Pac-10 Spring Wrap-Up Part I

Last weekend spring practices have officially concluded all across the conference. Here's a brief look at how ASU's league foes have faired at the end of their respective 15-practice sessions. Part one will examine Arizona and all four California schools.


Upgrading the anemic offense was priority number one this spring for new coordinator Sonny Dykes. Quarterback Willie Tuitama returns for his junior season and in Dykes' offense he will line up more often than before in the shotgun formation. This alignment should somewhat help keep the concussion prone signal caller healthy as long as the offensive line and receivers can keep their end of the bargain. A healthy Tuitama will naturally be a big part in revitalizing the Wildcats' offense.

Timing will also be a big key in putting the pieces together and spring drills were all about developing that aspect. "Basically, we have the big picture, we just need to work on the details," said Tuitama in an interview. Losing four years of experience from Syndric Steptoe may sting the wide receiver core if somebody can't step up to help Mike Thomas at the position. Sophomore Terrell Turner could parlay a nice spring into something bigger when the season gets underway. Incoming freshman Rob Gronkowski is expected to get a long look when he arrives in hopes that he can bolster matters at tight end and the involvement of that group in the passing game.

Defensively, the Cats figure to be one of the conference's better units this year with ten returning starters, replacing just safety Michael Johnson. Brandon Tatum and Cam Nelson have battled for the starting role with Tatum currently the favorite to win the job. Nate Ness is penciled in as the nickel back. The tandem of Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot at cornerback gives Arizona arguably the Pac-10's best 1-2 punch at the corner spots. The front seven are formidable, especially at linebacker, but the staff would like to see a better pass rush up front. Defensive end Louis Holmes garnered second-team All Pac-10 honors last fall and will be the key to improving upon the defense's 2006 total of 15 sacks.

Punter/kicker Nick Folk has moved on and leaves some big shoes to fill. Freshman Keenyn Crier will take over the punting duties while Jason Bondzio will assume the role at kicker. Incoming freshman Alex Zendejas may challenge Bondzio this fall.

Spring Star: Chris Jennings, RB

With Chris Henry's moving to the NFL, Jennings has stepped up this spring and enters the fall earning the starting job. Jennings appears to be a nice fit into the new offense with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.


The conference's most intriguing quarterback battle this spring ended last week with head coach Karl Dorrell naming junior Ben Olson his starter. Patrick Cowan, who filled in for Olson last season by starting the final eight games, will now give the Bruins a very capable back-up option should Olson miss time with another injury. "Ben is more consistent and threw for a higher percentage and was a little more productive, and that was the difference in how things worked," Dorrell said.

Jay Norvell is the new offensive coordinator in Westwood and will likely spread the offense out and throw deep a little more than what we've seen in the past from the Bruins. With Robert Chai gone, the center position is the only spot losing a starter, so Norvell has veteran pieces to work with in putting up more points this upcoming season. Injuries at the skill positions gave a few others the chance to make a case for themselves for more playing time this fall. Running back Chris Markey's starting job is safe but back-up Khlalil Bell's performance this spring should be enough to challenge Derrick Williams for the backup spot.

Like their counterparts on offense, 10 starters return for DeWayne Walker's defensive squad. After fielding an abysmal defense in 2005, Walker was brought in to jump-start the unit and the turnaround was immediate. With a new-found run defense and a vastly improved pass rush, UCLA jumped up to the conference's second spot in total defense. The only starter not returning from that unit is DE Justin Hickman. While Hickman's 12.5 sacks will be missed, his replacement senior Nikola Dragovic does have some experience under his belt. Unfortunately for the rest of the Pac-10, Bruce Davis, who also matched that 12.5 sack total last season, does return on the opposite side. Cornerback Alterraun Verner had a terrific true freshman campaign and is one to keep an eye on despite two seniors in front of him in Trey Brown and Rodney Van.

Replacing kicker Justin Medlock won't be easy, as evidenced by the happenings this spring. It will come down to either Jimmy Rotstein or Kai Forbath. Punter Aaron Perez does return as the starter.

Spring Star: Dominique Johnson, WR

The sophomore split-end's consistency this spring should earn him more looks in fall camp. Johnson will continue to battle with junior Gavin Ketchum for snaps but could be on track for a major role in 2007, along with Terrence Austin, in the future of the offense.


Finding a replacement for center Ryan Kalil was a priority this spring and it appears to be a bit unsettled at this time. Versatile senior Matt Spanos has the inside track but Nick Howell isn't trailing too far behind. Jeff Byers is also an option. Messy exchanges and some bad snaps leave this as a position to keep a close eye on when camp starts in August. Drew Radovich, previously at guard, will start at right tackle opposite All-American Sam Baker. Other than some re-shuffling on the line, the only other area of question for the offense was at receiver. DeWayne Jarrett and Steve Smith have gone to the NFL. Sophomore Vidal Hazelton is penciled in as the starting flanker while Patrick Turner returns at split end.

The backfield is extremely deep with a handful of guys that could probably start elsewhere. Chauncey Washington, C.J. Gable, Hershel Dennis, Desmond Reed, and Emmanuel Moody all return. Injuries have kept the rotation in flux dating back to last season but if health isn't an issue this fall, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has many weapons to use here. Quarterback John David Booty is back and is likely to receive some Heisman talk if the Trojans make it back to the title game.

