Pac 10 Spring
What You Need To Know For Each Team
The ‘Cats are hoping they’ve finally uncovered a homerun hitter at wide
receiver in JUCO transfer Derick Barkum. One of the fastest
players on the roster, he’s got the wheels to take advantage of Willie
Tuitama’s cannon, while creating some space underneath for the other
receivers. After proving he can win a footrace, Barkum will spend the
next couple of months trying to convince the coaches he can also catch
the ball with consistency.
Hi, My Name is Earl … Former H-back Earl Mitchell has made
a smooth transition to defensive tackle, one of the Wildcats’ biggest
need areas entering the season. A 6-2, 265-pound playmaker that has to
be on the field, his quick retention of a new position has impressed the
staff. If the spring was a good indicator, Mitchell will be introducing
himself to a bunch of opposing quarterbacks this fall.
QB of the Future … While Arizona hopes it won’t have to use him
extensively until 2009, it really likes the potential of redshirt
freshman Bryson Beirne, a Willie Tuitama clone with
substantial upside. Sure, there were mistakes, but his first spring in
Tucson was a success, and a chance to show off the big arm that’ll be
connecting with Wildcat receivers a year from now.
Gerald Munns has left few doubts that he’ll be the Sun Devils’
starting middle linebacker, soaring past Morris Wooten and
Mike Nixon with a fantastic spring session. At 6-4 and 240 pounds,
he’s been everywhere for the defense, playing much faster than his 40
time and with the keen instincts that always put him near the ball.
Em-Bolden the Secondary … While it’s hardly a news flash that
sophomore Omar Bolden is one of the Pac-10’s up-and-coming
corners, he’s elevated his overall game from last season. A little
bigger, faster, and wiser, he’s already the headliner of the defensive
backfield and a budding lockdown cover guy with an NFL future.
Protecting Rudy Carpenter … Besides improving the play of the
personnel, the Sun Devil staff is searching for solutions to an
offensive line that yielded a school-high 55 sacks a year ago. The
running backs will be key components, both as blockers and pass-catchers
on screen plays designed to keep defenses from pinning their ears back.
Any backs that can’t pick up the blitz or have stone hands will find it
infinitely harder to get on the field.
… While Jeff Tedford
continues to stress that incumbent Nate Longshore is his
quarterback, a pec injury that curtailed his spring hasn’t helped in his
fight to hold off Kevin Riley. Riley moves better than Longshore
and was flawless in his last game, a comeback win over Air Force in the
Armed Forces Bowl. Don’t buy Tedford’s smokescreen. Riley is closing
the gap on Longshore all the time, and might be ready to surpass him in
Hip Replacement … When likely starting RB James Montgomery
suddenly left the program in March, it created a quandary for the Bears,
who also lost Justin Forsett to graduation. The program’s top back,
Jahvid Best, would be the no-brainer successor if he wasn’t
recovering from a serious hip injury. Best has pulled a surprise of his
own, taking part in non-contact drills, when he wasn’t expected back
until the summer. Sophomore Tracy Slocum picked up some of the
slack in April, running hard and earning a spot in the backfield
Anger Management … One of the defense’s best weapons this fall
will be the booming leg of redshirt freshman P Bryan Anger, who
takes over for Andrew Larson. Anger put on an aerial show throughout
March and April, regularly hammering out punts of more than 50 yards,
while hanging the ball in the air for an eternity.
… If you’re pining to see how the quarterback battle between Nate
Costa and Justin Roper unfolds, you’ll have to wait until
August. While Roper, last year’s Sun Bowl hero, took most of the spring
snaps with the first team, Costa won’t be rushed back from last winter’s
knee surgery. The staff will turn him loose in August to see if he is
indeed the best fit to run the Ducks’ spread offense.
Blount Object … Heralded JUCO transfer LaGarrette Blount
made an immediate impression in his first spring with Oregon. A 6-2,
235-pound battering ram, he’s already drawing comparisons to a bigger
version of former Duck Reuben Droughns. Blount’s combination of power
and quickness makes him a natural to bolster a backfield that’s missing
Jonathan Stewart and still awaiting the return of Jeremiah Johnson from
Trench Wars … Oregon’s quest to find a couple of new starters on
the offensive line is bringing out the best of sophomore C.E. Kaiser,
a tackle that can also move inside and play guard. One of the strongest
players on the roster, he’s been getting reps with the first team, and
at worst, will play an important part of the unit’s rotation.
He’s just a redshirt freshman, but Mike Riley is convinced Ryan
McCants is about to become the next 1,000-yard rusher in Corvallis.
A physical, 236-pound runner, he’s already attracting favorable
comparisons to a young Steven Jackson. McCants has done nothing to hurt
his status as the Beavers’ heir apparent to Yvenson Bernard.
New Linebackers … Although you don’t get better by losing the
all-league trio of Derrick Doggett, Alan Darlin, and Joey LaRocque,
Oregon State is cautiously optimistic about the three new linebackers
preparing to take over. Outside linebackers Keaton Kristick and
Keith Pankey, and middle linebacker Bryant Cornell have
jumped at the opportunity to start, playing well and showing leadership
on a young and impressionable D.
Moevao for Now … At least until Sean Canfield recovers
from shoulder surgery, Lyle Moevao is the unchallenged starting
quarterback for the Beavers. Neither got the job done a year ago, making
this a critical spring for Moevao and the entire offense. Canfield
expects to throw again in July and be at full strength in August, when
he’ll resume his tussle with Moevao.
