Spring look around the Pac-10

As the spring season nears, our Pac-10 notebook addresses the big questions for each team.

Updated: March 3, 2006, 2:54 PM ET
By Ted Miller | Special to ESPN.com

How will Cal's and Oregon's quarterback situations turn out? Will UCLA coaches be wearing name tags at the start of spring practice? Could USC have the nation's best receiving corps? Our Pac-10 notebook addresses those questions and much more.

Arizona Wildcats
Spring practice begins: March 27
Spring game: April 22
Area of concern: Sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama looked like a rising star at the end of last season. He and sophomore receiver Mike Thomas appear poised to rewrite the school's passing record book. But the main issue this spring is fixing the running game, which won't be easy. The offensive line was mediocre, at best, last season, and three starters are gone, as are the top two tailbacks. That means it's time for talented 220-pound junior Chris Henry to step up. … Two of Arizona's marquee junior college defensive line recruits, who were expected to compete immediately for starting jobs, won't practice this spring. Louis Holmes and Gabe Long have relocated to Tucson and are trying to get their academics in order so they can join the Wildcats this fall.

Arizona State Sun Devils
Spring practice begins: March 20
Spring game: April 15
Area of concern: Can any team in the nation boast two quarterbacks who passed for more than 2,000 yards? With senior Sam Keller and sophomore Rudy Carpenter, who came off the bench to lead the nation in passing efficiency last fall, Arizona State can. Word is Keller remains a firm No. 1, but coach Dirk Koetter likely won't hesitate to go with Carpenter if he feels the need. … Whoever plays quarterback will lead what figures to be one of the nation's best offenses. The only big loss is All-American receiver Derek Hagan. The injury woes that riddled the line last year should provide a collateral benefit of lots of seasoned players competing for starting jobs this spring. … The team will hold the second annual 4.2-mile "Pat's Run" before the spring game. The race, which finishes at the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium, honors former ASU All-American linebacker Pat Tillman, who died in Afghanistan after giving up an NFL career to fight for his country. He wore No. 42 at Arizona State.

California Golden Bears
Spring practice begins: March 20
Spring game: April 22
Area of concern: Coach Jeff Tedford hired Mike Dunbar as the Bears' new offensive coordinator. Dunbar was Northwestern's offensive coordinator the past four years. He replaces George Cortez, who left seeking an NFL job. … Tedford calls his own plays and oversees the Bears quarterbacks, which figures to be a position of high interest. Nate Longshore unexpectedly beat out hot-shot junior college transfer Joe Ayoob and began the 2005 season as the starter. But he was lost for the season to injury, which led to Ayoob's inconsistent tenure. Steve Levy took over late in the season, and sophomore Kyle Reed also will get a look. … Cal recently added I-AA Portland State to its schedule, but the Bears aren't loading up on patsies. They open at Tennessee on Sept. 2 and play host to Minnesota the next weekend.

Oregon Ducks
Spring practice begins: April 4
Spring game: April 29
Area of concern: Ducks fans will want to talk about the quarterback competition between Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf, and that figures to be interesting, particularly after Leaf appeared to pull even by playing well in the Holiday Bowl. Others might want to muse about talented sophomore tailback Jonathan Stewart. But, really, the Ducks' 2006 season will be decided on defense, which lost five key players from the Pac-10's best unit, including dominating tackle Haloti Ngata. … One thing is certain. A year after the Ducks' young offensive line shocked many by playing well, it looks likely to be one of the conference's strongest units; all five starters are back.

Oregon State Beavers
Spring practice begins: April 3
Spring game: April 29
Area of concern: Linebacker Andy Darkins, who is nursing a biceps injury suffered last year, might be the only one of 16 returning starters not available during spring practice. Senior quarterback Matt Moore and senior tight end Joe Newton are 100 percent. Moore missed the last 1½ games with a knee injury, and Newton was out all of last year with a leg injury. Newton's loss particularly hurt in the red zone. He might be the conference's best tight end. … Senior receiver Marcel Love could return after missing last year because of academic issues. He would give the Beavers much-needed experienced at the position. … Mike Riley hired Joe Seumalo away from San Jose State to coach the defensive line. Greg Newhouse, who manned that post last year, will revert to his old spot with the linebackers.

