Star of the offense:
Senior WR Dion Morton
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Grant
Stucker or sophomore QB Klay Kubiak
Unsung star on the rise: Junior RB Leonard Mason
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Rashaun Greer
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Morton, 2) Greer, 3) OG Shelley
Strength of the offense: Wide receiver, experienced line
Weakness of the offense: Running back and quarterback experience
Gone is Billy Farris after a strong under-the-radar season, and now it’s
a battle to see who can take over. 6-2, 207-pound senior
Grant Stucker hasn’t seen
much action, completing just 3-of-5 passes for 22 yards last year, but
he’s been around long enough to be ready. The one-time star recruit
hasn’t turned out as expected and he hasn’t progressed enough to take
the job by the horns, but he’s a great athlete who ran for 43 yards with
a touchdown, with a live arm. If he turns out to be the main man, he’ll
be the best CSU running quarterback in a long time.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior
Klay Kubiak would probably be the odds-on favorite to take over the
starting job if he didn’t have problems with a shoulder injury. The 6-0,
202-pounder is the son of Houston Texan head coach Gary Kubiak, and he’s
really smart and will be very efficient when he gets his chance. He
completed 19-of-37 passes for 252 yards with two interceptions in his
little time on the field last season.
A sleeper in the race for the job is
Jon Eastman, a 6-2, 214-pound
JUCO transfer who would’ve been courted by bigger-name schools if he
hadn’t suffered a foot injury last year. Not only does he have a big,
accurate arm, but he’s tremendously strong and runs a 4.5 40. He
returned late last season to lead Snow College to the JUCO national
Behind in the hunt for the job, but with the potential to be a star in
the near future is Alex Kelly,
a 6-2, 199-pound lefty who was a good recruit for the program last year.
The redshirt freshman is mobile and has big-time upside, even though
he’ll likely be no better than third on the depth chart.
Watch Out For ... the quarterback situation to be
unsettled for most of the year. It was supposed to be the same problem
last year before Billy Farris took hold of the job and was excellent.
Stucker and Kubiak will likely be head-to-head for the gig up until the
last practice, while Eastman will be an interesting prospect who’ll
demand a look.
Strength: Options. While there might not be a lot of FBS
experience and there will be some extreme rough spots to deal with, the
coaching staff will get a good look at several different players to find
the right fit.
Weakness: Proven production. Eastman is likely the most ready to
go after his time as a JUCO passer, while Kubiak and Stucker have seen
enough practice time to not be totally green. However, the team will
likely have to find one quarterback, live through the faults, and hope
for the best. If there’s a problem early on, will there be a quick hook?
It’ll be tempting.
Outlook: Everything will be fine. As much as this will be
a worry after losing Billy Farris, all the good options will produce a
solid, steady starter. Will the passing game be as productive as it was
last year? With a veteran offensive line and a great receiving corps
returning, it’s possible no matter who takes over the job. Don’t count
out the possibility of a rotation to get Grant Stucker’s speed in the
mix along with the practice experience of Klay Kubiak.
How can the offense lose Gartrell Johnson and his 1,476 yards and 12
touchdowns and be better? There could be more speed in the backfield now
that John Mosure will get
more work. At 5-10 and 202 pounds, he won’t provide the power or Johnson
or Kyle Bell, but he’ll add more flash. In his limited role, he ran for
122 yards with two touchdowns and he caught 16 passes for 122 yards
while also serving as a devastating kickoff returner. The runner up for
the 2005 Mr. Florida award could be the Mountain West’s breakthrough
6-0, 242-pound junior Zac Pauga doesn’t get any rushing work, but
he’s been a solid receiver over the last few years catching 19 passes
for 114 yards last year. A sledgehammer of a blocker and has been
fantastic at picking up the blitz. While not a great athlete, he can
line up as a slot receiver or an extra tight end.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior
Alex Square has had a hard time finding his way on the field serving
most of his time on the special teams. An elite speedster, he might get
the ball in a variety of ways to try to pick up yards in chunks.
However, it’ll be the first time in his career he’s been able to do much
of anything offensively.
Fitting the Colorado State profile is
Leonard Mason, a 6-0,
215-pound JUCO transfer who can pound away as a workhorse and will break
off a big dash from time to time. The junior ran for 1,273 yards and 11
touchdowns for College of the Desert in California, and he was a decent
receiver as well. He was recruited hard by several Pac 10 schools and
could be the instant star of the Ram offense.
