Up and down and all around with Oregon State football
CORVALLIS — Observations from a first look at Oregon State's spring practice Friday at Tommy Prothro Field ...
• The organization appeared solid, the coaches on task and the players were flying around with feeling as first-time head coach Jonathan Smith and his assistants sent their charges through their second of 15 sessions of spring ball.
The former Beaver quarterback and MVP of the 2001 Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame is making his presence felt, though at times in subtle fashion.
I asked senior quarterback Jake Luton how much involvement Smith had in coaching him up at the signal-calling position.
"He is overseeing a lot of things, but he is always letting me know what he's seeing and what he's expecting out of me," Luton says. "It's insightful coming from him. I'm sure as time goes on, he'll keep helping me more."
For now, Smith is mostly CEO of Beaver football, for a good reason.
"It's a little bit of the oversee piece, but the reality is, I feel great about the coaches I've got," Smith said. "These guys are experts. Letting them coach is first on my mind."
Smith liked what he saw through two hours and 15 minutes of work on the second day of drills.
"There was a lot of intensity," he says. "It was crisp. guys were playing with good energy, and we have to keep that going."
OSU coaches are stressing fundamentals and doing plenty of teaching, taking nothing for granted as they implement the system they will use next season. At the offensive end, it will be a blend of what the coaches have employed at their most recent stops — Smith at Washington, offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren at Colorado and assistant head coach/tight ends coach Mike Riley at Nebraska.
"It's a balance," Smith says. "It's more of an art than a science. There are some foundation things, some schemes that we've been around that we know are very solid. Then you start blending to the skill sets of the players.
"We're at the starting point with the foundation on both sides. You have to get that right before you start building on it. (The players) seem to be grasping it well."
Smith acknowledged it's difficult to judge the talent on hand until the Beavers put the pads on. That will likely come Monday with the fourth practice session. Two scrimmages are planned — on April 14 at Beaverton's Mountainside High and during the April 28 Spring Game at Reser Stadium.
• Six quarterbacks are taking reps, including sophomores Conor Blount and Mason Moran, redshirt freshman Aidan Willard and redshirt freshman transfer Nick Moore — brother of ex-Beaver great Matt Moore — who will redshirt.
But the starting job will likely come down to a battle between Luton and Jack Colletto, the sophomore transfer from Arizona Western JC by way of Camas (Washington) High.
The 6-7, 225-pound Luton — who started the first four games before a season-ending spine injury a year ago — looks healthy and showed his big arm off several times on Friday. He finished full team work by running for a first down on a keeper.
"I have to get my strength and range of motion back, but I'm feeling really good," Luton said.
Luton said he has enjoyed working with the new staff.
"So far, it's been really good," he said. "A lot of teaching. A lot of getting us to get in the right spots. They get on us sometimes, but it's a good vibe out here with them.
"I love Brian. It's been great working with him for the past four months, and now getting on the field with him. He's a great coach."
Luton has taken on a leadership role already.
"My goal this spring is to get the team to compete every day," he said. "I want to get the guys ready to go with high energy and competing against each other. That will go a long way toward getting us ready for next season."
The 6-3, 225-pound Colletto went to Arizona Western because he wasn't satisfied with the Division I offers he received out of Camas, where he led the Papermakers to a state championship as a senior. After last season, he visited Oregon State and Vanderbilt.
"I liked where Oregon State was headed," Colletto said. "The coaching staff, the people, the city — I like Corvallis. It's home to me already. It was a combination of everything."
Colletto said he has been impressed with the reception he has gotten after arriving a week ago for spring term.
"All the players are coming in with open arms," he said. "It's a challenge when you have to get to know new people, but they've made it really easy for me."
Colletto said he spoke with Lindgren over the phone about installation of the offense in recent weeks, "so I wasn't completely unaware of what was going on when I got here. It's been hectic, but I was expecting that."
Colletto said he likes the approach of the coaches.
"I love what the coaches expect of the players, and it's clear what the players expect out of each other," he said. "The whole system inspires a lot of loyalty. It's working out really well."
A relationship already has been built between Luton and Colletto, he said.
"I don't like to have a competition get in the way with meeting new people," Colletto said. "Jake is a great guy."
• There's no doubt that 5-11, 200-pound junior Artavis Pierce will be the starting running back and a team leader. Behind him, don't sleep on 5-8, 185-pound Calvin Tyler, who saw spot duty as a true freshman last season. He has a little bit of Jacquizz Rodgers in him.
There is also B.J. Baylor, a 5-11, 210-pound redshirt freshman, and Christian Wallace, converted after two ineffective seasons trying to learn to play in the secondary. The 6-1, 220-pound Wallace, a running back at Sealy (Texas) High, looks the part of a formidable ball carrier, but he'll have to get re-accustomed to the position.
• The receiver position was a problem last year, but receivers coach Kefense Hynson is already working overtime building what he hopes will be a stronger unit.
The standouts early include sophomore Isaiah Hodgins, junior Trevon Bradford and senior Timmy Hernandez.
But others caught my eye Friday, including redshirt freshman Kolby Taylor and pint-sized redshirt freshman Champ Flemings, at 5-5 and 135 blessed with great burst and good hands.
Luton mentioned walk-on I'Shon Stewart, a 6-foot, 165-pound true freshman from Bolingbrook, Illinois, as having had "two really good days of practice."
• Several of the offensive line spots seem up for grabs. Two returning starters should reclaim their jobs — junior tackle Blake Brandel and junior guard Gus Lavaka. The 6-4, 370-pound Lavaka needs to get himself in better shape, though, before fall arrives. The same can be said, incidentally, for 6-3, 380-pound junior nose tackle Elu Aydon.
• The defensive line play must improve from a year ago, and three ends who didn't play in 2017 show promise of instant impact — 6-4, 250-pound redshirt freshman Isaac Garcia, 6-7, 260-pound redshirt freshman Jaelen Bush and 6-2, 290-pound junior transfer Jeremy Reichner. Returning starter Kalani Vakameilalo, a 6-3, 315-pound senior tackle, should be a force in the middle.
• The linebacker corps is thinned by the indefinite suspension of senior Bright Ugwoegbu — he should be back before the end of spring ball. There's little question that 6-3, 200-pound sophomore Kee Whetzel will be an important part of that position group.
• The secondary isn't what it will look like when training camp begins in August. Sitting it out with injuries this spring are cornerbacks Dwayne Williams, Shawn Wilson, Jay Irvine and Xavier Crawford and safeties David Morris and Omar Hicks-Onu.
Even with that, it appears to be a deep group. Participants in spring include cornerbacks Kaleb Hayes — he has three interceptions in two days of practice, including a pick-six on Friday — and Isaiah Dunn and safeties Jalen Moore, Moku Watson, Jeffrey Manning, Drew Kell and TraJon Cotton.
• NOTES: Among others on the sidelines with injuries this spring are tight ends Noah Togiai and Tuly Wily-Matagi, receiver Tino Allen and linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray. ... Two linebackers from last year's team have been medically retired — Kesi Ah-Hoy and Shemiah Unutoa-Whitson.