Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: QB battles highlight spring
Pac-12 football coaches held a teleconference call Thursday to recap their spring practices and touch on any other offseason storylines. Come for information on the quarterback battles this spring, stay for coaches laughing off the old "he didn't run a pro style offense and can't translate his abilities to the NFL" narrative.
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Marcus Mariota will be selected in the 2015 NFL draft on Thursday night, so the obvious question during the conference call is in regards to who replaces him at Oregon. The competition is “ongoing,” but there is a leader. “Jeff Lockie has had the upper hand, just as the guy who's most experienced of the bunch. Very confident about how he goes about his business. The most important part about being a leader is there's a response,” Helfrich said.
The challenge in helping all of the quarterbacks is installing Oregon's offense for the first few games while also playing to each players' strengths. Helfrich hopes to nail down a starter a week and a half before the first game against Eastern Washington . “You have to install to your team, and that can be fair or unfair to certain players on your team. Each quarterback has a little uniqueness to them,” Helfrich said.
SEC teams have led the charge in questioning the integrity of recruiting via satellite camps, but Helfrich is torn about whether they should be allowed. “For a school like us that's quote-unquote remote, (it's) good to get out and see people,” he said. “I certainly understand why the SEC is very vocal about their deal."
UCLA's Jim Mora
Like Oregon replacing Mariota, UCLA must find a successor for departed quarterback Brett Hundley. Jerry Neuheisel, Asiantii Woulard, Mike Fafaul and Josh Rosen all remain in the mix, and Mora even suggested the Bruins – if needed – could continue looking for the No. 1 option through the first three games against Virginia, UNLV and BYU. “As we go we'll get a better feel for what's best for our football team,” he said.
Early in 2014, Paul Perkins quickly ended a running back by committee approach. He will have more help with Craig Lee, Nate Starks and Steven Manfro (coming off injury) this season, but Mora believes “Paul has separated himself from the pack.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Graham touched on the recent graduate transfer of former UCLA receiver Devin Lucien. “Playing against him, he had great speed and ability to stretch the field vertically. We think he fits our team very well,” Graham said.
Mike Bercovici takes over for Taylor Kelly, and his hold on the starting job is the strongest among all the new Pac-12 quarterbacks. “(He) just continued to become the offensive coordinator of the offense. He's a guy that I think has tremendous capabilities. I've got a lot of confidence in our quarterback.”
Graham said there is no status update on defensive lineman Jaxon Hood, who has been away from the team since last season because of personal issues. Graham hasn't closed the door on a potential return.
Stanford's David Shaw
Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey took 42 carries for 300 yards as a freshman (a 7.1-yard-per-touch average), and Shaw admits he took grief about not giving the youngster enough carries. Don't expect that to happen again, because McCaffrey is ready to do it all. “I got a lot of flak from people for not playing him enough,” Shaw said. “There's no Christian McCaffrey package (anymore). He can just go in and play running back.”
Stanford has high expectations for soon-to-be senior quarterback Kevin Hogan. “He's 6'3, he's about 215 pounds. He can run, he's got a strong arm. He can be as good as anybody playing college football right now,” Shaw said.
On first-round NFL prospect and former USC Trojan defensive lineman Leonard Williams: “We have a special phrase for guys like him: Homewrecker. He's one of those guys that on the next level, you see an easy transition.”
Oregon State's Gary Andersen
Redshirt freshman Nick Mitchell and freshman Seth Collins are battling for the starting quarterback position, but Luke Del Rio's decision to transfer a few weeks back opened a chance for Marcus McMaryion to continue challenging for consideration. “Marcus handled the situation well," Andersen said. "He is fighting like crazy to get himself in position to be in the mix. He closed some ground.”
Andersen feels like he joins Oregon State from a Wisconsin team in an equally competitive conference. There are similarities. “It'll be a definite challenge. Quite frankly I felt like this in the Big Ten also ... You better find a way to hide or cover up your deficiencies.”
Andersen, a Utah graduate, visits Salt Lake City to face his old team and friend Kyle Whittingham on Halloween. “Like any game in the Pac-12, it's a big game,” he said. “I think all the extracurriculars from an emotional standpoint … won't have an outcome in the game.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Leach believes his Cougars tackled better this spring while coached by new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who was hired away from Missouri this offseason. “I think we've gotten better all the way around, we've ran to the ball really good,” Leach said.
