- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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While so much of the attention on Oregon State this spring has been on the quarterback competition -- one of the most intriguing in the nation between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz -- there are other critical position battles.
And the one at cornerback might even be of greater importance.
Post spring, Sean Martin sits atop the depth chart at left corner, opposite returning starter Rashaad Reynolds on the right side. This position is of great interest because it was formerly held by the departed Jordan Poyer -- one of the school's top secondary players of all-time who sits fourth on the school's career interceptions list with 13.
Pushing Martin is junior college transfer Steven Nelson -- who was rated by one service as the No. 2 JC cornerback in the country.
But head coach Mike Riley isn't approaching it with the thought that one will be a starter and one will be a backup. If all goes according to plan -- it's likely we'll see them on the field at the same time.
"That competition is good for the Beavers because my goal out of this thing is that both of these guys become bona fide starters," Riley said. "They both won't necessarily start on first down, but if they proceed to grow as we've seen them through their competition in the spring, then you'll see them both playing together a lot. Third-down defenses, nickel or dime. We actually need both of them to be considered as starters."
He says that with the caveat that he's not ready to say which one has pulled ahead in their competition. Spring depth charts offer a little insight, but not nearly enough to pass judgment.
Once a commit to Georgia, Nelson comes to Oregon State from the College of Sequoias in California, and has spent the spring playing catch up. Martin, however, started three games last year -- twice as a nickel and one at corner against Arizona State when Poyer was out with an injury. After missing the majority of 2011 with a broken foot, Martin bounced back in 2012 to register 43 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups.
Martin's experience might be what keeps him atop the depth chart -- at least for now.
"I think Sean Martin has improved dramatically in the course of two years here and I think Steven has all the athletic tools to be a corner in our league and be a good player," Riley said. "He needs to learn more and more about what we do and how he fits into that, but I think he's very conscientious and I think he'll make that move. I think this has all been very good."
After a rough 2011, where the Beavers ranked 104th in pass-efficiency defense, they bounced back and were 20th nationally last year. After giving up 28 passing touchdowns in 2011, they cut that number in half to 14 in 2012. Poyer was a huge part of that, hauling in seven of OSU's 20 interceptions last season.
With Reynolds (25 career starts) on the other side and returning safeties Tyrequek Zimmerman (13 starts) and Ryan Murphy (15 starts), the secondary should again be solid with just the one hole to fill.
But Riley isn't as concerned with finding one guy who can step in for Poyer as he is developing them to work together in unison.
"I'm not ready to say which one of them is going to come out of the fold as 'the starter,'" Riley said. "But my goal is for both of them to be ready to play and be good, solid players in the fall."