful spring, with some improvement in his ability to make tough catches, stretch the field and consistently reel the ball into his chest.

Gilmore struggled when it came to catching powerful passes, especially those that came from the cannon arm of Mannion. Those short 5-10 yard lasers from Mannion that typified the success of guys like Cooks and Wheaton in 2012 often fell to the ground when Gilmore was the target. I attribute this to the fact that Gilmore has a heck of a time seeing the ball into his gloves before he makes his turn up-field.

That said, he has a physicality others lack and if starts to play with confidence, the picture could suddenly look a lot different.

J.C. Grim is one of the younger players that caught my eye during the spring session. Grim did not experience an overwhelming about of reps, but the redshirt freshman is similar to Hatfield in the sense that he is a very well-rounded athlete with a talent for catching the ball and making something out of nothing once the rock is in his hands.

Grim was a favorite target of Brent Vanderveen – the two established the type of receiver/QB relationship that develops with time, and eventually blossoms if that type of simultaneous growth remains constant for a season or two.

Blair Cavanaugh (RS FR) and Stevie Coury (FR) were a lot of fun to watch this spring. They are short, fast, and play with a lot of heart. Yet, it is hard to imagine either one of these players making a significant bid for playing time in the immediate future. Physically, Cavanaugh (5-8, 172) and Coury (5-10, 148) are at a disadvantage to just about every defender they will encounter, and neither player has the soft hands and unprecedented agility that make some shorter athletes (such as Cooks) tremendous weapons despite their small stature.

The Tough Question – Will it be Mullaney or Gwacham at split end in the fall?

Mullaney sat out the entire spring session recuperating from shoulder surgery. The last time he saw action was late December.

Gwacham is not as capable a receiver as Mullaney is, but he has the advantage of having gone through spring ball. Gwacham just got done with a month's worth of running, catching and developing his technique under Brent Brennan. Mullaney has been in neutral for upwards of five months now.

This decision could have some massive implications for the potential success of the Beaver aerial attack in the following months.

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