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September 1, 2009
After all of the hard work put in over the summer during conditioning and strength training, through the two-a-days and the long practices that encompass Fall Camp, kickoff to the regular season is on the doorstep of the Coach Mike Riley's Oregon State Beavers. Let's take a second here to summarize Fall Camp.
I've watched nearly every practice over the past 3 weeks, there are several areas in which the Beavers look exceptionally strong, a couple that might bring forth a little cause for concern and a few predictions along the way.
AREAS OF STRENGTH
The Beavers are one of three teams in the Pac-10 that has a quarterback with at least a full year's worth of game experience (the others being Jake Locker at Washington & Kevin Riley at Cal). The thing is that OSU has two QB's that meet that criteria in Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao.
While Moevao isn't quite 100% yet, you could see throughout camp his desire to get back out on the field to compete not only for the starting job, but just because being on the field is something he enjoys almost more than anything else. Numerous times he would be out there in full pads only to do his throwing program or participate in QB drills.
We will have to hold judgment on Lyle until he is back to full strength. In his place, Canfield has emerged and really seized the starting spot.
There has been a lot of talk about the workout regimen that he took on during the offseason, shedding some 12-15 pounds. It has shown up in his athleticism on the field. I don't want to say that he will be able to 'scramble' now, but he definitely has proved on numerous occasions during camp that he can both improvise and make plays on his feet.
Not only has Sean been more mobile on the field, but he might throw one of the prettiest long balls that I have seen. Throughout camp, the Canfield to Rodgers/Wheaton/Nichols connection has burnt the secondary over the top. Many of those throws had to be right on the money with the tight coverage present.
If Canfield can hold off Moevao once he fully returns from injury, which I think he will, he has a legitimate shot at Pac-10 1st team honors at the end of the season.
Behind Canfield and Moevao are the two younger guys. Redshirt freshman Ryan Katz and Virginia transfer, junior Peter Lalich. Both have had their ups and downs throughout camp as both are still learning the intricacies of the offense. However, should both Canfield and Moevao end up hurt at some point this season, there won't be much of a drop off in performance out of the QB position.
Both Katz and Lalich have big arms, capable of really stretching the field and also fitting passes into tight spaces. Katz has really improved drastically since he first showed up in Corvallis, two spring camps ago.
When he first arrived, he thought that with his arm strength he could force the ball into any kind of coverage or situation. Now it appears that he is reading the field better and has shown great touch when he takes a little bit off his throws, especially down towards the redzone.
While Katz hasn't seen the field, Lalich has played in 7 games while with the Cavaliers. After watching Lalich throughout spring camp and fall camp, if I could compare him to a quarterback that most would be familiar with, it would be former NFL QB Rich Gannon, as Lalich throws from all different arm slots depending on the situation.
He performed rather well when he was taking snaps, however a majority of them were against the 3rd string defense. While both have the tools to succeed on the field, should either end up playing this year, the offense will sorely miss Canfield and Moevao's leadership.
With Katz and Lalich, Beaver fans will more than likely see a bona-fide QB battle come next year. Until then Canfield and Moevao will lead the Beavers on offense.
Despite the Beavers running a traditional 4-3 defense, they really have 4 starting LBs as Keith Pankey and Dwight Roberson will both see a lot of playing time at the weak side position as the season goes on and might even alternate starts.
The linebacking corps is led by All Pac-10 and preseason Lott Trophy watch list member, Keaton Kristick, who brings speed, athleticism, strength and leadership to the defense. He isn't necessarily the loudest person in the LB group, that distinction belongs to Pankey, but he leads by example and always putting forth his best effort.
Kristick appears to have put in the work over the summer, as he appears to be several steps quicker this year. On several occasions he ran down Jacquizz Rodgers after he had bounced runs to the outside and was scooting his way down the sideline.
Manning the middle this year will be sophomore David Pa'aluhi. Pa'aluhi is another fast and strong athlete in this very talented, but young group.
He saw a majority of his playing time last year on special teams and also as the MLB in the Beavers' nickel, 3-3-5 package. This year he's going to be the man full time and he looks up to it.
It was rumored last spring on timing day that he turned in an eye popping sub-4.5 time in the 40-yard dash. He also looks great in coverage, often picking up tight ends or running backs coming out of the backfield.
He might not have made many plays on the ball by deflecting it or picking it off, but he was almost always was in the right position to make a play on the receiver once he had caught it. Often sizing them up for what would have been bone crunching hits had the action actually been full contact.
The position battle at the weak side position, as mentioned before, is between Pankey and Roberson. By my judgment, Roberson had a stellar camp, as he has a nose for the ball. He showed that he can play both against the run and in coverage, while also being able to put pressure on the quarterback when he was asked to blitz from his side.
Pankey, on the other hand, looks more comfortable dropping back into coverage. Pankey also put in work in the weight room over the summer as he looks stronger than he did during the spring.
