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Athlon previews spring practice in the newly formed North Divison out west.
- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
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California Golden Bears
2010 Record: 5-7, 3-6 Pac-12
Spring practice: March 15 – April 24
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5
Spring storylines facing the Bears:
1. The first issue for Jeff Tedford and new offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik is to find a quarterback. Kevin Riley didn’t do anything special but was missed in the latter half of 2010. His departure leaves the senior Brock Mansion, the transfer with experience Zach Maynard and the redshirt freshman star recruit Austin Hinder to compete for snaps. Mansion did not look good last season, so the experience Maynard has from Buffalo gives him an edge. Look for the young Hinder to push everyone in camp though.
2. Normally, replacing an all-league back who topped 1,000 yards would be an issue. But Cal does that every season. Shane Vereen is gone and there are a lot of names willing to step in. Isi Sofele, Dasarte Yarnway and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, along with plenty of other newcomers joining the fray as well. This battle may not matter, as it seems no matter who is carrying the football, Tedford always gets excellent production from the running game. Filling a hole at center left behind by the departed Chris Guarnero might be more important than running back.
3. Each level of the defense has a significant loss to endure. Along the D-line, star end Cameron Jordan has moved on. Trevor Guyton has the best resume and the most experience with 4.5 sacks last fall. Look for Deandre Coleman and Ernest Owusu to compete for the other spot. Settling the tackle rotation inside will be key as well.
4. The secondary losses a pair of quality performers with the departure of first-team All-Pac-10 saftey Chris Conte and all-league coverman Darian Hagan. There are plenty of experienced bodies back there, so slotting them in the right places will be key this spring. Marc Anthony and Steve Williams look to have the edge at corner while Sean Cattouse has one of the safety spots locked up. Josh Hill and D.J. Campbell will get their shot at the other safety position.
5. Much like Jordan to the line, the linebackers lose star tackler Mike Mohamed – and contributor Keith Browner. The good news is that second team All-Pac-10 linebacker Mychal Kendricks returns to lead this unit with help from another rising star in D.J. Holt. These two combined for 151 tackles and 10.5 sacks a year ago. Finding the third LB early could make this one of the better linebacking coprs in the conference.
Redshirts to watch: OL Chris Adcock, RB Trajuan Briggs
Fantasy tip: All fantasy owners will have a keen eye trained on Berkeley and the running back situation this summer. The RB at Cal has been one of the most dependable fantasy positions in the nation. With a large number of players looking to vulture carries this fall, knowing who has the lead for touches at Cal will be key for most leagues.
Early Enrollees: ATH Darren Ervin, DB Avery Walls, OL Matt Williams
2010 Record: 12-1, 9-0 Pac-12
Spring practice: March 28 – April 30
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 5
Spring storylines facing the Ducks:
1. This offense should once again be one of the most potent in the nation, but a few holes do need to be filled. The offensive line will be without left tackle Bo Thran and 13 starts from senior leader Jordan Holmes. For a unit that is always built for speed, finding depth will be huge this spring. Carson York and Mark Asper return to the line while Darrion Weems looks to be ticketed for left tackle and Ryan Clanton should land at guard following a redshirt season. Center will be the biggest issue as a freshman (Hroniss Grasu) will have a legit shot at starting. Otherwise, expect Karrington Armstrong (and even Clanton) to compete at center.
2. Losing a pair of all-conference pass catchers on the outside would normally be a big issue for any team. However, the Ducks are so loaded at the offensive skill positions, that replacing Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis should be relatively easy. Josh Huff, Lavasier Tuinei and tight end David Paulson all return, with loads of talented freshman and redshirt freshman ready to step in. Watch out for r-Fr. Keanon Lowe and true froshes Devon Blackmon and Colt Lyerla to step up this summer.
3. On defense, each level needs to be totally reworked. The D-line lost star end Kenny Rowe and two all-conference tackles in Brandon Blair and Zac Clark. Terrell Turner needs to step into a leadership role while Dion Jordan and Brandon Hanna should compete for the other end spot. Tackles Wade Keliikipi and Taylor Hart will be first in line to earn the inside starting spots. There was a lot of leadership in this unit a year ago, so the younger players will need to get up to speed quickly.
