CORVALLIS - Red zone drills were the name of the game Monday night for OSU. Swatted passes and interceptions were served courtesy of the defense, but the offense rallied and accumulated some sweet grabs through the air. Some glimpses at various defensive constructions were also on the menu, and a key linebacker made a big play that drew praise from his cohorts on the sideline.
Practice Notes – PM session
Quarterback Sean Mannion faired significantly better than Cody Vaz on Monday night -- despite some severely overthrown passes -- after Vaz had a great AM practice session. Mannion threw one pick (to Tyrequek Zimmerman), but otherwise mostly found his targets with consistency. He was particularly on the same page with Brandin Cooks, Caleb Smith and Connor Hamlett with short, zippy throws that were hard to defend.
Vaz also threw a pick – this one to Dashon Hunt running with the 2's. The senior also had a pass tipped by Lavonte Barnett. Vaz's 6-1 height lends itself to having more balls potentially tipped down at the line than does Mannion at 6-5. The OSU D-linemen have become increasingly aware of this, working to put themselves in a position to swipe the pass down before it clears the line of scrimmage.
Vaz scrambled once toward the start of red zone drills. I didn't catch whether or not he officially crossed the pylons on his run, but it sure was close if it didn't clear the chalk. Of course, neither of the two starting candidates here are real runners nor read-option types but instead are pocket passers by trade.
Redshirt freshman QB Brent Vanderveen is improving by the day and it showed in a few of the zingers he tossed into the end zone Monday night. His passes are less wobbly than they were in the spring, and he is starting to throw more to where a receiver is going, as opposed to where he was. This seems simplistic and fundamental, sure – but it points toward Vanderveen becoming more and more comfortable as a passer.
Senior slotback Kevin Cummings was back in action for the second half of Monday's practice sessions. Cummings was eased into things, but did manage to get in a bit of a scuffle with Jabral Johnson early on, after the sophomore ‘backer allowed his arms to get a little too familiar with Cummings' neck. That action was swiftly broken up, a brief huddle was held to say 'Hey, you guys shouldn't that,' – then it was business as usual.
Richard Mullaney was back with the receiving unit for the latter half of Day 7 as well, running routes as a split end option along with Obum Gwacham. Mullaney went at what I venture to be about 85 percent for the time he was on the field. The sophomore receiver did drop a rather easy pass by his standards, a zinger that would have landed him about four yards shy of the end zone had he caught it. Mullaney retired with a little over 15 minutes remaining in the practice session, where he removed his gear and trotted to the offensive sideline.
Gwacham and Mullaney were about even for the night as far as production in the red zone. Gwacham saw a few more looks go his way, and he turned in a higher volume of receptions – as well as a higher volume of dropped passes. Both are considered to be red zone threats, Mullaney because of his strength and sticky hands, Gwacham because of his leaping ability and tall frame. Neither played at a level above average for the night. Gwacham found his way into the end zone on one or two occasions, one may have been a questionable sideline grab worthy of review had their been officials present.
As you can imagine, Brandin Cooks was a threat. He made two sweet grabs in the endzone – one a highly contested throw that the defense (and I) thought had been an interception for all of two seconds before Brandin Cooks raised his hand in the air, the pigskin firmly in his possession.
Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith were also worked pretty hard down inside the 20-yard line. The duo provided adequate targets, and were thrown to often as a result. Hamlett had a few more catches by my count.
Not surprisingly, Terron Ward, Tyler Anderson and Storm Woods all got some looks as part of OSU's red zone drills, pretty much all of them through the air. Anderson and Ward both scored TD's via the airwaves on Monday night.
The Beavs defense had a decent night defending the red zone from white clad receivers and tailbacks, as the Beavs played a good amount of base defense. Oregon State also looked at multiple nickel and dime sets toward the end of practice when the team switched from simply working the end zone to running some game situations with the 1's and 2's.
Dashon Hunt and Tyrequek Zimmerman's picks notwithstanding, I found myself impressed with the ability of cornerbacks Steven Nelson and Sean Martin again. All in all, the two had a great Monday (two practice sessions). The evening practice pitted Martin against Gwacham on a few occasions, and Nelson against Cooks. Martin stuffed Gwacham on a few tosses to the corner of the end zone.
I mentioned above that the starting OL killed it Monday night, but it would be rude to the D-line to disregard the fact that they cannot physically hit the QB's at this stage, so some of that time came by virtue of pass rushers not being able to make the contact they would in games. For example, Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton were into the backfield quicker than you can say "ouch" on more than one snap, but they had to stop a yard short of the signal caller and basically just wave their hands around. How much of the red zone success from Monday night is related to this, well that is anyone's guess.
It will be interesting to see how much of a red zone threat MIK ‘backer Joel Skotte develops into in weeks to come. A bee-line pass to the back of the end zone landed right in the hands of Hamlett, and it should have been good for six. But Skotte got a hand on the ball right before Hamlett claimed full possession and knocked the ball free. It sent the defensive side of the ball into an uproar.
Steven Christian saw some playing time as a second team safety Monday night. It was a brief stint, perhaps one meant to get him reacquainted and back in the swing of things. The senior safety saw his time behind Ryan Murphy.
This is a compliment to the defense as a whole – they made sure that the corner of the end zone was the most appealing place to throw to, but certainly not an easy target to hit. Linebackers crowded the middle of the field, making it hard for big TE's to run effective slant routes, and when QB's were forced to go to their second or third read in deep pockets of the end zone, the corners and safeties were all over the ball. Terrific red zone defense by the 1's, 2's and scout team.
Rashaad Reynolds donned sweats instead of pads, redshirt freshman safety A.J. Hedgecock sat out, and Malcolm Marable dressed but did not participate in red zone defense – the junior corner spent the majority of his time watching the defense work from the corner of the end zone, next to the DB assistants.
For roughly the last 5-10 minutes of practice, the Beavs ran the length of the field for a couple situational downs. They were swift plays, designed to spread the field and move the ball in a hurry. They weren't exactly no-huddles, but gave those in attendance a glimpse at what the Beavers hurry-up offense could look like in 2013.
Running with the 1's
QB – Sean Mannion
TB – Storm Woods
FB – Tyler Anderson/Michael Balfour
LT- Michael Philipp
LG- Josh Andrews
C- Isaac Seumalo
RG- Grant Enger
RT- Gavin Andrews
FL –Brandin Cooks
SE – Richard Mullaney/Obum Gwacham
SB – Malik Gilmore/Kevin Cummings