Around the Pac-10: Spring Edition

Earlier this month the last of the Pac-10 teams concluded their spring practice, and each squad is now faced with their respective list of issues going into fall camp. We know what lies ahead for ASU, but how about its conference foes? The following is an analysis of the remaining Pac-10 teams coming out of spring, as well as a look at which players stood out during that period of practices.

OREGON

It's still undecided as to who will be under center for the Ducks this fall. Nathan Costa is considered to be the frontrunner but is still limited with a knee injury. Justin Roper and Cody Kempt both gained experience last season while highly touted junior college transfer Cade Cooper is also in the mix. Expect more on the quarterback front in August.

Linebackers Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger, and Eddie Pleasant all played well this spring. Despite having no superstars in the group, the staff likes the attitude and work ethic at the position. Overall, the front seven should be formidable once again with defensive end Nick Reed poised for another big season.

Although he was out this spring, there are no worries as far as rover Patrick Chung is concerned. The senior is poised to lead the defense once again and should be up for post-season awards.

SPRING STAR: LaGarrette Blount -- The Ducks managed to sneak in a big time running back out of the south with the hope that he can pick up where NFL-bound Jonathan Stewart left off. It's not that easy to replace a guy like Stewart, but if the spring reviews are remotely close to what they can expect this fall, this junior college transfer should be a productive back. The return of Jeremiah Johnson also alleviates some of the immediate pressure on Blount. All in all, Duck fans are hoping they've struck gold again with another formidable 1-2 punch in the backfield. Head coach Mike Bellotti has compared Blount to former Duck Reuben Droughns.

OREGON STATE

Quarterback Sean Canfield's inconsistency last season left the door open for Lyle Moevao, an opportunity the junior has taken full advantage of. Moevao is listed as the starter going into fall camp while Canfield is recovering from a torn labrum and is expected to make a full recovery in time for fall camp. Moevao or Canfield will have the luxury of All-American candidate Sammie Stroughter to throw the ball to. Stroughter was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA after personal problems plagued the gifted receiver and a lacerated kidney cut his season short. Stroughter's presence could also benefit James Rodgers, a shifty receiver that had a breakout season last year.

The experience of Yvenson Bernard is now gone, leaving a noticeable hole in the backfield for Oregon State as Bernard was among the most consistent running backs in recent memory for the Beavers. Ryan McCants is being groomed as his replacement with the expectation of being another 1,000+ yard rusher. The redshirt freshman is joined by junior college transfer Jeremy Francis and possibly Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers will arrive in the fall and is talented enough to avoid redshirting this year depending on how the carries will be divided.

Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill come on defense as the Beavers must find replacements for an extremely productive trio of linebackers. Keaton Kristick, Bryant Cornell, Dwight Roberson, Keith Pankey, and Isaiah Cook are the candidates vying for time there. In addition to the vacancies at linebacker, Oregon State must also fill some holes along the defensive line with four starters gone there. Defensive ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris have prior experience, combining for 19.5 sacks a year ago.

SPRING STAR: Justin Kahut -- A walk-on sophomore placekicker wowed the onlookers in Corvallis this spring, and life without Alexis Serna may not be as bad as some anticipated. Head coach Mike Riley may want to consider holding a scholarship for the specialist if he continues to shine. Kahut nailed four field goals in the spring game, including two kicks from 50+ yards.

WASHINGTON

New defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will try confusing opposing quarterbacks as much as possible. The Huskies surrendered just over 446 yards per game last season and Donatell is hoping an aggressive unit can help turn the tide back into something Husky fans can be proud of once again. Defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is the lone starter back on the defensive line. Senior Johnie Kirton was moved from tight end to the defensive line, a change that could really suit the physically talented yet underachieving player.

Sophomore safeties Nate Williams and Victor Aiyewa were impressive enough to enter fall camp as strong contenders for both starting spots. With the emergence of those two, head coach Tyrone Willingham opted to move Mesphin Forrester to corner. Forrester, along with Vonzell McDowell, Byron Davenport, and Matt Mosley will help ease the loss of Roy Lewis.

Juan Garcia, center, suffered a similar Lisfranc foot injury to what sidelined ASU's Ryan Torain last season. The lineman has chosen to delay surgery with the hope that his foot can heal sufficiently on its own. Doctors will reexamine his foot later on this month to determine if surgery will be needed or not. If Garcia does need surgery, the Huskies lose a key cog in the trenches this fall.

SPRING STAR: Chris Polk -- the young slot back didn't need much time to make the adjustment from high school to the college ranks. Polk, an early graduate from high school who originally committed to USC, joined the program this spring, a move which has seemingly paid dividends already. His versatility has drawn the praises of Huskies offensive coordinator Tim Lappano eliminating any chance that Polk will redshirt in the fall. Quarterback Jake Locker could benefit from finally having a playmaker at receiver.

UCLA

One of the more unfortunate stories this spring came out of Westwood when quarterback Patrick Cowan went down with a serious knee injury. Cowan had beat out Ben Olson for the starting job earlier last month before the season-ending injury happened. To make matters worse for the Bruins, Ben Olson was also sidelined with a foot injury the same day but is expected to make a full recovery in time for the season. Junior college transfer Kevin Craft will now compete with Olson in fall camp for the starting job. On a positive note, head coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow are two mentors that are more than capable of making the best of the situation given their respective coaching pedigrees at that position.

Offensive line appears to be the biggest worry heading into the season. The latest starting five consists of Micah Kia, Darius Savage, Micah Reed, Scott Glicksberg, and Sean Sheller. Kia may be reliable at left tackle but the other four spots haven't given the new staff as much optimism for the group as they'd like. Savage and Sheller are two sophomores still learning the ropes.

