Pac-10 Spring Wrap-Up Part II

In our second and last part of the conference's spring warp-up, we take a look at the league's four Northwest schools.

OREGON STATE

Eight starters are back for the Beavers on offense. The quarterback battle to replace Matt Moore was among the positions of most interest this spring. Sophomore Sean Canfield was expected to assume the duties without much of a fight. Yet Lyle Moevao, also a sophomore, has made things much more intriguing. There's no clear-cut #1 yet but Canfield appears to have a slight edge. The offensive line figures to be one of the best in the conference once again with left tackle Adam Koets being the only starter being replaced from last year. Kyle DeVan at center is already on the Rimington Award watch list.

Running back Yvenson Bernard will close out his career in Corvallis this fall after quietly rushing for over 2,600 yards in his first three seasons. All three starters are back at receiver, which includes Sammie Stroughter, a breakout performer in the conference last season. Two sophomores are battling to replace Joe Newton at tight end. Howard Croom and John Reese lead a crowded pool of candidates as spring drills came to an end.

Defensively, the Beavers figure to field another opportunistic unit again. All three starters at linebacker return, Derrick Doggett, Alan Darlin, and Joey LaRocque. The linebackers at USC get a lot of press but this group deserves just as much accolades. All three combined for 257 tackles last fall. Assisting in the run defense up front are two seniors, defensive end Jeff Van Orsow and tackle Curtis Coker. Senior Dorian Smith has the inside track at the starting spot opposite Van Orsow. The most notable departure in the secondary is strong safety Sabby Piscitelli. His instincts and experience aren't easily replaced but with both corners back and free safety Al Afalava returning, some of it can be offset. After fielding a rough pass defense in 2005, the Beavers were much more respectable last season. Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes, both juniors, still have upside.

Spring Star: Tavita Thompson, LT

The 300-plus pound junior had a solid spring and, more importantly, is a part of the all-important chemistry on the offensive line. "... All of us are really meshing well with him and I think he's really going to help our unit,'' said right guard Roy Schuening. Thompson will start in place of Adam Koets, now in the NFL.

OREGON

With the departure of offensive coordinator Gary Crowton to LSU, the Ducks plan on making a few adjustments to their spread offense. New coordinator Chip Kelly would like to feature both running backs on the field at the same time. Jonathan Stewart and his back-up, Jeremiah Johnson, are two talented ball carriers with big play-making capabilities. When they're not in power running formations, the fortunes will still rest with senior quarterback Dennis Dixon. Although fellow senior Brady Leaf is still an option, it appears as though Dixon will keep his starting job until further notice.

With experience under his belt and some capable receivers to throw to, Dixon should find more consistency if he can make better decisions. The receiving corps may not be as deep, numbers-wise, than last season but star receiver Jaison Williams is back for his junior season.

The Ducks are hoping that a deeper rotation along the line can help improve a run defense that took a turn for the worst in the second half of the 2006 season. Nick Reed, a junior, and senior Victor Filipe are penciled in as the starters at both end spots. However, two others have emerged this spring so the competition appears to be carrying over to the fall. Will Tukuafu, a junior college transfer from Mesa Community College, and Brandon Bair, a 22-year-old redshirt freshman, are good bets to get snaps this season as is Dexter Manley.

The strides made up front to shore up the run defense could possibly be offset by the questions remaining at middle linebacker. It's the position to keep an eye on in the fall with nobody separating themselves from the pack so far, including projected starter John Bacon. The safety spots are a bit unsettled with the spring injury to Ryan DePalo and Kwame Agyeman's play. DePalo was slated to start at free safety but may possibly miss the upcoming season with a knee injury. Senior Matthew Harper should be the starter in place of DePalo now. Senior Kwame Agyeman started every game last season at strong safety but the staff is still looking for a better playmaker back in the secondary, a role that Jerome Boyd could fill with his speed. Sophomores Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond both return as starters at the two corner spots. More will be asked of rover Patrick Chung and Jairus Byrd this fall as the secondary will be tested without J.D. Nelson.

The special teams are in need of improvement, especially at punting, after a shaky performance last year. Josh Syria is a new face at punter. Place-kicker Matt Evenson, a back-up to departed Paul Martinez last year, was 1 of 3 on field goal attempts with both misses getting blocked. New special teams coach Tom Osborne must improve the protection teams this fall while breaking in two new specialists.

Spring Star: Remene Alston, RB

Alston made a name for himself this spring despite the talented runners ahead of him in the depth chart. Head coach Mike Bellotti said "He'll factor his way into the mix, especially in the running game."

