CORVALLIS - Our man on the ground feverishly combed through his notebook, through four weeks of practice reports. He tossed it onto the counter, picked through it for hours and hours and then put it all through an Apple II to come up with his positional grades heading into the opener. We start with the offense.
PRE-SEASON POSITION GRADES Offense
I'm tempted to put a minus symbol next to that B, but Sean Mannion's last four practices elevate the grade. Mannion and senior Cody Vaz were not astonishing during the bulk of the practices – they were vanilla, and the QB controversy was, as it always is when it comes to QBs, blown out of proportion. The QB battle itself gets a C because no one man pulled away from the other until the very end - after Mannion had been named the starter. But the rub is this: Mannion has a feisty cast of characters to work with, and youngsters Brent Vanderveen and Kyle Kempt are good stock behind Vaz. Overall the unit earns the B, banking on the notion that Mannion gets it right this year, knowing that he is the guy.
I really like what OSU has at running back. I liked it more when Chris Brown was healthy, but the ever-reliable Jovan Stevenson should adequately fill the gap until Brown returns at 100 percent. My prediction is that Storm Woods is going to be a beast in a variety of ways, but I find myself still a little worried about injuries down the road this season. OSU should consider investing in a cloning machine, so that they could triplicate Terron Ward and just keep a few of him on ice until they get a do-it-all miniature of Steven Jackson. Ward is a great team player and a skilled runner. Call me crazy but based on what I've seen this month, he and Woods – if they stay healthy – could combine for 2,000 yards in 2013.* < br>
*If Riley and Danny Langsdorf really run the ball, these two running backs could carry the team. Of course, the last two years have seen OSU's playcalling shift to the skies…
Tyler Anderson had an above average fall camp session, despite the fullback being of less-and-less utility in the stat book in Corvallis and across the country. OSU just really isn't in the habit of consistently running plays that involve a fullback, such is the nature of their offensive scheme. Yet just about everything I managed to peep of Anderson during these last four weeks has equated to a positive scribble in the BF.C notebook. Anderson is a tough, a talented blocker who is capable of earning yards with his legs and through the air. He and and Michael Balfour, and Ricky Ortiz who got some reps just yesterday with the 1s, have collectively kept steady pace with Storm Woods and Terron Ward and meshed well together, which also didn't hurt their grade.
Offensive Line: C+
The Beavs need healthy blockers if those running backs are going to rise to my A- and there's cause for concern there. Only three members of the starting O-line made it through fall camp with little more than a nick. The silver lining is that trio was of the senior year variety. The guy who will likely be starting at center on Saturday has been standing on the sideline for more than 10 days with a bruised knee, and the starting RT came down with a very untimely illness that could render him inactive for maybe three more weeks. The good news is the guy at center is a star already in his second season and the RT should adjust better than most. OSU continues to struggle to fill even the two deeps at times, and that has plagued them in the past. Give me a healthy Gavin Andrews at RT, Grant Enger back at guard and a positively healthy Isaac Seumalo, and we can talk A's. Util then, they pass.
And yes, I still stand behind my original declaration from months ago that it would have been wise to move Grant Enger over to tackle and Gavin Andrews into the guard slot on the right hand side of the O-line. But if that was to happen, it needed to happen at the beginning of fall camp, so all the nuances could be learned and the chemistry between the line had time to work itself out. But six days before the first snap of the season? No thanks. Tight End: B-
Connor Hamlett, Caleb Smith and Kellen Clute can fetch the rock pretty well, but not-a-one has had to set a block in a "live" scenario since spring ball. Fall camp only marginally reinforced my confidence that these potential dual-threat TE's will set the necessary blocks that will ultimately benefit the team in 2013 – there just wasn't the data available to make that call. Tyler Perry – he is the strongest blocker. But he saw limited reps throughout fall camp compared to the aforementioned trio and their athleticism. The tight end corps was good enough this month, but there wasn't anybody hitting them and pushing them in the fall in the way that the other teams surely will. How will they do?
Wide Receiver: B -
What, a B-minus? Yeah, I went there. Junior Brandin Cooks and senior Kevin Cummings are the only proven members of the receiving corps that did not miss time to injury -- see Richard Mullaney, (as well as Micah Hatfield and J.C. Grim.) "Proven" is the key word here - Obum Gwacham's hands have improved and he is a more confident route runner, but is he game-ready? Gwacham can do some good things, but he is still disposed to small mistakes and inconsistency. Mullaney's injuries have hampered what could have been a whole offseason worth of progress and playmaking. My heart says he's back and ready to soar, but my head says let's see him get through some games injury-free before counting some chickens. Cooks is a solid A, but he'll need some other guys to burn defenses so they don't overcompensate on him. The Beavs need Cummings and others to do just that. The youthful Victor Bolden and a recently-struggling Malik Gilmore add more questions than answers for me at this point. The grade may seem harsh considering my positive coverage of the wideouts this fall, but injuries played a big role here and until it looks like those dings are a thing of the past, that's where I come down.
The Beavs aren't overly tricky or deceptive on offense, it's more about execution. Its complexities lie not in the volume of plays nor in wideouts flying all over the place like a botched prion breech. More than anything, Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf rely on stout blocking from every member of the offense, some frequent rotation of skill/position players -- it's a classy pro-style system. How will it fare against the quicker Pac-12 defenses, though, that's my main concern.