Spring look around the Pac-10
After a successful appeal, Arizona won back one of the four scholarships it originally lost because of falling short on new NCAA academic standards. Based on its scrimmage last weekend, that spot should go to an offensive player. Other than a 78-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Willie Tuitama to Syndric Steptoe, the Wildcats defense dominated, controlling the line of scrimmage and shutting down a sloppy offense that fumbled twice and couldn't seem to remember the snap count. Tuitama completed just nine of 24 passes for 153 yards. Backup Adam Austin had much better numbers, connecting on eight of 12 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. The defense produced eight sacks, including two apiece from ends Jason Parker and Jonathan Turner.
The tailback competition won't thrill anyone. Chris Henry rushed 12 times for 36 yards, but much of that came on a single 17-yard blast. Xavier Smith produced but 25 yards on 13 totes. Worst of all, both fumbled. Henry is a talented athlete, but fumble problems last season kept him on the bench. It's hard to imagine the offensive coaches are pleased that he's still losing the ball.
Arizona State needs help on defense and two guys appear ready to offer some assistance up front and in the secondary. Michael Marquardt was a scout team standout a year ago after transferring from BYU. Now, after packing 28 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, he tips the scale at 288 and is listed as a first-team defensive tackle alongside Jordan Hill, who has bulked up to 288 after adding 16 pounds. Meanwhile, talented junior Josh Barrett, who has struggled with injuries and inconsistency, has worked his way to the top of the depth chart, joining Zach Catanese at safety.
The Sun Devils might have two starting quarterbacks in senior Sam Keller and sophomore Rudy Carpenter, but they are now short a true backup, with the decision of once-touted recruit Derek Shaw to transfer. With Shaw, a former ESPN.com prep All-American, gone, that leaves redshirt freshman walk-on Brett Boon at No. 3, with incoming freshman Danny Sullivan arriving for preseason practices.
California's first spring scrimmage revealed two things: (1) Joe Ayoob might not be out of the quarterback competition as some suspected; (2) junior tailback Marshawn Lynch could do a pretty good imitation of Reggie Bush this fall. Ayoob threw a pair of touchdown passes, including a 63-yarder to Noah Smith. The other went for 30 yards to Lynch, who likely will go in motion and put pressure on defenses from a variety of locations -- a la Bush -- in the Bears' new spread offense, as taught by former Northwestern coordinator, Mike Dunbar. Lynch and backfield mate Justin Forsett both had short touchdown runs.
There will be no lack of quality targets in the passing game, particularly with Lynch and Forsett, as well as No. 3 tailback Marcus O'Keith, each outstanding receivers. Many are expecting a breakout season from sophomore DeSean Jackson, and Robert Jordan would be a No. 1 receiver for many teams. But coach Jeff Tedford has been raving about junior Lavelle Hawkins' offseason work. Much was expected last year of Hawkins, a touted junior college transfer, but he struggled with injuries and learning the offense and caught just 18 passes. Expect him to double that total this fall.
No question Demetrius Williams was Oregon's go-to receiver last year. He accounted for 10 of the Ducks' 28 touchdown receptions and nearly doubled the yardage total of second-leading receiver James Finley. Yet, with Williams likely an NFL draft pick, Oregon doesn't seem terribly worried about the position, mostly because there are a lot of experienced players returning. Finley is back, and he's reliable. Junior Cameron Colvin, whose career has been up-and-down, could be ready to break out as a down-field threat. Jaison Williams, Garren Strong and Kyle Weatherspoon combined to catch 40 passes last year, and track star and basketball player Jordan Kent is an intriguing athlete in his second year in the program.
There are issues, however, on the defensive line, where standouts Haloti Ngata -- likely to be the first defensive tackle selected in the draft -- and Devan Long are gone. Matt Toeaina, who started at tackle last year, will move outside to end, replacing Long, despite tipping the scales at over 300 pounds. Darius Sanders returns at the other end, with David Faaeteete and Cole Linehan presently listed with the first team at the tackles. Three JC transfers are scheduled to report this fall and bolster the position.
Oregon State quarterback Matt Moore is wearing a knee brace on the right leg he injured late last season, but he appears to be moving well and likely will hold on to his starting job. He even added 10 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame, though he still hasn't cracked the 200-pound mark. The more contentious issue will be whether junior Ryan Gunderson can hold off redshirt freshman Sean Canfield for the backup job. Early scuttlebutt is Canfield, the quarterback of the future, might overtake Gunderson.
The pecking order at tailback behind starter Yvenson Bernard became clearer with the departure of seldom-used senior Nate Wright. Wright apparently figured he'd fallen behind JC transfer Clinton Polk as well as sophomore Patrick Fuller and wouldn't see many carries next fall. He had 10 rushes for 45 yards last season. As expected, senior receiver Marcel Love has rejoined the team after being academically ineligible a year ago. He was the Beavers' third leading receiver in 2004.
