- David Lombardi, College Football
- 0 Shares
Oregon’s Saturday exhibition put a wrap on spring practice around the Pac-12. Here’s a look at some players who grabbed this offseason opportunity by the horns and emerged during spring practice.
Arizona: OL Freddie Tagaloa
Mickey Baucus, Steve Gurrola and Fabbians Ebbele -- who accounted for a combined 130 career starts -- all exhausted their eligibility last season, so the Wildcats need reinforcements along the offensive line. The 6-foot-8, 316-pound Tagaloa, a transfer from Cal, took every spring first-team rep at Baucus' former left tackle spot. While his intimidating size was a known attribute, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has been particularly impressed with Tagaloa's work ethic, which he praised as "second to none."
Arizona State: RB De’Chavon Hayes
The Sun Devils wouldn't have moved leading rusher D.J. Foster out to slot receiver if they didn't feel comfortable about their contingency plan in the backfield. There's a stockpile of talent there behind Demario Richard. Kalen Ballage is a youngster who made a splash in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, and Hayes is yet another potential star who electrified spring onlookers. The junior college transfer redshirted last season, but teammates have already nicknamed him "Gump" thanks to his eye-popping speed.
Cal: RB Lonny Powell
At 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, this 17-year-old early enrollee is built more like a 20-year-old upperclassman. His running and blocking during spring practice resembled the latter, too. Following the Twitter accounts of Cal football reporters to gauge Powell's play was a fun exercise over the past couple of months: They'd buzz about the six defenders occasionally needed to tackle the youngster, a 90-yard touchdown run and a jarring block that unleashed mayhem on the Bears' sideline.
Colorado: LB Jaleel Awini
The former Air Force quarterback transferred to Colorado, where he made a position switch to linebacker. After sitting out last season, Awini won the team's Greg Biekert Award, given to the Buffs' most improved linebacker in spring practice. Awini brings impressive athleticism to the Buffs' front seven, and they'll count on continued improvement from him to shore up a leaky run defense.
Oregon: DB/WR Charles Nelson
Observers already enjoyed a taste of Nelson's explosiveness last year, but he made a monstrous roar this spring. His exhibition performance this past Saturday was so dominant on both sides of the ball -- five catches, 144 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- that it has created a tug-of-war among the Ducks' position coaches. Nelson has shown the potential to exhilarate in all three phases of the game.
Oregon State: QB Seth Collins
If the battle to replace Sean Mannion ended today, Collins would be the likely starter. The true freshman proved that he was a true dual threat during spring practice, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 81 more during the Beavers' final exhibition. He even executed a front flip during one of his runs. New coach Gary Andersen probably doesn't want to see that last part repeat itself too often.
Stanford: DL Solomon Thomas
David Shaw's team is in need of rapid development from its young defensive linemen following the graduation of three starters, and it seems to be coming from Thomas. The Texan redshirted this past season, but he used his first year at Stanford to pack on about 30 pounds of strength. A 275-pound frame came in handy during spring ball, where Thomas delivered rugged, eye-opening plays despite a nagging turf toe injury. Continued improvement from Thomas and Harrison Phillips can keep the Stanford defense on track come fall.
UCLA: QB Josh Rosen
A year after veteran quarterbacks were just about everywhere in the Pac-12, several newcomers aim to make a splash in the conference. Rosen, an early enrollee aiming to succeed Brett Hundley, has made a very strong first impression. He's the presumed future of the UCLA program under center, and solid play this spring has made a starting berth come August seem increasingly realistic. There are even quips floating around regarding the future renaming of a certain stadium in Pasadena, California, as the Rosen Bowl.
USC: WR Steven Mitchell
Cody Kessler loses three of his most productive weapons in Buck Allen, Nelson Agholor and George Farmer. But there's a boatload of potential waiting to fill the gaps, and Mitchell announced his presence as one of the contenders this spring. He's been hampered by injuries in the past, but those days seem to be in the rearview mirror now. Ten new pounds of muscle helped Mitchell make several big catches this spring.
Utah: LB Sunia Tauteoli
Fellow Utah players raved about the ferocity of Tauteoli's hits this spring. The junior college transfer has reportedly become comfortable with the Utes' defensive playbook, and that's led to productivity on the practice field. Utah's defense made its mark as a hard-hitting unit in 2014 and it seems that Tauteoli can contribute to that style moving forward.
The youth in the secondary that was the Achilles' heel of Washington's 2014 defense is fading away with increased experience. Jones and Gardenhire, who are now sophomores, enjoyed breakout spring performances. Both delivered interception returns for touchdowns in the Huskies' spring game. The Seattle Times' Adam Jude has noted that Washington's secondary is now becoming the team's defensive strength. That means we're in role reversal territory.
Washington State: RB Keith Harrington
At 5-foot-7 he isn't tall, but Harrington has bulked up to 185 pounds, and that helped him turn in a breakout spring following a position shift from slot receiver. Mike Leach has been impressed -- "at this rate, he might be our first option" -- so it appears the Cougars have successfully fortified their backfield with an explosive and versatile presence.
One per team, a look at players who distinguished themselves in spring practice.