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Oregon St. Spring Practice Provides Some Answers

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Oregon St. worked in Reser Stadium Saturday. One thing that was reinforced was the Beaver Nation should expect to see a lot of balls thrown in the direction of WR Jordan Villamin. A LOT of balls.
Oregon St. worked in Reser Stadium Saturday. One thing that was reinforced was the Beaver Nation should expect to see a lot of balls thrown in the direction of WR Jordan Villamin. A LOT of balls.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)

Oregon St. held their first open to the public practice Saturday, and while its way too early to read too much into what we saw, after only 3 sessions, there were a number of things we can learn about the Beavers as they rebuild and reorganize under not only new head coach Gary Andersen, but a mostly new staff as well.

Andersen's practices prior to the 11 on 11 drills resemble those under prior coach MIke Riley in that they are broken up into multiple segments, but also differ in that under Andersen, each segment is only 5 minutes in length. That probably appeals to the players, being children of the attention deficit generation, but I noticed that on a number of occasions, time ran out before everyone in some position groups could get a chance at some drills

Also, there were usually 7-8 groups in action, vs. 4 or so under Riley's staff. This makes it difficult to watch, as you'll miss something with so much to try to take in.

We'll get to position groups and who has taken the early lead in the hunt for playing time in a minute, but it appears the real difference in how the Beavers will play under Andersen vs. Riley isn't so much spread vs. pocket passing, for example, but rather is a much more fundamental difference.

Because it was a "pro" system, modeled after "pro" systems where even the most inexperienced of marginal players are still expected to execute at a very high, and very precise, level, the focus was always on precise execution and timing in complex systems, offensively and defensively.

When it worked, it worked very well. Even the most adamant Riley critics, as well as the "I really only want to talk about the Ducks/Huskies/Bruins" crowd have to admit that when Riley got the right personnel and the right play call together, and the right game plan, the Beavers played very well.

The problem came when things didn't go quite as planned, and they never always do. If someone had to do something a little different than what they specialized in, or someone else had to fill in, the drop-off quickly became precipitous, and even disastrous.

We heard about it taking several years for quarterbacks to master the play book, terminology, and all the complex reads. And we heard about the defense being too complex for the players to grasp.

But it also manifested itself in the infamous game and clock management problems, penalties, and blown assignments. We would see confusion, which precluded precise execution.

There's sure to be more complexity to be introduced, and there was also evidence of the staff expecting a higher level of performance than what was happening in just the 3rd practice of the new regime. But I was struck by what seemed to be a much more "collegiate" level of plays being run.

Gone were the lazer-cut precision pass routes, replaced by what appeared to be simpler routes, but also what appeared to be a system where passes were to be adjusted to the route and the coverage, and receivers were adjusting their routes to the pass.

Another aspect immediately apparent was having more players doing more things. This ranged from having kickers involved in other than special teams drills to backs and receivers doing other drills while still carrying a ball to get used to holding on to it to special teams drills for position players in the middle of practive.

Andersen appears to be focusing more on complete football players. Obviously, the defensive tackles won't be dropping into coverage, and Victor Bolden won't be playing on the o-line. But its also reasonable to expect more variety to who does what.

I'm not sure the best 10-20 % of the Andersen system will ever be as good as the best of Riley, but the worst 10-20% might be much better than before.

Also, I expect to see the secondary, and special teams, to be more physical.

The question making all the headlines of course is how the 7 deep quarterback competition is shaking out.

Coach Andersen has said by the time the team reconvenes Tuesday, he hopes to have already narrowed the field to 3, in the hopes that the team can progress as building timing with their reps.

One of the 3 appears to be Luke Del Rio, whose very limited experience is still more than anyone else on the roster.

Luke Del Rio

Del Rio, above, has improved on his right-side heavy tendencies, and despite not being one of the more mobile of the quarterback candidates, the more traditional "Riley recruits" at the position aren't at that much of a disadvantage when you see that much of the passing offense, at least so far, is of the "1-2-it had better be out by 3" variety.

The downside with Del Rio is still the down-field game, where the ball still arrives late and off target, and having already attracted a crowd of players wearing jerseys of another color.

Marcus McMaryion

The other apparent contenders are redshirt freshman Marcus McMaryion, above, and new comer and early enrollee Seth Collins. McMaryion has the quickest release of the 7, and was getting a good share of the reps in the 11 on 11 sessions, and with players around him that are higher on the depth chart than some of the others.

Seth Collins

I want to see more of Collins, though. Collins is at least one of the fastest players on the team, and has the physical tools to do things no one else on campus is capable of. It's easy to see why he was recruited by Andersen and his staff. His release is also quick, behind only McMaryion and Kyle Kempt, and not by much.

The down-side here is his accuracy down field, which still needs a lot of work.

It will be interesting to see which drawbacks offset what strengths when Andersen makes his choices, and also what is done with the rest of the group. Thoughts of Utah St. going through 4 quarterbacks last season, unhappy as that prospect may be, but still not at all an impossibility in the high-risk occupation of spread quarterback, come to mind, and how player development will still proceed.

Nick Mitchell demonstrated more mobility than in the past, and had flashes of impressivness as well, and Kempt moved the team well in some of his sessions. And Brent VanderVeen is still arguably the most accurate passer of the pack.

There's still pocket passing, roll-outs, and deep balls, not all just 1-2-3 short dump in the scheme to consider. But all of it will be at an increased pace.

Andersen's +/- assessment will tell a lot about where he wants to take the Beavers, and that could well extend to other position groups as well.

