Beavers go for spring chemistry
CORVALLIS — Notes, quotes and observations from Oregon State's Spring Game, which was really more like a glorified practice session Saturday at Reser Stadium ...
• The offensive stars of the limited scrimmage portion of practice were sophomore quarterback Conor Blount and senior receiver Timmy Hernandez.
Statistics weren't kept, but Blount was sharp from the opening drive, hitting Hernandez on a 30-yard bomb, finding Kolby Taylor for 23 yards and then finishing with a 5-yard TD strike to Hernandez. Blount later connected with redshirt freshman running back B.J. Baylor on a swing pass for 30 yards and a score.
The scrimmage ended with senior Jake Luton hooking up with Hernandez on a fade route for a 12-yard touchdown pass.
Spring ball began with what some expected to be a battle for the starting QB job between Luton — who started the first four games last season before suffering a season-ending thoracic spine injury — and JC transfer Jack Colletto. Blount, who redshirted last season after playing some as a true freshman in 2016, has thrust himself ahead of Colletto into a strong competition with Luton.
"We're pushing each other," Luton says. "Since I came in last year, I've always had a great deal of respect for Conor. I knew he was a really good player and a kid who is going to keep getting better over time. It's a lot of fun, pushing each other every day."
First-year coach Jonathan Smith has maintained an open competition at all positions, quarterback included. Luton, Blount, Colletto and redshirt freshman Aidan Willard have all gotten ample reps during the practice sessions open to the media.
"It's been like that throughout the entire spring," says the 6-1 Blount, who has added 10 pounds to a frame that now carries 205 pounds. "The coaches let us mix in and go out there and perform."
The 6-7, 235-pound Luton moves pretty well for a player his size, but Blount's mobility is superior, and his passing accuracy through the spring has been impressive.
"Spring (practice) went well," Blount says. "It's been about getting the chemistry with everybody again and getting to feel how these coaches go about our business and how we go about ours."
The spring has been about getting accustomed to football again after six-month hiatus for Luton, who has the biggest arm of the quarterback candidates.
"I feel good," he says. "I feel strong. I feel healthy."
Colletto, a 6-3, 225-pound sophomore from Arizona Western JC by way of Camas, Washington, runs well and had a long scramble Saturday. But his arm has been erratic. Colletto, who didn't start last season at Arizona Western, hasn't been eliminated from contention as he makes the adjustment to the FBS ranks. But it appears as if he'll be behind Blount and Luton when the battle resumes during August training camp.
• With sophomore Isaiah Hodgins out with a dislocated shoulder, Hernandez has been the poster guy among the receiving corps.
"Timmy has been outstanding for us this spring," Blount says. "He's a hard-nosed player, smart and savvy."
"He is coming into his own as a receiver," Luton says. "When I have Timmy one-on-one (on a defender), I'm going to feed him the ball and let him make a play. He has made plays all throughout the spring."
Hernandez had a solid junior season in 2017 after a transfer from Pima JC in Tucson, Arizona, tying for third on the Beavers with 30 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns. OSU coaches hope he will have the same type of progression as another possession receiver, Shane Morales, who caught 54 passes for 743 yards and eight scores as a senior for the Beavers in 2008.
"It's been fun to be out here with a fresh start," says the 6-foot, 200-pound Hernandez. "I've done OK. You're never going to have a perfect spring. There are a lot of things we need to work on. You can make 100 great plays, but if you make one bad play, you're going to think about that one. You have to focus on your weaknesses."
Hernandez isn't about to single anyone out in the quarterback competition.
"Whoever is in the game, it's his job to throw me the ball, it's my job to catch it," he says. "They've all shown at different times they can be the guy. We need to find someone who can be the guy every play, not just sometimes."
• Hernandez says a good portion of the offense has already been installed.
"These coaches like to start fast," he says. "They say that a lot. We're not going to ease in, so when we hit (training) camp, we don't have to install everything again. We'll hit the ground running."
• Blount, on the new coaching staff: "The relationships they've built with us right away has been huge. You can see just how dedicated they are. In turn, we've made huge strides, for sure."
• There's no competition for the starting running back position, which will be manned by 5-11, 200-pound junior Artavis Pierce. The back-up job, though, would seem to be a battle between the 5-11, 210-pound Baylor, 5-8, 195-pound sophomore Calvin Tyler and 6-1, 220-pound sophomore Christian Wallace, the latter transitioning from the secondary.
"They're all great guys — Calvin, B.J., Christian and Hunter (Mattson, a 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore from Corvallis)," Pierce says. "I'm going to lead them in the right direction. They can all play. If they're in the game instead of me, we're not skipping a beat."
• The offensive line appears relatively set, with returning starters Sumner Houston at center, Gus Lavaka at guard and Blake Brandel and Trent Moore at tackle. Moore has moved from right guard to right tackle. The other starter Saturday was 6-3, 280-pound senior Yanni Demogerontas, who has shifted from backup center to right guard.
It will be interesting to see if any of the O-linemen behind them — including senior Kammy Delp, 2017 JC transfer Clay Cordasco and redshirt freshman Onesimus Clarke — can make a move to challenge a starter during August camp.
• Lavaka, a 6-4, 370-pound senior, has three months to get himself into better shape before camp begins. The same holds true for Elu Aydon, the 6-3, 380-pound junior nose tackle.
• It appears that Jeromy Reichner, the 6-2, 290-pound junior transfer from L.A. Valley JC, will win a starting role on the defensive line. He and 6-3, 315-pound senior Kalani Vakameilalo seem to be the top two D-linemen in a defensive scheme that at times will feature just two down linemen along with four linebackers and five backs.
Others who have been set themselves for roles up front include a pair of redshirt freshmen — 6-7, 260-pound Jaelen Bush and 6-4, 250-pound Isaac Garcia — and 6-foot, 265-pound true freshman Isaac Hodgins. And perhaps 6-4, 310-pound junior Miki Fifita, who had a sack Saturday, can have a impact.
• The most noticeable linebacker Saturday was Kee Whetzel, the quicksilver outside 'backer who came on to make an impact late last season as a true freshman. The 6-3 Whetzel has added 15 pounds to a frame that now carries 215 pounds.
"Three things," Whetzel says. "The weight room guys got me going. Plus, more eating good food, and protein shakes."
Whetzel says he has connected with defensive coordinator Tim Tebasar, who is also his position coach.
"I really enjoy Coach Tibs," Whetzel says. "We're in the (video) room with him all the time. He's a really good coach.
"But they're all good coaches. We're getting in the swing of things with them now. Everyone is excited about (the coaches). They're uplifting. They have us all on the same page."
• The starting secondary Saturday — sophomore Isaiah Dunn and redshirt freshman Kaleb Hayes at cornerback and redshirt freshman TraJon Cotton and junior Jalen Moore — may be very different from the quartet that takes the field at Ohio State on Sept. 1. Cornerbacks Dwayne Williams and Xavier Crawford and safeties David Morris and Omar Hicks-Onu all sat out the scrimmage due to injuries.
Once training camp hits, though, the secondary could be the team's deepest position group. Add corners DeShon Wilson, Shawn Wilson, Jaydon Grant and Jay Irvine and safeties Jeffrey Manning, Moku Watson and Drew Kell to the mix of candidates for playing time.
Hayes and Cotton have climbed into the thick of things with their performances through the spring.