WASHINGTON

Despite losing veteran quarterback Isaiah Stanback, the Husky faithful are giddy over the potential of redshirt freshman Jake Locker. Head coach Tyrone Willingham named the local product as his starter early on and the signal-caller found wide receiver Marcel Reece quite a bit over the course of spring drills. While his predecessor was also fleet of foot, Locker is more of a true dual-threat in the backfield with better acumen in the passing game to compliment his quickness on the ground.

That should make for interesting developments in how offensive coordinator Tim Lappano wants to use his quarterback. Lappano had quite a bit of praise for his receivers this spring and is excited about the depth of the group. The position that will continue to be monitored in the fall is the running back group since they are relatively short on numbers and production. J.R. Hasty may finally see some action in the fall after sitting out last season due to academic ineligibility.

E.J. Savannah won the weak-side linebacker job this spring left vacant by Scott White late in the spring and put an exclamation point on things by returning an interception for a 59-yard score in the spring game. That helps but the Huskies still have holes to fill in the secondary from the departures of Dashon Goldson and C.J. Wallace. The Husky secondary gave up an average of just over 240 passing yards per game last season and will turn to UCLA transfer Byron Davenport and a handful of freshmen to fill the vacated holes.

The overall depth, particularly in the secondary, continues to be a concern heading into fall camp. Moving to the positive side of the ledger, The Husky defensive line should be a plus with three starters returning, including Greyson Gunheim. The defensive line didn't dominate as much as they should have this spring, which may be a worry, but there's potential there with a deeper rotation.

Things are still very much unsettled on special teams with a shaky spring from specialist Jared Ballman. By losing their starting place-kicker and punter from a year ago, the Huskies could face some problems here if some consistency is not found. Ryan Perkins should provide some competition in the fall as long as he can return to full health from a pesky knee injury. Erik Folk will likely get a shot at the starting job when he arrives in the fall too.

Spring Star: Corey Williams, WR

The senior has positioned himself for more playing time with a terrific spring while receivers Anthony Russo and Quintin Daniels have been sidelined. Tyrone Willingham said he's "been very pleased with what Corey is doing." The skipper also noted "It's the most confidence I've seen him play with since I've been here."

WASHINGTON STATE

Spring drills didn't start off on such a good note for head coach Bill Doba. 15 players were out due to injuries or academic issues. The running backs were hit the hardest with the academic casualties of DeMaundray Woolridge and Derrell Hutsona. That leaves Dwight Tardy to shoulder more of the load in the fall.

Tardy's back-up, Chris Ivory, left for personal reasons but is expected back on campus next week. Quarterback Alex Brink is back for his senior year after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards in 2006. Brink has struggled with consistency in the past so perhaps all the experience will pay dividends this season. The senior won't have Jason Hill to throw to but the Cougars are still more than serviceable at wide receiver. Michael Bumpus and Brandon Gibson, the top two leaders in receptions last fall, figure to be Brink's favorite targets once again. The offensive line should be relatively solid with Bobby Byrd the experienced anchor at left guard. One spot to keep an eye, however, will be at left tackle with junior college transfer Vaughn Lesuma getting acclimated to his new team.

Former defensive coordinator Robb Akey has moved on to Idaho so head coach Bill Doba has decided to resume the duties on defense, a position he held for years under former skipper Mike Price. Up front, the outlook for the line seems to be dependent on health more than anything. Defensive tackles Ropati Pitoitua and A'l Ahmu have struggled with injuries but are very capable when healthy. Senior Aaron Johnson will also be in the mix at tackle. Defensive end Lance Broadus is also serviceable if he's not banged up.

The linebackers have some potential with Greg Trent returning in the middle. Cory Evans and Jason Stripling are listed as the other two starters with Andy Mattingly asserting himself as the top reserve. Husain Abdullah will continue to start at free safety. The strong safety spot probably won't be decided until fall camp when junior college transfer Terry Mixon arrives to compete with senior Christian Bass. The Cougar pass defense ranked among the worst in the conference in 2006 and two seniors will be expected to improve the fortunes here. Markus Dawes and B.T. Walker are slated to start at the corner positions but the depth behind them remains a concern. The fact that incoming freshman Chima Nwachukwu is already listed as Dawes' top back-up says a lot.

Romeen Abdollmohammadi remains the starter on kick-offs and field goals after Loren Langley relinquished those duties in the second half of last season. Both are seniors this year. Junior Darryl Blunt is back at punter after averaging just over 41 yards per punt in 2006.

Spring Star: Jason Stripling, LB

Stripling drew raves for some crushing hits this spring and is off to a good start in replacing Steve Dildine on the weak-side. The sophomore was sidelined last season with a shoulder injury.

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