Monthly Archives: May 2015

Josh Mitchell: Better Than You Think

On May 19, 2015 it was announced that Oregon State center Josh Mitchell had been added to the Remington Watch List, which honors the nation’s best center. For some, this was a shock as most fans would not look at the Beaver offensive line the past two years and clamor for any players to garner national recognition. In fact, as is often the case, the offensive line is left holding the bag for most offensive struggles, right or wrong.

On a the much-maligned Beaver offensive line, most fans probably only know injury-plagued,  All Pac-12 2nd Team center Isaac Seumalo. For those of you who are not familiar with Josh, you need to be. Josh, since his first days at OSU in 2012, has been one of the most consistent and hard working players on the Beavers. This season, he will be one of several three-year starters and is one of the key reasons that Beaver coaches are optimistic they will be able to run the ball well this year.

Looking over my practice notes from 2012, I remember going to watch fall camp wondering if the Beavers were going to find a way to improve on a miserable 2011 campaign.  When I watched the offensive line (as I often do), I made notes such as, “These guys are huge! Coach DeVan looks like a linebacker compared to these guys!”  At the time, starting linemen Michael Philipp, Grant Enger, ‘Juice’ Andrews, Colin Kelly, and rising star freshman Isaac Seumalo looked gigantic — especially with massive freshmen stars like Garret Weinreich and Gavin Andrews looking on.

The interesting thing is, when I look at those notes or go back and listen to the audio recordings, this is what I hear:

“Man, number 50 is everywhere!”
“50 again makes a great stop. High motor, very athletic out of his stance.”
“Great play and 50 really blew up the linebacker”
“They are going to have a hard time keeping 50 off the field.”

There were many more, but whether it was one-on-one or full team drills, Josh Mitchell was making the most of every rep.  A much smaller 280 pounds at the time, he made up for any youthful physical shortcomings by never quitting and being quick and smart. Josh knew the playbook as well as anyone by the end of camp, and the more I watched him, the more I felt like he was the real deal. And not to toot my own horn, but I wasn’t the only one. Josh played in 10 games as a true freshman, was on the punt team, and was the primary backup at guard/center for the Beavers. While many recruitniks thought he was going to end up on the defensive side of the ball, party because of his athleticism and depth at defensive line, and partly because he was the least ballyhooed member of an impressive 2012 offensive line class, Josh was quietly making his case to be a starter sooner rather than later.

During an injury plagued 2013 season, Josh came in for his first career start against Eastern Washington and played admirably against Utah and San Diego State, while Seumalo moved around to help shore up an injury-riddled offensive line. In a season where no two weeks saw the same group of linemen for two games in a row until week seven, Josh was key in putting the Beavers in position to win six straight games.

While not a household name, Josh has continued to put the work in and has transformed his body into a solid 300-pound, all-conference caliber body. Shoulder surgery and knee pain kept him from practicing a lot during 2014. But being finally healthy and having the help of new strength and conditioning coach, Evan Simon, Josh is poised for an even better 2015. His name being on the Remington Watch List is not a fluke, and as the Beavers prepare for a new season with new coaches and a new offense, Josh is going to be key in the Beavers’ plan to start the Andersen regime off with a bowl game.

From day one, Josh has stood out to me, and as he gets ready for his final year in Corvallis, he will leave as one of my favorite Beaver offensive linemen I’ve watched. He has taken advantage of every opportunity he has had, worked hard, and done everything he could to get on the field and earn the respect of his teammates and opponents alike.

I have every confidence that Josh can not only be a finalist for the Remington Award award, but that at this time next year, there will be a reporter or pro scout or blogger that is writing, “Man, I cannot see how they can keep Mitchell off the field.”  All he needs is a chance — and he has proven he will make the most of it.

Go Beavers

The Makeup of the Pac-12 North

With the NFL Draft behind us, we thought it would be fun to take a look at Pac-12 North, which should be intriguing this season. While there are some bright spots, most of the North looks to be uncertain, and in many cases, I predict the cream of the conference is going to reside in the South. I am going to take a team-by-team look at each team lost, what it has returning, and where they may finish in the standings. After going through the sixth team, I will do my final preseason break down of where I pick each team to finish.

