What to watch for during spring football
Well folks, it didn't take long. Football is back in our lives - albeit only for a few weeks - but it is back in our lives nonetheless. As the transition to the next wave of stars is made and the groundwork for future championships is laid around the Pac-12, Pac-12.com will provide plenty of news, notes, video, audio and more from around the conference.
With the two Bay Area schools getting an early jump on everybody on Feb. 25, here's an overview of the story lines surrounding each program as preparation for the 2013 season officially kicks off.
Sunday, March 3 is when Rich Rodriguez and the team will start practice before wrapping up with their spring game on Saturday, April 13 at 1 p.m. MT at Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium.
What to watch for: Matt Scott wound up being a perfect fit for RichRod's offense, but now the second-year coach will have to find a replacement at quarterback, and spring practice may be just the place to do so. B.J. Denker had spot duty last year and knows the offense but it remains to be seen if he's the guy over transfer Jesse Scroggins or a number of others. All eyes will be on quarterback and it appears that anybody could be the pick at the spot in a battle that may last through fall camp.
Don't forget: Receiver Austin Hill and stud running back Ka'Deem Carey figure to gather plenty of preseason accolades but it's the folks around them that fill out the roster that the staff may have trouble figuring out. A year ago Rodriguez was talking about just finding bodies to fill positions and this spring it's about trying to find guys to step up and grab hold of a starting role. The offensive line is a bit in flux and that may be the first area the coaches hope to find a few starters.
Spring practice starts on Tuesday, March 19 and the Sun Devils' spring game will be at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, April 13.
What to watch for: It's nice to have a quarterback coming back in Taylor Kelly, but the Sun Devils have to try and figure out his counterpart on defense with the departure of Brandon Magee. The roster itself doesn't lose much from last season's terrific first year under Todd Graham but finding a leader in the middle might be item 1A. It doesn't help things that linebacker Carlos Mendoza may not be ready to go all spring as he recovers from an injury but that may end up being a good thing in terms of building depth.
Don't forget: Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton returns to the team after forgoing the NFL Draft, but he's not the only big-time player coming back to Tempe. From the talented D.J. Foster to Alden Darby, there's a lot to like about the roster, but getting everybody on the same page will be a key for the team if they're to navigate a tough schedule in 2013.
Practices get underway in Berkeley on Monday, Feb. 25 with an early spring game on Saturday, March 23 at 4 p.m. PT in Memorial Stadium.
What to watch for: It's a new coach and a new era for the Golden Bears as Sonny Dykes takes over the program and starts to leave his mark on the team. As a result, there's no surprise when looking at Cal and seeing a lot of question marks as they begin spring practice. First and foremost, the staff will have to decide who the quarterback is -- or at least come out with some sort of pecking order heading into fall camp.
"I'd love to have a starter after Monday," Dykes joked. "I don't anticipate that happening but the sooner the better."
There are five candidates for the spot, but most will focus on senior Allan Bridgford and redshirt freshman Zach Kline, the latter a strong-armed signal-caller who many think has the job to lose. True freshman Jared Goff, along with Kyle Boehm and Austin Hinder, can state their case but will have to quickly establish a spot in the rotation as reps become less frequent. There figures to be an inordinate amount of throwing, even for Dykes, this spring with a number of injuries at running back so somebody will have to take charge and show they're the man for Cal in 2013.
Don't forget: It's not just a high-flying Air Raid offense that is being installed in Strawberry Canyon. The Bears will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base defensive front, and that means plenty of people moving around on that side of the ball. A few linebackers will put their hands down and a few others will move around on the line. New coordinator Andy Buh has his work cut out for him in making all the pieces work on the same page but that's what spring practice is all about.
New coach Mike MacIntyre and the Buffaloes start spring practice on Thursday, March 7 with their spring game taking place at Folsom Field on Saturday, April 13 at 10:30 a.m. MT.
