Spring Scrimmage Shows Some Pluses And Minuses


The 2010 Oregon St. Spring Game, er, scrimmage looked more like the extra practice coach Mike Riley wanted than a game, with two and a half hours of continual drives, and no score keeping. But it did give Beaver Nation a football fix halfway thru the off-season span from the Las Vegas Bowl to the season opener against TCU in Dallas on Labor Day.

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James Rogers (8) looked to be ready to go, both on returns and as a receiver.

The day started with the players' autograph session, where all manner of material was signed.

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Chain Saw Nation was ready as always, the Oregon St. University Marching Band was ready as usual to Rock and Roll, and Benny welcomed the fans, on a day suitable for a real game.

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Jacquizz Rogers (1), running above behind a block by center Alex Linnekohl, didn't get a lot of hits, but did see more action than many might have expected. Indeed, nearly everyone on the roster saw probably more action than most probably expected, as the coaching staff made sure there was plenty of footage of everyone from the star starters to the guys at the end of the depth chart to break down between now and when fall camp starts.

 

One of the key questions to be answered this spring, summer, and fall, is who the Beavers will look to as the starting quarterback to replace graduated (and NFL drafted) Sean Canfield.

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Ryan Katz (12, above) is clearly the #1 at this point over Peter Lalich (7, below).

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This deserves some further explanation, as, while Katz throws with a rocket arm, and has made substantial progress since last season, Lalich throws with an effortless motion, was generally a little more accurate Saturday, and throws a more catchable ball. In fact, were Lalich to spend the season in the pocket, Canfield's season accuracy record could well fall. Katz brings something else to the equation, though.

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On several occasions, Katz escaped pressure, as above, by Taylor Henry (91), and made plays Lalich didn't demonstrate the mobility to be able to do. Both sport sizable braces on their left knees, but Lalich is mostly a pocket quarterback, much in Canfield's mold. There are a lot of linebackers and defensive ends roaming the Pac-10, not to mention on the TCU and Boise St. rosters, that no offensive line is going to keep out of the backfield all the time.

Oregon St. clearly has hopes for saving some plays that break down thru mobility. And with a deep, athletic receiving corps, keeping plays alive plays into the Beavers' favor. Especially when another development to come out of the scrimmage is taken into consideration.

The offensive line received a mixed grade at best, and that's true of not only the current #1 unit, though starters Grant Johnson and Michael Philipp were held out, but the second and third units as well. This despite the defense being reigned in to avoid unnecessary damage to the playmakers.

Part of the reason for this could well be due to a subtle change in scheme, one that appears intended to address another issue from last season, but by design, will result in pressure on the quarterback at times.

Last season, one situation that frustrated Oregon St. fans more than they would have liked was seeing 'Quizz look at a wall of bodies, from both teams, and no daylight to run thru. And everyone in the Pac-10 knows what 'Quizz does with a sliver of daylight. Some widening of gaps was evident, doubtless designed to give the running game more chances to have places to go. However, as might be expected, adjusting will take some time.

Another key issue on coach Riley's agenda for this year is to develop depth behind 'Quizz. Whether Jordan Jenkins (34, scoring below) is now #2, or if Riley was looking to see if he could be, remains to be determined. But Jenkins ran extensively with and against the #1s, #2s, and #3s, and he ran pretty well, carrying for over 120 yards.

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Jovan Stevenson and Will Darkins saw limited action (Stevenson appeared to get a hip-pointer), and Ryan McCants was barely visible until the #3 and #4 units got most of their action. Jenkins doesn't have anything close to the speed 'Quizz has, but one thing he does share with the Beavers' star tailback is a knack for seeing creases, and running where he can do something. A blocking scheme that favors backs with their eyes open fits his style as well.

Watching third and fourth string redshirt freshmen quarterbacks Cody Vaz and Jack Lomax work with big fast targets like Mitch Singler, who snared three touchdown catches, Micah Hatfield, and Obum Gwacham, further substantiate that a move toward a more spread out offensive style makes sense for OSU going forward.

Interestingly, the fly sweep that has been a staple of the Oregon St. offense, especially with James Rogers, was absent Saturday. This was a surprise, as, while James doesn't need work on that play, some reps for others might have been in order.

Another player Oregon St. fans can expect to see a lot of would appear to be sophomore Jordan Poyer (14). Poyer saw extensive action at corner, and was effective both in pass coverage, matching up well with speedy Markus Wheaton, and in run support. Poyer also got a lot of kick return action, along with James Rogers and Wheaton.

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I was hoping for a bigger performance from Jordan Bishop, but there were some good plays. Gaining consistency will be Bishop's project for fall camp, and the season to come.

Joe Halahuni was only featured a little, but clearly, "the Tank" needs to be central to this year's game plan. While not a game breaker, he is a huge matchup problem on short to mid-range routes.

One thing I was hoping to see, and didn't, was the emergence of the next Keaton Kristick type linebacker, someone that will be a difference maker in the linebacking group. That player the opposing quarterback first looks to find every single play. While the LB group played fairly well, no one stood out as the new leader of what is most years one of the Beavers' strongest groups.

That defensive player that emerges as the guy opponents have to always worry about might just be Taylor Henry, though. The sophomore DE, #91 shown below disrupting a Lalich pass, was force in the backfield all afternoon.

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Henry demonstrated both a willingness to rush to and thru open space, inside or outside, and the speed to actually get there. He could well be a big part of the solution to the Beavers' lack of sacks last season, and a big asset in stopping the run.

The starting defensive secondary appeared improved over last season, especially James Dockery, #4 below, breaking up a pass.

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Brandon Hardin also played well in coverage at times, and Suaesi Tuimaunei appears to be a different player. Tui was benched part way thru last season, and appeared to be totally lost in space at times. At least in the spring scrimmage, he appeared to be much more comfortable with reading patterns, and as a result, was able to actually play some defense.

Special teams was also a mildly mixed bag. Punter Johnny Hekker did appear to figure out, after a couple of trips to Las Vegas, that he should boom high kicks when a strong wind is at his back, and drill low line drives into the wind. And he is adapting well to being the holder, replacing reliable Taylor Cavanaugh. Justin Kahut missed badly on an extra point, but also drilled several kicks. Coverage was pretty good, and fortunately, they won't face the likes of Rogers too often except in practice.

The day also was largely devoid of any apparent significant injuries, a contrast from last year, and a difference coach Riley was looking for. There were a couple of ankle re-tapes, and though safety Lance Mitchell went down as though he had been shot, it appeared to be just a cramping issue.

And there were only a few times when Riley strided purposefully onto the field to speak with someone sternly.

The difference in approach, compared to the University of Oregon spring game, which was run more like a game, with relatively balanced teams, and score keeping, produced a very different atmosphere, but served Riley's purpose at the moment. A move toward more of a game down the road might boost attendance, and revenue, though.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

 

 

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