CORVALLIS – Tuesday afternoon's OSU practice was interesting to say the least. We have lots of news and nuggets plus an injury update from Mike Riley, the secondary snagged a few interceptions yet still drew the ire of defensive coordinator Mark Banker, and members of the offensive backfield put up a heck of a fight in drills.
But first, Oregon State head man Mike Riley
offered a bit of a scouting report on this Saturday's opponent in the media huddle on Tuesday.
"Cal is a very talented offensive football team," Riley said. "They have an abundance of good receivers - they have a talented young quarterback, very good running backs and lots of speed.
"Defensively, they are a 4-3 defense, I thought overall their team played a good game against what we know to be a very good UCLA team."
Riley went on to mention that when it comes to breaking down the Cal defense and prepping for the Bears specifically, "You have to have some curve balls for them that you didn't use last week -- you can't assume anything. I think they are a more down-the-field throwing team, that's one of the things that jumps out at you."
He also said that with the prevalence of dynamic passing attacks in the Pac-12, WSU was essentially a good test drive for the Beavs' pass-defense oriented schemes moving forward, and that having a secondary that has posted six interceptions in its last two tilts is no small coincidence.
"When somebody's going to throw the ball as much as these folks are – 50 plus times (per game), if you don't get some interceptions, if you don't make something happen or don't get them out on third down – you can still win, but it makes it harder and harder," Riley said. "When you are going (up against the) throw that much, you've got to get your share of opportunities to intercept the ball."
Caleb Smith saw his day end abruptly.
Smith went out into the pattern while the first team offense and defense were facing off with one another and a toss from Sean Mannion toward Smith was a hair overthrown. As a defender attempted to make contact with the ball, he inadvertently made contact with Smith, tripping up the sophomore tight end and sending him rolling to the turf. Smith came up heavily favoring his ankle, and did not participate for the remainder of practice.
"I think he is going to be alright," Riley said of the tight end. "I'm really worried about that position right now – we had good depth but its disappearing."
Riley was very unhappy after Smith sustained the injury to his ankle. He yelled at his team that they need to work harder to keep guys on their feet in practice scenarios. He then called out to defensive coordinator Mark Banker that he wanted the defense to adjust their coverages.
Connor Hamlett, as BF.C noted Sunday night, is doubtful for Oregon State's road game this weekend against Cal. "I think we will find out for sure about (what is wrong with) Connor later, but he is doubtful for this week." Riley said of the starting H-back. The staff is currently awaiting the results of an MRI on Hamlett's knee. He injured the other knee earlier this year and it is the second MRI for Hamlett since the Colorado game.
Sophomore receiver Richard Mullaney went his second straight day without practicing, suffering from turf toe.
Sophomore DT Brandin Bennett donned sweatpants today and did not practice with the defense. Redshirt freshman safety Zack Robinson was also inactive and in sweatpants instead of pads.
With Smith and Hamlett incapacitated, junior tight end Tyler Perry and sophomore Kellen Clute were their primary substitutes for the duration of practice. Graduate assistant Kyle DeVan, in charge of the tight ends, was busy working on blocking techniques with his group.
Mullaney's replacement at split-end was senior receiver Micah Hatfield, who has been seeing time behind the sophomore since junior WR Obum Gwacham has all but disappeared after being in the starting mix in fall camp. Hatfield looked good on the afternoon, successfully making the catches he was supposed to and running solid routes between defenders.
At the very beginning of practice, the tailbacks, tight ends and fullbacks went head to head with the linebacker corps in pass rush/pass blocking drills. From this chair, the white clad offensive players generally overwhelmed the charging linebackers. Junior FB Tyler Anderson and junior tailback Terron Ward were among some of the more stout blockers, along with Clute and even Smith prior to his apparent ankle injury.
The offensive line did very well today in my book, and that includes the rotation at right tackle between freshman lineman Sean Harlow and sophomore tackle Gavin Andrews. Andrews saw the bulk of his practice reps at RT with the second team offense, while Harlow continued to hold down the starting job adjacent to senior guard Grant Enger.
Harlow got some interesting looks from the scout team defense Tuesday, and managed well a variety of pressures and different defensive packages meant to mimic, to a degree, what offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and Riley think they could see Saturday from Cal.
Redshirt freshman running back Chris Brown on the third string was rocking and rolling in practice today, with a handful of sharp runs. Brown has really been coming into his own as a runner in practice -- what needs to be seen from him, in my view, are soft hands and an ability to reel in the ball and make something happen in the open field. That's what has held Brown back from seeing more time in games, his receiving ability or lack thereof. Again, that's my opinion.
Cal runs a version of the Air Raid offense WSU runs though Sonny Dykes wants to run more than does Mike Leach. The Beavs were preparing for everything, however. I'm willing to chalk this up to what Riley said last week – "you can't assume anything."
This sentiment is especially true of Pac-12 offenses in 2013, and Cal might be looking to spice things up on Saturday by throwing things at the Beavs they haven't yet shown on tape. The first team defense was quick to react to whatever play the scout team ran, and very rarely was a player out of position. Linebackers displayed impressive reach, and the D-line manipulated the scout team OL like Playdough more than once.
At a glance, it appeared that the secondary had a banner day in practice. Junior safety Ryan Murphy, senior corner Rashaad Reynolds and fifth-year senior safety Steven Christian all had interceptions. But Banker was displeased with the lack of fundamentals, and was adamant about hammering those very fundamentals into his pass defenders. After a Murphy interception, Banker demanded that the defense run the very same play again, and called for his veteran athletes in the secondary to be more on top of things, to put it midly.
Junior WIL D.J. Alexander, who struggled at times to shake the blocks of Anderson and Ward early in practice, had no such problems out in coverage against QB Kyle Kempt's fiery throws. Alexander displayed attentiveness and quick reflexes when he swatted a zinger from Kempt.
When it comes to defending junior receiver Brandin Cooks, cornerback Steven Nelson, also a junior, has a ton of experience. Cooks was doing what he always does – being fast, making catches, being fast some more – but Nelson kept pace with him for the short period of time the 1's on both sides of the ball were operating together. Nelson had a tipped ball and also swatted a reception right out of Cooks' hands.
Senior linebacker Michael Doctor is making a good recovery as the weeks roll by. Doctor has been free of his boot since last week, and Tuesday saw him running around and playing some light catch with Murphy toward the beginning of practice and putting more pressure on his injured leg. It remains unknown if he'll try and come back and play this season or look to use his redshirt year and return next season.
Running with the 1's
QB – Sean Mannion
TB – Storm Woods
FB – Tyler Anderson
H-Back – Tyler Perry
TE – Caleb Smith/Kellen Clute
LT- Michael Philipp
LG- Josh Andrews
C- Isaac Seumalo
RG- Grant Enger
RT- Sean Harlow/Grant Enger
FL –Brandin Cooks
SE – Micah Hatfield/Obum Gwacham
SB –Kevin Cummings
DE – Dylan Wynn
DT – John Braun
DT – Mana Rosa
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