2013 Spring Football Preview: Top 10 Story Lines

Dingwell scrambles

After a disappointing finish last season, how will Adam Dingwell and the Aztecs respond in 2013? (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Believe it or not, Aztec fans, but spring football is just a few days away. Although it seems like yesterday the 2012 San Diego State football team was in action, the Aztecs are now gearing up to begin their spring practices on Monday.

With spring football approaching, here are 10 story lines to keep an eye on, ranked in order of relevance:

1. Bowl game recovery 
There’s no questioning the fact that San Diego State finished the 2012 season in bitter fashion, falling to BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl, 23-7. Keep an eye on the Aztecs this offseason to see how they respond to the disappointing end to an otherwise amazing season. With an experienced coaching staff and a similar situation last year, expect San Diego State to avoid the bowl game “hangover” and use the sour taste in its mouth as motivation to work harder this offseason and ensure a stronger finish in 2013.

2. Bob Toledo and his offense 
There’s a new coach on campus this spring, and it’s offensive coordinator Bob Toledo. Although Toledo runs a pro-style offense similar to San Diego State’s prior two offensive coordinators, spring football will be a learning process for the players as they learn Toledo’s variations and terminology. Keep an eye on the offense throughout spring football, as they will likely get off to shaky start but should get into a rhythm as the practices progress.

3. New faces at tight end
After losing three tight ends, including two-time first-team All-Mountain West selection Gavin Escobar, San Diego State has some serious rebuilding to do amongst the tight end corps. Junior Adam Roberts is the lone tight end with playing experience returning, and he will be heavily relied upon in 2013. Aaron Boesch, a junior college transfer who arrived in the spring of 2012 and redshirted last season, will have immense opportunities to make a name for himself in the spring. Another name to keep an eye on is Dominique Bierria, a 2013 signee who joined the team for the start of the 2013 spring semester. Bierria will face a big transition coming from a junior college, but he will also get several reps in the spring to help him adjust. Finally, head coach Rocky Long said in a recent interview (3:03 mark) that he has moved a defensive player back to tight end, which is almost certainly redshirt sophomore Robert Craighead. After joining the team in 2011 as a tight end, Craighead was moved to defensive line in 2012 due to depth concerns. The tables have turned, however, as the defensive line is loaded with depth and the tight end position is short-staffed, which has resulted in the coaching staff moving Craighead back to tight end. Keep an eye on him in spring practices to see if he can embrace the return to his original position and make a push for playing time in 2013.

4. New faces at cornerback
2012 starters Leon McFadden and Josh Wade are gone, and San Diego State needs some new faces to step up. Redshirt junior King Holder, who showed flashes of talent in 2012 and had a solid performance in the Poinsettia Bowl, is likely to lock up one of the starting spots. Heading into spring practices, however, the lead candidate for other spot is up in air. Look for names like Mahbu Keels, J.J. Whittaker, Damontae Kazee, David Lamar and Pierre Romain to duke it out in the spring and fall to determine who will start alongside Holder.

5. Quarterback competition?
With a new offensive coordinator and an unfortunate bowl game performance from its 2012 starter, San Diego State will likely promote an “open quarterback competition” heading into spring practices. Despite the talk of a competition, the odds that Adam Dingwell is the not the starter in 2013 are very unlikely. Although there likely won’t be much of a true competition, keep an eye on Jake Bernards, Matt Morin and Chad Jeffries to see if they can climb the depth chart with an impressive spring. Most importantly, however, the microscope will be on Dingwell thoughout spring to see how he has progressed from last season.

6. The battle for the backup running back
Fan-favorite and tougher-than-nails running back Walter Kazee is gone, meaning someone will need to step up in 2013 as the primary backup running back behind Adam Muema. Although Muema could possibly take on the role as more of a full-time back next season, San Diego State will still need to find someone to spell Muema at times. Redshirt sophomore Chase Price is the frontrunner, as he took on the injured Kazee’s role at the end of the 2012 season. Redshirt sophomores Desaan Hardwick and Dwayne Garrett will also make a push for the job, along with 2013 signee and Texas Tech transfer Ronnie Daniels.

7. Wide Receiver U?
In the past decade, six San Diego State wide receivers – J.R. Tolver, Jeff Webb, Chaz Schilens, Brett Swain, DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown – have heard their names called in the NFL Draft. Sometimes regarded as “Wide Receiver U” as of late, the Aztecs have made a habit of producing NFL talent at the wide receiver position. While 2012 seniors Brice Butler and Dominique Sandifer could very well make an NFL roster in the 2013 season, they are likely undrafted free agent prospects. Be sure to watch San Diego State’s wideouts this spring to see if any of them are poised for a breakout year in 2013 and a chance to join the aforementioned list of NFL talent. Colin Lockett, Dylan Denso and Ezell Ruffin have potential to be a deadly trio next season, and redshirt sophomore Larry Clark is a young receiver with impressive size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) and athleticism to keep an eye on.

8. Offensive line replacements
San Diego State returns starters Bryce Quigley, Zach Dilley and Japheth Gordon, but will need to find replacements for 2012 seniors Nik Embernate and Alec Johnson, both of whom started over 40 games in their collegiate careers. The toughest replacement will likely be at center, where the Aztecs will need to find a young lineman to take over the vital position, often regarded as the quarterback of the offensive line. Look for redshirt sophomore Jordan Smith, junior college transfer Lenicio Noble and redshirt freshman Austin Maass to battle it out in the spring to fill Johnson’s void. As for Embernate’s replacement at guard, keep an eye on redshirt freshman Nico Siragusa. He will see an extensive workload in the spring as the coaching staff attempts to groom him into a multi-year starter.

9. Defensive line growth
In years past, defensive line has often been a concern for San Diego State due to injuries and lack of depth. This year, however, things will be different. The Aztecs return an experienced group of defensive linemen in 2013, and these players will use spring football as a chance to fine-tune their skills and grow as a group. Returning starters Jordan Thomas, Cody Galea and Sam Meredith will likely retain their jobs, but with a lot of talent and depth behind them, expect the competition to bring the best out of the group as a whole.

10. Young safeties and linebackers
Led by several seniors and juniors, the linebackers and safeties are undoubtedly the strength of San Diego State’s defense. Senior safeties Nat Berhe and Eric Pinkins, junior linebacker Jake Fely and senior linebacker Nick Tenhaeff return as the some of the Aztecs’ leading tacklers, but don’t expect these four and other experienced players at their position to see a heavy workload in the spring. Instead, look for the coaching staff to give the young players at both positions countless reps in hopes of preparing them for the 2014 season when they will need to step up. Expect to see a ton of action from young safeties Darius Guillory, Tony Bell and Kendrick Mathis, as well as linebackers Micah Seau and Ryan Jack.

*Spring football for San Diego State begins on Monday, Feb. 25. By NCAA rules, a school is allowed a total of 15 practices during spring. The Aztecs will spread these out over four weeks, and conclude spring football on Saturday, March 23, when they hold their annual spring scrimmage.

Have you seen the 2013 Signing Day Recap yet? Be sure to check it out to see the incoming athletes of San Diego State’s 2013 recruiting class.

Also, be sure to check out San Diego State’s 2013 conference schedule.

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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.

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.

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

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by Hunter Hewitt