CORVALLIS — Oregon State cornerback Rashaad Reynolds is speaking from experience — in the film room, not in the classroom, mind you — when he likens his football preparation to schoolwork.
"Film is your best friend,'' Reynolds said. "It's like cheating on a test — you have all the answers right there. You have the answers, study as much as you can, and the test is Saturday.''
The Beavers' improved rushing defense is getting the attention this season, but under new secondary coach Rod Perry, the defensive backs are on pace to double their interception total of a year ago.
Led by Jordan Poyer's five, Oregon State is fifth in the nation in interceptions per game (16 in nine games).The improvement comes from the cumulative steps of the entire defense, especially the defensive line, and from the added schemes, but it also comes down to a couple of useful gadgets: The video recorder and the ball machine.
Not only do Reynolds and Poyer and the rest of the defensive backs watch film of the receivers, but they watch an equal amount of the quarterbacks. It helps to know the skills of the pass catchers, but if you know the passer's tendencies, favorite targets and arm strength, you're halfway to the ball."
It's also knowing how to watch film,'' Reynolds said. "You can watch film for three hours, but if you don't know what you're watching, then it makes no sense.''
So Perry watches film with his DBs, pointing out a hitch in a delivery or a passer staring down a receiver, and soon they learn how to learn.
The other gadget is used a little more sparingly but just as effective. For three days a week, five minutes at a time, Perry puts his defensive backs under the gun, the JUGS gun. He will ratchet up the velocity, firing balls at all angles at players who don't stand still, for a more game-like experience.
"I don't want to lose anybody,'' Perry said. "We get it up to 45 mph, but I don't want to break a finger.''
With the NFL's Carolina Panthers under John Fox, the current coach of the Denver Broncos, Perry developed an appreciation for the ball machine. He also coached the Seattle Seahawks in 1989-91, where he mentored Eugene Robinson, one of the game's great ball-hawking safeties (57 career interceptions).
"He worked on ball machine, caught it at every angle he could catch it,'' Perry said. "We've stressed that, and it's transferred into interceptions.''
There are constant reminders. Not only does Perry stress the picks in practice, but he also has his son, Rod, chart interceptions, tipped balls and passes broken up. Those all go on a big board in the meeting room, and that fosters the competition that keeps the picks coming.
"I mean, our corners and our safeties are all ball hawks, and we want to make plays and brag about it to each other,'' Poyer said. "As much as I'm happy for Ray Ray (Reynolds) getting a pick, it just motivates me that much more to get another pick.''
Actually, Poyer hasn't gotten a pick in more than a month, as teams have learned to be extra careful with him (and he had to sit out the Arizona State game with a knee injury). So Reynolds (three), Ryan Murphy and Sean Martin (two each)are catching up.
In 2011, Reynolds started all 12 games and had one interception. Now, not only does he have the three picks, but he's eighth in the nation in passes defended (15).
"Last year, we were scrambling a lot because we were out of position,'' Reynolds said. "We have good ball skills, we had them last year, but we just weren't in the right position.
"Kudos to Coach Perry. He helps a lot with ball skills, going out early, catching balls, staying out late, catching balls, and I think it's paid off for us.''