Fall Camp: What we've learned about the Beavs

CORVALLIS – The Beavs have yet to run an official scrimmage this fall camp - a grudging nod to a pesky and active injury bug, but we've still learned a whole lot about the 2013 Beavs through 12 days, more than a few of which contained two practices. Our man on the ground the last two weeks has poured over the data points compiled through first-hand observation, and filed this compelling report…

I've covered every practice this fall camp for Oregon State and have notepads crammed full of details and observations to show for it. So let's get into it…

Oh, that secondary
Rod Perry's group of safeties and corners has been rock solid and for my money, they've served as the highlight at the halfway point of fall camp. So. Many. Interceptions. At safety, Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman have been stellar. Murphy is just one heck of a safety and Zimmerman is under-appreciated by the media, although maybe not for long. And Cyril Noland has taken a large leap forward. Also having an eye-opening camp has been corner Larry Scott – much more prevalent. CB Dashon Hunt might not be fitted for a redshirt, he's been involved in a lot of what OSU is doing in the secondary. Bottom line, Oregon State looks to have a very good secondary, though I'm not willing to put them in the conference's upper echelon until we see them through a few Saturdays. So you've got Murphy and Dr. Z as the starting safeties and Rashaad Reynolds at one corner. Who wins the battle at the other spot? Well…

And In This Corner
From my chair, and unless something really changes the next couple weeks, junior Steven Nelson has earned the starting gig opposite Reynolds. He is one of the few defenders who has been able to keep a relatively consistent bead on the speedy Brandin Cooks. He's tenacious, gets under the skin of receivers, has a wide radar for airborne footballs and looks far more comfortable than he did in the spring. Perry has been giving Nelson the lion's share of snaps with the starting defense. Sure, there are a few things the junior could work on, such as improving his reads, but he's really had a good camp. If Nelson's the guy, senior Sean Martin will undoubtedly be the starting nickel corner, a position and defensive formation Mike Riley has said the Beavs will use to combat the proliferation of the spread. Martin's had a good camp, don't misunderstand that, it just hasn't been quite as good, quite as explosive as has Nelson's. I love what the Beavs are doing with the nickel, and I think it has the potential to vault OSU's defensive backfield into the limelight. I don't say that lightly.

Let's split
Obum Gwacham looks like a virtual lock to be the starting split end against Eastern Washington on Aug. 31. Things could still happen -- injuries, Richard Mullaney could return to 100 percent and start killing it, etc. But Gwacham sure looks like the guy at this point. His hands are still adventurous, but it's hard to beat his sheer athleticism. His quickness off the line is better than most and Gwacham (6-5) is a bigger target than Mullaney (6-1). He's not only getting the reps, this week especially he has been earning lots of accolades from WRs coach Brent Brennan. Mullaney, as much as it pains me to admit it, just hasn't been healthy enough to make as much of a splash.

A quiet camp at the slot
Unless something drastically changes, Kevin Cummings is your starter here. He's not a speed guy, but he gets the job done and has good hands. Where he really shines – he's a fantastic route runner. He knows the OSU system very well. There's room for improvement with his blocking --flanker and split end are the more glamorous spots in OSU's offense but the better Cummings blocks, the more attention goes to Cooks. And that should in turn lead to Cummings slipping in there and surprises some teams out in the pattern. Malik Gilmore is learning the ropes here after moving over from split end and Brennan has indicated he wants to see more out of Gilmore. Not only does he need to bone up on the intricacies of the slot position before he's ready to compete for the starting gig, Brennan says he wants to see more effort and more hustle. Gilmore has the chance to be really good here in my opinion, but halfway through camp, there remains a good amount that needs to happen to get him from here to there.

And the starting QB will be…
Before fall camp even began, USAToday reported Riley said he'd made his decision but wasn't going to make it public. Riley then later said he was going to announce it at the end of this week… before changing his mind. I have an opinion. Sean Mannion will be under center on Aug. 31. Mannion to me wins the job because he has been fairly accurate and is starting to better move around in the pocket and create plays. He is 6-5, has the strong arm and with the last few days taken into account, has found a smidge more accuracy. Mannion has been improving since fall camp began, albeit slightly and his TD-to-INT ratio still remains a concern. Cody Vaz has demonstrated improved arm strength, accuracy and like Mannion, more mobility in the pocket. But he hasn't shown near the spark he did in his debut against BYU last season. He has thrown a good number of picks, underthrown some targets he shouldn't have, and his timing hasn't been there all the time. His recent overthrows of Cooks were a bummer. All that said, this battle has been pretty damned even. Vaz has certainly had his moments. And the bottom line is neither guy has separated himself by a clear, wide margin with his performance on the field. In my book, Mannion has played best, and I also believe Riley wants to keep the competition going in an effort to spur both on to improve. But here's another bottom line at camp's midpoint -- I'm not sold with what is behind door No. 1 or door No. 2.

A Burning Desire
Riley and the OSU coaches have dropped subtle hints on who will redshirt and who won't and we've been filing those away every time we talk to them. Riley and his staff have indicated they'll pick 4-5 players. Those most in the conversation in my view are OL Sean Harlow, LB Darrell Songy, WR Victor Bolden, RB Damien Haskins, CB Dashon Hunt, S Justin Strong and S Brandon Arnold. Songy and Harlow are practically locks as injuries have dictated their immediate implementation with the 2's and starting rotation. Garrett Weinreich's rehab makes Harlow or Nolan Hansen potentially next up at tackle behind Michael Philipp, with Harlow the clear frontrunner. Assistant Trent Bray made it clear the plan is to burn Songy's redshirt with D.J. Alexander (knee) almost certain to be out at least three more weeks. Songy had already jumped into the 2s before Alexander went down – he's a fast learner and always around the football. Jabral Johnson meanwhile moves into that starting WIL spot, and can play both the WIL and SAM.

Burn a redshirt, Part II
Hunt has been seeing solid time at cornerback with the 2's. Whether Strong or Arnold play is up to Perry and Banker and might be mostly dependent on if they could provide impact on special teams at gunner. Bolden is 50-50 at in my mind – he is good enough to see immediate playing time, but would he benefit more from a year spent on the sidelines and is Oregon State deep enough with him redshirting? I really don't foresee the redshirt taken off Haskins in ‘13 – he is still a project, needs work in the receiving game out of the backfield and OSU has Storm Woods and Terron Ward. But yes, it sure is fun watching him use his low center of gravity and slam into defenders with his 5-8, 223-pound frame. The guy is a dump truck with legs. Riley said he might announce at least a couple redshirt decisions on Monday, and he hinted he might have a QB decision too. We'll bring all that to you and more, as soon as the head man lets it be known.

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