PRACTICE: Prepping for the Air Raid

CORVALLIS – The Beaver secondary figures to take center stage on Saturday with Oregon State going up against the Air Raid offense at Washington State. BF.C asked Oregon State secondary coach Rod Perry about the ins and outs of preparing his unit for the pass-heavy offense of Wazzu and their head coach Mike Leach. Plus, we have a rundown on the Beavs' practice…

"With the secondary, you've always got to be able to defend the pass – no matter who you're playing against because the big plays are what beat you," Perry said. "We really don't approach (practice) any different. (WSU) does throw it a lot, but you've always got to be ready to defend the pass first and foremost when you are playing in the secondary."

WSU's offensive production doesn't really come via the deep routes. It's a short passing attack designed to find weak spots in the zones, exacerbated by spreading a defense out. Players have been practicing against that and the coaches have ample film on Washington State to help guide their defensive approach.

"You watch the tape and it shows that they do throw the ball out there quick and make you have to tackle those guys," Perry said. "And that's kind of part of their run (game) – they have very good athletes that can run after the catch."

So how important will reaction time be for the secondary and other Beaver defensemen to stop those shorter passes that are meant to result in big gains?

"Everything comes back to athleticism and a pass defense combination of being able to rush the passer, and you have to be able to have very, very good coverage." Perry said.

The latter half of Wednesday's practice session focused heavily on pass defense, something that OSU has struggled with at times. But on the whole, the starting defense – and particularly the secondary – was stout and corners and safeties had a good bead on the ball.

In the red zone, said Perry, the recent improvement by his troops has come through focus and repetition.

"Guys are focusing, knowing that the red zone is a big situational part of the game," Perry said. "You have to keep people from trying to score."

WITH BOTH TEAMS expected to air it out, that likely means a longer game with a lot of plays run. Whether that means more substitution than normal in the secondary is anyone's guess but sophomore corner Larry Scott, sophomore safety Micah Audiss and redshirt freshman safety Zack Robinson have all stepped up their games recently.

Perry indicated it's a more advanced corps of second team corners and safeties than he began the year with, though junior safety Ryan Murphy, senior Tyrequek Zimmerman, senior corner Rashaad Reynolds and junior corner Steven Nelson are your starters.

"They've been working very hard, your always trying to get ready to develop players so they can be ready to play, and that has been our approach since day one," Perry said of the youth. "The next player up has to be ready to go, they have to prepare like they are going to be the starter, because sooner or later they might be in there."

OSU's secondary has sharpened up some after a disastrous home opener against Eastern Washington and struggles against Utah and San Diego State. Angles of pursuit seem less rigid, open field tackling has improved and any holes left open by OSU defenders appear much less pronounced than they were earlier this season.

Perry chalks a lot of the improvement up to the confidence that comes with winning some nail biters early on.

"Winning creates a climate where good things happen. When you start to win people begin to gain confidence and feel good about themselves. Winning is the most important thing for us right now," said Perry.

Practice Notes
  • Despite the fact that sophomore running back Storm Woods looks ready to go live against the Cougars. Wednesday's practice saw junior Terron Ward seeing the lion's share of the starting reps in the backfield. This could be merely precautionary to ensure that Woods is 100 percent come Saturday, and Woods certainly got some work in with the 1s.

  • Junior quarterback Sean Mannion found his targets with ease. They included all the usual suspects, including junior tight end Connor Hamlett who at 6-7 is the tallest grabmaster at Mannion's disposal. Sophomore TE Caleb Smith had some good looks, and sophomore Kellen Clute got into the mix as well.

  • The Beavs spread the ball around liberally under Mannion, with junior receiver Brandin Cooks, senior wideout Kevin Cummings and the burgeoning force that is sophomore Richard Mullaney combining to put together a solid day. Micah Hatfield also got in some work behind the Beavs' big three at wideout.

  • There was much less barking from O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh, so his starting line must have been doing something right. The starting front five is showing signs of consistency, both individually and as a group. True freshman lineman Sean Harlow is still battling as he is both the youngest and least experienced of the bunch -- and some of his inexperienced did show Wednesday. But in watching him Wednesday I noticed he was standing up the guy across from him, moving his feet and working the shoulders of blitzing defenders with a little more proficiency. Now if only he could magically gain 20 pounds of muscle before Saturday, as opposed to this offseason…

  • Zimmerman had one of his best practices in a long time. He made life difficult for scout team QB Kyle Kempt all practice long.

  • Nelson had an interception on the day plus some great pass break ups, and made it all look nearly effortless. Don't scoff too much at all the "Nelson Island" chatter amongst orange and black supporters, because Nelson, who has four picks in five games this season, is getting it done. Robinson also had an interception on the day.

  • Junior DT's Siale Hautau and Edwin Delva and sophomore tackle Brandon Bennett got in some good work behind the starters and the Beavs were very active on Wednesday with adjustments and a diverse combination of fronts and looks.

  • The linebackers bounced back on Wednesday after a poor showing the day before. D.J. Alexander and Jabral Johnson in particular were very engaged and from this chair, the pair looked sharper today than they have all week.

    Running with the 1's
    QB – Sean Mannion
    TB – Terron Ward/Storm Woods
    FB – Tyler Anderson
    H-Back – Connor Hamlett
    TE – Caleb Smith
    LT- Michael Philipp
    LG- Josh Andrews
    C- Isaac Seumalo
    RG- Grant Enger
    RT- Sean Harlow
    FL –Brandin Cooks
    SE – Richard Mullaney
    SB –Kevin Cummings

    DE – Dylan Wynn
    DT – John Braun / Siale Hautau
    DT – Mana Rosa/Edwin Delva/Brandin Bennett
    DE –Scott Crichton
    WIL –D.J. Alexander
    MIK – Rommel Mageo
    SAM –Jabral Johnson
    CB- Rashaad Reynolds
    CB- Steven Nelson
    CB-Sean Martin (Nickel)
    FS – Tyrequek Zimmerman
    SS – Ryan Murphy

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