Oregon St. kicked off spring practice today in the Truax indoor facility, the first of 3 a week sessions that will be every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through April 30, to be followed by the Spring Football Showcase on Sat., May 3.
The first session is by NCAA rules not in full pads, and not full contact, so its premature to read too much into the fact that Terron Ward, Storm Woods, and Chris Brown all look extremely good running against a defense compromised of offensive scout team players and sans a full secondary.
But there are some things worth watching, and i started with a look at the defense, which has to replace DE Scott Crichton and CB Rashaad Reynolds, and also has presumed depth at linebacker, but also the questions you always have about the health of those returning from injury.
There's no question about Steven Nelson's speed, which might be even a touch better than last year, but lets see him cover an actual WR before drawing conclusions.
As noted, it was supposed to be a limited intensity first practice of the season, but Dylan Wynn, in a sleeveless shirt, sweats, and helmet, nevertheless appeared ready to go just as he was dressed, willing to pop pads without the benefit of pads.
The real question lies at the other DE spot, and it appears Jaswha James will get the first chance to claim the job. At 250 lbs, generously, he might be a bit on the small side, but his athleticism and raw speed could make up for it, especially in the pass rush department. He's the player I'll be keeping an eye on to be this year's breakout player, similar to what we saw from Jabral Johnson last season.
The difference is Johnson was thrown into the fray more than expected come the regular season, when injuries and other problems cropped up. James is already being prepped for a greatly expanded role.
The other defensive project everyone is interested in is the conversion of WR Obum Gwacham to DE. If Gwacham doesn't make a difference, it won't be due to a lack of practice, or any issue with Gwacham accepting coaching. But then those weren't issues at WR either, and it didn't translate onto the field there.
Gwacham is intriguing, and his athleticism could make him a nightmare for an offensive tackle used to sitting down in his lane. But if a lineman can get his pad level under Gwacham's, which no matter how good his technique is, is still going to be pretty high, given he's 6'5", and a LOT of that is legs, Gwacham is going to have a hard time getting off blocks. Technique is going to be everything here.
Turning to the offense, it was apparent quickly that new offensive coordinator John Garrett is already deeply immersed in a variety of roles with the offense, which is exactly what head coach Mike Riley said he wanted. Riley was also as hands on with the offense as I've seen in a while, though a lot of that is doubtless getting Garrett up to speed on a number of the nuances of Riley's system. After all, it was the first day it was real on the field, and not on video and in a conference room, for Garrett.
Still, Oregon St. fans should be encouraged that Garrett is an interactive coach that should have good success with information transfer by his instructional nature.
The question everyone is asking is "Who will replace Brandin Cooks?", and the obvious answer is Victor Bolden. And nothing about the first day of practice suggests otherwise; indeed it looks like Sean Mannion is intent on repeating the 1,000 passes he threw to Cooks in the off-season and pre-season last year to Bolden this time around. By the way, in the time I was able to observe the offense, Mannion didn't have an incompletion or a drop, though the emphasis was on short stuff.
To me, the bigger question is who will replace the graduated Kevin Cummings? And as we saw, his presence translated to 7 wins in 9 games, and his absence translated to 4 losses in 4 games last fall.
And if first day route running means anything, it looks like redshirt freshman and weekend baseball warrior Hunter Jarmon is going to get a chance, maybe the first chance, to earn himself a shot at the job.
Watching with graduated Juice Andrews, who liked what he saw on day 1, I was interested to see JC transfer Bobby Keenan. Keenan showed experience, eschewing anything resembling flash while learning a new system, and settling into a "I'll take care of my assignment in my space, and stay there" approach. I expect to see Keenan be given every opportunity to grow into the left side DT spot, and didn't see anything yet that suggests there's any reason for concern with that.
Sean Harlow was all over the place, running at guard and tackle, and with the first and second units. It's hard to know for sure what his role will be, but its possible his versatility will mean someone else, like massive 6'5", 340 lb. Gavin Andrews, will play at the spot Harlow might be best at, yet Harlow at his 2nd or 3rd best role could be the best option at some position he can handle. It looks like Riley and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh are looking at that possibility, at least initially.
Practice, as noted, continues Wednesday, at 10 AM, and as always with Coach Riley, is open to the public.