Backing up Zac Pauga at fullback 6-1, 244-pound redshirt freshman
Jason Klingerman, who won’t
see any carries and might not even be used as a receiver. He’ll be a
blocker with the size and the strength to grow into a good one with a
little bit of playing time.
Watch Out For ... Mason. Mosure could certainly be a key
back, but Square is mostly a specialist who can’t be used for long
stretches. Mason is the back the offense can eventually revolve around,
but he’ll have to work his way into the role.
Strength: Speed. Last year it was about power with Johnson and
Bell barreling over defenders, but this year it’ll be about the
quickness of Mosure and Square until Mason is ready. They’ll all be used
in a variety of ways as receivers and runners in different formations.
Weakness: Experience. Mosure was good when he saw his time in
the lineup, but Square has been purely a special teamer. Yes, Mason has
been great on the JUCO level, but that’s a whole other world.
Outlook: The overall rushing numbers weren’t all that
great, averaging 148 yards per game even with a big year from Gartrell
Johnson. There will be a rotation of backs as the coaching staff doesn’t
expect anyone to be Johnson and carry the ball 278 times. Unless Leonard
Mason is ready, the ground game will try to use smaller speedsters in
John Mosure and Alex Square early on. With a veteran offensive line
paving the way, the holes will be there. Now the speedy backs have to
Last year the receiving corps needed
Rashaun Greer to become a
major factor, and he did with a team-leading 63 catches for 1,114 yards
and three touchdowns averaging 17.7 yards per catch. The 6-1, 203-pound
senior is one of the fastest players in the Mountain West. A star
hurdler on the CSU track team, he has the elite-level wheels along with
the size to be a matchup nightmare. He put together a consistent and
explosive season with four or more catches in nine games highlighted by
an eight-catch, 211-yard, one touchdown day against UNLV. He’ll use his
speed on the outside X position.
Once again working on the inside Z position is
Dion Morton, a 5-10, 163-pound senior who was second on the team
with 51 catches for 859 yards and a record-setting ten touchdowns after
returning from a season-ending ankle injury. The 5-10, 163-pound senior
is the brother of former Ram star receiver, Damon, but he made a name
for himself last season, especially down the back stretch, scoring seven
times in November including a three-touchdown day against Wyoming. Also
a dangerous kickoff returner, he’ll be used in a variety of ways to get
his speed and quickness into the open field.
Starting in three-wide sets will be
Matt Yemm, a 5-11, 182-pound
sophomore who came to CSU as a quarterback. Extremely quick with elite
open-field speed, he’ll be used in the rotation at the Y position as a
field stretcher. He didn’t catch a pass last season.
Taking over for third-leading receiver Kory Sperry will be Eric Peitz, a
6-5, 250-pound junior who stepped in two years ago when Sperry went down
with a torn ACL and served mostly as a blocker. While he caught five
passes for 29 yards last season, he’s mostly needed to open holes for
the running game. However, the coaching staff will get him the ball to
try to replace Sperry’s 38 catches and six touchdowns.
Projected Top Reserves: The offense will be looking for
former quarterback T.J. Borcky
to come up with a breakout season. The 6-4, 197-pound sophomore will
work on the Z adding more size than Dion Morton. While he doesn’t have
Morton’s quickness, Borky is an excellent athlete who should pose
matchup problems in single coverage. Getting his feet wet, he made two
catches for 11 yards in his first season.
Expected to be a star in the near future is
Marquise Law, a 6-4, 195-pound redshirt freshman who looks the part
with 6-4, 195-pound size and good speed, but he’s trying to come back
from a knee injury that cost him his first season. The Miami native was
courted heavily by schools like Wisconsin, Ole Miss and South Florida,
and eventually he’ll be the starter on the X.
Also on the X will be Ryan
Gardner after seeing a little time making 13 catches for 88 yards.
The 6-1, 170-pound senior has the speed to do far more. A former JUCO
transfer, Gardner has 4.3 speed and a 42-inch vertical, and while he’s
unpolisihed, he has the skills to be a devastating deep threat.
6-5, 258-pound senior Norman Gee
will work behind Eric Peitz at tight end after catching one pass for
a yard last year. Purely a blocker and special teamer, the former Duke
Blue Devil isn’t expected to be a big part of the offensive game plan,
but he has the athleticism to become a decent target if pressed into
Watch Out For ... the backups. There’s no question that
Morton and Greer are 1-2, but Gardner, Law, and Borky are all expected
to push for more playing time. Throw in JUCO transfer
Jyrone Hickman, the cousin of
Anquan Boldin, into the mix
and the Rams are loaded with options.
