Oregon State football gives its fans a promising taste of what could be ahead during spring scrimmage

CORVALLIS – If there’s a word to describe Oregon State’s spring scrimmage on Saturday, it’s promised.

Reser Stadium isn’t much to look at now, with the west side down to its foundation and scoreboard dismantled as a $ 153 million renovation project is underway. But by this fall, and particularly a year from now when the project is complete, it’s easy to get excited about the promise of what Reser Stadium will become.

Oregon State’s offense, well, it didn’t look good early on. But by the end of a one-hour scrimmage, the Beavers teased with widespread promise, from true freshman running back Damien Martinez, to a plethora of receivers capable of making plays.

The Beavers defense looks promising, period. Up front, there’s speed and physicality, with the potential to pressure opposing quarterbacks. There’s little doubt after the secondary scrimmage is improved in terms of contesting passes.

“The competitive aspect, back and forth, it was great all day,” quarterback Chance Nolan said.

The offensive star of Saturday’s show was receiver Silas Bolden, who turned in two 25-yard touchdown plays during the red zone portion of the scrimmage. He wasn’t shy about celebrating, either. After the first touchdown, Bolden dove onto the turf and slid on his chest for yards on the rain-slickened turf.

But the player most fans had their eyes on was Martinez. During a pre-scrimmage fan session at Reser’s Toyota Club with Smith, Martinez was the first player discussed. The 6-foot, 228-pound Texan didn’t have any flashy runs during the scrimmage, but proved to be difficult to bring down, and had one run into the end zone.

“That kid’s a stud, man,” Nolan said. “He comes up all over the film all spring, making great plays. He’s a very smooth runner. Effortless, can make guys miss. … I think everybody is kind of excited about Damien and what he can potentially bring to the offense. ”

Will Nolan be the quarterback handing it off to Martinez in the fall? Smith wasn’t ready to pronounce a starter for the 2022 season opener Saturday, but it was clear he’s leaning in Nolan’s direction. Smith wanted to use this spring to see how Tristan Gebbia and Ben Gulbranson had progressed after injuries wiped out their entire 2021 season.

“I do think Chance has earned the right to get the majority of the (first team reps) during the spring based on what he’s done. And he took advantage of it, ”Smith said. “He’s improved, but we’re going to allow these guys to go into the summer and work at it and then go into fall camp.”

During his first four camps, Smith didn’t name a starter until a week before the season opener. That could change this season.

“We’re gonna let it play out a little bit in fall camp. I don’t know how many weeks or whatnot, but do feel like Chance has improved, ”Smith said.

Nolan says he’s fine with the current situation. Nolan believes he’ll play the role of a team leader this summer, and embrace whatever competition comes his way.

“The competition aspect, that should never rest. You’ve got to be on your toes all the time, because you’ve got guys who are trying to play the quarterback position, ”Nolan said.

Oregon State’s defense was the star through 15 spring practices, and that didn’t change Saturday. From pressuring the quarterback to contesting receivers, the Beavers’ defense is making strides under first-year coordinator Trent Bray. The defense’s big play was a scoop and near-score of a fumble by outside linebacker Ryan Franke.

Inside linebacker Omar Speights said the defense’s mindset has completely flipped under Bray. Speights, in his fourth year with the program, said it’s common for players this spring to head straight from the practice field to the coaches’ offices and watch video.

“Everybody’s trying to get better. Everybody’s trying to progress and take that next step, ”Speights said.

The defense is following the lead of the hyperactive Bray, who is a moving target throughout practice.

“He’s not asking you to bring anything that he’s not going to bring himself,” Speights said. “His energy is contagious. It’s like you can’t have energy out there with him around. ”

If there’s a concern coming out of spring, Smith said it’s offensive line depth. The starting unit of Taliese Fuaga, Brandon Kipper, Jake Levengood, Marco Brewer and Joshua Gray appears set, but injuries have hampered the progress of defining solid backups.

The work doesn’t end Saturday. The next three and a half months leading into preseason camp in August are just as critical as anything that took place this spring. Smith believes this team is equipped to handle the rigors of improvement, without constant oversight.

“I think we have a mature group that likes going to work with each other,” Smith said. “You don’t have to remind them a lot of what could have been last year.”

– Nick Daschel | ndaschel@oregonian.com | @nickdaschel

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