I will start things out with the Beavers, since that is why we are all here.

Oregon State Beavers:
What they lost:
We all know that Oregon State is replacing some key players from their 2014 team. Beyond 3rd round pick and Pac-12 career leading passer Sean Mannion going to the Rams, 4-year starter Dylan Wynn going to Cleveland, the Beavers also say goodbye four other draft picks and nine starters on defense. Also gone are tight end Connor Hamlett and running back Terron Ward.

What they have coming back:
While the departing list seems daunting, offensively, Oregon State returns six offensive linemen with at least one season of starting experience (assuming Isaac Seumalo is good to go). They return two running backs with experience and all of their receivers from a year ago. They also return a lot of young players who saw significant playing time on defense, including Jalen Grimble, Justing Strong, Cyril Noland-Lewis, Larry Scott, Rommel Mageo, and defensive ends Lavonte Barnett and Jashwa James. There is a lot of talented youth ready to step in as well, but definitely untested.

Potential Strength:
I would have to say that the strength of this team will be the offensive line. Should Isaac return and be in any sort of pre-injury form, this unit is going to shine. OSU will run the ball, and the new strength coach has them reshaping their bodies and putting in more work than they have in previous years here. OSU needs these guys to be stout because its breaking in a new system and new QB.

Potential Weakness:
This is tough for me. I think that the defensive secondary for sure has the most questions. It is not an indictment of talent or work, but just a void of any live information on them. That being said, I think that we will see an odd base front from the team because there are a lot of questions along the defensive front.

Unfortunately, I am going to throw a curve ball because I have my fears. I am going to pick the receivers. You can look at talent and experience and say that these guys are going to be a strength. But this is a new offense and they have to do new things and work their butts off to do them. I am going to be hard on this unit this year because they have to do one fundamental thing better than they have at any other time at OSU: Block.

Outside of Richard Mullaney, who is a fantastic and tenacious blocker, I have not seen anyone block well in this group. They are also going to have to play better than they have in terms of route running and catching the ball because their is a good chance the QB throwing to them is not going to be as accurate as Sean was.

Ultimately, this group needs to live up to their billing, and I think they have the most expectations, and therefore need to step up the most. I think the person who will benefit most from the offensive scheme change will be Mullaney, who I liken to former ducks WR Jeff Maehl.

Way Too Early Prognostication:
Any time you change coaches, there is going to be some mystery around a team. When you change from a pro-style offense to a spread-style offense, there is even more intrigue. Your view on this team depends on your trust in the new regime, trust that players buy in and trust in the pieces they have to get the job done.

I think Coach Andersen will have this team ready to go as well as he can, but that there will be some learning curves and bumps along the way. In terms of the North, I have OSU finishing near the top, but mostly because of the turmoil in the division.

DeCarolis Leaves Mixed Legacy

Let’s get it out of the way. I’ve never been the biggest Bob the Builder fan. Maybe I was spoiled by Mitch Barnhart — in the sense that I expect athletic directors to be charismatic and able  schmooze at will. Excitable and upbeat. A visionary, even if he/she is a little unrealistic.

As a result, I was never a fan of DeCarolis’ conservative nature and bean-counter approach. I’m all for being honest, real, and direct. But at times, it was hard get fired up about Beavers athletics during DeCarolis’ tenure.

There’s also the matter of some of his personnel moves. He could be extension-happy (Jay John) retain coaches too long (Craig Robinson), and what really bothered me was how  he handled the entire LaVonda Wagner situation. There’s no way what unfolded should’ve even gotten to that point — it should’ve been addressed much sooner.

But my biggest criticism of DeCarolis centered around the athletic department’s inability to market the Beavers effectively. There didn’t seem to be sense of urgency or desire to highlight successful programs and athletes, which could have helped with recruiting, as well as wooing the casual fan. OSU needs to win over more of those fans, not only to generate more revenue, but build excitement.