4. The linebackers are not in much better shape. Gone are Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger and Bryson Littlejohn. Michael Clay looks to step into the weakside, with Josh Kaddu returning to the strongside. Kiko Alonso and DeWitt Stuckey will battle for the middle. Look for Bo Lokombo to figure heavily in the mix at a number of spots. Like the line, there was such a heavy loss of intangibles and leadership in this group that settling on a rotation is amplified.
5. This unit, as a strength in 2010, will likely be so again in 2011 – despite losing all-everything cornerback Talmadge Jackson. Cliff Harris, Anthony Gildon and John Boyett are back, as is converted linebacker Eddie Pleasant (slotted into the ROV role). Two key reserves at safety, Marvin Johnson and Javes Lewis, would have provided excellent depth – and versatile options - but are gone (unexpectedly in Lewis’ case). Redshirt Erick Dargan and special teamer Brian Jackson should be contributors this fall. Once settled, this will be the strength of the Nick Allioti defense.
Redshirts to watch: RB Lache Seastrunk, OL Nick Rowland (quit?), DB Erick Dargan, CB Dior Mathis, WR Keanon Lowe
Fantasy tip: The big names - Thomas, James - will go very early in most drafts. But the complimentary pieces have a chance to step into bigger roles this year. Kenjon Barner, Huff, Tuinei and Paulson should be nice plays this fall. Keep watch on the youngsters, however. Lowe, Seastrunk, Lyerla and Blackmon could all produce if given the touches by Chip Kelly.
Oregon State Beavers
2010 Record: 5-7, 4-5 Pac-12
Spring practice: March 28 – April 30
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 4
Spring storylines facing the Beavers:
1. Settling the offensive line has to be atop the priority list for Mike Riley. The malinged group from a year ago has been totally reshuffled after losing center Alex Linnenkohl. Mike Remmers and Michael Philipp will swap sides and left guard Grant Johnson is moving to center. Back-up center Josh Andrews will move to guard. Finding the right rotation, and positions, for everyone in this group will go a long way in fixing all of the other issues on the offense.
2. Like replacing Jacquizz Rodgers at tailback. Riley has stated that finding the next Quizz is a focus of the spring. Of course, Rodgers isn’t the only question in the backfield as quarterback Ryan Katz is recovering from his broken wrist still and will be limited this spring.
3. Much like the offense, the line of scrimmage should be the focus of the defense this spring as well. Huge losses, both literally and figuratively, in the form of tackles Stephen Paea and Brennan Olander and all-league end Gabe Miller have left a massive void. Add to it the departure of two honorable mention all-Pac-10 outside linebackers in Keith Pankey and Dwight Roberson, and the front seven in Corvallis is a concern. This front seven looks to be totally reshuffled and is a cloudy mix if inexperience and question marks. To quote @Coach_Riley (http://twitter.com/coach_riley): “Developing an identity of effort and execution” will be his focus from day one.
4. Filling gaps left in the secondary by corner James Dockery and safety Suaesi Tuimaunei will go a long way to helping the front seven. There is experience returning with safety Lance Mitchell (74 tackles) and cornerbacks Brandon Hardin (63 tackles) and Jordan Poyer (34 tackles). Expect this unit to look to carry the defense in spring.
Redshirts to watch: LB Shaydon Akuna, OL Roman Sapolu, RB Malcolm Marable
Fantasy tip: Will James Rodgers, who is wearing No. 1 now in honor of his brother Quizz, be able to return to form this fall? He missed most of last season with a torn ACL and won't be 100% until deep into summer - if that. Stay away is the advice until further notice. That said, year two is always been the best year for Riley coached quarterbacks and if Katz is healthy, his strong arm makes him a sneaky breakout candidate. Obviously, whoever gets the carries for OSU is a great draft pick no matter the round.
2010 Record: 12-1, 8-1 Pac-12
Spring practice: February 21 – April 9
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 6
Spring storylines facing the Cardinal:
1. The first issue with this camp is obviously at the top of the food chain with new head coach David Shaw. Jim Harbaugh restored prominence to Palo Alto in a short period of time, so the bar has been set high for Shaw. The good news? He is guaranteed to have the Luck on his side this fall.
2. Luck might be running for his life, however, if Shaw cannot find replacements along the O-line quickly this spring. Three All-Pac-10 offensive linemen are gone: C Chase Beeler, OG Andrew Phillips and RT Derek Hall. Also, losing star FB Owen Marecic hurts the power running game as well. The tight ends are loaded and the backfield is in great shape, so finding pieces to play alongside all-everything blockers David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin is the key for this offense.
