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Riley says he'll use both quarterbacks in OSU opener

CORVALLIS -- Mike Riley didn't announce a starting quarterback after practice Tuesday at Tommy Prothro field.

But Oregon State's veteran coach did offer a glimpse of how he might use Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz in the Aug. 31 season opener against Eastern Washington at Reser Stadium.

"We're in a situation where they both should play some part of the game," Riley said. "I can't see why that would be a negative thing at all. They have alternated for two years in practice and have been efficient. There's no reason to think one couldn't go into the game at some point and carry on what we're doing."

Has Riley a timetable on reaching a decision on who will start?

"Not really," he said, adding he is speaking with members of his coaching staff -- especially offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf -- about the subject on a regular basis.

"It's not an easy decision," he said.

Judging from what I saw during Tuesday's practice, it would be. I told Chad Doing of KXTG (750 AM) on Monday night I thought the nod might go to Vaz. I've changed my mind.

Mannion looked sharp, poised and confident in passing drills against the defense, making a lot of good passes, throwing the ball away with receivers well-covered and keeping mistakes to a minimum.

"I feel like I'm playing the best football of my life," the 6-5, 220-pound junior told me. "I'm real happy with they way I've been practicing. I'm not turning the ball over. I'm throwing real accurately and making good decisions. I'm just trying to keep it going."

Vaz made some good throws, but the 6-1, 200-pound senior was more erratic and was intercepted twice by the first-string defense.

"I had a couple of bad throws," Vaz said. "You can't have them back. You have to move on. I did that, put those behind me and made some good throws.

"It's tough throwing against our defense, especially on third down. They were one of the best defenses on third down in the country last year. And they know our plays."

All true. Mannion had the better practice Tuesday, though, in the same situations as Vaz.

Asked how the quarterbacks looked, Riley was noncommittal.

"It was a mixed bag," he said. Mannion and Vaz "always make some good plays. There were probably a few more bad ones than normal today."

The quarterbacks had slightly different reactions when I asked if the quarterback mystery is wearing on them.

"You can't really think about that," Vaz said. "It's something I've tried to put in the back of mind. I try to take it one practice, one day at a time, and try to improve with each practice. (Riley and Langsdorf) will make the best decision for the team, and I'll respect that."

"I wouldn't say it bothers me," Mannion said. "The thought comes into your head, just wondering about it, but you try your best not to think about it. You try to focus on the field, and it will take care of itself."

Has the lack of a decision affected the confidence of the quarterbacks?

"I don't think that's true for either of us," Vaz said. "Both of us have a lot of confidence in what we can do and what this offense can do. That shouldn't be a problem at all."

I'm sure that's the way Riley is looking at it, too. He'll make the decision when he's ready. After Tuesday's practice, I'll be surprised if the decision doesn't come in the next couple of days.

I'll also be surprised if the pick isn't Mannion. Insiders who have regularly watched practice tell me has been more consistently on than Vaz through training camp. His height gives him better field vision than Vaz, no small factor when peering over the heads of blockers in pass protection.

Riley won't take it down to the final few days before the Eastern Washington game. It's already 11 days and counting. Time to make a decision. Time to go with Mannion, with Vaz ticketed for a few series against the Eagles. Both players deserve to play, but one deserves to know he is the starter.

Other notes and observations. …

• D.J. Alexander is walking without a limp and said his injured knee is on the mend.

"It's gotten a lot better," said the senior outside linebacker, who has been ruled out of the Eastern Washington game. "I'm healing pretty fast. I'm going to shoot to get back as soon as I can."

Riley said he is hopeful Alexander could return as soon as the Beavers' third game at Utah on Sept. 14.

• Riley went into camp thinking he would redshirt all of his four true freshman receivers, including Victor Bolden. Senior Micah Hatfield's nagging hamstring injury and Bolden's performance the past 2 1/2 weeks may earn the 5-9, 165-pound Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., native a chance to play immediately.

"Victor has been so good," Riley said. "We can use him. I like our receiver group a lot, but he adds a lot of speed to that group."

Special-teams coach Bruce Read likes Bolden as a punt return specialist, too. Brandin Cooks is the No. 1 guy there, but if OSU coaches decide they don't want to risk injury to Cooks returning punts, Bolden could get the nod.

• Cooks, incidentally, appears poised for a huge junior season as a receiver.

"Brandin looks awesome," Mannion said. "He had a great offseason. He worked extremely hard. It's important for our better players to continue to work. The young up-and-comers want to be like Brandin, and see the work it takes. He was good last year and has made strides this year."

• The Beavers began preparation for Eastern Washington on Monday, and by the end of the week, "we'll have about six hours of Eastern Washington stuff in," Riley said.

• OSU's secondary is the strength of its defense. It's a veteran crew, with three returning starters -- senior cornerback Rashaad Reynolds and junior safeties Ryan Murphy and Ty Zimmerman. The fourth starter will be either senior Sean Martin or JC transfer Steven Nelson, a junior. There is depth behind them, with promising cornerbacks Larry Scott, Malcolm Marable and Dashon Hunt and safeties Cyril Noland-Lewis, Zack Robinson, Micah Audiss and Brandon Arnold. All but Marable are freshmen or sophomores.

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