As we get closer to the season starting, and as I get a bit more time on my hands following a very, very tough summer for personal reasons, the reports from the first two weeks of practice have shed some light on a few of my concerns for the season while also giving me a bit of perspective on the future of the program.
Here are three things that give me a bit more hope going into the season:
- Gavin Andrews:
Sure, there is probably still a little concern from many about his durability, but he is playing now and playing well. The combo of Dustin Stanton and Gavin Andrews gives us in Beaver Nation a known commodity on the line. With the status of Harlow looking cloudy, being able to point to half of our line and say that it is a legit, Pac-12 level offensive line is good. That is not to day that the rest of the line won’t do great, especially with 2 year starter Fred Lauina covering the left guard spot, but I can look at film of both Gavin and Dustin and say “Those guys can compete at this level.”
Half a line is better than none, and between the three afore mentioned returning starters, there are some solid pieces we can work with.
- Defensive Line:
Now again, we have just a few names that we can show in the Orange and Black from a year ago, but it is not just about who we have, but what they are going to be asked to do. I still get irate at the Pac-12 refs that gave Stanford a first down when Sumner Houston drove the Cardinal lineman back, tossed him and brought the running back down short of the first down. That single effort sticks in my mind as to the acumen that Sumner has. Like Gavin above, Sumner is a legit Pac-12 player who has proved it against arguably the best line in the North. Along with Baker Pritchard and Noke Tago, we have some players that have shown some signs of being ready to go in at this level.
Of course there are a ton of new names as well, and we will have to factor their newness in. The part that gets me excited is that we are not asking them to do things they cannot. We will have big, strong linemen that are going to be asked to occupy the offensive line. They don’t need to fly off the edge and sack the QB or even penetrate much at all. They need to take of the effort of the 5 offensive linemen, force them to stay in one spot and allow the linebackers and safeties to clean up the rest. With an average of around 290lbs for our defensive tackles, nose tackles and defensive ends, we are talking about big boys.
If you have read any reports from this fall, you have heard about Seth Collins. His acrobatic catches and play making ability has been documented well. But we also have seen Paul Lucas and Ryan Nall do good things in conference play, as well as Jordan Villamin and Victor Bolden. In fact, right now we have a lot of youth and new faces making waves, but most teams are going to have to account for 3 or four players every play. That is difficult to do and gives the Beavers a lot of options on offense. Something we didn’t really have last year, despite the similarity of names.
While there are positives or reasons for excitement, there are also questions that need to be answered. I don’t know how these will play out this season and honestly, they are mostly worries because they are wrapped in unknowns. But after a few weeks of practice, I still have a few questions:
- What will center look like?
I have not heard a lot of talk from the offensive line front this fall, but I have heard whispers of issues snapping the ball. If linemen are not being talked about, that is usually a good sign, but with some of the struggles running the ball that have been reported, and with two new linemen at least taking the field for Minnesota (I just don’t see Harlow being able to make it) there are worries.
- What will the secondary look like?
With the recent retirement of starter Gabe Ovgard and senior Cyril Noland-Lewis, the Beavers have lost two players with a multitude of Pac-12 experience. While players like DeCoud are showing that they are ready to go, two players with lots of experience leaving the team brings up questions about depth and who will step in/up to fill their spots.
- Will the QB play be markedly better?
For most of fall camp, we have never seen the 1’s vs 2’s on offense or defense. This has been good for developing players like Seth Collins, who has been able to take a ton of reps against our best corners. It has not been great for building confidence in the passing game, which has seen a lot of inconsistency in the the last scrimmage and a few observed practices. A lot of that could be because players are still drinking from the fire hose a bit, or because of protection or just the grind of fall practice and the hottest part of the year. Regardless, the Beavers cannot point to absolutes under center, just hopes for what we will look like. Again, the unknown is the issue, not the potential.
Finally, the Zen:
Rome wasn’t build in a day. This year is almost more of a rebuilding process than last year because this is when the names of the future are going to be asked to step in. This is not the great purge of 2015 with the bumps and hurdles of a coaching transition of this magnitude. This is the first step in getting the players this staff has picked to play their first snaps. While there are still a ton of holdovers from the Riley era, we are starting to see less and less, and after this year, the starters will mostly be from the Andersen era. While many say they just want to see progress, there is a chance we won’t. The conference is getting better and we just got a heck of a lot younger. For much or our two deep, August 4th was their first action with Oregon State Football. One whole position group on defense is entirely true freshmen.
My point is, I hope to always see improvement, but I can see a scenario where we win 5 games and one where we win 1. Neither of these are indicative, in my mind, to the direction this staff is going. They are indicative of the really huge undertaking they have partaken by flushing and rebooting the program, and it is indicative of how difficult our conference is from top to bottom. Just getting a bit better than the bottom of the conference and working our way up is not easy because even the bottom of our conference is better than the middle of most of the other conferences in the country. Colorado, Cal, Arizona, Utah and Washington State would finish far higher in the Big 12, SEC and ACC. They would do just as well or slightly better in the Big Ten as well. Instead, we have to deal with programs that are on the rise while we are trying to out pace them on the way up.
This year may not be great, and fans need to realize that. It may be a huge step forward and fans need to be ready to support the future if they are. We could be a 5 win team or more if the coaches are developing their talent at the rate we hope. But even if it is not, we need to be ready for that, to be prepared to support this process because it is not a quick fix. It is not just painting your guest room. it is tearing it down to the studs, adding a master bath and updating the wiring before adding drywall and paint and new furniture and fixtures. That takes time and we need to be ok with that because if the finished product looks like the plans, a few rough years will be worth it.