What to watch for: Nine players return on offense but a new system will be implemented as MacIntyre's staff tries to turn things around. More than anything, sorting out who will be the quarterback is item No. 1 on the agenda with five players likely stating their case for the job. Having talented receiver Paul Richardson back in pads will be a welcome sight for all as well.
Don't forget: While there will be plenty of people curious as to the direction of the offense, it's the defense that needs the most work. The secondary should return some experienced players but things need to get settled just about everywhere else. In addition to finding the guys that can compete on a Pac-12 level, MacIntyre will need to inspire confidence in his players after a tough run the past few years.
Practices get underway in Eugene on Tuesday, April 2 with the Spring Game on Saturday, April 27 in Autzen Stadium.
What to watch for: So much of what the Ducks do this spring will be familiar, but there is, of course, one big change at the top as Mark Helfrich starts to lay his fingerprints on the program and on the practice field. Defensive line coach Ron Aiken and receivers coach Matt Lubick have joined the staff and will have to learn the personnel as well as the respective systems in place over the handful of practices the team is allowed. Although those around Oregon have been preaching that it's the 'next man up' and not much will change, there's still a bit of the unknown with everything.
Don't forget: Linebacker and running back are the two spots where more attention than usual will be paid this spring. With the departure of Kenjon Barner, Byron Marshall figures to be the guy in the backfield next to Marcus Mariota, but there are a number of other candidates for the job. It won't be easy to replace Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso but among Tyson Coleman, Derrick Malone, Rodney Hardrick and a number of others, the team will look to solidify the spot before fall camp.
The Beavers start practice on Monday, April 1 before heading to Reser Stadium for a 7 p.m. PT spring game on Friday, April 26.
What to watch for: Sooo... will it be Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz? Each has his strengths and, well, there's a reason why the two of them are battling to be the starting quarterback. Vaz didn't win over many fans with his performance in the Alamo Bowl, and it appears as though both are even this spring in Mike Riley's eyes. If this team wants to repeat their nine-win campaign (or improve upon it), finding the leader the team respects (and wants) behind center will go a long ways to determining how good the Beavers will be in 2013.
Don't forget: Brandin Cooks is a heck of a player to fill the shoes of the departed Markus Wheaton, but the team needs to find his sidekick in the receiving corps as he slides over. The biggest concern though lies at the defensive tackle spot with both starters gone from last year's tough run defense. There are plenty of candidates at a number of spots but finding somebody to step up before the incoming freshman state their case will be a big question this April.
The defending Pac-12 champions begin the first session of spring practices on Monday, Feb. 25 before the Cardinal & White Spring Game takes place at Stanford Stadium on Saturday, April 13.
What to watch for: There will be plenty of focus on replacing a pair of likely draft picks at tight end but as has been the case for Stanford in the past, getting everything set up front is the first item of business. Coach David Shaw is moving All-American left tackle David Yankey inside a spot and that means talented sophomores Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy will be looking to lock up the left tackle spot. Perhaps just as concerning along the line for Kevin Hogan and the offense is replacing center Sam Schwartzstein. Conor McFadden and Khalil Wilkes figure to be the two top candidates in the middle.
Don't forget: Stepfan Taylor is off to the NFL but it doesn't seem like they're fretting about finding his replacement down on the Farm with a stable of talented running backs. The return of Tyler Gaffney from baseball provides a solid veteran option but a number of players will likely be in the mix for carries. Barry Sanders (the son, that is) is a guy that the coaches have been very impressed with during the bowl preparation and feel could be an impact player at the position.
Spring practice begins in Westwood on Tuesday, April 2, with the annual spring game on Saturday, April 27 at 5 p.m. PT.
What to watch for: The expectations have risen at UCLA, and for good reason with a number of key returnees such as quarterback Brett Hundley. There are still a few spots on offense that likely need to be sorted out however, including who replaces Johnathan Franklin at running back. The Bruins may have a tailback by committee but it would be a pleasant surprise if somebody stepped up this spring. Finding somebody to replace the reliable Joseph Fauria will be a priority for coordinator Noel Mazzone as well.