Leach, on NFL draft prospect and WSU record-breaking quarterback Connor Halliday: “I think he's got a better arm than anybody in the draft, the ball comes off his hand better than anyone in the draft. I hope he's not underdrafted but whatever team takes him will be very pleased.”
One reporter asked Leach about the common-cited criticism of young quarterbacks not taking to an NFL offense well if they hail from spread “system” offenses in college. “Think of the absurdity of that, you can't even define that. I think college guys that have the opportunity to read the field and throw the football can transition just fine provided their abilities are good enough. I get a kick out of the fact that these NFL guys pretend they don't have a system. (Former Dallas Cowboys head coach) Tom Landry always took pride he had a system … It's all sorts of people with definitions trying to push an agenda they have.”
Washington's Chris Petersen
Nothing has changed with the status of the Huskies' expected 2015 starting quarterback, Cyler Miles, as he remains out on a personal leave of absence. Junior Jeff Lindquist will compete for the job against redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and freshman Jake Browning. “We always say we can't get enough reps for your quarterback. With three arms, they got some good work (in this spring). Tight competition, and it's ongoing into the summer, into the fall for sure,” Petersen said.
Reflecting on his first season in the Pac-12, Petersen said the competition within the conference was difficult. “I will also say I didn't come here not thinking that. As good as advertised, without question,” he said.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Like Leach, RichRod didn't take well to the concerns over spread-option quarterbacks transitioning to a “pro style” offense. “I think it's ridiculous. I watch the NFL and it looks like 65 percent of the snaps are in the shotgun, maybe more. I could teach a third-grader in five minutes to take a three-step drop,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said he hopes his defense can take a step forward with improvements in the depth department, allowing the Wildcats more personnel options and more bodies to avoid fatigue. “What we want to do is get better every year and get to the point where we're playing more than 13 or 14 guys,” said Rodriguez, who estimated he'll have 18-20 rotation players this year.
Rodriguez, on Colorado hiring former South Florida coach Jim Leavitt as its defensive coordinator. “He'll bring a lot of energy and knowledge and passion to that position. From the outside looking in, I think it was a great hire.”
California's Sonny Dykes
This spring, Dykes focused on practicing “situational football” in the hopes that California can get over the hump to win more close games last year. But the leap in success from his first and second seasons was all about culture. “I think probably the biggest thing is just we're developing a culture that helps improve everything. We've made huge strides in our academics and accountability with our players. I believe that's where it starts,” Dykes said.
Look for a more fine-tuned Jared Goff behind center this year. “The biggest jump with Jared, in the two-year process he's been in, was this spring,” Dykes said.
Dykes comes from the Air Raid offensive background, but he said a major focus heading into 2015 is building more success in the running game.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
MacIntyre knows the Pac-12 South remains a difficult mountain to climb, but it appears he wants to be out of excuses for losing. “We're not a JV football team anymore,” he said.
Colorado will unveil new Nike uniforms on Friday, and MacIntyre said he, athletic director Rick George and equipment manager J.T. Galloway all had a great deal of input into the new designs.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham liked the first edition of the College Football Playoff, but believes it should be expanded to include eight teams.
DeVontae Booker worked on pass protection this offseason and has added weight to his frame, now at 212 pounds. “We think he can have a better year than he did last year. He's in the Heisman conversation if he does the things we hope he's able to do. I guess that says it all,” Whittingham said.
Utah does participate in satellite camps and Whittingham believes it's beneficial to recruits, perhaps more than to the teams that travel to them. “I think it's a positive for the players,” he said. “It's a way for more exposure, for the athletes coming through the systsem, they don't have to travel. To me, college football's all about players.”
USC's Steve Sarkisian
Adoree Jackson played return man, corner and receiver as a true freshman, a feat that impressed Sarkisian. “Doing it as a true freshman I think shows the football IQ he possesses,” the head coach said.
USC could turn to Justin Davis or Tre Madden to replace prolific running back Buck Allen, who entered the NFL draft, but incoming freshmen Aca'Cedric Ware, Dominic Davis and Ronald Jones will be in the mix, too.
Sarkisian likes that a young secondary got so much experience last season. He expects the group to make big strides this season. “There was moments I remember looking out against Arizona, I think we had four true freshmen in the secondary in the fourth quarter. Those growing pains ended up being really beneficial for us,” Sarkisian said.