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: Quarterbacks

Dingwell scrambles

Quarterback Adam Dingwell (6) returns in 2013 and will try to lead the Aztecs in his first full season as the starter. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Who’s gone

  • QB Ryan Katz

Projected starters (2012 stats)

  • QB #6 Adam Dingwell – RS Jr., 6-foot-4, 210 pounds (83-144, 939 passing yards, 8 touchdowns, 7 interceptions ; 43 carries, 104 yards, one touchdown)

Key reserves/Players to watch

  • QB #12 Jake Bernards– RS Sr., 6-foot-5, 215 pounds – Entering his fifth season with the Aztecs, Bernards likely knows the pro-style offense better than anyone else. He has spent most of his time as the backup quarterback, but he will be in the mix during spring practices with new offensive coordinator Bob Toledo at the helm.
  • QB #11 Matt Morin – RS Fr., 6-foot-2, 220 pounds – With a powerful arm and the ability to escape pressure and scramble, Morin has the total package. Although he may have to wait until Dingwell leaves to get his chance, he will make the quarterback competition interesting for the next two years. Look for him to turn some heads in the offseason with impressive throws and nifty scrambles.
  • QB #15 Chad Jeffries – RS So., 6-foot-2, 200 pounds – Keep an eye on Jeffires throughout the offseason to see if he can make a push for the starting job. A talented three-star recruit out of high school, he has had a tough time putting the pieces together at the collegiate level, but a strong offseason could catapult him up the depth chart.

2013 Commitments
San Diego State does not have any quarterback commits in the 2013 class, but Chase Favreau, a 2012 signee, is expected to join the team in the spring after grayshirting last season. 

Although San Diego State fans have often pointed the finger at Dingwell for the collapse against BYU, there were several factors that contributed to the loss.

Field position was arguably the difference in the game, as BYU’s punter Riley Stephenson pinned the Aztecs inside their own 5-yard line five times. Dingwell was pressured throughout the game, and although he made some mistakes, many of the painful plays were not solely his fault.

Dingwell did not play his best in the Poinsettia Bowl, but San Diego State fans should not forget the 5-game win streak that he helped orchestrate, highlighted by come-from-behind road victories against Nevada and Boise State. His performance against Nevada, coming off the bench to replace the injured Katz, proved his incredible work ethic, as he could not have played at such a high level without tireless preparation. Ending the season on a bitter note will only fuel him more in the offseason.

With a new offensive coordinator, it is likely that the staff promotes an open battle for the starting quarterback job in the offseason. Although Bernards is consistent and knowledgeable and Morin and Jeffries are skilled young players, look for Dingwell to improve his fundamentals in the offseason and retain the starting job due to his gritty demeanor, work ethic and leadership skills.

There is no substitute for experience, and this makes Dingwell the clear frontrunner. With last season under his belt, expect a new and improved Dingwell in 2013.

Dingwell will throw for at least 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns 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
2013 Season Preview: Wide Receivers
2013 Season Preview: Running Backs
2013 Season Preview: Tight Ends
2013 Season Preview: Offensive Line

Hunter Hewitt: WordPress – http://hunterhewitt.wordpress.com
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Hunter Hewitt: BrandYourself – http://hunterhewitt.brandyourself.com/
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Hunter Hewitt: SDSU News Team Story: http://newscenter.sdsu.edu/sdsu_newscenter/news.aspx?s=73846

by Hunter Hewitt


Meet the Aztecs: Q&A with Matt Morin

Photo Credit: Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations

The 16th in a daily series of Q&A’s with the 2012 signing class.

Matt Morin is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback from Temecula, Calif. He comes to San Diego State from Chaparral High School, where he was a was a first-team all-league selection his senior year. Morin has a strong arm and the ability to tuck the ball and run, making him a dual-threat to defenses. At Chaparral, Morin was teammates with fellow 2012 signee Teddy Queen and current Aztec safety Darius Guillory.

To get a head start, Morin graduated from high school a semester early and enrolled at SDSU in the spring semester of 2012, which enabled him to join the team for spring practices. With three veteran quarterbacks currently on the roster, Morin will use his redshirt for the 2012 season, but will likely compete for the starting job in 2013. He will wear No. 11 for the Aztecs.

GoAztecs.com player profile
Rivals recruiting page

Q: How has your experience at San Diego State been so far?
A: It’s going very well. School is a little hard getting used to but other than that it’s going well.

Q: What do you like so far about the city of San Diego?
A: I’d have to say the weather. It can’t get much better than 75 degrees every day.

Q: How were the offseason workouts for you?
A: They were really hard at first, but Coach Hall has done a good job of getting us into great shape and it’s getting better.

Q: What is your major and what type of career aspirations do you have outside of football?
A: My major is criminal justice. I’d like to follow in my dad’s footsteps and be a sheriff when I’m older.

Q: What do you like to do during your spare time?
A: I like to play golf when I have some time off.

Q: Who are your favorite professional sports teams?
A: The Green Bay Packers are my favorite football team and the Boston Red Sox are my favorite baseball team.

Q: Is there any athlete that you look up to or try to model your game after?
A: I like Aaron Rodgers.

Q: If you weren’t a football player, what sport would you be playing?
A: Baseball. I would be a pitcher.

Q: What has the transition from high school to Division 1 football been like?
A: There is a lot more discipline in everything you do. You have to focus on the details of everything.

Q: There have been rumors of a YouTube video of you throwing the ball 77 yards. How far can you throw a football?
A: I think I can throw the ball about 77-80 yards. That one pass went about 77 yards so I think I can throw it about that far.

by Hunter Hewitt