I think he is still a work in progress in stopping the run game, but as he continues to receive PT, it will start to come along for him. All in all, the nod goes to Roberson in my opinion.
The question behind the 4 'starters' is who actually is going to play behind the 4 listed above? In years past, the roles have belonged to Dennis Christopher and Isaiah Cook, but both have now graduated and moved on.
There is still some experience in the group as juniors Walker Vave and Keo Camat have spent time playing on special teams, but haven't necessarily seen a lot of time on the field at the LB positions. Vave will be backing up Pa'aluhi in the middle, while Camat will be backing up Kristick on the strong side. However, should Pa'aluhi get hurt, look for Kristick to slide into the middle and Roberson to move over to the strong side.
Despite the question regarding the depth of the position, there is talent a plenty in the young, underclassmen ranks. The younger players are led by the Unga twins, Devin and Kevin (both true freshmen) and redshirt freshman Zane Norris.
I am extremely excited for this group to see the field. There was some concern around the Unga's as they returned from their 2 year mission, whether they would be physically fit enough to contribute or if they would have lost a step. That was all put to sleep the 1st week of practice, as both Devin and Kevin made plays, showing that they still have a rather high football IQ.
On the other hand Norris, Slade's younger brother, is still learning the defense but has all the athletic ability in the world. He is extremely quick and strong for being 6'2" and 225. Look for Norris and the Unga twins to play this year and eventually overtake Camat and Vave on the 2 deep.
THE 'RODGI' EFFECT
If last year was considered a Pop Quizz, where does the Quizz show go next? Is it now a midterm?
All jokes aside, as all of us Beaver fans know, Jacquizz and James are two very special football players. But could it really be possible for these two to be bigger, stronger, faster, and better than last year? After watching three weeks of practice it is safe to say that both appear to have done just that.
James appears ready to take over as the go-to receiver this year. He spent the offseason not only working out, but perfecting his route running and improving his already stellar hands.
When he wasn't sitting out during camp, which was smart on Coach Riley's behalf, he was either catching, literally, everything coming his way, or blowing by the defense with the ball already in his hands.
The coaches have also implemented several new ways of getting the ball in James' hands that will only further enhance his playmaking abilities. But, you'll have to wait until game day to see that.
The other half of the Rodgi Effect is the reigning Offensive Player of the Year for the Pac-10, Jacquizz. Quizz is back at full strength after off-season surgery was required to repair his injured shoulder.
Actually we should say he is at 115% strength, as he is considerably faster and stronger than he was last year. Much like Pa'aluhi's rumored 40 time, rumors swirled back in May that Quizz ran a sub-4.4 40 yard dash.
I don't know if I've ever seen anybody run that fast other than on TV at the NFL combine or Usain Bolt, but it seems legit as he runs by people as if they have feet made of lead. During one practice I saw him and Tim Clark, who is arguably the fastest guy on the defensive side of the ball, start side by side, and then Quizz kicked it into another gear and within the matter of 15 yards, had 3 yards of separation between him & Clark.
Coach Riley has said on a couple of occasions that last year they weren't really able to fully utilize Jacquizz's receiving capabilities because they didn't really get to implement him in the passing game until the season went on. This year is another story, and #1 will be the benefactor of several new gimmicks in the offense that will allow him to get the ball.
Special Teams Play
Also noteworthy, Hekker and Kahut's backups, Ryan Allen and Matt Barker respectively, have also shown big legs in both punting and place kicking. Look for better coverage on kicks and punts this year, as well as a few gimmicks in our own return game with the return of Coach Read.
Athleticism at the Wideout Positions
Even with Darrell Catchings having to miss some time due to his wrist injury, this might be the most talented and athletically gifted group of wideouts in school history. Catchings was well on his way to becoming Canfield's #1 target before suffering his injury that will see him miss the first couple of games.
He runs the crispest routes on the team and established a rapport with Canfield that will hopefully continue once he returns. James Rodgers will step up in the void and become the go-to guy until Catchings can return.
Even though the rest of the receiving corps lacks game experience, there is no lack of talent. Senior, Damola Adeniji has stepped up in the absence of Catchings to secure the starting spot at split end by being a very reliable possession type receiver.
He provides Canfield a big target at 6'3" and 215 pounds. He has also shown that he can go up in a crowd and come down with the ball.
Starting in the slot will be junior, Casey Kjos who has been a pleasant surprise here in camp, much in the mold of his predecessor, Shane Morales. He might not be the fastest guy out there, although he does have 'sneaky speed', he has shown a high football IQ, a willingness to block downfield, the ability to work the seam of the field and run good routes.
The most impressive of the bunch has to be Jordan Bishop as he has earned the nickname, Mr. Highlight. At almost every practice he turned in a catch or three that would be worthy of Sports Center's Top 10. He will definitely push Kjos for playing time in the slot and be a big time contributor in the redzone.
Tomorrow BeaverBlitz will take a look at areas of concern and players who surprised us this fall.