Slightly cooler temperatures and a smaller turnout of spectators greeted the players at Oregon St.'s 3rd practice of summer camp, and the first thing that jumped out was that senior TE Connor Hamlett spent the day carrying a football under his arm, but didn't do much else, which was concerning considering how good he looked in the initial days of drills.
Head coach Mike Riley said Hamlett hurt his foot, and an x-ray was scheduled. Hamlett didn't seem to be favoring either foot, so hopefully nothing is broken, and nothing is torn, but it will be something to watch as practice continues.
It creates another opportunity for Caleb Smith to take on an ever larger role, and as offensive coordinator John Garrett sees is, that's not a problem.
"He's come a long way since spring," Garrett told reporters in discussing his pick for the player that's stood out in the first first 3 practices.
Any extended absence of Hamlett will create depth concerns though, and makes today's move of freshman Ryan Nall to the running back group, after he initially worked with the tight ends, a bit puzzling.
Nall's experience has been as a big back, but there's considerable depth in the Beaver backfield, whereas tight end has continually thinned in recent months, and this in a season where inexperience at wide receiver means All-everything quarterback Sean Mannion will need to look to his tight ends even more than what is usual in a Riley offense.
It's still very early though, and there's still time for this to sort itself out.
Riley also clarified the confusing communication yesterday that set a Sunday as the day a decision might be forthcoming about whether JC transfer Kyle Peko, who has had more written about him than any lineman who has actually donned an Oregon St. uniform in the last year, will be finally able to join the team.
Summer term ends Aug. 15, and Peko has to pass a single summer session class to gain eligibility for fall term.
In addition to Hamlett, another player out today was CB Dashon Hunt, who won't be dashing onto the field for a little while, after tweaking a hamstring. Hunt isn't expected to be out for an extended period though.
The defense was ahead of the offense in the limited drills where the units went against each other, not surprising given that offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh is still really churning his charges through a number of drills and positions and combinations, doubtless in order to get practice tape and impressions on his options before settling on a starting alignment.
I spent a good portion of my time today watching Garrett work with all 6 quarterbacks in camp, and continue to be impressed with Garrett's ability to address the fine details of offense. If he hangs around, which most of Riley's assistants tend to do, the Beavers should reap benefits in terms of offensive execution improvements over time, and they will be the kind that endure.
Evan Mannion is continuing to show discernable improvements under Garrett's tutelage.
Much of the media in attendance on a regular basis appear to have a love affair with Luke Del Rio, or more likely his familiar name, and make a lot of the day to day differences as to which quarterback gets the first reps behind Mannion, but Garrett dispelled a lot of assumptions about the matter, explaining that day to day, and depending on what the focus of the day or drill is, he is trying to let quarterbacks, especially Del Rio and Brent Vander Veen, the chief competitors for the job of being the backup for Mannion, get sequences of plays, and therefore a rhythm, rather than random, one-off plays. It makes sense, in terms of getting a more comprehensive analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of a quarterback.
My thoughts on each of the six are obviously based on a still small sample size in most cases, but already certain things are emerging.
In Mannion's case, if the various inexperienced receivers will get to the right place in their routes, they can expect to get drilled with a Mannion fast ball. Enough said.
Vander Veen in my estimation holds on to a shot at the second spot because he knows the plays, and rarely makes mistakes, traits Riley values. He doesn't tip plays, and probably throws the "prettiest" balls of the group, even Mannion. But his arm strength, and therefore his velocity, probably is a notch behind a couple of the other guys if they throw with their non-throwing arm. Zip is the one thing Vander Veen needs to add.
Del Rio makes some good throws at times, but my goodness, he telegraphs his throws. Hence Garrett's extensive coaching conversations about quarterbacking with the eyes, NOT the head. Full field command and learning to not look at his target long before beginning his throwing motion are the skills Del Rio must continue to work on.
There has been considerable conversation here and elsewhere about Kyle Kempt quickly dropping out of the running for the #2 spot, and into the #4 spot on the depth chart, and the key issue in my observation is Kempt's release. An overall analysis finds his footwork and overall command of the field better than Del Rio's at this point, and his arm strength exceeds Vander Veens.
But an often slow release must be corrected; Pac-12 DBs like Steven Nelson have the sheer speed to react to a slow release that creates the same effect as tipping the play or staring down a receiver; they will get there before the ball reaches its target.
In watching the two freshmen, it wasn't long before it occurred to me that Nick MItchell reminds me of Jonathan Smith. And that's not a bad thing at all.
At this point, Mitchell sometimes tries to do things no one in this town besides Sean Mannion can do, at least until Derek Anderson or Matt Moore come back on an NFL bye week, but that's ok at this point; Sean couldn't do what Sean does now when he was a true freshman either.
And if Mitchell sees the field this season, it means Oregon St. has had 4 QBs go down, and we don't even want to think about that. Down the road, Mitchell could work into something special.
You can see the effect of the kind of systems that the new quarterbacks come from; while Mitchell plays with his feet under him, Marcus McMaryion plays with "light feet". Some would call it happy feet. My thought is he reminds me, at least in terms of playing style, of a couple or three of the recent rather successful quarterbacks down the road about 40 miles, in green/yellow/black/gray/dark green/tan/camo/fill in the blank jerseys.
That's not a bad thing either, and recent Civil War and relative post season bowl appearances bear that out. It's an increasingly popular way to play the position, though its something new to a Riley offense. I'm not sure any Beaver quarterback ever has had the mobility potential that McMaryion has.
It also makes me glad that an experienced coach like Garrett is on hand too, as I see him able to develop the varied kinds of quarterbacks Oregon St. has on hand.
Practice continues daily at 10:20 AM, with the full pads going on for the first time Friday, immediately before the annual lunch Bar-b-que with the Beavers. Saturday evening will see the first second sessions of summer ball, which will occur from 7 PM until about 9 PM.
All practices are open to the public.