BF.C Fall Camp Preview: QUARTERBACK

SEAN MANNION

CORVALLIS – Slightly or to a large degree? That's the question heading into fall camp at quarterback for the Beavs -- how much has Sean Mannion improved over a redshirt freshman season where he set an OSU freshman passing record with 3,328 yards but also threw a high number of picks. BF.C breaks that down and more in our fall camp preview of the QB position.

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Fall camp begins at OSU on Aug. 6.

Snapshot/Stats:
Sean Mannion - Sophomore standing: (6-5, 212) Played in all twelve games last year: Completed 305-473 passes totaling 3,328 passing yards, 16 passing touchdowns, 18 interceptions and one rushing touchdown. Averaged 277.3 yards a game last season as a redshirt freshman.

Cody Vaz - Junior standing: (6-0, 198) Returning as the No. 2 behind Mannion. Vaz has appeared in five games, completing six out of seventeen passes for 48 yards and averaging 9.6 yards per game. Mike Riley has said frequently since spring ball that he feels like OSU has two QBs who can win, but Vaz is the clear backup, "It needs to be defined that Sean is our starter right now," Riley said.

Richie Harrington - Freshman standing: (6-1, 223) redshirted last season. Walked on in 2011 at OSU, not expected to see playing time this season unless disaster should befall both Mannion and Vaz.

The Good: Mannion is back and looking improved from last year. Appeared more polished during Spring Camp, and despite a rough 3-9 season for the Beavs, it was an experience-filled season Mannion was able to get under his belt. Expect him to return with more intensity and awareness in 2012. Throwing Mannion in as a starter last year has expedited his growth within the system as well as his connection with teammates. He is backed up by a solid corps in Vaz and Harington.

Mannion possesses ideal arm strength, combined with above average on-field vision due to his height. He received mixed reviews from many in the media this spring, but based on what I saw this spring, I see him as highly underrated due to his age and the precarious position he landed in last year.

Riley says Mannion began watching film immediately after the 2011 season ended, and it was evident from this chair during spring ball that Mannion's on-field presence has changed. His demeanor and ability to keep cool in the pocket since last season have matured, and coaches hope that will translate more and more onto the football field as 2012 goes along.

Mannion played in all 12 games last season and remained quite healthy despite the offensive line's inability to consistently block defenders from entering the backfield. If Mannion can remain healthy and injury free, he could excel in areas.

The Bad: Mannion was not known for his accuracy in ‘11, evidenced by the fact that he threw more interceptions than touchdowns last season (16 TD's to 18 INT's). Mannion will need to improve his defensive coverage awareness both pre- and post snap, so as to avoid throwing into double coverage or leaving himself open to a blitz.

Because of that deficiency, Mannion didn't perform well when under pressure in ‘11, leading to his high volume of sacks and interceptions. While this can be attributed to both his inexperience as well as the play of his O-line, it will remain a point of concern for the offense going into fall.

Neither of the members on the quarterback squad is considered a good scrambler. While this is not a traditional aspect of an OSU offense under Mike Riley, it is quickly becoming a staple of the top quarterbacks in the NCAA. The ability to move out of the pocket assists in opening up certain plays that would otherwise fall by the wayside. Mannion possess good lateral movement to avoid weak rushes, but stronger/disguised blitz packages could wreck any given play.

If the offensive line continues to struggle in finding cohesion, it will continue to greatly affect Mannion's timing and precision.

Keep your eyes peeled: The combination of a big, visible target in sophomore wide out Obum Gwacham (6-5, 224), complemented by the teams No. 1 receiver, senior Markus Wheaton (6-0, 182) can create a force, one sure to surprise some opposing Pac-12 defensive backs this year. Look for Wheaton to be a primary target in the deep game and screen packages. Gwacham is uncommonly fast for a receiver his size, and fits the mold of Riley's West Coast offense smoothly. Both are capable of giving Mannion plenty of open looks throughout the upcoming season. OSU has an immense diversity of receivers that can potentially go above and beyond critics' prospects this year.

The Question: Can Mannion stay reliable and patient under pressure?

Intangibles and Final Thoughts: Starting the redshirt freshman Mannion instead of established QB Ryan Katz in 2011 was a controversial call by Riley. But look for that decision to benefit the Beavers this year, as Mannion's cumulative experience certainly showed during the spring. His vision and ability to read a defense have improved, (I think to a greater degree than other close watchers of the spring have indicated) and it shows in his confident approach out of the huddle. Riley frequently noted throughout the offseason that Mannion has shown great dedication and a strong work ethic in his attempts to improve the weaker points of his game.

Coaches and players alike certainly seem to have a tremendous amount of faith in Mannion to lead the Beavers, an immeasurable yet incredibly valuable quality for any quarterback, but especially a young one. Gwacham stated in an earlier BF.C article that Mannion has vastly improved his control of the deep pass heading into fall camp -- which can only bode well for the Beavs, assuming those deep passes remain on target.

Teamwork and compatibility with fellow players are often underrated qualities in college. And some would say it is too hopeful to imply that teamwork and collective understanding as a unit can effectively translate into points on the board for OSU. But look for that maturation to show in terms of both individual production and team production.

Look for Mannion to be a Pac-12 sleeper who plays with enhanced skill and accuracy in comparison to last season. He may not set the Pac-12 on fire, but he is certainly bound to ignite some flames.

Prediction: Mannion in 2012 starts all 12 games, completing 383 of 515 passes with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and throws for a total of 4,046 yards.

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