Spring look around the Pac-10
With spring practices getting started, our Pac-10 notebook addresses the big questions facing each team.
What does Dennis Erickson have in store for Arizona State? Is Mitch Mustain headed to USC? Why is Oregon State coach Mike Riley praising his secondary? Our Pac-10 notebook addresses those questions and much more.
Almost everything will be new with Arizona's offense, but the good news at the beginning of spring practice is that quarterback Willie Tuitama appears fit and ready for action after struggling with a series of concussions last season. With new offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes installing a spread offense, Tuitama will be lining up in a shotgun formation much of the time, which should help protect his noggin.' Dykes isn't the only new offensive coach; there's three others: offensive line coach and running game coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh, who came from Texas Tech with Dykes, receivers coach and passing game coordinator Darrell Wyatt and running backs coach Michael Smith. A key this spring will be developing young receivers behind Mike Thomas and Anthony Johnson. Terrell Turner tops a group that includes Terrell Reese and Delashaun Dean. They need to grow up fast because Dykes needs bodies for four-and five-receiver sets. Four players will sit out contact drill with injuries, while three others are suspended for disciplinary reasons. The injured are cornerback Wilrey Fontenot (shoulder), offensive tackles Peter Graniello (shoulder) and Adam Grant (knee) and defensive tackle Lionel Dotson (shoulder). The suspended are linebacker Adrian McCovy, corner Devin Ross and defensive end Mike Shelton.
Arizona State Sun Devils
New coach Dennis Erickson won't change the 4-3 defense Arizona State used last season, but he will add a number of shotgun and empty backfield packages for the offense, which will be new. Another change Erickson is making is getting Rudy Burgess to settle on a position. Erickson wants the versatile Burgess to only play receiver and, of course, return kicks. Former coach Dirk Koetter used Burgess at cornerback. The problem for Erickson is Burgess will miss part of spring practice while he recovers from ankle surgery. When defensive end Loren Howard transferred from Northwestern, there were high expectations that he could be a force as a pass rusher. But the injury-plagued native of Scottsdale has called it quits after a series of knee and ankle surgeries derailed his promising career. Howard, who made his decision not to pursue a sixth year of eligibility this week, never played a down for the Sun Devils. Four junior college transfers are suiting up this spring, each expected to earn playing time: defensive ends Luis Vasquez and Eric Tanner, linebacker Morris Wooten and corner Jarrell Holman.
California Golden Bears
One of California's key issues is replacing All-American cornerback Daymeion Hughes, but it appears a frontrunner has quickly emerged: sophomore Robert Peele, who earned praise this week from coach Jeff Tedford. Peele, who converted from rover, is running with the first team opposite sophomore Syd'Quan Thompson. Peele had 11 tackles and an interception last year. That leaves a threesome -- Thomas DeCoud, Brandon Hampton and Bernard Hicks -- battling for the two safety spots. The big Cal football news, however, didn't take place on the field. It happened in the boardroom, where the school's Board of Regents, approved a massive new five-year contract for Tedford that could be pay him as much as $4.285 million in 2013. Tedford, who has led the Bears to four consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history, will earn a minimum of $1.8 million this season, and he will earn a series of retention bonuses that range between $1 and $1.5 million and will be paid out in 2008, 2011 and 2013.
Entering his 13th season at Oregon, coach Mike Bellotti is the dean of Pac-10 coaches. His staff, however, hasn't been so consistent. When Gary Crowton bolted for LSU, Bellotti was forced to hire his third different offensive coordinator in four years. On the plus side, he might have hired a good one: Chip Kelly, the architect of potent offenses at New Hampshire for the past eight seasons. Kelly also will coach quarterbacks, where he will be charged with helping Dennis Dixon rediscover his confidence. Under Kelly, New Hampshire averaged more than 400 yards per game in seven of the last eight years and more than 30 points the past four seasons. Other staff changes include the departure of longtime assistant Neal Zoumboukos for a position within the athletic department, and the promotion of offensive line coach Steve Greatwood to associate head coach. Also, Tom Osborne returns to Eugene as the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, and linebackers coach and assistant head coach Don Pellum has taken on the additional title of recruiting coordinator. Osborne spent that last six seasons at Arizona State.
Oregon State Beavers
Two years ago, Oregon State's secondary was terrible. Last year, not so bad. And this year, with three of four starters back, there's a chance they could be pretty good. Strong safety Sabby Piscitelli, a first-team All-Pac-10 performer who led the Beavers with five interceptions, is gone, but juniors Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes return at the cornerbacks, while Al Afalava is back at free safety. Bryan Payton and Daniel Drayton --hey, that rhymes -- as well as redshirt freshman Suaesi Tuimaunei and James Dockery figure to see action. Coach Mike Riley is touting the crew as "the best we have had in my tenure at Oregon State." What helped the secondary last year, though, wasn't just improved skills. It was a strong pass rush that produced 44 sacks, tops in the Pac-10. The Beavers also led the conference by forcing 31 turnovers.