That said, a lot was accomplished during DeCarolis’ tenure — enough to easily counteract my views on his legacy (Hence the title of this post). He ran a clean ship and did so the right way, while working to reduce the department’s debt.

True to his nickname, a lot of things got built during his time at the helm  including the Truax Center, the OSU Softball Complex, the OSU Basketball Center. Meanwhile, Reser Stadium and Goss Stadium are among the facilities that got expanded. Most recently, plans were announced to renovate and expand the Valley Football Center.

And as of late, DeCarolis made outstanding hires in Scott Rueck (women’s hoops), Wayne Tinkle (men’s hoops), and Gary Andersen (football). Rueck has already proven to be a rousing success, while Tinkle and Andersen provide Beaver Nation with a lot of hope and excitement for the future.

To that end, I have to respect DeCarolis’ overall body of work and recognize that he’s leaving the athletic department in much better shape than it was when he stepped into the role. As a Beaver fan, that’s all I could’ve could’ve asked and wanted from the guy.

So Bob, thanks for all you did for Beavers athletics, Oregon State University, and the Corvallis community. I wish you the best in your future endeavors and know you will do it with class and integrity. Best wishes to your health and family. Go Beavs!

Finally, here’s a quick look at who could replace DeCarolis, based a little on logic and a lot of wishful thinking.

Likely hire: Mark Massari. Is in his second stint at OSU, this time serving as deputy athletic director, after spending six years as the University of California, Santa Barbara’s AD. He knows OSU and its strengths and weaknesses. He would provide a seamless transition and could continue the momentum that DeCarolis built recently. On the other hand, it would be nice to look outside of OSU and see who is interested in the position, because like Andersen, you just never know.

My preferred OSU-ties hire: Todd Stansbury. He’s in his fourth year as vice president and director of athletics at the University of Central Florida. Two years ago, he helped UCF transition from Conference USA to the ACC. The program also has made great strides academically. Having worked as associate AD at OSU from 2003-2013, he’s also very familiar with Beavers athletics. Disclaimer: I have a family connection to Stansbury, and have heard nothing but good things about his personality. He’s spoken of very highly.

Home run (pipe dream) hire: Greg Byrne. In his sixth year as Arizona’s AD, it seems very, very unlikely that Byrne would make what is most likely a lateral move. But OSU should swing for the fences, because he would be a freaking grand slam. Just look at his track record at Mississippi State and UA, they are nothing short of impressive — as well as at Oregon State, where he was an associate AD from 1998-2002. That, along with the fact he and his wife have Oregon roots, is why he might consider OSU. That said, don’t hold your breath.

Who do you think Oregon State’s next AD should be? What do you think about DeCarolis’ legacy?

Beaver-infested Draft

Heading into this year’s NFL draft, only two OSU players appeared to be shoo-ins to be selected: Sean Mannion and Steven Nelson. So it was a pleasant surprise that five Beavers had their names called — making it one of OSU’s best showings ever.

In addition to Mannion and Nelson, who were both taken in the 3rd round, DJ Alexander (5th), Obum Gwatchum (6th), and Ryan Murphy (7th) were drafted. Alexander being taken as high as he was by the Chiefs was the biggest surprise of the OSU draftees — as I thought he was a long shot to get picked.

But I am not complaining, because full disclosure: I’m a Chiefs fan. So it’s awesome that Alexander, Nelson, and Tyrequek Zimmerman (undrafted free agent) all are headed for KC. Might have to buy my first ever jersey now…

The consensus among Chiefs fans is that Nelson’s physical style of play will earn him quite a bit a playing time this season, especially in certain packages, and that he could be a starter someday. They also like Alexander’s potential and see him thriving on special teams early on, and adding depth at inside linebacker.

Speaking of undrafted OSU players, Dylan Wynn signed with Cleveland, Terron Ward with Atlanta, and Connor Hamlett with Jacksonville — the latter of which might be the biggest shock, considering not even a month ago, it was reported that Hamlett was giving up his pursuit of football due to injuries. So kudos to him for giving it a go, he has a lot of potential if he’s healthy.

