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.


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
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Hunter Hewitt: Facebook – http://facebook.com/hunterhewittSDSU
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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
Hunter Hewitt: FanBase: http://www.fanbase.com/Hunter-Hewitt


by Hunter Hewitt

GO AZTECS

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2013 Recruiting Class: Signing Day Recap

San Diego State head coach Rocky Long, the 2013 Mountain West Coach of the Year, saw 24 players sign in his 2013 recruiting class. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

San Diego State head coach Rocky Long, the 2013 Mountain West Coach of the Year, saw 24 players sign in his 2013 recruiting class. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Wednesday was a big day for San Diego State, as it added a total of 24 new players to its football program on National Signing Day.

Taken directly from the GoAztecs.com Signing Day Central, here is the 2013 recruiting class:

2013 recruiting class

There were some surprises throughout the day, both good and bad, but the Aztec coaching staff seemed very pleased with the new additions.

As expected, San Diego State head coach Rocky Long has made it clear that most of these incoming players are unlikely to see playing time next year. He also noted that there is virtually no way of grading this class until you see how each player pans out a few years down the line.

While it is extremely difficult to predict which players will live up to the expectations, here is a brief synopsis at first glance:

Surprises
WR Christian Cumberlander – The 6-foot-3 wide receiver was one of the last players to sign on Wednesday, and did so in Lebron-like fashion. His commitment was unknown heading into Wednesday, and he had a live video feed to announce his decision. There was an Auburn hat, an Oregon hat and a San Diego State hat on a table, and he planned to put on the hat of the school he would sign with. Years ago, San Diego State was rarely mentioned with the likes of Auburn and Oregon, but yesterday was a prime example of the growing program’s newfound ability to compete with the upper-echelon schools. Cumberlander eventually chose the Aztecs hat, symbolizing his intent to sign with San Diego State.

RB Ronnie Daniels – A transfer from Texas Tech, the signing of Daniels flew under the radar up until signing day. It was reported that he initially tried to transfer last fall, but was unable to qualify due to academic issues. Although he will still need to take care of his academic requirements, Daniels was able to sign with San Diego State and could be a great addition to the program. He played sparingly in his one season at Texas Tech, but his prior experience and good size could develop into him into a solid option at running back for the Aztecs.

TE Darryl Richardson – After the addition of Bierria and the commitment of Wells, many thought San Diego State was done recruiting tight ends. Just before signing day, however, Richardson came into the picture and gave the Aztecs their third tight end in the 2013 recruiting class. Although he played quarterback in high school, he is an incredible athlete with prototypical tight end size. With time to mature and develop his build, he could transform into a serious threat at the tight end position.

First-year contributors
TE Dominique Bierria – After losing three tight ends, there is no question that at least one tight end in the 2013 recruiting class will see playing time next season. A transfer from Santa Monica City College, Bierria was able to sign early and enroll in spring classes. This gives him a huge advantage, as he will be able to participate in the offseason workouts and spring practices. Look for Bierria to be a step ahead of the incoming high school tight ends, as he will likely add at least 15-20 pounds over the next several months working with strength coach Adam Hall.

OL Lenicio Noble – Similar to Bierria, Noble has the advantage of enrolling at San Diego State early for spring classes. With the starting center job up for grabs, he will likely compete for the spot with Jordan Smith and Austin Maass. Keep an eye on Noble throughout the offseason to see how the competition goes. Smith appears to be the frontrunner, but with a strong offseason, Noble could make a push to win the job. Whether he starts or is a backup, he will be an important player next season.

CB Kalan Montgomery – San Diego State lost both of its starting cornerbacks from a year ago, and will need younger players to step up in 2013. A three-star recruit, Montgomery has a solid chance to see the field as a true freshman. He will compete with the likes of JJ Whittaker, Mahbu Keels, Damontae Kazee and others in fall camp to determine which cornerbacks the Aztecs will utilize.

Future stars
RB Donnel Pumphrey – In an interview on signing day, San Diego State running backs coach Jeff Horton compared Pumphrey to former Aztec and current NFL running back Ronnie Hillman. Hearing a comparison like that should be music the ears of San Diego State fans, and there should be a ton of excitement about Pumphrey. Although he will likely redshirt due to the depth at running back, he has the talent to be a future star for the Aztecs, and next in the line of great Aztec running backs.

LB Fred Melifonwu – At 6-foot-5, many would consider Melifonwu to be too tall to play linebacker. In today’s game of football, however, tall and rangy linebackers are becoming increasingly popular. In San Diego State’s 3-3-5 defense, there is often a pass-rushing linebacker on the line of scrimmage, essentially a standup defensive end. With Melifonwu’s height and experience playing defensive end, he could thrive at this position for the Aztecs. This type of linebacker is also sought after in the NFL, as shown with players like Aldon Smith, Demarcus Ware and others. Melifonwu will need time to gain strength and size, but look for him to be a force for the Aztec defense down the road.

WR Charles Cumberlander and TE Darryl Richardson – Both of these players will likely redshirt in 2013, but they have the potential to be big-time contributors as early as their second year on campus. Cumberlander had several offers to choose from, and his talent is no secret. With the depth at wide receiver, however, it is unlikely he will climb the depth chart next season. Richardson, on the other hand, has to grow accustomed to putting his hand in the ground and lining up as a traditional tight end. There isn’t a ton of depth at his position, but he will need a year to develop his body and learn the fundamentals. Look for both of these players to have a breakout season in 2014.

Additional notes

  • San Diego State signed players from 11 different states, its most diverse class since the school started recording signing day statistics in 1997.
  • San Diego State signed a very balanced class. Of the 24 signees, 12 are expected to play offense and 12 are expected to play defense.
  • San Diego State signed four safeties and four linebackers. These positions will have several seniors in 2013, making it highly unlikely that any of the incoming players will see playing time. In 2014, however, the seniors will have moved on and many of the young players in this class will need to step up.
  • Rocky Long noted in his press conference that although 24 players signed, there are only 17 available scholarships. Although it is common for scholarships to open up in the offseason due to transfers, injuries and other reasons, Long said that it is possible some of the players will grayshirt. This means they would sit out the 2013 season and join the team in the spring of 2014.

That’s it for now, Aztec fans. Stay tuned for future posts such as spring ball news, a Pro Day recap, a post-spring depth chart prediction and more. 

In the mean time, be sure to check out the 2013 Season Preview Home to see the pre-spring position-by-position previews for next season.


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