CORVALLIS--The storylines on the last practice before the Spring Game? Numerous. The o-line for the…
SPRING: Inside the RBs battle
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"I think people just know what they are doing now," said Ward, a sophomore out of Antioch, Calif. "Last year we were really young and had a lot of questions when we got up to the line of scrimmage. This year, we know what we're doing, we know what we have to do, and we know what to expect. We are just out there playing instead of thinking so much."
Ward and Agnew stood side by side after Thursday's scrimmage, the last before the Spring Game and Oregon State Fan Fest on Saturday. Both backs are potential candidates for the starting position in September, and they talked adamantly about this upcoming season compared to last year.
"I've learned more," Agnew said. "I've started to prove to myself that I've gotten a little better in the offseason."
Agnew, who played in a limited amount of games last season due to injury, looked healthy and alert during the final practice before the eyes of Beaver Nation zoom in upon them on Saturday.
"It feels good to get back out there and get plays going," Agnew said. "It's been a long ride, but it's been fun."
Water cooler discussions for Beav fans this offseason will likely amount to this on the offensive side of the ball: Ward, Agnew or Storm Woods? Will Mannion make quicker reads this year? And what will be the fate of an offensive line struggling with a lack of depth, and subsequently, potentially over-worked lineman?
It has already been an off-season filled with questions, but Mike Riley doesn't plan on answering many of them; at least not when it comes to his running backs.
"I'm not ready to talk about it," said Riley. "And I probably won't talk about it until we get in camp a bit further. We want to let this thing play out."
Riley has good reason to hold his tongue on the matter. This particular group may very well be one of the more evenly matched groups that OSU has had in awhile. And there is more actual depth at the position this year.
They may be young, but they are a year older. And – on Thursday, anyway -- their play on the field indicated that they were a year wiser.
Jenkins, a senior, saw his share of looks during practice. The Oregon native showed great awareness and took advantage of some limited gaps provided by the o-line. Jenkins, who checks in at 6-1, 209, provided a big target for numerous passes and play-action calls from quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz. Asked about Jenkins after practice, Riley just smiled.
"Jenkins is one of the top two most versatile players we have in the backfield," Riley said. "It's an interesting dilemma."
A dilemma that Woods, a redshirt freshman, was happy to take part in. Woods got a handful of snaps and showed agility in and out of his cuts on Thursday and he combined that with a very good grasp on the football. The running backs seemed to display uncharacteristic ball control on Day 14, a welcome change for coaches and fans alike.
"You never want to see a ball on the ground," said running backs coach Chris Brasfield. "We have done much better than last spring with that."
Brasfield was generally positive about the growth of his running backs after practice on Thursday. He acknowledged there's been a significant increase throughout the spring on the kinds of passes the Beavs are making that involve the running backs. But whether or not this demonstrates a sea change for the 2012 season, is yet to be seen.
"We are definitely confident in the [offensive] line. You can't forget that we only have about 8 guys out there right now," Agnew said. "They have been getting a whole ton of reps, so they are tired. But they have done a pretty good job of opening up holes for us."
Agnew had about 20 carries total throughout the practice, and also managed to make some dynamic catches.
"We've got some guys that can catch the ball and run some pretty good routes," Brasfield said. "It will help add a little something extra to our passing game."
The sentiment is shared by the guy calling the offensive plays this spring -- Mike Riley.
"Our first focus is running, and it has to be," Riley said. "And then we can use the run in order to get the defense out of position, and then throw the ball. I think that there are guys that are gifted receivers that are also good runners. Some may be more inclined toward third down, others might also be able to win it on every down."
While the linebackers and secondary hit hard on Thursday, they had difficulty completing their tackles as Ward and Agnew found their lanes and Jenkins created a presence in the pattern. A couple of plays resulted in frustrating, missed opportunities for the defense, greatly in part to some devastating blocks set up by sophomore fullback Tyler Anderson.
"Tyler is doing well," Ward said. "He has had a lot of big hits this spring."
It might only be spring drills, but it is always better to hit than to be hit. Anderson has shows promise this spring, and has irregular speed for a fullback his size. Should we be looking to him for carries in the red zone?
"They will probably rely a lot more on us," Agnew said. "Just in case we get to third and goal and it's really close, we want to be able to get around the corner."
"We just try to do our part and run the ball when they tell us to, block when we are supposed to," Brasfield said. "The main thing is just knowing what you're doing. You have confidence if you know what you are doing. I think our guys have gained more confidence during these 15 practices."
Confidence can unite a team, and oftentimes it is the key to winning a game through clutch third and fourth down conversions. The defense looked as if it could have used some of that confidence yesterday afternoon.
"Well you know, you will always have mixed results," said Riley. "We need big plays offensively, and we have had a hard time getting them. So the fact that we got a couple is good. We know that the development of the (offensive) line will be the key to the next step."
What is the next step? Is it necessarily a good thing that many of the coaches still seem to be putting tremendous amounts of emphasis on "the fundamentals" at this stage in spring camp?
Ward and Agnew said that if Brasfield has emphasized one thing in the run game, it has been that they need to focus on details. Those details are especially important when it comes to reading the defense.
"We both are pretty good runners," Ward said as he looked at Agnew. "I feel like the play action will be a sufficient tool for us in the games. We don't focus in particular on any one guy, because we can all catch the ball. We just focus on catching the ball and getting it up field.
"You never really know come game time, though."
Both Riley and Brasfield declined to comment on who leads for the starting tailback job leaving fans to wonder who will handle the first snap of the 2012 season. But Riley, as always, has faith, and seemed unconcerned with the lack of an established, clear starter as spring draws to a close.
"There are guys here capable of being ‘that guy'," Riley said.
Only time will really tell who "that guy" in the backfield will be for the 2012 Beavs.
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