CORVALLIS- A strong day of practice went into the books for the Beavers on Wednesday. A familiar face returns to full speed reps on offense, while the defense had one of its better days of practice in a long while. Also Mike Cavanaugh talked about two members of the Oregon State O-line heading into Colorado – all that and more in this report.
Practice Notes – Offense
Junior wideout Brandin Cooks made a full return to practice today, seeing a variety of reps with the 1's and making some other-worldly catches. Cooks was playing with the speed and heart displayed in each of OSU's last four tilts, and despite missing some time he certainly looked ready for the Colorado secondary on Saturday.
Plenty of question marks remain for the OSU offensive line corps, chief among them how the blockers on Sean Mannion's right hand side, Sean Harlow and Grant Bays, will fare. BF.C asked Offensive Line Coach Mike Cavanaugh about just how much of what Harlow and Bays do on Saturday's should come naturally to them as guys who have been blocking for some time now. How much of their success is dependent upon natural ability and game flow?
"I don't think anything comes natural," Cavanaugh said. "We've got a whole new system (at OSU), the good thing is they are hard workers – focused and paying attention. Sean Harlow – he's got a great mindset."
With that great mindset, is the rest of what Harlow needs to work on purely physical?
"Big time," Cavanaugh said. "Obviously, continue (honing his) technique, get bigger and stronger, but he's got all those other things that you love. He is tough and nasty. You know, he wasn't perfect last Saturday but he battled his ass off, so that was fun to see."
For the most part, the offensive line provided strong blocking against both the pass and the run against the scout team on Wednesday. Mannion and Cody Vaz had plenty of time to throw, and red zone blocking was better than average. Harlow and Bays struggled with some minute adjustments, and Cav was the first to let them know about it.
The latest is that within the next two weeks, OSU is expecting to see both Gavin Andrews and Grant Enger return to the ranks of first team O-linemen. Until then, it could be hold-on time.
Running backs Terron Ward and Chris Brown both had impressive performances on Wednesday. The Beaver offense has allocated more attention to the run game throughout practice this week to varying degrees of success, but both Brown and Ward have rolled with the punches and picked up solid gains both on the ground and through the air when their numbers are called.
Should Beaver Nation expect to get a glance of what Brown can do when the orange and black take on Colorado? Well, one theory is that has everything to do with the game situation – Brown might not see many looks unless the Beavers are up by a significant margin. But if the 2013 season has been indicative of anything for the OSU offense, it is that they have to be prepared for anything.
Freshman wideout Victor Bolden and senior slotback Kevin Cummings also stood out during Wednesday's practice. Bolden had a gorgeous catch in the end zone – Mannion's pass was a bit behind the youngster, and it initially looked like the connection would be chalked up to an incomplete pass, but a stellar second effort by Bolden saw him reeling the rock it into his chest right before the ball hit the ground
Fullback Tyler Anderson has been inactive since last week, and it doesn't look like that is going to change in time for the junior to help the running game when Colorado comes to town. When asked if Tyler was going to return to game shape by Saturday, Mike Riley simply said, "My guess is no."
That likely means walk-on fullback Ricky Ortiz will get the nod as he did last week. Ortiz entered the season as the third string FB behind Anderson and Michael Balfour.
There were stops galore for the first team D-line and linebackers. OSU's scout team offense has been running a combination of Colorado looks and the Beavs seem prepared for what they saw on Wednesday. On Wednesday, the first team D managed to put a poignant halt to what the scout team was trying to do for the most part.
Defensive ends Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton were tough to beat on Wednesday – Colorado might be a good matchup for the Beaver D if Wednesday's session was any indication. Sophomore defensive end Lavonte Barnett was a presence with the second team D-line, and he had some impressive looks as well.
Sean Martin, the senior cornerback at the nickel slot, made his first fully-padded appearance in practice on Wednesday after suffering an injury to his right shoulder against SDSU. Martin wasn't quite as crisp as he usually is but his mistakes were minimal and he did his part to seal up holes in the secondary.
The secondary didn't have as banner a day as the other defensive units – it wasn't bad but there were some missed opportunities in the pattern today when it came to shutting down the scout team offense. Some of the issues from this chair were the usual culprits - bad angles of pursuit and the like. But later, corner Steven Nelson and safety Tyrequek Zimmerman started shutting some plays down and Rommel Mageo found heightened success in his responsibilities.
With the continued absence of DT Siale Hautau from the interior line rotation, sophomore Brandon Bennett has been seeing the majority of reps as a second team DT in his stead. What Bennett brings to the table – speed and quick hands in the pit -- is wholly different than what Hautau offers, a big body meant to close running lanes.
As such, the makeup of the second team D-line is more about speed, speed, speed. Bennett had a strong day operating alongside d-tackle Edwin Delva. Don't be surprised if you hear Bennett's name called more than once on Saturday based on how he looked Wednesday. Bennett can be downright ferocious at times when he finds a groove. Bennett got a big sack against SDSU this past weekend, is he hungry for more?