Situation Remains Muddled
… Although incumbent
Tavita Pritchard probably has a narrow edge coming out of spring,
Harbaugh is nowhere near naming a starting quarterback. While Pritchard
made strides in March and April, so did Jason Forcier and Alex
Loukas, keeping this a tightly-packed competition that likely won’t
be decided until just before the opener.
Tip-Top Shape … If you listen to Harbaugh, Stanford’s most
valuable assistant in the offseason has been strength coach Shannon
Turley, who has the Cardinal in much better shape than last year. For a
squad that lacks depth, improved strength, stamina, and conditioning
could turn a couple of second-half losses into comeback wins this fall.
No Casualties … Arguably the best news to come out of spring camp
was that no Cardinal suffered an injury that won’t heal long before
preparation continues in the summer. Only TE Jim Dray and
Allen Smith, who were already spring scratches, are questionable for
the start of the season. Their knee injuries have been so severe that
any return in 2008 remains up in the air.
Knee … In
an eerily similar situation to last fall, the Bruins are again saddled
with major injuries at the quarterback position. Patrick Cowan,
who’d nudged ahead of Ben Olson in April, tore the ACL in his
left knee during practice and is expected to miss the season. Minutes
after Cowan was hurt, Olson broke a bone in his foot and will be out up
to two months recovering from surgery. While Olson should be ready for
the opener, UCLA is in a mad dash to prepare JUCO transfer Kevin
Craft, freshman Chris Forcier, and converted receiver
Osaar Rasshan for expanded roles.
Lanis Retires … The already daunting task of rebuilding the Bruin
offensive line got much tougher when projected starting T Aleksey
Lanis announced he was leaving the team. An 18-game starter over
the last two seasons, he opted to quit playing football when nagging
soreness in his left knee wouldn’t abate. Lanis’ decision accelerates
the timetable for Sean Sheller, one of the program’s heralded
recruits of 2006.
Spring Star … Redshirt freshman CB Courtney Viney, one of
UCLA’s smallest players, is making a very big impression on the coaching
staff. Neuheisel and coordinator DeWayne Walker can’t stop raving about
Viney’s athleticism and competitiveness, giving him some equity as the
defense searches for playmakers in a revamped secondary.
Ends the Drama
… One of the most
anticipated quarterback duels of 2008 appears to be over for now.
Mark Sanchez has gotten the nod over Mitch Mustain in a
battle of two former No. 1-rated prep passers, playing with greater
consistency and a better grasp of the offense. Of course, the season
doesn’t start for another four months, so it would be naïve to assume
that Mustain has no chance to close the gap in the summer.
Don’t Panic, Trojan Fans … Yes, RB Joe McKnight has been
declared academically ineligible, but no, it won’t impact his
eligibility in the fall. It’s a good thing, too, because before being
shut down, the super soph was having a monster spring, routinely
delivering big plays as a runner, receiver, and returner on special
teams. The Reggie Bush comparisons are here to stay.
Elephant Hunter … Before spring, the Trojans moved Clay Matthews
to “elephant”, the same rush-end spot handled by Brian Cushing
two years when the team had a glut of linebackers. So far, the
experiment has been a smashing success, with Matthews routinely making
plays behind the line of scrimmage and pressuring the quarterback. A
former walk-on, he’s earned playing time at both linebacker and on the
defensive line as a situational pass rusher and a co-starter with
After catching just six passes in 2007, DeAndre Goodwin, aka “the
Flea”, has emerged as the best receiver in a corps that was gutted by
graduation. One of the team’s fastest players, he’s played at a high
level throughout spring, stretching the Husky secondary and taking on
more of a leadership role. Washington needs more players like Goodwin
if Jake Locker is going to take the next step as a complete quarterback.
Cam’s Engine … Junior Cameron Elisara is one of the
reasons the Huskies are remaining upbeat about a defensive line that
must replace three starters. Playing 10 pounds lighter than last
season, the defensive tackle with the great motor has been stronger,
quicker, and more fundamentally sound than in recent seasons.
Juan Gone … The Huskies suffered a devastating blow when center,
and top blocker, Juan Garcia suffered a Lisfranc sprain in his
left foot that could end his final season before it ever began.
He’s putting off surgery and risking an improperly healed injury in the
hopes that a dedicated rehabilitation program can get him back on the
field sometime in October.
… While the
competition to replace Alex Brink will be ongoing, long-time backup
Gary Rogers has failed to relinquish his spot in the pole position.
The 6-7, 235-pounder has continuously stood out from the crowd, taking
on a leadership role and flashing maximum RPMs on his deep balls. While
not an ideal fit for Paul Wulff’s new spread offense, he’s shown enough
as a passer to make the coaches overlook his modest mobility.
A Running Mate for Gibson … The Cougars are on the verge of
uncovering a No. 2 option to top wideout Brandon Gibson from a
most unlikely place. Converted defensive back Michael Willis, an
academic casualty a year ago, has had a breakout spring on the offensive
side of the ball. Well-sized and physical at 6-0 and 215 pounds, he’s
picked up his new assignments in a hurry, commanding attention with six
catches for 129 yards and a score in a recent scrimmage.
Role Reversals … In an attempt to shore up the secondary, Wazzu
is moving starting CB Chima Nwachukwu to free safety and starting
SS Alfonso Jackson to cornerback. At least for now, the staff
believes Nwachukwu is a better fit at safety, and Jackson has the speed
and temperament to handle covering the opposition’s best receiver.