After two years off, December practice is perfect for OSU

CORVALLIS — Oregon State has ended a two-year bowl hiatus, and as thrilled as the fans and players are about that, the coaches are probably even happier.

"It's invaluable,'' offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said of the experience gained from these practices leading up to the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl against Texas. "You're talking about, really, an extra spring practice.''

Benefits to making a bowl are many: the exposure, recruiting gets a big boost, greater fan interest means more season tickets, there is the bowl payout itself, the contract bonuses for the coaches, etc.

But before the glamor of all the bowl events and the game itself on ESPN, there are the 12 practices in a two-week period, where scout team players finally return to playing for the Beavers, where the young players set themselves up for the offseason and for spring practice.

"We've already had 100 plays with our young guys,'' coach Mike Riley said. "A hundred plays we wouldn't get until spring practice. And we're getting the guys ready for the (Texas) game a little bit, too. So the combination of this thing is awesome. It's a real boost to a program to be in a bowl game, because of that."

It's one of those things you don't appreciate until it's gone. For a perennial bowl team, it's business as usual. For a team that spends the holidays at home for a couple of years, it's sorely missed.

"I would be home not getting better,'' receiver Kevin Cummings said. "This is good for us, as a team, to sort of get the younger guys acclimated to spring ball and also to sharpen my game for next season.''

So on Wednesday, there was freshman Brent VanderVeen quarterbacking the Beavers offense instead of trying to act like Brett Hundley or some other Pac-12 passer.

"We've been running a different team's offense every week,'' VanderVeen said. "So to come back to ours, which we haven't worked in since fall camp — the first couple days were a struggle. Meetings and actually doing it on the field are so different. Your head's running a million miles an hour."

Far better to let the head race now than in the spring. On defense, Mark Banker is putting his young players through the steps of his basic scheme — two fronts and three coverages in all.

"We're not doing anything fancy with them, but their recall, and their not performing like some new guy, is fun and it's good to see,'' Banker said.

One player particularly good to see is freshman Kendall Hill, who missed all fall camp and then some with an injury.

"Just for him to be able to come out here and compete and play, get some of the frustration off him — plus we get to see him, too — it's huge,'' Banker said.

If the Beavers did not make a bowl, they would have gone from the Nicholls State game to spring practice with no coaching — that's prohibited by the NCAA. So now, VanderVeen makes a bad throw, and Langsdorf corrects him. Malik Gilmore runs the wrong route and Brent Brennan sets him straight."

Otherwise, all these guys would just end the season with all the bad habits they developed on scout teams,'' Banker said. "Now we can get them back in the flow of things.''

And with classes having ended, players can play football, then talk football without having to rush off to class.

"It's a team bonding thing,'' lineman Colin Kelly said. "School's out of the equation, so we get to mess around a little bit and have fun and be serious about football.''

It is like spring practice — or even fall camp with a one-game season ahead. After two Decembers of sitting around, the coaches just shake their heads in delight and say the word, "invaluable'' over and over.

"Getting them back into our scheme, familiar with the calls and procedure — all of that is really important,'' Langsdorf said. "It's a huge advantage, a huge benefit to being in a bowl, just to get the practices.''


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