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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by Hunter Hewitt


2013 SDSU Football Season Preview: Wide Receivers

Lockett runs with ball

After nearly posting a 1,000-yard season in 2011, Lockett saw a drop in his numbers last year. He will be back in 2013 for final season, and will be looking to go out with a strong senior campaign. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Who’s gone

  • WR Dominique Sandifer
  • WR Brice Butler

Projected starters (2012 stats)

  • WR #24 Colin Lockett – RS Sr., 6-foot, 180 pounds (20 catches, 293 yards, two touchdowns ; 4 carries, 44 yards)
  • WR #3 Ezell Ruffin – RS Jr., 6-foot-1, 205 pounds (17 catches, 319 yards ; 4 carries, 21 yards)

Key reserves (2012 stats)

  • WR #10 Dylan Denso – RS Sr., 6-foot-2, 205 pounds (4 catches, 63 yards)
  • WR #41 Tim Vizzi – RS Sr., 5-foot-10, 175 pounds (9 catches, 99 yards, one touchdown ; one carry, 17 yards)
  • WR #80 Larry Clark – RS So., 6-foot-4, 210 pounds (N/A)
  • WR #86 Jemond Hazely – RS So., 6-foot-1, 185 pounds (One carry, 5 yards)

Players to watch

  • WR #10 Dylan Denso – RS Sr., 6-foot-2, 205 pounds – After having a breakout season in 2011, Denso was unable to match his prior production in 2012. Much of it was due to a broken finger suffered at the end of fall camp, which hindered him all season. That, along with the return of Sandifer and the addition of Butler, made it tough for Denso to replicate the 49 catches for 634 yards and three touchdowns he recorded in 2011. Don’t be surprised if Denso finds his way into the starting lineup next season, and even if he doesn’t, he will still see loads of playing time and have several balls thrown his way as the third wide receiver.
  • WR #80 Larry Clark – RS So., 6-foot-4, 210 pounds – A physical specimen, Clark was given the nickname “Babytron” last season by a teammate because his frame resembles that of NFL All-Pro wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. After two seasons of development, expect Clark to finally break through in 2013 and be a solid contributor for the offense. A big target with strength and speed, Clark will likely come in on spread packages as the fourth receiver, and may be used in certain situations where his height and athleticism can cause matchup problems for opposing defenses.

2013 Commitments
San Diego State currently has one wide receiver commit, Julius Wilson from Culver City, Calif. Although it is likely he will redshirt due to the depth at his position, don’t be surprised if the talented three-star wide receiver finds his way onto the field as a true freshman.

Although the Aztecs seemed to have a lot of talent at the wide receiver position in 2012, they relied heavily on their run game and tight end Gavin Escobar, who was their leading receiver with 543 yards (Butler recorded the second-highest total with 347 yards).

San Diego State loses Butler and Sandifer, but Lockett, Ruffin and Denso have started multiple games over the last two seasons and should not have any issues stepping up as the main targets. Lockett is the leader of the group, with career totals of 78 catches for 1,263 yards and 11 touchdowns. Similar to Denso, Lockett had lingering injury issues in 2012, as he suffered an ankle sprain early in the season and was often not at full strength. Look for him to bounce back next year and be a deep threat like he was in 2011 when he recorded 970 receiving yards.

Ruffin finally hit the scene in 2012, and broke out in the second game against Army with 5 catches for 152 yards. Following his breakout game, it seemed that the young wide receiver from Long Beach, Calif., was poised for a big season, but it ended up being his only 100-yard game of the year. Like Denso and Lockett, Ruffin also played through an injury in 2012, as he broke a bone in his hand near the middle of the season. Look for him to show his playmaking abilities even more in 2013 and have a solid year.

Newly hired offensive coordinator Bob Toledo said in an interview with the U-T San Diego that he wants to “throw the ball a little bit more than before,” and this will mean more production from Lockett, Ruffin and Denso. With Escobar and running back Walter Kazee gone, expect San Diego State to depend less on its running game and tight ends and more on its wide receivers.

Redshirt freshmen wide receivers Eric Judge and Lloyd Mills will likely need another year to mature and develop their bodies before they start climbing the depth chart. Both will be determined to see some action after redshirting last season, so keep an eye on these two, along with Paul Pitts III, to see if they can find their way onto the field as special teams contributors.

After failing to have a wide receiver surpass 400 receiving yards in 2012, San Diego State will have three wide receivers with over 500 yards in 2013.

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

Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview on the running backs of the 2013 San Diego State Aztecs

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by Hunter Hewitt