Stanford Cardinal
Spring practice begins: April 7
Spring game: April 29
Area of concern: Stanford will debut its renovated stadium Sept. 16 against Navy, the third game of the season. The original plan was to have the stadium ready -- after its $90 million facelift -- for the Sept. 9 game vs. San Jose State, but that contest now will be played on the Spartans' home field, which has happened only four times in the 60-game series. … Coach Walt Harris has hired four new coaches. A.J. Christoff, who was with the San Francisco 49ers last year, will begin his third tour of duty on the Farm as the Cardinal's defensive coordinator/secondary coach. Jeff Hammerschmidt will be the outside linebackers and special teams coach. A two-time All-Pac-10 safety at Arizona, he coached at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last season. Another returnee is new running backs coach Buzz Preston, who worked for Tyrone Willingham at Stanford and Notre Dame. Finally, Nate Nelson, who coached cornerbacks at Princeton last year, will coach specialists and coordinate recruiting.

UCLA Bruins
Spring practice began: Feb. 23
Spring game: March 11
Area of concern: Junior defensive tackle Kevin Brown looked like a potential all-conference player early last fall until an ankle injury ended his season before it began. He's back, and the Bruins defense needs him. However, he's taking it slow during spring practices, avoiding full-contact work. … Other players out with injuries are center Robert Chai, offensive tackle Chris Joseph, receiver Junior Taylor and defensive end Nikola Dragovic. Defensive end Justin Hickman cracked ribs last weekend, but he could return next week. … UCLA's coaches are probably wearing name tags during spring practices. Head coach Karl Dorrell hired six new staffers during the offseason and replaced both coordinators, one by choice and the other because of an NFL defection. Jim Svoboda, the quarterbacks coach last year, takes over the offense from Tom Cable, who is now the Atlanta Falcons' line coach. After the Bruins defense ranked 118th in the nation, Dorrell dumped Larry Kerr and replaced him with DeWayne Walker. Other new coaches include defensive line coach Todd Howard, linebackers coach Chuck Bullough, offensive line coach Jim Colletto, wide receivers coach D.J. McCarthy and special teams/tight ends coach John Wristen.

USC Trojans
Spring practice begins: March 21
Spring game: April 4
Area of concern: Talk about the rich getting richer. It's not just that signing prep All-American Vidal Hazelton on Feb. 24 -- three weeks after national signing day -- perhaps boosted the Trojans' recruiting class to the nation's top perch for the fourth consecutive year, it's also that Hazelton adds to an already superb receiving corps, likely the best collection in the country, topped by Dwayne Jarrett. It should make life much easier for quarterbacks John David Booty and Mark Sanchez as they compete for the starting job. … Nick Holt, Idaho's head coach the past two seasons, has returned to USC as the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. Head coach Pete Carroll, who has served as his own defensive coordinator the past five seasons, said Holt will call the defensive signals. "This will help me manage my time," Carroll said.

Washington Huskies
Spring practice begins: March 30
Spring game: April 22
Area of concern: On paper, Washington's offense … not so good. As in, it wasn't good last year, and four starting offensive linemen are gone and the team's best (only?) playmaker, receiver Craig Chambers, transferred. That puts a lot of pressure on quarterback Isaiah Stanback to show dramatic improvement after an inconsistent -- but probably better than expected -- season last year. Stanback is an outstanding athlete who still struggles with his passing accuracy. Of course, he doesn't have a lot of help from his receiving corps, particularly without Chambers. … Does experience alone transform a weakness into a strength? The Huskies secondary returns intact, but it struggled mightily a year ago. That was in large part because of a poor pass-rush, and with the departure of two defensive line starters, including tackle Manase Hopoi, someone needs to step up. Ends Donny Mateaki and Greyson Gunheim are physically impressive candidates, but they need to do more than pass the sight test. … The Huskies signed three junior college players who should be available for spring practices. Long snapper Danny Morovick and cornerback Jordan Murchison are enrolled already, and defensive end Anthony Atkins is expected to enroll this spring.

Washington State Cougars
Spring practice begins: March 21
Spring game: April 15
Area of concern: The Cougs signed their most important recruit: receiver Jason Hill, the best player in the nation no one has heard of, which seems to be a condition Washington State stars regularly experience (see former tailback Jerome Harrison). Hill, who considered entering the NFL draft a year early, accounted for 109.7 receiving yards per game, which ranked third in the nation, as well as 13 touchdowns. He and quarterback Alex Brink should form one of the conference's best pass-catch combinations. And the return of Michael Bumpus from a winter of academic difficulties in time for spring drills also should help. … Although Hill and Brink form a nice passing duo, there are issues with the running game. Two offensive linemen need to be replaced, not to mention Harrison. Sophomore DeMaundray Woolridge is the front-runner at tailback. … Coach Bill Doba has hired Greg Peterson, formerly of Kansas State, to replace Robin Pflugrad as tight ends coach.

Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Ted Miller | email

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