CORVALLIS – Three O-linemen have returned to the Beaver fold – a key fifth-year senior among them - and things looked a little different out on the practice field. The Beaver offense displayed plenty of highlights and while it was hard to find flaws in one defensive group, lapses in concentration were evident in another. Also, Mike Riley had a few things to say…
The Daily Riley
Tuesday saw a full return to playing time for senior offensive tackle Grant Enger, and fragmented returns for two others - sophomore center Josh Mitchell and sophomore o-tackle Gavin Andrews.
"(Having Enger back) should help all the way around," Mike Riley said. "You know the other guys – Grant Bays went in there and did a nice job earlier, Roman Sapolu did a nice job. We had some guys fill in and do well but Grant is a fifth year senior and poised for a good year this year. It's good to have him back."
Oregon State's O-line is slowly working Mitchell and Andrews back into the mix. Andrews had been inactive for weeks after contracting an illness, and Mitchell was rounding out of an ankle sprain he sustained earlier in the season.
"The good news is they're back," Riley said of the O-linemen. "The bad news is they're rusty."
Andrews has had perhaps the toughest time shaking off that rust, and his return to seeing reps with the first team has been pockmarked with stints of good to mediocre play. Freshman lineman Sean Harlow has been seeing the bulk of the reps with the starting offensive line. Whether or not that will change prior to the Beavs heading to Martin Stadium is still anyone's guess.
"They're both practicing right now, and we haven't made a decision as to the (RT) starter," Riley said. "It's ironic – Gavin was slated to start and was sick for a long time but now Sean Harlow has played a lot more in games than Gavin ever has. We've got a decision to make, but we are glad to have both of them."
Harlow - who stands at 6-4, 284 pounds – is less imposing compared to the 6-5, 325-pound Andrews. BF.C asked Riley if Harlow's game experience might effectively make up that gap in size when it comes to performance on the field.
"I think experience is a big factor, and frankly, just the most solid player is what you are looking for." Riley said.
Practice Notes Offense
The return of Enger, Andrews and Mitchell provided multiple upsides on Tuesday. Not only was the offensive line clicking with a little more enthusiasm, but having Enger back with the 1's opened up opportunities for the run game to become more explosive.
Sophomore tailback Storm Woods and junior tailback Terron Ward had a fair share of looks on the day and looked crisp and energized when the ball was in their hands.
Not surprisingly, the Beaver passing attack was very stout on Tuesday. Junior wideout Brandin Cooks was his usual self – making big catches and ripping off chunks of yardage when given room to run with the ball. Sophomore receiver Richard Mullaney had some big grabs against the scout team defense, and senior slotback Kevin Cummings was reliable, getting solid position with his body and making some nice grabs.
Junior H-back Connor Hamlett was another bright spot on the offensive side of the ball. Hamlett was limited last week for precautionary reasons, but looked good on Tuesday. Sophomore TE Caleb Smith was a factor as well. Smith's hands and concentration have steadily improved throughout the early swing of the season.
With Woods back in action, Ward running at full speed and the offensive line gradually being replenished, you would think that the Beavs were just about set to face WSU and establish themselves on the ground and in the short passing game. This may be the case, but there just might be another ingredient that could add to the potency of what the Beavs have brewing – backup running back Chris Brown. It would seem doubtful that Brown will see more than a handful of looks (if any) against WSU now that Woods is healthy, but the sophomore continues to see repetitions in practice and has turned up his game of late.
Secondary coordinator Rod Perry must have been all smiles after Tuesday's practice, because his cornerbacks and safeties were playing with gusto and dominating the pattern against the scout team offense. Junior safety duo Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman were all over the place - in the best way possible. The pair were quick to make contact against the opposing running attack and fared well in coverage. Junior corner Steven Nelson had a handful of tipped passes and managed to straight smother opposing wide receivers on certain plays.
Senior corner Rashaad Reynolds, sophomore Larry Scott and junior Malcolm Marable were impressive as well. First team defenders are encouraged not to be unnecessarily physical in practice to avoid accidental injuries, but this trio managed to stay tight enough on their marks that scout team QB Kyle Kempt frequently had to throw the ball away, or not throw it at all.
Fifth year senior Steven Christian has seen an increase in his looks as a substitute safety in certain packages recently and has not disappointed. Christian, above all, has great field vision and awareness of where the ball is going once it has left the QB's hands.
While it was a banner day for the secondary, Tuesday was not the day to be on linebacker coach Trent Bray's bad side. Jabral Johnson, Rommel Mageo and D.J. Alexander had a tough go of the days practice session, never quite falling into place in the defensive schematic. Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker and Bray were sure to let the young athletes know that they were performing below expectations. From this chair, it was just a rather sluggish day for the group.
I watched the D-line for quite some time, and found very little to critique. The front four looked well-prepared and eager to starting hitting in a game after the bye week.
In a slight change of pace, Banker and his defensive coaching staff held two long huddles during practice. It was impossible to make out what the unit was discussing but the pace of the starting defense changed for the better after each huddle.