Stanford kicked off spring practice with good news and bad news. The good news is both quarterback Trent Edwards and receiver Evan Moore are healthy, though Edwards' troublesome right throwing shoulder figures to be a concern well into next season. The bad news -- other than that the five new assistant coaches make it feel like second-year head coach Walt Harris is starting over for a second time -- is that three expected starters will either be out or limited, including a pair of suspended players, which proves Stanford isn't that different from every other Division I-A program.
Tight end Matt Traverso and strong safety Brandon Harrison, both seniors, were suspended from spring drills for "conduct inconsistent with the goals of Stanford football," according to what Harris told Bay Area reporters. Harris said the players were sanctioned for football, not school or NCAA issues. While there's depth behind Traverso, who caught 19 passes last year, Harrison won't be as easy to replace in an already thin secondary. Also out is defensive end Pannel Egboh, who will be limited while continuing his rehabilitation from a broken leg suffered in October.
UCLA would have been excited if tailback Maurice Drew had decided to return for his senior season, but the Bruins aren't panicking. Folks in Westwood think things will be just fine with junior Chris Markey and sophomore Kahlil Bell handling tailback duties. Yes, Drew ranked ninth in the nation with 160.6 all-purpose yards per game. But Markey and Bell combined for nearly 900 yards rushing last season, and Markey's 1,223 all-purpose yards ranked 14th in the Pac-10. Like Drew, neither is very big -- both tip the scales at less than 210 pounds. That means both will get plenty of touches, both as runners and receivers.
After pleading guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, resulting in injury, junior kicker Justin Medlock was reinstated to the team. While some might wonder whether missing the Sun Bowl represents an adequate penalty for what were once a pair of felony charges, Medlock's return ensures that the Bruins will have one of the Pac-10's best and most experienced kickers next fall.
Spring practices are producing as many questions as answers for USC, but only at Troy could that mean things are merely more interesting instead of more desperate. Things figure to be wide open at quarterback, tailback and safety in the fall. If junior quarterback John David Booty's back heals, and there's no indication it won't, he figures to be in a dead heat with redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez. Sanchez completed 13 of 21 passes for 146 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in the Trojans' spring game, and he appears capable of starting the season-opener against Arkansas. With tailback Hershel Dennis tearing ligaments in his knee, 260-pound converted linebacker Ryan Powdrell took over and produced 81 yards on 10 carries in the scrimmage, though he also fumbled. It's appearing more and more likely that the Trojans' starting tailback and at least one safety will be true freshmen next fall. Receiver Patrick Turner, who caught six passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns, was the star of the scrimmage.
Two question marks at tailback: Word on Chauncey Washington's academic eligibility is expected in May, while it remains to be seen whether Michael Coleman (hip) and Desmond Reed (knee) are healthy this fall. Coleman is a better bet than Reed, who suffered nerve damage in his knee that could be career threatening.
Isaiah Stanback maintained his hold on Washington's starting quarterback job, mostly by default after a scrimmage last weekend. Though he completed a pedestrian 5-of-12 passes for 33 yards, his competition, Johnny DuRocher and Carl Bonnell, combined to complete 4 of 20 passes for eight yards. Stanback's best work came with his feet, including a 15-yard touchdown run. The offensive line, which will feature four new starters, was manhandled by the defense. Senior Donny Mateaki, who can play defensive end or tackle, had two sacks, while junior defensive end Greyson Gunheim had three sacks.
Senior Dashon Goldson, one of the Huskies' best all-around athletes, has moved from free safety to cornerback. Huskies coaches feel Goldson's speed and size -- he's 6-foot-2, 195 pounds -- will match up well with the many big receivers in the Pac-10. The leading candidates to replace him at free safety, where he started last year, are Mesphin Forrester, who led the Huskies with 11 tackles in the scrimmage, and Chris Hemphill, who returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown. Defensive tackle Erick Lobos has reinjured the foot he broke last spring. At kicker, it appears junior Michael Braunstein leads freshman Ryan Perkins.
Three things happened in Washington State's latest scrimmage: (1) The offense woke up, scoring four touchdowns after scoring just once in two previous scrimmages; (2) Junior tailback Kevin McCall showed he isn't going to surrender the starting tailback job to redshirt freshman DeMaundray Woolridge without a fight; (3) Sophomore safety Michael Willis figures to see action in the secondary this fall.
The offense produced 254 yards, the highlight being a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Brink to Jason Hill. Brink completed six of nine passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman Arkelon Hall, who is competing for the No. 3 spot at quarterback, continued to produce, completing six of 10 for 27 yards and two touchdowns. McCall led all rushers with 46 yards on four carries, including a nifty 27-yard dash in which he reversed field and rambled to the 3-yard line. Woolridge sputtered for just 26 yards on 11 carries. Willis, meanwhile, impressed with his aggressiveness and hitting.
Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
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