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 Spring Football Update: Week 1

Dingwell throws

Quarterback Adam Dingwell rolls out of the pocket and looks for a receiver in one of the first spring practices of 2013. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Aztec fans,

The first week of spring football is complete, and as usual, there is not much media coverage available. Head coach Rocky Long continues to restrict media appearances at practices, making it hard for fans to hear about what’s occurring.

Although I am no longer in San Diego, here are some updates I can comment on through various news releases and word of mouth.

Offensive Line

Dilley blocks

Junior lineman Zach Dilley participates in drills. Dilley will start at center or right tackle next season. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

San Diego State started spring football with the following first-team offensive line unit:

LT Bryce Quigley
LG Japheth Gordon
C Zach Dilley
RG Nico Siragusa
RT Terry Poole

Junior Zach Dilley, who started at right tackle in 2012, is currently the top candidate to take over the starting center job. Dilley was originally recruited as a center, so the move does not come as a huge surprise. Whether or not the move is permanent is the question.

The coaching staff will likely shift around the offensive line throughout the spring with various combinations at center, right guard and right tackle. Returning starters Quigley and Gordon have the left side spots locked up, but the other three positions are up in the air. The coaches definitely like Siragusa at right guard, and although he is young, he is the clear frontrunner.

The performance of Poole will determine whether Dilley starts at center or right tackle. Redshirt sophomore Paul Rodriguez will also compete with Poole at right tackle, and he could also make a push for the starting job if the coaches decide to keep Dilley at center.

Also, don’t forget about redshirt sophomore Jordan Smith and newly added transfer Lenicio Noble. Either one could still secure the the starting center role if the coaches ultimately decide to keep Dilley at right tackle.

Players out of spring practices

Players like J.J. Whittaker (left) and Paul Pitts (right), are back from injury and will see increased reps with the absence of others at their position. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Players like J.J. Whittaker (left) and Paul Pitts (right), are back from injury and will see increased reps with the absence of others at their position. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Last week, it was reported that Larry Clark, Seamus McMorow and Darius Guillory would not participate in spring practices due to a violation of team rules. Cornerback King Holder and safety Marcus Andrews will also be out because of injuries.

Although seemingly unfortunate, these absences will open the door for other players to see increased repetitions, and could potentially benefit the Aztecs in the long run.

Clark, an intriguing athlete with great size and even greater potential, misses a golden opportunity to participate in spring practices. He is a raw talent that needs as many repetitions he can get, and misses a 15 practices does not help. His absence will allow players like Jemond Hazely and Paul Pitts a chance to climb the depth chart.

The absence of McMorrow likely eliminates the possibility of him taking over both the kicking and punting duties in 2013. Kicker Wes Feer and punter Joel Alesi now have much better chances of earning their respective jobs next season. Don’t expect to see anyone lock up a starting spot in the spring, however, as the kicking and punting competitions will likely last deep into fall camp.

At first glance, Holder’s injury seems disastrous for a team that needs to replace both of its starting cornerbacks from the previous year. There is no need to panic, though, as this may actually help the defensive backfield as a whole.

Holder’s injury means two things: Increased reps for the rest of the cornerbacks and increased competition amongst the group. Holder was expected to secure one of the starting spots, and he likely still will, but this opens the door for the rest of the cornerbacks to compete for both spots.

Look for players like Mahbu Keels, J.J. Whittaker, Damontae Kazee, David Lamar and Pierre Romain to take advantage of the extra reps and push each other throughout the offseason. It is uncertain who will come out on top, but the increased competition will surely produce a viable starter.

Additional Notes

  • As expected, the coaching staff is promoting an open competition at quarterback. This is probably just for headlines and motivation. It is very unlikely that Dingwell will not be the starter in 2013.
  • Guillory’s absence and Andrews’ injury opens the door for players like Kendrick Mathis, Tony Bell and Stan Sedberry. Keep an eye on these young safeties throughout the spring.
  • Sophomore Robert Craighead has officially moved back to tight end, and reportedly had an impressive first week of practice. Look for the tight end competition, mainly between Roberts, Boesch and Craighead, to be a heated one.
  • Don’t be overly concerned by the reports of dropped passes and fumbled snaps. With a lot of rotating amongst the quarterbacks and centers, a new offensive coordinator and the early date of spring football, these reports are not surprising. Also, it is fairly difficult to improve throwing and catching skills in the months of January and February. Players typically need these months to recover from the season before and get back into conditioning shape. The major skill improvements occur between March and August.

That’s it for now, Aztec fans. Stay tuned for more updates. Also, keep an eye out for a recap of SDSU’s pro day on March 19.

