Oregon St. started fall practice this morning, and it even felt a little like fall, and football, even if it is still early August.
The first question on the minds off every on-looker, including head coach Gary Andersen, who said again he wants to play 1 quarterback as recently as this morning, is who that quarterback will be. The first look was at freshman Seth Collins and red-shirt freshman Nick Mitchell splitting reps. The first takeaway was quickly that it should be Collins. The phenom of spring ball has put more zip on his ball, and made improvements in accuracy.
It was just the first practice, and one in shells, so a lot could change between now and even next Saturday's scrimmage, never mind the season opener on Friday, Sept. 5 against Weber St. Indeed, one of the biggest things I'll be looking for in next week's scrimmage is what has changed in a week's time.
But after one morning in Reser, its encouraging for a team picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North, including by me, to see as much that fit with what everyone in Beaver Nation probably was hoping for, or at least expecting to see.
Andersen was generally pleased, noting "It was far from perfect, but it's obvious these kids worked hard in the summer. Just their simple ability to run the offense and defense was so much cleaner. It looks like they're in pretty good shape, which is good to see. It's not a physical practice as far as banging around out there, but you can see by the way they move we've made some progress in the right direction. Overall, a solid first day."
Collins continues to be the apparent best choice to lead this team, now and into the future, though there's going to be a constant likelihood of seeing Mitchell at any minute, due to the ultra-slender build of Collins. That listed weight of 195 is a mis-print (intentional or unintentional); 165 is much closer to reality. That takes nothing away from his athletic ability, or his persona either.
It's just possible that the Oregon St. offense will be better than expected this year, and that's partially a product of the receiving corp, which is as deep and good as any Beaver fans have seen in some time. But its also a product of a running game that's got a chance to be better than in recent seasons, and a stable offensive line for a change.
The highlight of the first day was probably the fight that the offense "incited", by making enough plays to elicit first chipping from the less-experienced defense, and finally a couple of chip-shots.
(Note to small db types, do NOT take a swing at offensive linemen; it can get you thumped, and provide something for some of the other members of the offense to laugh about at your expense.)
There was no harm done, and after a good tongue lashing by Andersen and some of his assistants, it was back to fun and hard work.
Regarding the wide receivers, its apparent that the best defensive strategy to employ against Victor Bolden, above, might be to commit pass interference, early and often.
Jordan Villamin better get used to getting chipped too, because he's going to get a lot of balls, and a lot of opportunities to annoy DBs who find his height challenging.
At this point, Hunter Jarmon, above working against Xavier Crawford, is the 3rd wide-out, usually working opposite both Bolden and Villamin, but both Xavier Hawkins and Rahmel Dockery looked good at times, and will push for playing time.
When the Beavers go with 5 wide outs, its likely to be these 5, with Hawkins on the field in 4 receiver sets.
The one apparent possibly significant injury of the day befell another wideout, Malik Gilmore. I didn't see the incident, but I did see the helmet thrown in frustration immediately afterward, and the ice applied to the right shoulder/collar bone/pectoral area by the training staff. Gilmore still had mobility, and there was no obvious external severity, but he also obviously had some both physical and emotional discomfort. However, he was not a factor with the "1s" prior to the injury, and if the injury isn't short term, may not impact the offense going forward.
Storm Woods, above, looked like the leader he's projected to be this season, and that's both with his performance and his presence. It's worth remembering how effective Wisconsin has been at running the ball out of Andersen's spread offense the last couple of seasons, and its also possible we will see that approach again.
Chris Brown also looked good, showing no signs of residual effects from off-season surgery for a hip injury when he got to do something, but was also limited by the coaches in a number of drills. With nearly a month until the W-Wildcats come to town, it doesn't appear that he won't be fully ready.
And based on the way Damien Haskins looked, the loss of Tim Cook for the season should not be an issue unless injuries strain the depth at the RB position. Haskins is a moving fire-plug of a runner, and looks ready to handle the heavy work. There were no early indications of Andersen or running backs coach Telly Lockette experimenting with anyone to fill in for Cook, as Ryan Nall and Ricky Ortiz worked as tight ends.
