2013 SDSU Spring Football Recap

Following the annual Red and Black Game on Saturday, San Diego State capped off another productive spring football. (Ernie Anderson)

Following the annual Red and Black Game on Saturday, San Diego State capped off another productive spring football. (Ernie Anderson)

A little over a month ago, I gave fans the top 10 story lines to keep an eye on throughout San Diego State’s 2013 spring football practices.

After seeing a few practices and the spring scrimmage, here is my impression on each:

1. Bowl game recovery 
After a disappointing end to the 2012 season, there was concern that the team might take some time to recover emotionally, hindering their progression. After seeing the team this spring, however, the consensus is that the players have moved on and they are ready for bigger and better things in 2013.

Last season is over, and it is time for the 2013 San Diego State football team to move on and create its own legacy. This attitude amongst the players is greatly attributed to the culture that former head coach Brady Hoke instilled and current head coach Rocky Long has further developed.

2. Bob Toledo and his offense 

New offensive coordinator Bob Toledo during his first spring football with San Diego State. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

New offensive coordinator Bob Toledo during his first spring football with San Diego State. (Ernie Anderson)

Although new offensive coordinator Bob Toledo’s offense is very similar to what San Diego State has run in the past, there is a lot of new terminology that will take time to learn. Players will have the next several months to dive into their playbooks and hit the film room to become more comfortable with Toledo’s X’s and O’s.

One thing that was very refreshing to see was the creativity of Toledo, which was evident in the spring scrimmage. On the first drive, the Aztecs scored a 13-yard touchdown on a unique backwards lateral pass to former tight end and current left tackle Bryce Quigley. This play was a clear indication of what can be expected from San Diego State this season, as Toledo proved he is not afraid to run an occasional trick play.

3. New faces at tight end
Although the tight end position is still a bit of a concern, Robert Craighead has emerged as a reliable option. Adam Roberts suffered a foot injury, but it does not appear to be serious and he is expected to be healthy come fall. Craighead and Roberts will likely see the most playing time this year.

Junior college transfers Aaron Boesch, Dominique Bierria and Mike Miller have potential, but all three will need to continue to gain strength and size as they adjust to the Division 1 level. Keep an eye on their progression into the season.

Be sure to also look out for incoming freshmen David Wells and Darryl Richardson in the fall to see if they can come in and compete for playing time right away. San Diego State traditionally plays four tight ends, and it will be an open competition to see who will join Craighead and Roberts as the main contributors this season.

4. New faces at cornerback
King Holder, who was expected to fill one of the two vacant cornerback spots, missed spring due to an injury. This opened the door for players like Pierre Romain, J.J. Whittaker, Mahbu Keels and Damontae Kazee to prove their worth. Whittaker and Romain performed well throughout the spring, and Keels had arguably the best outing in the spring scrimmage. Kazee, on the other hand, is an up-and-coming young player with loads of potential. He has a chance to become a big-time player for the Aztecs, but it may take another year of development.

If Whittaker can stay healthy, expect him to start alongside Holder this season. San Diego State will likely play with a rotation of four cornerbacks, meaning Romain and Keels will also see the field often. Look for Kazee to be a contributor on special teams, as well as another reliable option at cornerback if injuries occur.

5. Quarterback competition?

Junior college transfer Quinn Kaehler has emerged as one of the top candidates for backup quarterback. (Ernie Anderson)

Junior college transfer Quinn Kaehler has emerged as one of the top candidates for backup quarterback. (Ernie Anderson)

It didn’t take long for Long and Toledo to give returning starter Adam Dingwell the nod, but it will take awhile for them to decide on the backup. Jake Bernards and Quinn Kaehler split time with the second-team, and they will compete throughout fall camp until one separates himself from the other.

Kaehler seemed to have the edge at the end of spring – he saw the most action in the spring scrimmage and completed all seven passes he threw – but Bernards is a savvy veteran with a solid understanding of the pro-style offense. It will be a close battle between the two that likely won’t culminate until a week or two before the first game of the season.