Ten starters are back on the Trojan defense, which should be among the nation's best in 2007. There's depth and talent at every turn, especially at linebacker with Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers. Dallas Sartz is gone but junior Brian Cushing is expected to assume the role at strong-side linebacker despite missing some of the spring. Cushing was used last season when the Trojans employed a 3-4 base. Up front, the line is anchored by two seniors, nose tackle Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson. The emergence of Taylor Mays as a true freshman last season means safety is deep with experience as former starter Josh Pinkard will back him up at free safety. The corners will be manned by Cary Harris and Terrell Thomas.

Place-kicker Mario Danelo tragically passed away in January, leaving a large hole to fill for specialist David Buehler. Junior Greg Woidneck returns as the Trojans' punter but has to improve upon an underwhelming 2006 outing.

Spring Star: Hershel Dennis, RB

If he's granted the extra year of eligibility, Dennis is a strong contender for a significant number of snaps, possibly even a starting nod, after emerging from the crowded pack of running backs in spring drills.


Jim Harbaugh takes over the reigns as head coach in Palo Alto and will employ the West Coast offense. As a whole, the offense needs a lot of work. T.C. Ostrander takes over for Trent Edwards under center and has experience but isn't surrounded by enough talent in order to expect big things overnight. First and foremost, the offensive line needs help. Ostrander has a couple of capable receivers to throw to in Evan Moore and Mark Bradford but will need better protection to make his reads as the line allowed 50 sacks last season. The good news is that tackle Allen Smith is returning as is the versatile Alex Fletcher. Gustav Rystedt has made the switch from defensive line to guard in hopes of boosting the interior depth. Tim Mattran was granted a sixth year of eligibility and his return to the center spot is a major boost for the line.

The running game continues to be a theme worthy of the "needs improvement" tag for another season after averaging just 65 yards on the ground in 2006. All running backs return, led by Anthony Kimble and Toby Gerhart, so experience isn't as much of an issue. Better blocking up front seems to be the key in turning around the offensive fortunes.

Part of the overhaul on defense was installing a 4-3 base defense after using a 3-4 scheme previously. The defense ranked 117th nationally last season in rushing defense so shoring up deficiencies up front is obviously a big priority. Former linebacker Udeme Udofia has switched to defensive end and is slated to start opposite junior Pannel Egboh. Tackle Ekom Udofia started all 12 games as a freshman and may be headed for a breakout sophomore season despite being held back this spring. Michael Okwo's departure at linebacker means more will be asked of sophomore Clinton Snyder on the outside. The secondary took a big hit in losing quite a bit of experience with Brandon Harrison and Trevor Hooper gone at both safety spots. Sophomore Austin Yancy was moved to free safety from receiver to add competition. Bo McNally, also a sophomore, figures to be the starter at strong safety. Wopamo Osaisai emerged as a playmaker at corner last season and is one to keep an eye on.

Punter Jay Ottoveggio is back for his final year at Stanford and should be amongst the Pac-10 leaders this season. The kicking game took an interesting turn this spring with Derek Belch winning the starting job over Aaron Zagory, the Cardinal's leading scorer last season.

Spring Star: Richard Sherman, WR

"Richard might be the best wide receiver on our team," Harbaugh said earlier this spring. After a serviceable start as a true freshman last season, the new staff is excited about the potential Sherman has. The sophomore, who can also play defensive back, should still see time in the fall despite the return of Evan Moore and Mark Bradford from injuries.


DeSean Jackson headlines an offense that is capable of putting up points in a hurry. The ubiquitous junior will likely be on a few pre-season All-American lists after showcasing his skills over the last two seasons in Berkeley. Complimenting Jackson will be two experienced seniors, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins. Those three combine to give the Bears one of the country's most dangerous receiving groups. Distributing the ball will be Nate Longshore. The junior's performance last season has him firmly entrenched as the starter and a probable candidate for All Pac-10 honors at quarterback. Running back Justin Forsett is a seasoned veteran by now, having backed-up the departed Marshawn Lynch each of the last two seasons. The senior has talent but workload concerns may be eased by sharing snaps with emerging freshman James Montgomery. Mike Tepper and Mike Gibson are slated to man both tackle spots, including one left open by the departure of Andrew Cameron. Senior Brian De La Puente will take over for Erik Robertson at guard.

The defense will be looking to replace a few key cogs from last year's unit, most notably cornerback Daymeion Hughes and linebacker Desmond Bishop. Charles Amadi has been slowed by injury but figures to be in the mix there at corner, as is Darian Hagan, after sharing scout team player of the year honors while redshirting last season. Syd'Quan Thompson is back at one spot after filling in for the injured Tim Mixon last season. Despite some talent lost at linebacker due to graduation, a workable nucleus with experience returns. Junior Worrell Williams is penciled in at middle linebacker while Junior Zack Follett will see time at both SAM and WILL positions behind Justin Moye and Anthony Felder, respectively. Mika Kane, a junior, looks like he's the early favorite to replace Brandon Mebane at defensive tackle. A development to keep an eye on in the fall will be the pass rush. Both starting ends from last season are gone, as is Steve Kelly, the top reserve. Sophomores Cody Jones and Tyson Alualu enter fall camp atop the depth chart.

Both specialists will be returning this fall for the Bears. Kicker Tom Schneider converted on 75% of his field goal attempts last season while senior Andrew Larson had a somewhat shaky spring punting the ball.

Spring Star: Derrick Hill, DT

The redshirt freshman drew raves with his intensity this spring. Hill should keep the competition interesting with Mika Kane at tackle in the fall.

***Part two of the Pac-10 spring wrap-up will rundown the Northwest schools.***

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