Defense not bad as OSU caps spring
CORVALLIS Michael Doctor looks around the Oregon State defense and sees deja vu.
"It reminds me a lot of the 2012 group," said Doctor, a senior who missed most of last season after knee surgery. "A lot of guys with a lot of experience, a lot of older guys, and the chemistry is there. It looks exactly like the 2012 defense."
That's not a bad thing. The 2012 Beavers won nine games and featured Scott Crichton, Jordan Poyer and many of the players who will be with the team next season, including Doctor, D.J. Alexander, Dylan Wynn, Ryan Murphy and Ty Zimmerman.
The '14 Beavers were on display Saturday during the Spring Showcase at Reser Stadium. It was a mishmash of skeleton drills, seven-on-seven, full scrimmaging and some actual tackle football, and as might be expected, the defense had the upper hand most of the day.
The strongest position on the team is linebacker, where six quality Pac-12 players -- including starters Doctor, Jabral Johnson and D.J. Alexander -- patrol sideline to sideline.
"We're deep at linebacker," said Steven Nelson, the senior cornerback who intercepted six passes last season. "All the linebackers are good, from the oldest to the youngest. I'm glad we have Michael Doctor back to lead this team. We're going to have a great defense."
"I'm always impressed with the linebackers," coach Mike Riley said after Saturday's scrimmage, which wrapped up spring practice. "We have depth there, and the same thing at safety. I liked (tackle) Jalen Grimble today, and Nelson has taken a step forward."
Secondary coach Rod Perry is looking for a starting corner to replace the departed Rashaad Reynolds. The top candidates are Larry Scott, a junior who missed most of the spring with a hamstring injury, and redshirt freshman Dashon Hunt. Senior Malcolm Marable also is in the mix, and the Beavers want to see junior college transfer Demarlon Morris, who is expected to arrive in June.
"I'm not sure who the other corner is yet," Riley said. "Nobody has taken that and ran with it, but the guys we have are all improved."
Nelson, now the senior incumbent, said his peers at cornerback will be fine.
"The guys we have now have great talent," he said. "They're younger, so they have to mature, but they're great players. It's going to be a competition, maybe between Larry and Dashon. It'll be interesting."
Saturday's scrimmage provided plenty of clues on the offensive side that will be addressed again when the Beaver reconvene for training camp in August.
Redshirt freshman Luke Del Rio, a transfer from Alabama, has advanced to the backup role behind starter Sean Mannion at quarterback. With Luke's father Jack Del Rio -- defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos -- observing from the sidelines, the junior Del Rio completed 9 of 17 passes for 80 yards, connecting on touch passes and a couple of rifle balls downfield.
"Luke did a real nice job for having just been here a short time," Riley said. "He looked like a quarterback -- very comfortable."
"You get into a groove as you go along," Del Rio said. "With the drives we got to do today, it was nice. It was game-like. I feel like I'm getting more of a comfort level."
Riley and new offensive coordinator John Garrett have been pleased with the development of sophomore Brent VanderVeen, though he was only 2 for 7 for 32 yards in the scrimmage session. VanderVeen, Riley said, will continue to vie with Del Rio for the No. 2 job, with redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt entering training camp behind them.
Returning running backs Storm Woods and Terron Ward saw only spot duty Saturday, allowing sophomore Chris Brown and especially redshirt freshman Damien Haskins to do most of the ball-toting. Brown rushed six times for 34 yards while Haskins -- a 5-8, 225-pound fireplug -- carried 15 times for 66 yards and a touchdown.
"Damien ran like his head was on fire," Del Rio said. "He played great."
"We got to see what Damien is about," Ward said. "He had some good runs. It was Chris Brown last year (in the Spring Game); it was Damien Haskins this year."
Said Riley: "Damien is a very talented guy. He just has to get more comfortable with college football and with what we do overall, with pass protection and route-running. He's a good runner, powerful, and he has very good feet. He can change direction and go."
With Brandin Cooks watching from the sidelines in preparation for the NFL draft, and with junior Richard Mullaney sidelined by an ankle injury, youngsters got all of the opportunities at wide receiver. The most impressive was redshirt freshman Hunter Jarmon, who caught three passes for 41 yards, including a one-handed grab near the sidelines.
"I was glad to see Hunter step up and make some plays," Riley said. "We need that. We're still looking for that with this receiving corps. We'll have to continue to work at getting production there, because we're not there yet."
The receiver with the most upside -- and the one most like Cooks in terms of skill level -- is sophomore Victor Bolden.
"Victor has to be that guy who steps up," Riley said. "With his speed, he's a threat with whatever he does. He's going to be very important to the development of our team next season."
The Beavers focused on the running game the second half of the scrimmage. With center Isaac Seumalo and guard Josh Mitchell missing due to injury and guard Grant Bays also banged up, "a lot of the young guys got some work today," Ward said.
"Our (ground-game) production is based on our linemen," Ward said. The running backs "have a little thing to do about it, but without them, we're nothing. We need to get those guys back healthy for camp and be ready to go. We get the line right, we're going to be good."
Del Rio said the injuries to the O-line this spring are to be taken "in stride."
"The guys who have had to fill in have done a great job," he said. "It's a special group of guys. Spring is a learning environment for everybody. Once we get healthy, it's going to be great."
Ward gives a thumbs-up to Garrett, who replaced Danny Langsdorf as offensive coordinator after 15 years as an assistant in the NFL.
"Coach Garrett is a great coach," Ward said. "He brings a lot of excitement to practice. If any play goes by and you're not being coached by him, it's almost like a shock, because he's coaching you on everything you do, and at every position. To have him around, with his knowledge of the NFL, has been great. I love him as a coach."