And speaking of tight ends, the early results suggest the big year everyone has been hoping for from Caleb Smith, above, might be about to happen. I didn't see the mis-cues on snap counts that have hampered the player on the Oregon St. offense that at the eye-test is the single most imposing player for a defense to deal with.
The key to it all for the offense, of course, is a stable offensive line, something that Beaver Nation hasn't seen since before the Alamo Bowl run.
But the front wall of Sean Harlow, Fred Lauina, Josh Mitchell, and Dustin Stanton at LT, LG, C, & RT looked locked down. The only position that seemed to see much shuffling until a true second unit was in play was RG, where Isaac Seumalo and even Kamy Delp showed up in place of injured Gavin Andrews. That's a good thing though, as either Seumalo or Andrews is probably going to start, with the other appearing at maybe 3 positions on the depth chart on the 2nd string.
If the offense appears relatively ready, the defense is still up in the air, especially the d-line and linebackers.
That might not be all that bad on the d-line though, as I saw both Kyle Peko and Jalen Grimble at both DT and DE positions. And with the dismissal of LB Darrell Songy, there was more 4 man front shown than 3-4, at least on day 1.
Lavonte Barnett looks locked into the rotation at DE, and I saw some good stuff from Ali'i Robbins as well.
Andersen has said he wants to run 2 deep in rotation on the defensive line, and Noke Tago and Titus Failauga appear to be scheduled for some of that work, in an attempt to keep fairly fresh legs in the game against all the spread and fast-paced offenses Oregon St. will face.
The defensive backfield still looks like it will be Larry Scott and Dwayne Williams at the corners, with Cyril Noland-Lewis and Justin Strong at the safeties, just as was the case in the spring. Brandon Arnold looks like the best bet for nickel-back assignments, but again, that's after 1 day, and the scrimmages the next 2 Saturdays will be much better indicators on this matter.
For those looking for action for JC transfer Treston Decoud, it didn't come until the second half of practice, when the bottom half of the roster got their reps. It's possible Decoud could come into play at some point, but at this point, its more likely later in the season than in time for the opener.
That's a theme that applies for almost all of the incoming freshmen exclusive of Collins, as it wouldn't surprise me if many of them red-shirt, something Andersen will likely try to do even if the season goes sideways as long as injuries don't force his hand.
For example, much heralded WR Paul Lucas was also buried deep in the rotations too, and given the number of capable and much more experienced wideouts on the team, it would probably be a waste of a year's eligibility to use him, as its unlikely he would get extensive snaps in any scenario not involving a massive injury problem.
That might even be the case at the very thin line-backer position, where no one but Manase Hungalu stood out to me. And I even saw Jashwa James not only at his DE position, but also in middle space. Bright Ugwoegbu and Caleb Saulo would be my bets to start along side Hungalu at this point, but while both had bright moments, there were also some lost in space moments for both of them.
Linebacker will likely remain the area of greatest concern for this team for some time.
Kicking looks settled, as Garrett Owens looks confident and accurate on place kicks, and Nick Porebski looked good punting, and is competing with Tanner Sanders to determine who will be the holder for Owens. Both seem more than adequate based on today's small sample.
Freshman kicker Jordan Choukair from Poway, CA, who only received his scholarship offer on Wednesday, has also arrived, and was in practice. Choukair, the son of former NFL kicker John Choukair, has reached on a 59 yard field goal in practice, and was selected to the US National Football team, received the scholarship that Songy vacated, after impressing the coaches at a camp at Oregon St. earlier this summer. Choukair chose Oregon St. over earlier offers from near to home San Diego St., as well as Arizona and Hawaii.
A smaller than expected crowd turned out for one of only 3 open practices this pre-season, but being day 1, and in shells, there's a limit to what can be learned. Next week's scrimmage, which will also be at a more fan-friendly 10:30 AM, should be much more informative, and likely will be much better attended.