6. The battle for the backup running back
Like the quarterback position, San Diego State was not able to establish a clearcut backup running back this spring. Chase Price and De’Saan Hardwick showed flashes of talent, but with several fumbles in the spring scrimmage, the competition is far from over. Price remains the frontrunner for now, but he will continue to compete with Hardwick, Dwayne Garrett, Ronnie Daniels and Donnel Pumphrey in the fall.

One thing that was clear throughout the spring was the dominant play of Adam Muema. He seemed to be playing at another level, shedding off tacklers with an array of quick-footed jukes and power moves. The backup running back battle may not be as important as originally expected because Muema may be able to shoulder most of the load himself in 2013. Expect him to be one of the top running backs in the nation this season in terms of yardage and touchdowns.

7. Wide Receiver U?

Ezell Ruffin will be a key component of what the Aztecs hope will be an explosive passing game in 2013. (Ernie Anderson)

Ezell Ruffin will be a key component of what the Aztecs hope will be an explosive passing game in 2013. (Ernie Anderson)

San Diego State has had six wide receivers drafted in the past decade. Who’s next?

Ezell Ruffin, Colin Lockett, Tim Vizzi and Dylan Denso are four solid targets that will help the Aztecs vastly improve its passing game this year. Look for San Diego State to have an explosive passing attack with Ruffin and Lockett leading the way and Vizzi and Denso as great possession receivers who are counted on in critical situations. A testament to the newly established depth, Toledo has added a four wide receiver package that has been absent in years past due to a lack of dependable options at the position.

8. Offensive line replacements
At the end of spring, four players have likely solidified a starting job amongst the offensive line. Bryce Quigley (left tackle), Japheth Gordon (left guard) and Zach Dilley (center) are near-locks at their respective spots, and redshirt freshman Nico Siragusa has lived up to his expectations and is the frontrunner to start at right guard.

At right tackle, Paul Rodriguez and Terry Poole split time with the first-team throughout the spring, and the two will continue to battle for the starting job in fall camp. Although it is unclear who will earn the job, the intense competition is sure to breed a reliable starter by the time the season rolls around.

Redshirt freshman Daniel Brunskill impressed the coaching staff this spring, and he will likely be used as an extra lineman in short-yardage and goal-line packages.

9. Defensive line growth
Barring injury, Jordan Thomas, Cody Galea and Sam Meredith will retain their starting spots. All three had a solid spring and will continue to improve in the offseason. Jon Sanchez, Dontrell Onuoha and Everett Beed reaffirmed their worth throughout the spring, creating incredible depth at defensive end. All three backups will see playing time this season with the constant rotating that Long employs with his defense.

Although backup defensive tackle Dan Kottman suffered a shoulder injury in the spring, junior Kenny Galea’i filled his void and performed well with the second-team. Kottman is expected to be healthy by fall, but don’t be surprised if Galea’i locks up the backup defensive tackle spot.

10. Young safeties and linebackers

Middle linebacker Jake Fely will lead an experienced San Diego State defense in 2013. (Ernie Anderson)

Middle linebacker Jake Fely will lead an experienced San Diego State defense in 2013. (Ernie Anderson)

After watching San Diego State this spring, it’s clear to see that Long has his defense playing an extremely high level. The Aztec defense is oozing with talent, and many of the players are noticeably more comfortable in the 3-3-5 defense.. This combination of talent and knowledge in the system is sure to give the Aztecs a serious edge on the defensive side of the ball.

The main source of this talent comes from the linebacker and safety positions. At linebacker, opposing offenses will fear the trio of Nick Tenhaeff, Jake Fely and Derek Largent. Fely has bulked up and added 10-15 pounds since last season, and now weighs around 215-220 pounds. Vaness Harris, Josh Gavert and Micah Seau round out the second-team, and all three are more-than-capable backups who will see the field often. Jacob Driver will continue to make an impact on special teams and will step up when needed on defense.

At safety, seniors Nat Berhe and Eric Pinkins will lead an experienced group. Marcus Andrews missed spring due to an injury, but he and Gabe Lemon will compete for the third starting safety.

As for the young players at these positions, Seau, Blake Rodgers, Tony Bell, Stan Sedberry, Nic Rudolph and T.J. Hickman saw a ton of action this spring, and each showed their ability to compete. Although they may not see a ton of playing time in 2013, they could be heavily relied upon in 2014.


