The fifth day for Oregon State fall camp was the first time the team was in full pads, and naturally, it was the most physical practice thus far.
For the most part, it was the same as always in terms of the drills being run. Practice began with the usual stretching, field goal unit, kickoff and punt coverage. Then the team split up into individual drills, followed by the whole offense and defense doing work, with the offense working on installing both run and pass plays.
"Our practice was pretty much identical except for a pretty hard run drill over here earlier," head coach Mike Riley said.
That run drills was a 7-on-7 with the front seven on defense and the offensive line, quarterback and tailback on offense, definitely most physical part of Friday's practice.
There were three sessions apiece of skeleton and full 11-on-11 work, which showcased a lot of exciting matchups, such as Wheaton vs. Poyer and Cooks vs. Reynolds.
A noticeable difference between this fall camp and in years' past is the lack of injuries occurring.
"I think that's what's surprising about this year," said senior wide receiver Markus Wheaton. "The last couple years we've always had injuries towards the beginning and I think that's going to come in handy for sure."
Although the two-deep at receiver is solid, Riley is concerned a little bit with the depth at the position.
"We're not deep enough, but the ones we have are good players," Riley said. "I think we're at least two deep with the guys that can go in the games."
While Gwacham is slated to be the starter at slot receiver, wide receivers coach Brennan didn't discount the fact that it is a battle between Gwacham and Cummings. In practice today, Gwacham showed that he is still a work in progress, running a few wrong routes, much to the dismay of Brennan.
Brennan still likes what he has with the 6-foot-5 wideout, but knows how much learning he still has to do, "[Gwacham] can play a ball so outside the framework of his body that he has to get used to adjusting to playing those balls, and because he's so long our quarterbacks throw the balls really away from defenders."
If anyone has taken a big leap forward since 2011, it's been Wheaton. The senior has taken on quite a role as a leader of the unit and pushed his comrades hard in the offseason.
"What I've seen from [Markus], especially this last year, is just some real maturity," Brennan said. "I think when they were here with James, he was always the unquestioned leader, the unquestioned voice really on our side of the ball and especially in that receiver group. Now that James is gone, Markus has been tremendous. The commitment that he got those guys to make this summer, this offseason, in terms of lifting, training, being dead serious about getting better, has been awesome."
And wouldn't you know it, when Gwacham ran the wrong route and Brennan got hard on his case, it was Wheaton who came to Gwacham first after the play was over. He was visibly teaching Gwacham exactly what he needed to do, and it is a testament to how much Wheaton is embracing the role as the leader of the group.
"I've been there," Wheaton said. "I've gotten the little things down, I've got the audibles down, I've got all the basics down, so when a guy messes up I can be there to help him out."
One last player who is an emerging threat at receiver is the freshman out of Lakewood, Calif., Malik Gilmore. His height and strength as a freshman are promising, and although he's going through the usual learning curve as a first-year player, don't be surprised if he makes the traveling squad.
"I'm really impressed with Gilmore as a player," Riley said, "And what's most impressive is he knows what to do most of the time. It's one of those deals where he steps in, does the rotation, and doesn't screw up."
Brennan shared Riley's sentiment about the freshman, saying, "He's learning and he's very sharp. In my meetings he's asking good questions. Out here at practice he's asking good questions. He's always trying to get the huddle calls. In practice, he's always standing right behind the huddle. He knows he's not supposed to be there but he wants to hear the huddle calls."
The tight end position is much more uncertain right now. Colby Prince is back for, unbelievably, his sixth year. Prince has always been more of a blocking tight end, but could get into some passing situations this year. The team has looked like they're incorporating more two-tight end sets than usual in the offense-only portion of practice.
The position was largely ineffectual last year, but could play a bigger role this fall.
"I think we're going to have outstanding depth [at tight end]," Riley said. "I'm really impressed and it's a lot different than last year at this time. Joe [Halahuni] wasn't practicing, we weren't very deep. … Since we've gotten these guys that are redshirted and going to playing, and a guy like Hamlett's a year older, to me that's a nice looking group right now and will have quite an impact going forward."
MVP of the Day: Derek Nielsen
The sophomore lineman is listed as the backup left tackle on the tentative depth chart from Oregon State. Nielsen has been praised for his ability to be able to play all five positions on the offensive line, and since last fall, he's played all five at some point in practice with the second unit.
Today, Nielsen got the majority of reps as the starting center. He held his own with the 1's throughout all the 11-on-11 drills and looked like he belonged out there. The walk-on sophomore may be in the starting lineup a lot sooner than most would think, though probably not this year.
I asked Riley if there was something wrong with freshman Isaac Seumalo because of his absence from those drills and he said he didn't know anything about that. We'll wait and see if anything is up, but it's doubtful it was an injury situation.
While the injury bug hasn't hit the Beavers yet, it's possible it finally struck. Richard Mullaney had his hand collide with a helmet in drills today, and Coach Brennan said he was concerned that it may be a broken hand. We'll probably know more about Mullaney's situation tomorrow.
Freshman cornerback Tyler Hasty was taking punt returns today with Jordan Poyer, Wheaton and Terron Ward. Hasty will probably avoid a redshirt with his ability to contribute on special teams coupled with the lack of depth at corner.
Kevin Cummings had the catch of the day on a deep 40+ yard pass from Sean Mannion (who I avoided gushing about today, but he does look great) and laid out in a dive to catch the ball like Torii Hunter would have as a centerfielder.