As we march through the last week of spring football practice at Oregon State, I am always left with one question:
What did we learn?
This question is the root of spring practices to me, and it has a different feel depending where you are. While recruiting stole the show at the Nebraska football game, they are left with real questions about the improvements at quarterback and a sudden lack of depth on the defensive line after 3 departures. In Baton Rouge, every report and word spoken about their spring has the underlying question “is it enough to beat Alabama?” In Los Angeles, all eyes are on the dawn of the Clay Helton era (which seems to be going in a very good direction). Even just to the south of us, the ducks are dealing with important concerns about their offensive line, their quarterback and their defense in general.
For Oregon State, what most of Beaver Nation wanted to learn was this:
Will we be better.
To that, I can honestly say a resounding ‘YES’. That doesn’t mean that I think we will see the Beavers go bowling this year (though that would be great!) or that I even see a ton of wins on the schedule. We will be breaking in a new QB (most likely), some new offensive linemen and all new coordinators when we hit the road to Big Ten territory to take on Minnesota. That is going to be a tough start to the season. Then throw in a home game against BSU and a really tough back half of our schedule, and OSU has a lot of work ahead of them.
Fortunately, that is for fans to worry about, because what happened in spring football is really about the players. With a plethora of assumed starters sitting out sections or all of spring football, a lot of younger players got a lot of reps and took their shot at moving up the depth chart. Many will look at the product in the Spring Game and think “Man, we have no depth on defense or offensive line.” I would say that with four starters sitting out the game on the line and two sitting out at running back, we are probably better off than appeared in that game. Regardless of that, this spring time is extremely important because now all of the young players have concrete, quantifiable experience that can guide them on what they need to do.
If a player needs to gain weight and get stronger in their base, they have three months to really work on that. If a player needs to be more familiar with the playbook and calls, summer sessions with their teammates can go a long way to fixing that. If a player needs to work on getting off the line or on blocking at the edge or whatever it may be, they have time to work on on the specific items that spring football revealed to them that they need to address.
When you never get reps, when you never work with the ones or always work on scout team, what you need to work on is a giant net. You have no idea if you are ready to step in when you never get to practice it. Coaches will demand that everyone be ready, but the reality is, you can never be truly ready without knowing what that entails. Otherwise, players would struggle far less as freshmen. Spring football this year has helped a lot of players narrow down their focus on what to work on. It allows them to improve in the areas of need or to evaluate if the gains working on those items are worth taking time away from what they do very well.
Spring football is not about winning the spring game or even seeing an efficient brand of football at any given practice. It is about establishing where you are now and where you need to be in three months. I think OSU did that in spades this year, and I really feel like the team is far ahead of where it was last year both physically and in building depth. This August a bunch of new, young players will come to campus and look to fill out the areas that need depth on the Beaver football team. This is the opportunity the current players have to make sure that those young players’ role on the team is not ahead of their own.
After this week, we will enter the dark days of sports until August. While it is a stinky time for fans, from what I have seen/heard about this spring, it will be an amazing opportunity for OSU to get better and come out and prove all of us wrong in our expectations of what Beaver Football in 2016 will be like.
Go Beavs (PRO)