3. Up the heart of this defense is where the issues will be this spring. Second-team All-Pac-10 tackle Siona Fua and honorable mention all-league linebacker Thomas Keiser are gone. With all-conference names like Skov and Thomas, the linebacking corps is deep and talented, so replacing Keiser should be much easier than Fua. Terrence Stephens has to step into a bigger role at nose tackle. Replacing top coverman Richard Sherman will be important as well.
4. Receivers Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin, along with tight end Konrad Reuland, have all moved on as well. This shouldn’t be an issue, however, as the big-play Chris Owusu and younger brother of Whalen, Griff, return to the outside. And this team is absolutely stacked at the tight end position. Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo will all contribute this fall.
Redshirts to watch: LB Alex Turner, DL Henry Anderson, OL Dillon Bonnell
Fantasy tip: Temper your expectations for the best quarterback in the land. Andrew Luck is the best actual signal caller in the nation, but not on the fantasy gridiron. A reworked offensive line and receiving corps means Luck will have some growing pains - as will the running game. Maybe wait to get Luck in the second or third round if you can.
2010 Record: 7-6, 5-4 Pac-12
Spring practice: March 29 – April 30
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 6
Spring storylines facing the Huskies:
1. The A.L. Era has begun in Seattle. In Year One After Locker, Steve Sarkisian has his work cut out for him at quarterback. Keith Price is a sophomore who has had some, albeit very limited, game experience. Nick Montana is a redshirt freshman – and son of NFL legend Joe Montana. As Price will likely get the early nod before giving way to the upside of Montana, the goal this spring should be to get both as many reps with the 1’s as possible.
2. Ryan Tolar, Gregory Christine and Cody Habben are gone from O-Line. They trio only combined for 22 starts a year ago, so there should be names ready to step in. Senio Kelemete and Drew Schaefer return as full-time starters, but the other three spots needs to be addressed. Colin Porter, and his six 2010 starts, should have a clear path to one of starting roles. A solid front line goes a long way in aiding a quarterback’s development.
3. The back seven on defense loses three all-league performers in linebackers Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa, as well as SS Nate Williams. The trio combined for 349 tackels in 2010 and will be tough to replace. Nate Fellner returns to man on safety spot and will be counted on as more of a leader this fall. Desmond Trufant, Quinton Richardson and Sean Peaker should have the secondary in great shape by the summer. The linebackers, however, return only Cort Dennison. Names like Princeton Fuimaono and Garret Gilliland need to step up their play this spring.
Redshirts to watch: QB Nick Montana, RB Deontae Cooper, OL Ben Riva
Fantasy tip: Chris Polk finally added the endzone to his fantasy game in 2010 and he figures to be the focal point of the offense as the Huskies break in a new quarterback. He is a complete player who has been productive as long as he is on the field. Look out for Deontae Cooper too.
Washington State Cougars
2010 Record: 2-10, 1-8 Pac-12
Spring practice: March 7 – April 16
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7
Spring storylines facing the Cougars:
1. The offensive line lost center Zach Williams, who earned Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 honors a year ago, and Micah Hannam, who made 11 starts. There is some talent returning the line-up at this spot, so filling the two holes up front will be the first order of business for this offense.
2. This defense loses very little this offseason so getting used to new coordinator Chris Ball might be the biggest adjustment of the spring. Yes, replacing Myron Beck at linebacker and Kevin Kooyman at end is important. But for a team that went 2-10 a year ago, learning and responding to Ball’s methods will be key.
3. Play better football this year. Don't suck as much.
Redshirts to watch: RB Rickey Galvin, LB Tyrone Duckett, TE Aaron Dunn, CB Tracy Clark, WR Kristoff Williams
Fantasy tip: Jeff Tuel might actually be a sound fantasy option this year. He has played a lot of football and nearly topped 3,000 yards last fall. With a receiving corps back around him - and likely trailing in most games - Tuel has a chance to post solid fantasy stats in 2011.
Early Enrollees: WR Henry Eaddy, OL Rico Forbes (JC), LB Darryl Monroe, WR Isiah Myers, DE Ian Knight (JC), OL Taylor Meighen (JC)