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

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2013 SDSU Football Season Preview: Linebackers

Fely makes a tackle

San Diego State linebacker Jake Fely returns after an impressive sophomore season. He leads an experienced group of linebackers highlighted by five seniors and three juniors. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Who’s gone

  • MLB Rob Andrews

Projected starters (2012 stats)

  • OLB #36 Nick Tenhaeff – RS Sr., 6-foot-2, 225 pounds (52 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble)
  • MLB #42 Jake Fely – Jr., 5-foot-10, 210 pounds (90 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two pass break-ups, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries)
  • OLB #50 Derek Largent – Jr., 6-foot-4, 235 pounds (61 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two interceptions, three pass break-ups, three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble)

Key reserves (2012 stats)

  • OLB #37 Vaness Harris – RS Sr., 6-foot-2, 255 pounds (31 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks, one pass break up, one forced fumble)
  • MLB #46 Jacob Driver – RS Sr., 6-foot-2, 220 pounds (Nine tackles, one tackle for loss)
  • OLB #48 Josh Gavert – RS Jr., 6-foot-2, 220 pounds (24 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble)

Players to watch

  • OLB #37 Vaness Harris – Sr., 6-foot-2, 255 pounds – Harris started the first seven games of 2012, but was replaced by Largent in Week 8. He didn’t lose the job because of poor play, however, as it was simply due to the stellar play of Largent. Expect Harris to compete with Largent for the starting spot, but understand that both will still see significant playing time with Rocky Long’s tendency to rotate defensive players. Harris could arguably start for most teams in the country, and will still put up impressive numbers whether starting or not.
  • MLB #46 Jacob Driver – Sr., 6-foot-2, 220 pounds – With backup middle linebacker Rob Andrews gone, someone will need to step up to split time with Fely. Expect Driver to take on that role in his final season with the Aztecs, as he will be motivated to finish his collegiate career with a solid senior campaign.
  • MLB #38 Scott Graves – Sr., 5-foot-10, 210 pounds – With a loaded linebacker core, expect Graves to play a backup role but also make an impact once again on special teams next season. Graves was named the team’s Special Teams Player of the Year last season, and will continue to play an integral role and be a special teams guru for the Aztecs. If any of the linebackers in the two-deep go down with an injury, he will be more than ready to step in and fill the void.
  • OLB #54 Micah Seau – RS Fr., 6-foot-3, 235 pounds – Keep an eye on Micah Seau, nephew of the late Junior Seau, as he tries to make an impact for the Aztecs next season. He possesses great size and loads of talent, but he lacks the experience the other linebackers have. Another year of development might be needed for the young linebacker, but don’t be surprised if he is able to break through and find his way onto the field.

2013 Commitments
Due to the depth at the position, don’t expect any of the incoming linebackers to see playing time in 2013. Tyler MorrisRandy Ricks and Calvin Munson are three high school commits expected to play linebacker, but all three will benefit from using a redshirt year to develop as they gain strength and size.

Analysis
If 2012 taught us anything, it’s that, contrary to popular belief, Jake Fely is not too small to play middle linebacker.

Fely was nothing short of spectacular in 2012, flying around the field and making plays every time the Aztecs needed them. After being named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, Fely will continue to play at a high level next season, proving to doubters that his heart and ferocity outweigh any size concerns.

Another pleasant surprise in 2012 was Largent, a junior college transfer who came out of nowhere and stuffed the stat sheets, doing everything he could to help the defense succeed. Expect an even bigger year from Largent in 2013.

In addition to Fely and Largent, San Diego State has five senior linebackers, making this group arguably the strength of the defense. Tenhaeff and Harris, two seniors with the most experience among the linebackers, will look to have strong senior seasons, and both will contribute greatly to the Aztecs.

Prediction
San Diego State had two all-conference linebackers in 2012, as Fely was named to the second-team and Largent was an honorable mention. In 2013, three Aztec linebackers will be all-conference selections.


2013 Season Preview: Home
2013 Season Preview: Defensive Line

Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview on the cornerbacks 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

Rocky Long named MW Coach of the Year, all-conference teams announced

Rocky Long coaches

Head coach Rocky Long was named the MW Coach of the Year on Tuesday

Head coach Rocky Long was named the Mountain West Coach of the Year on Tuesday, marking the first time an SDSU head coach has ever received the award.

On top of Long’s award, several Aztecs were named to the all-conference teams.

All-MW First-Team selections
OL Nik Embernate, senior
TE Gavin Escobar, junior (two-time first-team honoree)
CB Leon McFadden, senior (three-time first-team honoree)

All-MW Second-Team selections
RB Adam Muema, sophomore
OL Alec Johnson, senior
LB Jake Fely, sophomore
S Nat Berhe, junior

All-MW Honorable Mentions
LB Derek Largent, sophomore
DL Sam Meredith, sophomore
OL Bryce Quigley, junior

Check out the official Mountain West press release to see the full teams and awards list.


LINKS:
Hunter Hewitt: WordPress – http://hunterhewitt.wordpress.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


by Hunter Hewitt

GO AZTECS