There’s really not a better team that Mannion could’ve ended up than the Rams. Because they have Nick Foles, Mannion won’t be thrown into the fire right away. He has time to sit back and learn the system. But you know what? Maybe Mannion pushes Foles, who won’t be playing in Chip Kelly’s system anymore. Plus, the Rams drafted several linemen, signaling their commitment to protecting their QBs.

If anyone knows how well Mike Riley identified and developed talent, it’s Pete Carroll, so I think Gwachum and Murphy could end up being steals for Seattle. Both are excellent athletes, and should flourish in the Seahawks’ aggressive schemes. Much has been said about Boom Boom’s upside, but I think Murphy is a real sleeper. A change of scenery could be just what he needs.

What did you think about the draft? What was the biggest surprise to you? Go Beavs! (RW)

Brent VanderVeen: A Player Worth Rooting For

For some of Beaver Nation, the first experience of Brent VanderVeen was of a high school senior who bravely told a Rivals reporter that he wanted to come up to OSU and be the starting quarterback as a true freshman.  For some fans, this was a little too much bravado and gave them probably the most inaccurate view of this young man possible.  Brent may have said something like that, but he later explained what he meant was that he wanted to come in confident and compete, not scared. Everything he has done at OSU since that explanation has cemented that explanation as well.

His first year at OSU, in the fall of 2012, many were concerned about throwing motion, footwork and arm strength.  At that time, the Danny Langsdorf commanded quarterback’s crew was preparing for the second year of the Sean Mannion era and there was little doubt who would be starting.  The beginning of the year saw OSU topple a ranked Wisconsin at home and also began what would be the most successful, 12-game regular season of the Mike Riley era. There were few opportunities for VanderVeen to show his stuff on the field.

What was not noticed in all of this was the hard work and dedication by Brent to improve his footwork, work on his arm strength and master the playbook.  In the fall of 2013, the Beavers found themselves in the midst of a heated and divisive quarterback battle that had far more long term implications for the team and the coaching staff than many realized. All that fall camp, in my practice notes, I kept noting how Brent looked better in the pocket and seemed to be getting faster in his release.

Following a rough year that saw the Beavers enter the last Bowl game of Mike Riley’s tenure at OSU, Danny Langsdorf left for the Giants and John Garrett was hired to take over for the Beavers.  While Garrett had a lot of issues as an Offensive Coordinator (in my opinion of course), he was a pretty good assessor of technique and had a pretty good attention to detail. By the fall of 2014, my practice notes show that I thought Brent was the second best QB on our team.  He looked great in the pocket,  moved very well, was the most athletic and seemed to be more accurate.

All of this historic journey through BV’s time at OSU is just my first hand experience as a spectator.  Whether it is just who he is, or whether it was learned in all the adversity he has faced here with coaching changes and coaching decisions, Brent is one of the very best teammates you could have.  VanderVeen’s has an innate ability to help coach not just x’s and o’s to his fellow players, but also by instructing his peers on how to treat teammates and be a leader.  Brent’s influence will go far beyond his minutes played when the Beavers take the field this year.  it will be in the ears of players who are not sure what to do and it will be in the way the team holds itself.

Ironically, as a tight end, Brent has already shown that he is not only a great athlete but also a plus pass catcher.  While many might have thought it was a nice story to have Brent switch to tight end, after watching the results of his hard work the last three years, I have no doubt that his goal is nothing less than to be on the field for that first snap of the 2015 season.  I for one wouldn’t bet against him either.  No one knows the routes or playbook better and as he prepares physically for the shift, he also will have two years to perfect it.  Brent will make his mark on the field before it is all said and done, but in terms of being a Beaver we can be proud of, and a proud member of the Beaver Football Fraternity, he should already be a fan favorite.

Unless you are a fan of the teams we play.  Then you will most like fined a handful of reasons per game to not be excited about Brent.

Go Beavers and Beaver Nation, don’t sleep on Brent VanderVeen.