Additional Notes

  • Aztec legends Kevin O’Connell and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila were in the press box during the spring scrimmage providing commentary for the crowd. It was a popular new addition to the event and the duo did a great job keeping the fans informed and involved with the action.
  • Former players and ‘Aztecs For Life’ Ray Rowe, Kevin Wells, Jack Hawley, Ray Peterson, Tyson Thompson, Lane Yoshida and many more played in the Alumni Touch Football Game before the scrimmage. According to the commentary of O’Connell and Gbaja-Biamila, Hawley and Yoshida were co-MVPs of the event.
  • Kicker Wes Feer and punter Joel Alesi each had a solid spring. Feer nailed a 49-yard field goal in the scrimmage and rarely missed throughout the series of practices. Although there was no defenders rushing, Alesi punted very well in the scrimmage.
  • Chad Young did not play in the scrimmage to preserve his health and give more reps to the younger fullbacks. His aggressive and hard-nosed style of play will continue this season as he opens holes for the running backs, and he will be a huge part of the Aztecs running game. The senior has also emerged as a vocal leader of the team, and is a top candidate for team captain on the offensive side of the ball.
  • Along with Roberts, Kottman, Holder and Andrews, linebacker Ryan Jack and offensive lineman Kwayde Miller suffered injuries, limiting their participation. None of the injuries were deemed as serious and all players are expected to be healthy for fall camp.
  • Andrew Feaster, Bruce Leaupepe and Osmond Nicholas are no longer with the team for various personal reasons.

LINKS:
Hunter Hewitt: APSE Bio – http://www.apsportseditors.org/newsletter/apse-student-member-bio-hunter-hewitt/
Hunter Hewitt: WordPress – http://hunterhewitt.wordpress.com
Hunter Hewitt: Blogger – http://hunterhewitt.blogspot.com
Hunter Hewitt: LinkedIn – http://www.linkedin.com/in/hunterhewitt
Hunter Hewitt: Twitter – http://twitter.com/hunterhewitt89
Hunter Hewitt: Facebook – http://facebook.com/hunterhewittSDSU
Hunter Hewitt: Tumblr – http://hunterhewitt.tumblr.com
Hunter Hewitt: About.me – http://about.me/hunterhewitt
Hunter Hewitt: BrandYourself – http://hunterhewitt.brandyourself.com/
Hunter Hewitt: GoAztecs.com Player Profile – http://goaztecs.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/hewitt_hunter00.html
Hunter Hewitt: SDSU News Team Story: http://newscenter.sdsu.edu/sdsu_newscenter/news.aspx?s=73846


by Hunter Hewitt

GO AZTECS

2013 SDSU Football Season Preview: Running Backs

Muema runs with the ball

Adam Muema (4) and Chad Young (40) return in 2013 to lead an explosive ground attack for San Diego State. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Who’s gone

  • RB Walter Kazee
  • FB Chris Gordert

Projected starters (2012 stats)

  • RB #4 Adam Muema – RS Jr., 5-foot-10, 205 pounds (237 carries, 1,458 yards, 16 touchdowns ; 9 catches, 147 yards, one touchdown)
  • FB #40 Chad Young – RS Sr., 5-foot-10, 230 pounds (2 carries, 13 yards ; 18 catches, 108 yards, three touchdowns)

Key reserves (2012 stats)

  • RB #22 Chase Price – RS So., 5-foot-8, 200 pounds (29 carries, 114 yards, one touchdown)
  • RB #32 De’Saan Hardwick – RS So., 5-foot-9, 190 pounds (N/A)
  • RB #7 Dwayne Garrett – RS So., 6-foot, 205 pounds (7 carries, 32 yards)

Players to watch

  • RB #22 Chase Price – RS So., 5-foot-8, 200 pounds When Kazee went down in the final regular season game against Wyoming, Price stepped in and played well as the second running back, carrying the ball seven times for 41 yards. Keep an eye on him to see if he can continue his success late in the season and lock up the backup role behind Muema.
  • RB #32 De’Saan Hardwick – RS So., 5-foot-9, 190 pounds – Hardwick had an impressive fall camp in 2012, but was injured shortly before the season began and missed most of the year. A speedy and agile runner, Hardwick is arguably one of the fastest players on the team, and his skill set could help the Aztecs in 2013. Expect him to be fully healthy by spring practices and to make a push for the backup spot.

