OSU FOOTBALL NOTES: Receivers, kicker, returners among those looking good
CORVALLIS - Notes, quotes and observations as Oregon State's football practice schedule its April 30 Spring Game ...
• Head coach Mike Riley is excited about his coaching staff, which includes newly hired Brent Brennan (wide receivers) and Chris Braswell (running backs), along with grad assistants Mitch Meeuwsen (safeties) and Alan Darlin (linebackers).
Riley is emphatic with praise for Keith Heyward, who previously coached the cornerbacks but has an expanded role in the new scheme as secondary coach.
'Keith is doing a great job,' Riley says. 'He's really grown as a coach.'
• Life is a little simpler in Corvallis for Brennan, who coached at San Jose State last season but lived in Danville, Calif., in the San Ramon Valley.
'I had a one-way commute of 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the time of day,' Brennan says.
'He has two stop signs now,' Riley quips.
• With starters James Rodgers and Jordan Bishop sitting out spring with injuries, four returnees - Markus Wheaton, Darrell Catchings, Geno Munoz and Obum Gwachum - are getting plenty of reps at the receiver spots, though Munoz is now idled with a hamstring injury.
'Markus is having an outstanding spring, and Catchings is resurfacing,' Riley says. 'He looks quicker and stronger. He is making plays and reminding of those days in the past.'
Catchings, a 5-11, 175-pound senior, caught 33 passes as a true freshman in 2007 but has been pretty much a non-factor since then.
The 6-5, 220-pound Gwachum, who redshirted last season, is playing behind Wheaton at split end. No matter what, Gwachum will be in the rotation this fall.
'Obum is light years ahead of a year ago, when he didn't know the difference between a comeback and a hook route,' Riley says. 'He's an exciting talent. He still has a lot to learn, but he makes a lot of plays through size, speed, jumping ability and good hands.'
• Wheaton, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior, should be one of the team leaders next season.
'We're seeing the maturation of Markus Wheaton before our eyes,' Riley says.
'I think so,' Wheaton says with a smile. 'It seems like I just got here. When I first got here, I was young and dumb, going wide-eyed into college.
'We have a lot of young receivers. I'll be trying to do everything I can to help them out get them where they need to be. I'm still learning myself, though. We have a great new coach in (Brennan). It's all exciting.'
Another receiver ticketed to get reps, 6-foot, 175-pound sophomore Micah Hatfield, broke a hand and will miss the rest of spring ball.
'Micah was doing well, running a lot of first string at flanker,' Riley says. 'It's a shame for him and for the team. He can run, he can catch balls, he's just not very big.'
• Starting quarterback Ryan Katz, still recovering from January surgery on his throwing (right) wrist, sat out a couple of practices with soreness but is back in action. Katz is making all the throws but taking only shotgun and not direct snaps, which is harder on the wrist.
'The doctor has told Ryan he can't hurt the wrist by throwing,' Riley says. 'Next week, we'll see if we can get him into (11-on-11) skeleton drills.'
Cody Vaz, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore, and Sean Mannion, a 6-5, 220-pound redshirt freshman, are battling for the backup QB spot.
'Cody has had some great moments,' Riley says. 'He has cut down on the bad things. He has improved his arm strength, his ability to get rid of the ball, his knowledge of what we're doing. He has made a lot of plays.
'Sean is getting more comfortable every day. His biggest problem is, he tries to throw the ball so hard, when he has plenty of arm for almost any throw. He can throw it much more easily and work on his efficiency.'
Can the lanky Mannion run?
'For a tall kid, he has good mobility,' Riley says. 'He's not going to run for 50 yards, but he can scramble for first downs out of the pocket.'
'You can't spin it,' the OSU coach adds. 'It's not good to not have James or Jordan, and it's not good to not have your quarterback all the time. But the silver lining is, we're getting good work out of a lot of guys. Sean and Cody, this is valuable time for them. I've really enjoyed that part of it.'
• Kkicker Trevor Romaine, the grayshirt freshman from Corona, Calif., who inherits Justin Kahut's job, already has made an impression.
'Trevor's been really good,' special teams coach Bruce Read says. 'He's pretty decent on kickoffs. He has better leg strength than Kahut but maybe not as good placement.'
Romaine's field-goal range?
'Long, long, long,' Read says. 'He can hit a 60-yard field goal easy.'
