Oregon St. conducted their first practice of spring football in full gear today. Like most onlookers, my first priority was to take a close look at quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, with specific focus on the knee and ankle, respectively, that left both essentially playing on one leg late last season.
The good news is both appear to be fully healed, and time spent on weight training while rehabbing was effective as well. When the situation required Mannion to stride into a throw, or Vaz to plant and drive off his ankle, not only did strong throws result, there were no tell-tale twinges or hitches. Both actually over-threw Brandin Cooks on deep go routes, something not possible down the stretch last fall.
It's not all rosy; I caught Mannion throwing off his back foot a few times, and Vaz hesitated to break out of the pocket when he should have on a couple of occasions. And both had off-target throws during the course of the practice. A Steven Nelson interception of Mannion on a deep ball for Cooks wasn't due to the familiar issue of the ball floating; Nelson was just able to be in better position for what was a rifle shot.
Vaz threw behind his receiver a couple of times, but the throws were on a rope, not slow or late throws. Vaz just mis-judged the lead. But this was the first real action in 3 months, and all groups had their good and not so good moments, not just the qbs.
And both Mannion and Vaz delivered some throws that left the defense resorting to pass interference as their best tactic. To be fair, some of Mannion's back foot throws were dump offs, where he didn't need full leg drive. But when he cut loose, a couple of deep outs, if anything, had more on them than even in the best of the days of "Good Sean" that Beaver Nation enjoyed, like last year in Tucson.
One thing that hasn't changed; Oregon St. has no one who can consistently cover Cooks. But neither do most folks. His burst is there, signaling that his late season knee injury is also fully recovered.
It was interesting to watch Jordan Poyer seemingly dividing his time between helping individually coach up the less experienced members of the secondary and having some fun at their expense.
Speaking of Nelson, keep an eye on the JC transfer from the College of the Sequoias. Nelson has some work to do on run support and underneath routes in traffic, but he is the one db with the speed to run with Cooks.
Its too early to draw too many conclusions, and things could look different in a week or so. But Obum Gwacham could be a lot more dangerous at WR if he can find a way to pull in more of the balls he gets a hand on.
One conclusion that it isn't too early to come to is that D.J. Alexander might be poised to have the best season of anyone on the defense. Properly calibrated, scales don't lie. But they can mislead. The spring depth chart shows Alexander only 3 pounds heavier than what he was at for the Alamo Bowl, up to 228 lbs from 225.
The eye test looks like there is 15 lbs more muscle on his 6'2" frame, and opposing running backs and tight ends are going to suffer for it.
Speaking of tight ends, and "H-backs", Kellen Clute looks like he's continuing the up-swing in his game we saw in the latter portion of the season.
Another player that passed the eye test is the one new offensive lineman that will be in the starting lineup come Aug. 31. Oregon St. radio analyst Jim Wilson described Gavin Andrews as "simply massive" Tuesday after watching practice, and that was my instant impression as well. Listed at 6'5" and 335 lbs., both numbers seem conservative.
The question is always whether players this large can move with any agility, and we got a glimpse of that on a botched snap today. Coming from the right tackle position, it was Andrews that not only got to the ball in the scramble, but even came out of the scrum with the pumpkin. I don't see any concerns about the loss of graduated Colin Kelly.
If you were on campus this afternoon and noticed Sean Martin meandering aimlessly, be assured that it was because it was a stormy day. And I'm not referring to the showery weather that forced practice inside Truax. Martin's effort to square up on Storm Woods as he accelerated through a well blocked hole into the secondary resulted in the hit of the day. And it left Martin wobbling around in traffic as Woods broke away.
Apparently no one told Woods there shouldn't be any highlight video hits delivered in practice.
Overall, the running back position looks as good as it has in the post-Jacquizz Rodgers era, as both Woods and Terror Ward looked to already be ready for the coming season. Chris Brown ran with the 3rd string, and sometimes with the second unit, and looked good at times as well, though another week's work should help with his timing.
All in all, today provided a good baseline to compare performances in the practices to come with.
"It was good for the first day of getting pads on," coach Mike Riley said. "I'm glad they practiced fast. It looked like guys were playing good and smart."
Riley also announced this week that long snapper Michael Morovick has been awarded a scholarship. Not so good news is that winter term grades are out, and as a result, OLB Shaydon Akuna and DL Desmond Collins are off the team, due to academics.
That puts the Beavers with 70 players on scholarship, with 21 recruits coming in the fall. Which will leave them 6 over the NCAA limit of 85, so several will wind up greyshirting. The exact number will depend on whether further attrition occurs after spring term.
Practice continues tomorrow at 11 AM, and on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday next week, with the public invited out to watch. (No closed Duck doors here!)