In case you missed it, here are the top 10 story lines heading into spring football. 


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


by Hunter Hewitt

GO AZTECS

2013 SDSU Football Season Preview: Offensive Line

Quigley blocks

Left tackle Bryce Quigley (78), an honorable mention all-conference selection last year, returns for his senior season in 2013. (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Who’s gone

  • G Nik Embernate
  • G Riley Gauld
  • G/C Jimmy Miller
  • C Alec Johnson

Projected starters

  • LT #78 Bryce Quigley – Sr., 6-foot-5, 295 pounds 
  • LG #65 Japheth Gordon – RS Sr., 6-foot-3, 295 pounds
  • C #73 Jordan Smith – RS So., 6-foot-5, 270 pounds
  • RG #56 Nico Siragusa – RS Fr., 6-foot-5, 315 pounds
  • RT #64 Zach Dilley – RS Jr., 6-foot-5, 295 pounds

Key reserves

  • G/T #70 Arthur Flores – RS Fr., 6-foot-5, 300 pounds
  • G/C #74 Austin Maass – RS Fr., 6-foot-4, 270 pounds
  • T #75 Kwayde Miller – RS Fr., 6-foot-7, 305 pounds
  • T #69 Paul Rodriguez – RS So., 6-foot-7, 285 pounds
  • G/T #67 Garrett Corbett – RS Jr., 6-foot-5, 290 pounds 
  • T #79 Terry Poole – RS Jr., 6-foot-5, 300 pounds

Players to watch

  • LT #78 Bryce Quigley – Sr., 6-foot-5, 295 pounds – In just his first season playing offensive line, Quigley had a solid year in 2012 and was an honorable mention all-conference selection. With another offseason to gain strength and improve his fundamentals, look for him to be a dominant force on the left side in 2013.
  • C #73 Jordan Smith – RS So., 6-foot-5, 270 pounds – With Johnson and Miller gone, San Diego State will need to find someone to take over the snapping duties in 2013. Often regarded as the quarterback of the offensive line, the center is a very important position that requires considerable knowledge in defensive fronts and schemes. Smith, who saw playing time in 2012 as an extra offensive lineman in short yardage situations, will be the frontrunner for the starting job.
  • G/T #67 Garrett Corbett – RS Jr., 6-foot-5, 290 pounds – Corbett entered the 2012 season as a candidate for the starting job at right tackle, but injured his ankle in fall camp and missed the remainder of the year. A versatile lineman who can play multiple positions, look for him to bounce back from his injury and compete with Siragusa for the starting spot at right guard.

2013 Commitments
San Diego State currently has four offensive lineman commits. Lenicio Noble and Braxton Isaac are two junior college transfers expected to sign, while Sergio Phillips and Antonio Rosales are high school commits. Expect all four to redshirt in 2013, as it is extremely difficult for a lineman to learn the offense and compete for playing time right away. Noble, who is expected to join the team in the spring and compete for the starting center spot, is the most likely of the bunch to see the field next season.

Analysis
Last season, San Diego State’s offensive lineman, led by newly hired offensive line coach Mike Schmidt, exceeded expectations and helped the Aztecs rush for over 220 yards per game. Next season, they will need to find replacements for Johnson and Embernate, its most experienced lineman in 2012.

Keep an eye on Smith and Maass in spring practices and fall camp, as they will likely battle to replace Johnson for the starting center spot. Both are skilled linemen, but they will need to get stronger and add weight in the offseason if they want to be effective in 2013. Noble will also be in the mix, but he will need to learn the offense quickly in the spring and gain ground on Smith and Maass if he wants a chance to play next season.

At right guard, Siragusa has a solid chance to win the job in 2013. He impressed the coaches last season, showing flashes of talent throughout fall camp. Although his youth and inexperience might be worrisome, he is one of the strongest offensive lineman and will get a ton of reps in the offseason. He and Corbett will likely be the frontrunners to replace Embernate, but don’t be surprised if some of the other young linemen get reps at the position in spring practices and fall camp.

In their first season as starters on the offensive line, Quigley, Gordon and Dilley played fairly well as a group. All three return in 2013, and will continue to pave the way for an explosive ground attack.

Pass protection will be the main focus for the offensive line in the offseason, as the Aztecs allowed 35 sacks last year, ranking them in the bottom 20 of all Division 1 FBS teams. Expect Quigley and Dilley to improve their fundamentals in the offseason and help San Diego State drastically reduce its total number of sacks in 2013.

Prediction
Quigley will be a first-team all-conference selection 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

Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview on the quarterbacks 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