Cooks' Departure Leaves Big Hole For Beavers
By John Baker
Few college football teams have a bigger hole to plug than Oregon State and the replacement of wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
Cooks reset the OSU and Pac-12 record books in 2013 by catching 128 passes for 1,730 yards and scoring 16 times. Cooks, who recorded the fastest 40 time among wide receivers at the recent NFL Combine, stepped out of the shadow of Markus Wheaton's big season two years ago to push himself possibly into the first round of the NFL Draft in May.
Two names to keep an eye on entering spring camp — junior Richard Mullaney and sophomore Victor Bolden.
Mullaney was the second-leading receiver in 2013 with 52 catches for 788 yards and three touchdowns. He's one of those classic Oregon State projects that was lightly recruited and came out of nowhere to stabilize the other side of the field away from Cooks. Now, he'll be counted on to be a guy who can keep the chains moving and make big plays in the passing game. He's 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds and reminds many of Mike Hass, another under-appreciated type who terrorized Pac-10 defenses with catch after catch a few years ago. But his speed is decent and he's more of a route-runner than a field stretcher.
If you want someone more prototypical to step into Cooks' shoes, Bolden offers some intrigue there. He's got track speed similar to Cooks and is about the same size (5-foot-10, 186 pounds), though needs to put on some weight to take the pounding. Bolden played in 13 games as a freshman last year, catching six passes. Right now, he's the closest thing to Cooks in terms of size and speed. He has to prove he can be productive. A good spring would help with that.
When looking through the team's depth chart, the receiver corps looks to be young this season, so while there's opportunity for new faces to emerge, there's also the realization that the Beavers, who employed two tight-end sets last season, may be need to rely on those formations more.
The Beavers return 14 starters, including quarterback Sean Mannion (15 if you count OLB Michael Doctor, who was a starter in 2012 but suffered an ankle injury that cost him 2013) and both kickers. While they will need to replace three offensive linemen, the most obvious and glaring hole is the production of Cooks on the outside. Oregon State, which runs a pro-style offense, has struggled to get its running game going in recent seasons. Once Cooks got rolling in 2013, the field suddenly got a little looser around the box and backs like Storm Woods and Teron Ward suddenly weren't battling eight men in the box. The running game was back.
The Beavers must find a way to get consistent production from somewhere, probably multiple players, on the outside. If they don't, the clamps will again fall on the running game, and when the Beavers' bread-and-butter isn't there, the whole offensive meal is spoiled.
Spring practice will be the first test for Bolden and Mullaney. The question is who else will emerge?