As we at The Official Candy Report try and make sense of what we see during Spring Practice (to varying levels of success) we are left with the one major philosophical question of scrimmages:
“Is that guy really good, or is the guy he going against struggling?”
When you play against yourself, it is bittersweet victories. You don’t want to shred your defense because it brings up fears that they are going to get shredded all year. You also don’t want your defense to dominate your offense completely because it could mean that your offense is not very effective.
So you have to find context clues within what you do know to find your answers. For instance, I know that Sean Mannion was effective against most of the teams he played against. I know that he has been largely successful the last few years and is a potential All American candidate with a career 64% completion percentage. So if he is threading the needle and getting the ball to his receivers in tight spaces, I can be confident he will do that in games.
Likewise, I know what DJ Alexander has done to offenses and how he plays, so if he is getting stopped, I know that the offense is stopping one of the better linebackers in the conference.
But when you are watching the battles at, say, receiver and corner, there is some wiggle room. From Wednesday to Friday I saw some improvement in the receivers. With Mullaney being healthy now, the reports are that the receivers are starting to separate themselves a bit into a legitimate pecking order. But the corners, Nelson, Hunt, Scott and Patrick are a little less obvious. Nelson was pretty good last year in his first year, but I am convinced that this year he will be vastly improved. He is a very hard worker and motivated to make it into the NFL. Last year he was honorable mention all conference and tied for 7th nationally in interceptions (though he only trailed the five guys tied for second by one and the leader by two).
So there is this ‘Chicken versus Egg’ argument. Do the receivers look better because the corners and safeties are playing poorly or did they look a little rough at times early on because the corners and safeties are amazing.
I tend to think these things are in the middle. I like the defense to be a little better at the offset because the defense is more reactionary and the offense needs more refining. Regardless, that is the quandary of spring football, and even fall camp. How good players look is based on how well they play against their own team, against players they know and have played against every day for as long as they have been at Oregon State. Games are different, and every team has their main studs in different areas. Sometimes their guys are better than yours, and so you have to compete against a talent you couldn’t prepare for.
I think OSU has some very good athletes, and the guys with experience, by and large, have done well against good competition. So when I watched practice, I watched it thinking that both of these squads are filled with legit Pac-12 players. I looked at the team and thought about what areas were weak last year, namely stopping the run and running the ball. With so many new faces, how do you say that the defensive front that is stuffing last year’s 115th ranked rushing offense and say they are improved? It is always going to be hard to get a definitive answer, but there are subtle things you can see. Guys like Delva that have reshaped their bodies. Or Grimble and his quick feet and obviously strong frame. Wynn with his added weight and explosion. All of these changes are visible and obvious.
So right now, as the team is working on the details of their craft and trying to figure out their footwork, their hand placement, and reinforcing the practice of bringing their hips through when they block. All the details that are hard to judge outside of a game, but that will translate into wins on Saturdays.