2013 Commitments
Currently, San Diego State has just one definite running back commit, Donnel Pumphrey out of Nevada. Although Pumphrey is a talented three-star recruit with several Division 1 offers, he will likely redshirt due to the amount of depth the Aztecs have at running back. Marcus Stamps has also committed, and although he will likely play running back, don’t be surprised if he ends up at linebacker. Due to the depth at both positions, it is a safe bet that he will redshirt at either spot.

Analysis
Entering the 2012 season, one of the biggest concerns surrounding San Diego State was the loss of star running back Ronnie Hillman, who left school early and was drafted in the third round by the Denver Broncos.

Luckily for the Aztecs, the two-headed monster of Muema and Kazee filled the void, and helped fans forget about Hillman with their exceptional play. Together, Muema and Kazee led a ground attack that was just as explosive, if not more, than it had been in years past, rushing for a combined 2,270 yards and 24 touchdowns.

With Kazee gone, expect Price, Hardwick and Garrett to compete for the second running back spot. Muema will continue to receive a majority of the carries, but San Diego State will likely use a second running back to spell him when he needs a rest.

Price is the frontrunner, as he showed his abilities last season when filling in for the injured Kazee. Hardwick could have potentially made a push for the third spot on the depth chart behind Muema and Kazee last season, but an injury a week before the season began kept him out for the majority of the year. Look for him to get several opportunities to show his talent in spring practices and fall camp.

Garrett has good size, but will need a strong offseason to climb the depth chart. Although just one of the four is likely to receive a significant number of carries, expect the other three to make an impact on special teams in 2013 (i.e., Garrett’s blocked punt vs. Boise State).

At the fullback position, look for the same hard-nosed, smash-mouth style of football from the third-year starter Young. He will continue to bulldoze through the hole and open running lanes for Muema and the other backs next season, and will also be utilized in the passing game. He displayed his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield last year, especially on play-action passes in goal-line and short-yardage situations, and will likely see more balls thrown his way in 2013.

Prediction
Muema will rush for over 1,600 yards in 2013. He will also see an increased role in the passing game and will have over 250 receiving yards.


2013 Season Preview: Home
2013 Season Preview: Defensive Line
2013 Season Preview: Linebackers
2013 Season Preview: Cornerbacks
2013 Season Preview: Safeties
2013 Season Preview: Special Teams
2013 Season Preview: Wide Receivers

Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview on the tight ends of the 2013 San Diego State Aztecs


LINKS:
Hunter Hewitt: WordPress – http://hunterhewitt.wordpress.com
Hunter Hewitt: Blogger – http://hunterhewitt.blogspot.com
Hunter Hewitt: LinkedIn – http://www.linkedin.com/in/hunterhewitt
Hunter Hewitt: Twitter – http://twitter.com/hunterhewitt89
Hunter Hewitt: Facebook – http://facebook.com/hunterhewittSDSU
Hunter Hewitt About.me – http://about.me/hunterhewitt
Hunter Hewitt: BrandYourself – http://hunterhewitt.brandyourself.com/
Hunter Hewitt: GoAztecs.com Player Profile – http://goaztecs.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/hewitt_hunter00.html
Hunter Hewitt: SDSU News Team Story: http://newscenter.sdsu.edu/sdsu_newscenter/news.aspx?s=73846


by Hunter Hewitt

GO AZTECS

Feature Friday: Chad Young

Chad Young runs with the ball in the 2012 season (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

The second in a series of Feature Friday video interviews

Chad Young is a 5-foot-10, 230-pound junior fullback from La Verne, Calif. He is in his second season as the starting fullback, and is known for big hits and critical blocks that open holes for the Aztec running backs.

I sat down with Young to learn more about him both on and off the football field. Here is the video interview:

Special thanks to Sean Scarborough for filming and producing the video content

Did you miss the last Feature Friday interview with running back Walter Kazee? See it here!