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
Hunter Hewitt: LinkedIn – http://www.linkedin.com/in/hunterhewitt
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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
Hunter Hewitt: FanBase: http://www.fanbase.com/Hunter-Hewitt


by Hunter Hewitt

GO AZTECS

Aztecs in the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine: Preview

The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine begins on Wednesday, Feb. 20

The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine begins on Wednesday, Feb. 20

For many recent college graduates looking for employment, their first job interview can be nerve-racking and worrisome, causing intense amounts of perspiration.

This week, a select group of individuals will participate in a unique job interview, one that will cause them to sweat profusely just like most other college graduates. The reasoning for their perspiration is different, however, because these former collegiate athletes will be on a football field in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, working out in a series of drills in front of dozens of NFL scouts at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.

Wednesday marks the start of the scouting combine, and two Aztecs will participate in this prestigious event. Tight end Gavin Escobar and cornerback Leon McFadden will be amongst the group of over 300 NFL prospects, all vying for the opportunity to showcase their abilities.

Scouts often use the combine as a primary tool to gauge the talent of the prospects. Each player will use this week as a chance to boost their draft stock just two months before the draft.

Although the official start of the combine is Wednesday, the first two days consist of administrative ordeals, medical tests, measurements and interviews. The workouts, broken up by position groups, begin on Friday and run until Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Here is the schedule, along with additional notes, for Escobar and McFadden:

Gavin Escobar

Gavin Escobar: Aztecs For Life

Gavin Escobar hauls in a pass in the 2012 season. He is one of the top tight end prospects in the 2013 draft. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Schedule

  • Wednesday, Feb. 20 – Arrival. Medical pre-exam and x-rays, orientation, interviews.
  • Thursday, Feb. 21  Measurements, medical exam, media, interviews
  • Friday, Feb. 22  Psychological testings, bench press, interviews
  • Saturday, Feb. 23  On-field workouts

Additional Notes

  • There are 19 tight ends participating in the combine
  • Escobar is one of three tight ends from non-BCS conferences
  • Escobar has spent the last several weeks training at IMG Academy along with top prospects like Manti Te’o, Matt Barkley and others
  • Escobar’s stock has been rising as of late, and impressive combine numbers will help him even more. Keep an eye on him this week to see how he fares.

Leon McFadden

Leon McFadden - Aztecs For Life

McFadden breaks up a pass in the 2012 season. His combine performance will likely weigh heavy on his draft stock. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Schedule

  • Saturday, Feb. 23  Arrival. Medical pre-exam and x-rays, orientation, interviews
  • Sunday, Feb. 24  Measurements, medical exam, media, interviews
  • Monday, Feb. 25  Psychological testing, bench press, interviews
  • Tuesday, Feb. 26  On-field workouts

Additional Notes

  • There are 30 cornerbacks participating in the combine
  • McFadden is one of seven cornerbacks from non-BCS conferences
  • Many have said that McFadden’s 40-yard dash at the combine will be critical for his draft stock. Keep an eye on him next Tuesday to see how he fares in the workout. According to a recent story on ESPN.com, the average 40-yard dash time for cornerbacks in the last five years is 4.55. If McFadden betters the average, he will likely put himself in position to be drafted in the third or fourth round.

*All of the action from the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is televised on NFL Network throughout the week. If you do not have access to NFL Network or you are unable to watch, be sure to check out the AztecsForLife Facebook page and Hunter Hewitt’s Twitter for live updates with videos and statistics. Also, stay tuned for a new post next week with a recap of the Aztecs in the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.


Have you seen the 2013 Season Previews yet? If not, check out the pre-spring position-by-position previews for next season.

Also, be sure to take a look at the 2013 Signing Day Recap to see the incoming athletes of San Diego State’s 2013 recruiting class.