Jordan Villamin

It was quickly apparent that Jordan Villamin, above, will be the target of a lot of balls, and that's probably going to set well with Beaver fans, as the progress we saw in the second half of last season is clearly continuing.

Victor Bolden

Bolden is still Bolden, and will see a lot of action in the slot in the new scheme.

The other receiver who seemed to be popping up with impressive catches a lot was Hunter Jarmon. Meanwhile, I'm not sure how Richard Mullaney fits into things. The most experienced of the Beaver receivers, but also oft unhealthy Mullaney appears to not be up to speed again, and a complicating factor so far with the Andersen era, compared with the matter of fact comments from Mike Riley, is less information about injuries, illnesses, and other such details, leaving lots of room for speculation as to the reason why things are as they are.

Rahmel Dockery is also a step behind at this point, and Malik Gilmore continues to be able to drop passes.

And while you may have read about Bolden leaving practice late, that's not the case; after some trainer attention, he did return to action, even if that was overlooked by some. (Remember what I said about a lot to try to keep on top of at an Andersen practice, and precious little status information.)

There is some good news for those who might be concerned that one of Riley's strengths and trademarks, strong tight end play, might be lost. At least initially, rest assured that won't be the case. There were still lots of schemes that employed tight ends, and while Caleb Smith should figure into things, it was Kellen Clute that made the most impressive plays from the position, and appears fully recovered from last season's injury.

Kellen Clute

As far as the absence of the fullback position on the depth chart, its more cosmetic than anything, as the likes of Ricky Otriz and Ryan Nall, now listed as TEs, still have both blocking and receiving roles. This is something to keep an eye on as far as recruiting going forward is concerned, but given the athletes on hand, what was an "H-back" is still doing what they did before.

Chris Brown

In the back field, Chris Brown fans should expect to see a lot of him. Storm Woods' role appears to still be evolving, but everyone knows what Woods' capabilities are already.

The first string offensive line at this point has Sean Harlow at left tackle, Fred Lauina at left guard, Josh Mitchell at center, Gavin Andrews at right guard, and Dustin Stanton at right tackle. Isaac Seumalo was in gear, but continues to rehab after missing all of last season with his broken foot issue.

Andersen's post practice comments included the observation that the defense is ahead of the offense, and the state of the o-line had a lot to do with that.

This is still a unit of Mike Cavanaugh's recruits, where speed and agility weren't a focus, and as such, they are still who they were, and still don't move all that well. But on the encouraging side, I did actually see a guard pulling at times, and linemen down field looking to block illegally, aka Oregon's scheme on short passes, and since that's rarely called these days, Oregon St. needs to play to the prevailing nature of the game, and appears to be moving to do so.

It's also important to remember that neither pace nor spread principals necessarily imply the quarterback, or the o-line for that matter, running all over the place, at least not all of the time.

I suspect this season of the new Beaver offense may look a lot like what Washington did year before last, in their last year under Steve Sarkisian, where they upped the tempo, and added some field-expanding stuff, with Keith Price at quarterback behind an offensive line that, like Oregon St.'s wasn't recruited or built for that. The Huskies had some considerable success at times, as especially Beaver fans will painfully recall, and it was a good example of a transitional scheme.

Defensively, a lot of speculation about a 3-4 look has circulated, and while that may yet evolve, right now, its a 4-3 front. Part of that could be dictated by personnel on hand, as both Ali Robins and Kyle Peko are playing well in the interior. Yes, that Kyle Peko, whom Riley's staff could never get thru eligibility issues.

One can see why they kept at it though, as Peko plays with great pad level and technique, and created a lot of havoc for the offensive line. Transfer Devan Filipe also looked promising, and it looks like the Beavers may have better depth at DT than they have in some time. And that's with Jalen Grimble working on conditioning more of the time than d-line work so far, though he did get into the mix once 11 on 11 came around.

If the Beavers had to play a game today, Jashwa James and Lavonte Barnette appear ready to play as the DEs.

Expect a lot of churn with the linebacker group, and in the secondary, as the speed game requires depth. But the first unit already looks pretty well established for just the 3rd day, with Rommel Mangeo in the middle, and Darrel Songy, back from a year's suspension and looking very good, and Manase Hungalu on the edges.

Trying to read the tea leaves of all the LB drills and who is where with the 2nd string and 3rd string reps will take some time. The athleticism of the group, and the work ethic I see being emphasized by LB coach Ilaisa Tuiaki suggests that this will not be the area of biggest concern for Oregon St., even if there's lots of unanswered questions at the moment.

Kyle Haney and Caleb Saulo's numbers were ones I jotted down as the day went along.

Cyril Noland-Lewis

In the secondary, as expected Justin Strong, who had a good season as the nickel back, appears to have taken hold of one of the safety spots, and Cyril Noland-Lewis, above picking off a Del Rio pass in front of Jarmon, looked good at the other safety position.

Larry Scott is the most experienced member of the secondary, and looks like he will continue to be one of the corners, but the player that made me do a roster double check was Dwayne Williams, who appears for the moment to have the other starting corner spot.

This raises the question of what of Dashon Hunt, but I expect as we see more of the nickel worked into the package, he will be the nickel back. Charles Okonkwo also got my attention a couple of times.

Garrett Owens appears solid as the place-kicker, but I didn't see enough to see the future of the punting game yet.

Next Saturday will be the next opportunity to take a look at how things are progressing, but some news may come out, especially about the quarterback log-jam, as the Beavers work through their next 2 practices, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com