CORVALLIS – No pads, minimal contact and stunning fall weather may not sound like the ideal practice prep for USC -- but it's never been, "What you see is what you get," when it comes to Oregon State. And while on the surface, it may have seemed like a low-key session on Wednesday, dig a little deeper and there was more to Wednesday's practice…
Daily Riley and Injury Update
Junior H-back Connor Hamlett (back spasms) and junior linebacker D.J. Alexander (stinger) both practiced Wednesday. They ran their routines primarily with the first team units, however Hamlett did see some time with the 2's. Mike Riley said that both players are basically game time decisions, and that how they felt after the day's practice session would be key in making a final decision for Friday. "Even if these guys can be part time, I think it would help us." Riley said.
Hamlett practiced for about three quarters of Wednesday's session.
Senior defensive tackle John Braun did not practice Wednesday, and is still a question mark for Friday's running depth chart. "We are going to carry him right into the game," Riley said. "His shoulder is definitely hurting but we've got a couple days yet before the game actually starts."
The least encouraging news that came out of Wednesday's session had to do with the status of sophomore tight end Caleb Smith, who dressed in sweats and did not run with his teammates. "I think that he's probably out, with him not doing much today." Riley said.
Practice Notes Offense
Junior flanker Brandin Cooks is a machine with three levels – go, go harder and something akin to bottled lightning. Wednesday's practice may have been just another walk in the park for Cooks, but some of the tough catches and cuts he made just blew me away. Not because of the athleticism, constant energy or determination, but because this is just how Cook's practices -- Cooks practices the way most guys play on game day.
Yet if we've learned anything through eight games, it's that Cooks can't shoulder the entire load. With senior slotback Kevin Cummings will be out indefinitely, guys like sophomore split end Richard Mullaney will become even more important both in terms of production and not allowing teams to "cheat" on Cooks. Mullaney looked solid enough in practice today, but then again he does just about every day.
Redshirt freshman Malik Gilmore and senior Micah Hatfield both got their reps in having taken over for Cummings. They had a good practice, but are they USC ready?
Sophomore running backs Storm Woods and junior RB Terron Ward split reps with the 1's and 2's, with each guy getting his fair share of time due to a frequent rotation of the first and second team offense. Running was limited in a way due to the lack of pads, but that didn't stop Woods and Ward from staying sharp.
Some quick thoughts from LT Michael Philipp
The first team offensive line also looked sharp on Wednesday. Senior left tackle Michael Philipp shared his thoughts on what USC presents, and was very frank on what he can do better.
"It all comes down to having good communication and good technique like any other game," Philipp said.
"I don't want to give up any more sacks, and I would like to get the run game going and just be able to communicate better with the rest of my linemen and the tight ends. I messed up with some communication calls (against Stanford) and that's what gets people flustered - when communication isn't across the board."
One thing the 6-4, 328-pound lineman isn't worried about is the shortened week prior to taking on the Trojans.
"Riley's got us going," Philipp said. "We've been here before."
Second team defenders saw a lot of looks on Wednesday as veteran players – such as junior defensive ends Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton and junior safety Ryan Murphy - were a little less active. As Riley said earlier, he wants to give his starters more down time down the stretch so they'll be fresher. The other upside of this obviously is that other players who will be needed on Friday, second team talent like sophomore DT Brandon Bennett, freshman ‘backer Cyril Noland and sophomore defensive end Lavonte Barnett, all got a slightly larger share of the practice pie Wednesday.
As part of the day's minimal contact agenda, there was a period of time where the starting defensive squads separated from the scout team entirely and practiced some of the fundamentals. For the D-line, the focus was on shedding blocks and finding proper angles of approach. The linebacker and secondary units keyed in on proper drop-back formations for pass defense.
Junior safety Tyrequek Zimmerman and junior corner Malcolm Marable were firm in their pass defense. Zimmerman had some fantastic coverage, and Marable flung himself at each pass like a dart.
Mark Banker didn't hold back on the criticism. He made a point to call out freshman MIK ‘backer Rommel Mageo about halfway through practice for not playing at a fast enough clip. Banker then followed it up with some motivating words about earning the other team's respect.