Romaine's temperament is different from his predecessor's. Kahut sometimes struggled with confidence.
'Trevor is cocky - such a switch from Justin,' Read says. 'He's one of those guys where, if he misses two, he'll be saying, 'I'm not going to miss three in a row, no way.' '
• Long snapper Marcus Perry, a senior, returns, with redshirt freshman Mike Morovick and grayshirt freshman Troy Whelan in reserve.
'We have three pretty good snappers,' Read says. 'Troy's another good kid from De La Salle (High in Concord, Calif.). Mike has changed his body from last year. He's bigger and stronger. His brother (Danny) snapped for four years at Washington. It runs in the family.'
• Jordan Poyer is returning both kickoffs and punts. Wheaton is returning kickoffs, and redshirt freshman Malcolm Marable 'is looking pretty good on returns,' Read says. 'And we'll add (true freshman Brandin) Cooks to the mix in August.'
Once James Rodgers returns, will he return kickoffs?
'I don't know why not, if he's healthy,' Read says. 'He wants to do it. Along with Tim Alexander, they're probably the two best I've ever had at Oregon State.'
• Among the names Read rattled off for kickoff and punt coverage: Poyer, Brandon Hardin, Cameron Collins, Anthony Watkins, Shaydon Akuna, Donell Welch, Michael Bibbie, Ryan Murphy, Tyler Anderson, Terron Ward and Jovan Stevenson.
'A lot of those guys have never played' special teams, Read says. 'We're young in coverage. They're going to have to step up.'
• Senior Ryan McCants, sophomore Stevenson, redshirt freshman Marable and grayshirt freshman Ward have all had their moments, Riley says.
'Jovan is a smooth pass-catcher,' Riley says. 'Ryan is in the best shape of his life. he's had some good runs. Malcolm has a lot of talent. He has to keep learning. Terron's been impressive. He has stepped in there and played ball. He is a good runner, a good receiver, and he is our best blocker of the group right now.
'This thing may come down to a first-and-10 back, a third-down back, a rotation - I don't know how it will play out. We just have to keep letting these guys play.'
• Riley on the starting offensive line: 'Every one of them has improved. Are we good enough yet? I don't know. But all those guys are better.'
• Behind Joe Halahuni at tight end, 6-3, 265-pound junior Colby Prince has stepped up. 'He's ready to play,' Riley says.
Also likely in the rotation at tight end and H-back is Connor Hamlett, a 6-6, 260-pound redshirt freshman.
• The only returning starter in the defensive line is senior tackle Kevin Frahm, who has put on at least 10 pounds and is at 275. Frahm likes the move of 6-2, 265-pound senior Dominic Glover from end to tackle and the speed of junior college D-ends Rusty Fernando and Blake Harrah.
'Both of those guys are really talented,' Frahm says of Fernando and Harrah. 'The biggest thing for them is to be coachable and learn what we're trying to do.
'We've had success in the past having not enormous guys at tackle. We use our speed and athleticism. Dominic fits right into that scheme.'
• Several players have a chance to figure into the rotation at outside linebacker. Senior Cameron Collins, the converted safety, and sophomore Michael Doctor are starting for now, with grayshirt freshman Welch, redshirt freshman Akuna and junior Shiloah Te'o getting their reps.
'Doctor has added 20 pounds and looks like a different guy physically,' Riley says. 'He's fast and mean. Collins has some experience now at linebacker and knows what he's doing. Welch can run and has been impressive. Te'o has a savvy about him. He has good athletic ability, and he's a hitter. Akuna is another good-looking athlete. He just needs more scrimmaging, to get a feel for the game.'
• Juniors Tony Wilson and Rueben Robinson, who shared starting duties at middle linebacker last season, are in a battle with junior Feti Unga and redshirt freshman Michael Bibbie.
'I can't sort them out right now,' Riley says. 'Tony and Rueben are better players than they were at the end of last year. Unga might be the most natural (middle backer). He doesn't look great running, but he makes tackles. And Bibbie, that kid will be in there at some point.'
• The secondary has the most experience, with Poyer and Hardin returning at cornerback and Lance Mitchell at safety.
'The most exciting thing there is the play of three young corners - Rashaad Reynolds, Sean Martin and Keynan Parker,' Riley says. 'They all look better.'