Strength: Speed and experience. Stretching the field isn’t going
to be a problem for this group that might win a track meet of the
Mountain West receivers. Greer averaged 17.7 yards per catch last season
while Morton averaged 16.8. Expect more of the same.
Weakness: Tight end. Peitz has been waiting his turn as the
understudy and is expected to become a factor, but replacing Sperry and
his 38 catches for 492 yards and six touchdowns will be difficult for a
Outlook: The 2007 receiving corps was supposed to be among
the best in CSU history, but it wasn’t. Last year’s receiving corps was
raw but unproven, and it turned out to be terrific. Now, with Dion
Morton and Rashaun Greer retuning to form a tremendous 1-2 punch, the
receiving corps will be a major strength. There’s even more speed and
athleticism behind the two stars, and there will be plenty of options
for the coaching staff to play around with. The team needs to develop
some of the younger stars to be ready to hit the ground running next
year, but players like Matt Yemm and Marquise Law could make big impacts
The star of the veteran line will be 6-4, 293-pound senior
Shelley Smith, a second-team
all-conference guard who went from a decent work in progress to a
devastating run blocker. A fantastic athlete on the inside, he’s able to
get on the move and get down field like a must smaller lineman and is
great at springing big runs. He’ll work on the weakside again.
The other all-star is center Tim
Walter, a 6-6, 290-pound senior who overcame his ankle problems of
2007 to start in every game in the middle. A great leader and excellent
at making the line calls, he has the potential to be the best center in
the Mountain West with another consistent year. Extremely tough, he was
able to shake off a knee injury to keep playing late in the year.
The one open spot is at strong tackle, but 6-5, 282-pound junior
Mark Starr is hardly a new
face to the line. One of the team’s most versatile linemen, he started
his career at tight end before moving to tackle. He saw time in all 13
games seeing action at both tackle spots, and while he’s not the team’s
best run blocker, he’s great on the move and good in pass protection.
Senior Adrian Martinez
started most of last year before suffering a knee injury. The 6-4,
303-pound senior is a very tough strong guard with a big-time attitude.
While he’s had various knee problems throughout his career, he’s been
able to fight through them to become one of the team’s most devastating
run blockers. He’s not the best athlete on the line, but he’ll pound
over anyone in his path.
6-7, 316-pound senior Cole
Pemberton is back at the weak tackle position and should be in for a
big year. Thrown to the wolves early on in his career before he was
ready, he did a decent job despite having problems with an ankle injury.
Slimmed down a bit after starting out his career around 330 pounds, he
has gotten better and has turned into one of the leaders on the line
with his tremendous work ethic. Fine in pass protection, but not
special, he could stand to be a bit steadier.
Projected Top Reserves: Looking to get some time at strong
guard is junior Scott Benedict, who could step in and start if
Adrian Martinez ever moves back to tackle. The starter two years ago, he
suffered a foot injury and was knocked out for the year. Now the 6-4,
289-pounder returns as one of the team’s most experienced backups, but
he still needs work and playing time.
The big key to the practice time this year will be to get more work for
the inexperienced tackles. 6-4, 272-pound junior
Ryan Griffith isn’t huge, but he’s a great athlete on the weakside
playing behind Cole Pemberton, while 6-4, 280-pound sophomore
Paul Madsen can play either
tackle spot and will start out behind Mark Starr on the strongside.
Watch Out For ... Starr. Starr’s ability to hold down the
strongside tackle spot allows Martinez to play a far more natural guard
position. Starr allows the best players to be in the right spots.
Strength: Experience. With four senior starters returning and
Starr a solid veteran, this has the potential to be among the Mountain
West’s best lines. There are two sure-thing all-stars in Smith and
Walter, and Pemberton isn’t far behind.
Weakness: Depth. There isn’t any. It’s a major goal of the
coaching staff to find backups who can play and will be ready to go next
year when the four senior starters graduate. It’ll be devastating if
injuries strike early on.
Outlook: The team’s biggest improvement over the last few
years, the O line allowed 41 sacks in 2006, 37 in 2008, and just 26 last
season. With four senior starters, this is an air-tight front wall
that’s great at pounding away for the running game (which is a major
step forward from two years ago) and should be even better in pass
protection. There’s no developed depth whatsoever, but the starting five
should be devastating.