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: 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
Hunter Hewitt: FanBase: http://www.fanbase.com/Hunter-Hewitt


by Hunter Hewitt

GO AZTECS

2013 SDSU Football Season Preview: Cornerbacks

King Holder gets interception

Redshirt junior cornerback King Holder, the most experienced returning cornerback, picks off a pass in the bowl game vs. BYU. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Who’s gone

  • CB Leon McFadden
  • CB Josh Wade

Projected starters (2012 stats)

  • CB #35 King Holder – RS Jr., 5-foot-10, 165 pounds (33 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, five pass break-ups)
  • CB #21 Mahbu Keels – RS Jr., 6-foot-1, 175 pounds (N/A) 

Key reserves (2012 stats)

  • CB #34 J.J. Whittaker – RS Jr., 5-foot-10, 180 pounds (N/A)
  • CB #23 Damontae Kazee – RS Fr., 5-foot-11, 175 pounds (N/A – redshirt year)
  • CB #13 Pierre Romain – RS So., 5-foot-8, 165 pounds (10 tackles)
  • CB #16 David Lamar – RS Jr., 6-foot-2, 180 pounds (six tackles)

Players to watch

  • CB #34 J.J. Whittaker – RS Jr., 5-foot-10, 180 pounds – A highly touted recruit out of Oceanside High School, Whittaker has had a serious streak of bad luck as he has been bitten by the injury bug the last three seasons. After tearing his ACL twice in his firs two years and breaking a bone in his shoulder last season, Whittaker has yet to see any game action. Fortunately, he returned towards the end of the 2012 season and practiced with the scout team. Look for Whittaker to finally get his chance to see the field in 2013. He has all the tools to be a solid player for the Aztecs, and if he can stay healthy, he will be an important contributor and may compete for a starting role.
  • CB #23 Damontae Kazee – RS Fr., 5-foot-11, 175 pounds – Although he has yet to see the field after redshirting in 2012, expect Kazee to make a name for himself in spring practices. He has great bloodlines, as Aztec fans spent the last four years idolizing his brother, former running back Walter Kazee, for his incredible toughness and willpower. Look for Damontae Kazee to bring that same toughness on the defensive side of the ball, locking down wide receivers and stepping up in run support when needed.
  • DB #31 Tony Bell – RS So., 6-foot-1, 180 pounds – As a true freshman in 2011, Bell was listed as a cornerback, but eventually redshirted and moved to safety the following season. Don’t be surprised if the coaching staff considers another move and he ends up back where he started. With a ton of depth at safety, the switch could be beneficial for Bell and the Aztecs, as he could likely contribute sooner at the cornerback position.

2013 Commitments
As of now, Billy Vaughn Jr.Addison Morrow and Kalan Montgomery are three commits who will likely play cornerback. Don’t be surprised if Montgomery, a three-star recruit, makes a push for playing time in the fall. Vaughn Jr. possesses a good combination of size and speed and could also potentially see playing time as a true freshman, but it is likely that he, along with Morrow, will redshirt in 2013.

Analysis
The cornerback position is a serious question mark for the San Diego State defense entering the 2013 season. With McFadden and Wade leaving, the Aztecs need to find two new starters from a group of mostly young, inexperienced players.

Luckily for San Diego State, Holder finished the 2012 season playing at a high level and had an exceptional performance in the bowl game. Expect him to secure one of the starting cornerback spots early on.

The question of who starts alongside Holder is where the uncertainty arises, as none of the other cornerbacks have seen significant playing time on defense. Romain and Lamar saw action on special teams in 2012, and both could make a push for one of the starting spots in 2013. Between those two, Keels, Whittaker and Kazee, look for a heated competition through spring practice and fall camp to determine the other starter.

Keels appears to be the frontrunner, as he is a physical corner with good size and will be entering his fourth season with the Aztecs. Don’t be surprised if Kazee turns some heads in the offseason as well, and forces the coaching staff to consider giving him a chance despite his youth and lack of experience. If Whittaker is able to stay healthy, he could also make a push for a starting job.

Prediction
Holder will have at least three interceptions in 2013, and return one of them for a touchdown.


2013 Season Preview: Home
2013 Season Preview: Defensive Line
2013 Season Preview: Linebackers

Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview on the safeties 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