1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
We knew in advance that absent a catastrophic injury or something of the kind, the quarterback competition wouldn't be settled, so my main focus was on whether both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz were actually fully recovered from their knee and ankle injuries, respectively. Both injuries had persisting affects even after the players were "cleared" and returned.
The good news is that both Mannion and Vaz are physically sound. When Mannion strided into a throw, there was no instability, or twinges, and he was able to throw deep and hard, which is what was lost late in the season. That said, I still saw Mannion throwing off his back foot, possibly out of habit, several times, a habit he will have to kick.
Vaz's mobility that made him effective prior to the serious ankle injury he suffered at Stanford, and night and day different than the qb on 1 leg we saw in San Antonio, also seemed to be back. He was able to cut and
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
"Major style changes" and "Mike Riley" are phrases rarely used together, so expect most things the Beavers do this season to resemble what you have seen before. However, a combination of turnover and lack of depth at DT and a healthy supply of linebackers could result in some modified 3-4 or 3-3-5 looks defensively. Last year, going to nickel formations almost always meant dropping the middle linebacker, a move made even more necessary by a lack of depth at LB.
But in spring ball, especially after injuries started to mount, I did see some 3 man fronts, which coincidentally took advantage of the greater depth at LB that currently exists.
I also saw more deep pass routes to backs, particularly Storm Woods, rather than all passes to RBs being swing passes and dump-off routes.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
It took most of spring ball to happen, but late in the going, Micah Hatfield began to perform on a more consistent basis at WR in the manner people have been waiting to see from him. Richard Mullaney, who was expected to pick up a lot of the load for the departed Markus Wheaton, but he missed spring ball drills rehabbing. He might find he has a challenge to get on the field this fall as much as he had expected.
Defensively, it appears Joel Skotte should be the starter at MLB, and DJ Alexander has really progressed physically at OLB. But it was the competition between Sean Martin and JC transfer Steven Nelson to replace CB Jordan Poyer that caught a lot of people's attention.
Martin has the experience edge, but Nelson's speed is impressive; he's the only one in the secondary that can run with WR Brandin Cooks. Coach Mike Riley has said he sees both as "starters", and whether that means situational switches between the two, or seeing both of them at once in nickel and dime situations remains to be seen, but I expect both to see plenty of action this fall.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
Offensively, that no one emerges as a clear threat at WR opposite Cooks, and defenses can get away with doubling him every down.
Defensively, that the question marks at DT remain, and no one becomes a reliable stopper in the middle of the line against powerful rushing attacks.
I'm also concerned about an overall VERY short secondary. Opponents with big and tall receivers could be a mismatch problem for the Beavers.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
Contender, if they stay reasonably healthy, but still not a threat to win the Pac-12 North absent outside abnormalities. This is in large part due to the athleticism deficit everyone suffers compared to Oregon, and how good Stanford has a chance to be.
The season sets up for a fast start, and getting off to one will be necessary, because the back end is very tough. A Holiday Bowl or Sun Bowl bid and another possible top 25 season seem like entirely attainable goals.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
WR Hunter Jarmon. As discussed above, there is a need for a clear threat at WR opposite Cooks, and Jarmon has size (6', 190 lbs.) and 4.5 speed. If he can pick up the system quickly, he could become the force that will force opponents to stay honest with their secondary.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
It's a toss-up between Poyer and Wheaton. They were the 2 best players on the team, and they also were factors beyond their primary positions, Poyer on special teams and Wheaton as a rushing threat from the WR position.
Poyer leaves more and bigger holes to fill, but there are more candidates who look capable of doing so, whereas Wheaton's eventual replacement isn't yet obvious, and carries greater responsibility for the success of the team.
8. Any particular Pac12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall?
I'm really looking forward to the trip to Berkeley to see the new stadium we haven't been to yet, but the big one has to be the visit of the Huskies.
The Beavers kind of owe them one after the way they things went last year at the Clink, plus it appears that Oregon St. and Washington may be vieing with each other for the role of the third team in the Pac-12 North. When they meet on the next to last game of the regular season, the stakes could be a major bowl vs. a much lesser bowl, and the difference between a top 25 season or not.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
Fortunately, there really aren't any. Oregon St. got through the spring without any serious injuries that are expected to persist into fall camp.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
RB Storm Woods. He looked like he was playing in another gear this spring, at least until a possibly frustrated DB tired of getting run over and past rang his bell late in camp, giving him a concussion.
11. Has Mannion or Vaz finally separated himself from the pack?
12. Cody Vaz or Sean Mannion. Who do you want to win the QB battle and why?
Mannion, because if he has the higher ceiling. His height gives him an advantage in seeing the field, and at his best, he can go downfield better than Vaz, some of last year's results to the contrary not withstanding. I t would also mean he's shaken off bad habits of throwing off his back foot or waiting too long in the pocket.
And I say that despite being a big fan of Vaz, who appears to relate to the rest of the team better, and moves the pocket and within the pocket better.
But the "best of Sean" is spectacular. Consider the Arizona game last year, when Mannion directed long scoring drives that covered 83, 84, 77, and then in the fourth quarter, 86 and 75 yards, both of which brought the Beavers from behind. Mannion threw for 433 yards and 3 touchdowns, and with no interceptions.
It's not been a common occurrence, but if it becomes one, the Beavers will be very tough to beat.
13. Last season was a nice bounce-back year with nine wins. What's it going to take for OSU to challenge for the Pac-12 North against two powerhouses in Stanfurd and Oregon?
A continued injection of overall speed. Oregon St. was in position to beat Stanford last year, but Oregon has an overall speed advantage all over the field on most folks that's very hard to counter. There is simply no margin of error against the Ducks because there is no way to make up for anything that goes awry.
14. Who do you want to punch in the face?
Probably Gary Stevenson, the departed Pac-12 Enterprises President, if we are to believe that he is the one responsible for the negotiations that resulted in the botched distribution of the Pac-12 Network. It does't look promising that Directv will come on board for the second season, and there are problems with some (apparently many) of the contracts that were reached which further complicate getting better distribution, or getting a deal done with Directv.
Ultimately, it falls on Commissioner Larry Scott, and maybe Stevenson is actually a scapegoat, but the network hasn't delivered on promises, and fans and their teams are both worse off than they should be for it.
And the Big 10 and SEC are poised to make the consequences of the distribution shortcomings all the more damaging.
Whomever is responsible for no 3:30-4 PM starts (for a top 20 team), lots of late night starts late in the season, and now multiple Friday games, is a close runner up.
Let's give a rousing hip-hip-hooray to AndyPanda and Building the Dam for giving us some insight into spring football at Oregon State. Golden Bears, what do you project for the Beavers in 2013? Will they surprise everyone again and consequently challenge for #1 in the North? Which players are you most concerned about? Will the Bears be looking for some payback after last year's humiliating loss? Would you rather have In-N-Out or some Jumbacos?