Going into the 2012 season there were lots of question marks for Oregon State’s offense. One of which was who will help alleviate the double teams on senior wide out, Markus Wheaton and step up for second-year QB Sean Mannion?
Now, going into the sixth week of the season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more complete combination on the same team -- not just in the Pac-12, but also in the country -- than wide receiver’s Markus Wheaton and sophomore Brandin Cooks.
The two have combined for 48 receptions, five touchdowns, and 807 yards in just three games. Both average 134 yards a game, and over 13 yards per catch. They’ve established themselves as a one-two punch that their head coach could have only dreamed of, and have taken the Pac-12 by storm.
However, it’s Wheaton’s leadership, not play, which has been the most impressive part for OSU this season. Not many doubted that Wheaton could produce, but the Beavers were severely lacking in team leaders the past couple of seasons, and Wheaton’s quiet bravado stepped up to be every bit the leader the team needed.
“Markus, he’s just a great player, I look up to him a lot.” Brandin Cooks said on Monday. “The great things he does, I try to follow. We help each other, but for the most part, he’s just like another big brother.”
The relationship between Cooks and Wheaton has been strong from day one. Wheaton mentored Cooks, and helped him out with all of the nuances of going from high school to college.
“When he first got here I took him under my arm.” Wheaton said. “We did a lot of stuff together on and off the field.”
Now, the hard work in the offseason seems to have paid off. After a season of struggle for both Cooks (31 catches) and Wheaton (one touchdown) the two are becoming the most electric wide outs in the conference.
And the big brother – little brother combo have not only learned from each other, but from their second-year positions coach, Brent Brennan. Brennan stepped in last season, as a former player, with a fire and tenacity that has rubbed off on his group. Many times, shouting criticisms or praise, letting his guys know exactly how he feels about their play.
“Coach B is amazing.” Cooks said. “He stays on us in the film room and on the field.”
Cooks’ production in just three games is already superseding his numbers from last year. He’s just 10 catches away from his total last season, one touchdown away, but already has more receiving yards (404). His yards per reception are up, and receptions per game have tripled. He has always been a good route runner, but his ability to create separation has been the difference, becoming one of Mannion’s favorite targets and defensive backs’ worst nightmare.
Yet, as successful as the young WR might be, his coach still isn’t ready to give too much praise. And that’s something even Cooks himself admits is okay.
“I’m actually not really surprised by cookie’s (Brennan’s nickname for Cooks) play, so far.” Brennan said after practice Monday. “Cookie’s always had a ton of ability. One thing we’ve known from the beginning from him is he’s so serious to be a good player.”
“I’m not spending too much time out here kissing their rear-ends, because everyone’s doing it for me.”
As impressive as Cooks and his turnaround have been, some deserved credit should go to his counterpart, Markus Wheaton. Wheaton obviously has the leadership role covered, but his phenomenal play has helped free others, and has still given the Beavers production they haven’t seen since James Rodgers in 2009 (91 receptions).
Wheaton’s currently on track for 108 receptions, 12 touchdowns, and 1,611 receiving yards. The receptions total would put him over the current OSU all-time record of receptions of 222 set by James Rodgers just one season ago, by 22. It would also cement his legacy as one of the best in OSU’s history.
There is a lot of credit to go around for Oregon State’s 3-0 start and No. 14 AP ranking, but the big-play ability and numbers put up by the wide outs is among the top of the reasons, maybe falling just short of the defense and Mannion’s growth.
Cooks becoming a household name for OSU fans, and Wheaton on pace for a record-breaking season are things to discuss, but neither are things the two care about. In fact, when asked what was the most important part, aside from winning, for Wheaton, going into the season, he responded with, “I just wanted to try and elevate his (Cooks) game.”
Now, he has.
The two are becoming a headache for opposing defensive coordinators to prepare for. Oregon State’s coaching staff has done an incredible job of changing the mentality, trusting the senior players for leadership, and helping to mold the young talent last season. Chemistry with this team is key, and nobody is closer to these players than their positions coaches. It could be no more evident than Brennan’s response to how happy he’d be for Wheaton, if he breaks the receptions record.
“I’ll be proud of Markus Wheaton whether he catches 100 more balls or zero more balls. He’s an outstanding human being. He’s a great leader for our team. So I’ll love him either way.”
Sure, there are still nine games to be played for Oregon State, so maybe looking at records or praising a sophomore seem premature, but it’s impossible to ignore. Pac-12 defensive coordinators have taken notice, as has the nation. Cooks and Wheaton rank in the top three nationally in yards per game (269).
That’s not just a nice receiving core, that’s a dynamic duo.