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Battle simmers for Beavers starting QB

Its still a two-man race between Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Sean Mannion will battle teammates Cody Vaz for the starting quarterback job at Oregon State when football camp begins Aug. 5 in Corvallis.CORVALLIS — As the sun begins to set on another beautiful Oregon summer day, four quarterbacks lead a host of receivers through passing drills on the shiny turf at Reser Stadium.

Two of them — Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz — have a singular goal in mind.

In less than two weeks, Mannion and Vaz will renew their rivalry for the job as Oregon State's starting QB.

It's a friendly yet spirited duel, and the result will be crucial to the success of the 2013 Beavers.

Mannion, a 6-5 junior who has filled out to 220 pounds through an offseason of weight training, started eight games last season, but was slowed midway by knee surgery that turned the starting job over to Vaz.

Vaz, a 6-1, 200-pound junior, started five games, missing two games with an ankle injury, then returning to start in OSU's 31-27 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

After spring practice, coach Mike Riley declared the starting nod still up for grabs. That's the way it will stand when the Beavers begin training camp Aug. 5 in preparation for the Aug. 30 opener against Eastern Washington.

Both signal-callers continue to maintain a positive attitude toward the competition.

"We're both working hard," Vaz says. "We both want to start. I want nothing more than to be the starting quarterback on this team. That's why I've been working so hard for this offseason. But any time there is competition at any position, it's going to help out our team."

"We're good with each other," Mannion says. "We're out here throwing together every day. We're competing, but it's nothing we hold against each other. We both want to start. We just know that's how it is right now."

Vaz admits the competition can be trying to a personal relationship.

"I try not to think about that too much," he says. "It's hard when you're competing against somebody. We both want that job really bad. But it will be good for us in the long run."

Mannion seems to be throwing the ball accurately and with confidence, a good sign after an up-and-down sophomore season. He credits much of that to the offseason program laid out by Bryan Miller, the team's sports performance coordinator.

"I've gotten a lot stronger and faster on the field with all the speed work Bryan has us doing," Mannion says. "I feel I've improved a lot physically, and mentally as well.

"When I think about where I was last fall and where I was at the end of spring ball, I've improved. If you break it up in segments, I've made strides from fall to spring to summer. At this point, all I can do is worry about myself, continue to become a better player and let the rest take care of itself."

Vaz, who went more than a year without cutting his hair beginning in May 2012, has shorn his locks to a more aerodynamic look.

"Feels nice," he says of his new 'do. "It's cooler and easier to take care of."

Since the season ended last December, Vaz said, "I've been working my butt off. I feel I'm in the best shape of my life right now and and am ready for camp."

Mannion, Vaz and the other two quarterbacks — redshirt freshman Brent VanderVeen and true freshman Kyle Kempt — have been throwing to receivers every day, featured by 7-on-7 drills against defenders on Wednesdays and Fridays.

"The guys have been working hard," Vaz says. "Everybody is dedicated. Hopefully, it will benefit us during the season."

Though coaches can't require it, Mannion says he believes every Oregon State player on scholarship has remained in Corvallis to work out and take classes this summer.

"The commitment has been outstanding," says Mannion, who completed 12 hours of course work during summer sessions. "Across the board, everybody has been working real hard. Everyone realizes there is nothing that compares to the kind of work we'll get here together as a team."

Mannion and Vaz have worked most closely with a receiving corps that will miss all-Pac-12 selection Markus Wheaton, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The man mostly likely to step into Wheaton's shoes as the leader is Brandin Cooks, the 5-10, 185-pound junior already named to one preseason All-America team.

"Brandin has caught my eye even more so this summer," Vaz says. "He's gotten so much bigger and stronger in the weight room, and has been a real vocal leader."

The other two starting wideout spots are up for grabs, with seniors Kevin Cummings and Micah Hatfield, junior Obum Gwachum, sophomore Richard Mullaney and redshirt freshman Malik Gilmore the leading candidates.

Vaz and Mannion both mentioned Mullaney, who missed spring ball due to shoulder surgery, as a receiver to watch for.

"Richard has shown me something this summer," Mannion says. "He's in great shape and catches everything in sight. We have a ton of guys with game experience. That's going to prove valuable as we try to make up for the loss of Markus."

The quarterbacks also have worked closely with the tight ends, perhaps the deepest position on the team, with juniors Connor Hamlett and Tyler Perry, sophomores Caleb Smith and Kellen Clute and redshirt freshman Dustin Stanton leading the way.

"That's a lot of big, athletic guys with plenty of experience," Vaz says. "That will be a benefit to whoever is playing quarterback."

After a dismal 3-9 season in 2011, Oregon State enjoyed a bounce-back 2012 campaign, beginning 6-0 before finishing 9-4. Three of the losses came by a total of 11 points. Pundits are looking at the Beavers' 2013 schedule and figuring a 7-0 record going into an Oct. 26 matchup with Stanford at Reser isn't out of the question.

"Correct little mistakes and finish games and we could have been a one-loss team last year," Vaz says. "We weren't happy about how last season ended, though. We have high expectations for this season. But it's like last year — we have to take it one week at a time.

"Everybody can talk about starting 7-0, but we just want to start 1-0. We want to beat Eastern Washington, and then we'll take it from there."

"Our goal is to win every game," Mannion said. "If you were to look at it any differently, you're selling yourself short. We put in a ton of work to improve from 3-9 to 9-4. But it's not going to be the same amount of work — it's going to be even more work to improve on 9-4. Whenever you think you've arrived is when you're going to start to have trouble. Our guys have done an exceptional job of not having that mind-set and continuing to stay hungry."

Mannion and Vaz know no matter who starts the opener, the other guy is only one play away from getting the call.

"That's something I learned last year," Vaz says. "You always have to be ready. Nothing will change this year. I'll compete and prepare myself like I'm the starter no matter what."

kerryeggers@portlandtribune.com

Twitter: @kerryeggers