Don't forget: Secondary is the spot where a few tough decisions need to be made on defense with three-quarters of the starters gone from last year's team. Given the results of the bowl game, this is one area Jim Mora may pay even more attention to than normal this spring. Although he got a couple of starts at safety last season, Randall Goforth may be the favorite at one of the corner spots. But other than that, it may be wide open at both corner and safety positions.
Lane Kiffin and company start spring practices in early March before wrapping things up at the Coliseum on Saturday, April 13 at 1 p.m. PT for their spring game.
What to watch for: Perhaps name tags. There are a number of new faces around the Trojans' spring practices this year from defensive coordinator (Clancy Pendergast, who's moving to a 5-2 alignment) to new coaches at running back, offensive line and in the secondary. Throw that on top of a number of early enrollees and several position changes and there's plenty to get used to in Los Angeles.
Don't forget: While it may not be decided until fall, the arrival of five-star quarterback Max Browne this spring means the race to replace Matt Barkley is in full-go over the 15 practices this spring. Between Browne, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, all eyes will likely be on who's behind center with the 1's as USC moves on at quarterback.
The Utes' spring practices get going on Tuesday, March 19 and wrap up at the spring game at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 1 p.m. MT on Saturday, April 20.
What to watch for: Dennis Erickson, a familiar face around the Pac-12, has been brought in as a veteran presence on offense and that should help Utah figure out what it wants to be on offense. Quarterback Travis Wilson showed flashes when he took over the team, but he's by no means polished and could benefit greatly by being the big man under center this spring to develop timing with his backs and receivers.
Don't forget: It's a big task to figuratively and literally to replace a guy like Star Lotulelei but that's what Kyle Whittingham and his staff have to try to do this spring. There are plenty of candidates on the roster to fill the gap in the middle but finding somebody that is consistent throughout practice is the big question mark surrounding the position.
Steve Sarkisian and company will kick things off on Friday, March 5 before hosting their annual spring game on Saturday, April 20 at 4 p.m. PT.
What to watch for: The Huskies' offense was solid last season but it didn't take the leap many expected with Keith Price at quarterback. Starting this spring and going forward into the season, a lot more will be expected of the signal-caller if Washington hopes to surprise anybody in the Pac-12 North this year. Offensive line injuries played a big part in the drop in Price's productivity so it will be interesting to see what an experienced, mostly healthy group will contribute in 2013. If everybody lands on the same page this group could be difficult to defend against come August.
Don't forget: Bishop Sankey will likely be one of the top picks for All-Pac-12 running back in the preseason but the key to keeping him fresh is developing depth at the spot -- something the team hasn't really done as of late. Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper don't figure to be fully healthy this spring so it's up to a number of players to step up, including Kendyl Taylor and Erich Wilson among others.
Thursday, March 21 is when the Cougars will get going this spring before holding their spring game at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. on Saturday, April 20 at 2 p.m. PT.
What to watch for: It all starts with getting the trenches figured out for Mike Leach and staff this spring. The play last fall was, well, not good at all. The defensive line had plenty of issues and their offensive counterparts gave up an amazing 57 sacks on the season. Four starters are pegged to return on offense and if the Air Raid has any chance of taking off in 2013, it will be up to that group to improve their play considerably. Finding a replacement for Travis Long figures to be the top priority on defense.
Don't forget: Quarterback Connor Halliday has shown flashes of being just the guy that Leach needs under center but he needs to really grab hold of the role if this team has a shot to make a bowl game this season. Getting on the same page with his receiving corps and locking down the timing needed for the system are going to be key as things get going this spring. Don't be surprised if Austin Apodaca is given the chance to push Halliday either as Leach tries to find the perfect fit behind center.
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