Jim Harbaugh's new staff at Stanford is interesting. It features little Pac-10 coaching experience and is essentially split between two schools: I-AA University of San Diego and Western Michigan. The defense mostly will have a WMU flavor, while San Diego gets the offense. Scott Shafer will be the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He held the same post at WMU the past two seasons. Last year, his crew ranked 11th in the nation in total defense and sixth against the run while leading the nation in both interceptions (24) and sacks (46). Also from WMU is defensive backs coach Clayton White. David Shaw, who was Harbaugh's passing game coordinator at San Diego, will run the offense, while Tim Drevno, Harbaugh's OC at San Diego, will step back and manage the tight ends. Shaw and offensive line coach Chris Dalman played for Stanford.
UCLA coach Karl Dorrell isn't afraid of change. Just look at his staff, which includes only one holdover from his original, 2003 staff: secondary coach Gary DeLoach. One year after elevating Jim Svoboda from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, Dorrell decided to dump him and hire Jay Norvell, the Bruins fourth different OC in five seasons. Dorrell also replaced offensive line coach Jim Colletto, who bolted for the NFL, with Bob Connelly, and receivers coach D. J. McCarthy, who took at job at LSU, with Eric Scott. Scott, a former UCLA receiver who graduated in 1997, worked as an intern in the football office this past season. He was an assistant coach at Crenshaw High School -- a UCLA pipeline -- the previous seven years.
If you can't beat the Trojans, maybe you should join them, at least that's what one talented athlete from Arkansas and potentially another are doing. Receiver Damian Williams has been impressive during his first week after transferring from Arkansas, though he's not eligible until 2008. He also might be joined by his even more highly touted former high school and Arkansas teammate quarterback, Mitch Mustain, who was the biggest recruit in Razorbacks' history until he fell out of favor with coach Houston Nutt. USC is thought to be the frontrunner for Mustain's services. It's hard to keep up with all of USC's running backs, but three are making news at the start of spring for a variety of reasons. First, senior Hershel Dennis, who started ahead of Reggie Bush and LenDale White in 2003, is trying to come back after a serious knee injury suffered last spring. Meanwhile, Chauncey Washington, the Trojans' leading rusher a year ago, is again struggling academically, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. He was academically ineligible in 2004 and 2005. Finally, sophomore Stafon Johnson will sit out this spring while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Washington won't have a lot of running back depth this spring, particularly after Michael Houston, a touted 2006 transfer from Texas, quit the team. Houston was suspended because of an October arrest for allegedly stealing a taxi cab, which had picked Houston and some friends up at a strip club. With Houston gone, the Huskies only have two tailbacks available: Louis Rankin and J.R. Hasty. Rankin led the Huskies with 666 yards rushing last year, while Hasty hasn't taken a snap because he was academically ineligible last year. The Huskies' only offseason coaching change was Charlie Baggett replacing Eric Yarber as receivers coach. Yarber moved on to Arizona State, while Baggett arrived after 10 years in the NFL, most recently with the Miami Dolphins. Baggett and head coach Tyrone Willingham have known each other since the late 1960s and they were roommates at Michigan State. Baggett inherits a fairly experienced group of receivers that lost only Sonny Shackelford. Incoming freshmen Anthony Broyles and Devin Aguilar are expected to contribute next year, also.
Washington State Cougars
Washington State has a new-old defensive coordinator: head coach Bill Doba, who held the post under former head coach Mike Price. With the departure of Robb Akey, now Idaho's head coach, Doba has decided to coordinate his defense and coach linebackers. Other coaching changes for the Cougars include Steve Broussard taking the running backs for Kelly Skipper, who is now with the Oakland Raiders, and Marty Long taking over the defensive ends. Broussard is WSU's second all-time leading rusher with 3,054 yards recorded from 1986-89. Running backs Derrell Hutsona and DeMaundray Woolridge aren't practicing due to academic issues, making Dwight Tardy the only experienced runner available. Woolridge flunked out of school during the winter. A number of players are out with injuries, the most serious being defensive tackle Fevaea'i Ahmu, who might miss the 2007 season after foot surgery. Another projected starter on the defensive line, end Matt Mullennix who hurt his knee before the 2006 season opener, also will sit out.
Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.