The secondary will have some new faces as several key defensive backs have moved on. Cornerback Alterraun Verner, who emerged in 2006 as a freshman, will now shoulder the load in the secondary along with Michael Norris. The safety spots will manned by Bret Lockett and Aaron Ware.

SPRING STAR: Glenn Love -- The freshman looks like he will push Aaron Ware at the free safety spot going into fall camp. Love turned in a very nice spring despite playing with a broken left thumb. He injured his knee on the final day of workouts but is expected to be ready this fall.

USC

With Fred Davis moving on to the NFL, tight end is open for auditions. It looks like Anthony McCoy and Rhett Ellison will see a lot of time this year. Both showed the pass-catching abilities USC covets from their tight ends.

On defense, head coach Pete Carroll plans on using a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position more this season, which Clay Matthews emerged at this spring. Matthews could play nearly any position along the front seven if needed. Kevin Thomas is pushing starters Cary Harris and Shareece Wright at cornerback. Expect Thomas, who was sidelined last season with a shoulder injury, to see some action this season.

SPRING STAR: Mark Sanchez -- Carroll named the junior his starting quarterback before spring practices were over but complacency wasn't a part of the plan afterwards for the junior signal-caller. Sanchez passed for three touchdowns in the spring game and showed why he was tabbed as the starter despite the competition from Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain. Equally impressive was how Sanchez is embracing the expectations and leadership that come along with the position. He's already looking forward to running summer workouts in preparation for fall camp.

STANFORD

Jim Harbaugh's team is slowly creeping out of the quagmire former coach Walt Harris left behind. Harbaugh's enthusiasm appears to have rubbed off on his players as the Cardinal notched a couple of victories against Pac-10 powers USC and arch-rival California last year. Stanford lists 20 starters returning this fall which could possibly mean a post-season berth for the Cardinal if they can build upon last year's four-win total.

The competition at quarterback was a little livelier this spring thanks to Alex Loukas and Michigan transfer Jason Forcier. T.C. Ostrander's former job is now up for grabs between the two, as well as Tavita Pritchard, who has previous starting experience under his belt, including last year's upset of USC. Pritchard remains the favorite but head coach Jim Harbaugh has said the competition will carry over into the starting stages of fall camp. Loukas' athleticism was also showcased at wide receiver in the spring game when he caught three passes for 49 yards. Despite his production in the spring finale, Harbaugh has said he has no plans to try Loukas at receiver this fall.

SPRING STAR: Bo McNally -- One of the more unheralded playmakers in the conference, this safety turned in an outstanding spring. McNally was one of the league's top tacklers a year ago and will lead the Cardinal secondary, which returns some notable experience. McNally has an uncanny nose for the ball and is one of the more enjoyable players to watch in the Pac-10.

CALIFORNIA

Spring football was a fresh start of sorts for the Golden Bears as they try to put the memories of last season's second-half collapse to bed. The 1-6 finish to the season was capped off by the makings of an unexpected quarterback controversy in the Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force. Kevin Riley turned in a stellar performance in relief of veteran signal-caller Nate Longshore which garnered MVP honors afterwards.

Head coach Jeff Tedford and new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti must now make a decision in the fall between the emerging Riley or the veteran but oft-injured Nate Longshore. It's an important decision considering the offense is replacing several key starters at the skill positions.

The backfield was shaken up a bit in the offseason with the departure of Justin Forsett and James Montgomery's decision to transfer to Washington State. That leaves Jahvid Best as the top returner this season after he gained 221 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Forsett last year. The speedy Best must avoid injuries as well as the rising competition from Tracy Slocum, Shane Vereen, and former Valley of the Sun standout Covaughn Deboskie, who already joined the program earlier this spring.

Cal began experimenting with a 3-4 base defense this spring with Rulon Davis, Mika Kane, and Tyson Alualu as the starters up front. The 3-4 experimentation may work due to the sheer numbers and talent Cal has stockpiled at linebacker. Zack Follett, Anthony Felder, and Worrell Williams are experienced while a host of others should give the position a fairly solid two-deep rotation. Michael Mohamed, Charles Johnson, D.J. Holt, Eddie Young, and Devin Bishop are all vying for coveted playing time at the talent-rich position.

SPRING STAR: Mike Calvin -- The emergence of the redshirt freshman receiver this spring was a big positive as the offense will feature several new faces at wide receiver. The trio of DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, and Robert Jordan will be tough to replace but change is always inevitable. Calvin will team with Nyan Boateng and Jeremy Ross as the Bears start fresh at receiver.

WASHINGTON STATE

A new era of Cougar football kicked off this spring with former player Paul Wulff assuming head coaching duties. The former Eastern Washington skipper has some work ahead of him to get Wazzu back into contention for the Pac-10 crown but his energy and passion for the program may be what the Cougars need most as they try to rebuild a lasting foundation for the future.

Recent Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores confirmed that the Cougars will lose eight football scholarships. That's devastating news for a squad in need of improved depth but WSU officials have stated they were expecting that verdict and planned accordingly over the last two recruiting cycles. As mentioned, Wazzu did receive some good news recently when former Cal running back James Montgomery announced his decision to transfer to the school.

The top position battle this spring for the Cougars came at quarterback as veteran Alex Brink's departure leaves some rather large shoes to fill. Gary Rogers is poised to take over while Kevin Lopina looks like a formidable back-up to the senior. Rogers has seen some limited action over the last few seasons, and with his time in the program, it seems as though he's ready for the challenge.

Former offensive lineman Andy Roof made the switch to the defensive trenches this spring to help add depth but his future with the program is now in jeopardy after a recent arrest. Roof already sat out last year due to an alcohol-related suspension.

SPRING STAR: Michael Willis -- Willis has made the transition from the defensive secondary to wide receiver without much of a problem. A great spring from the junior has almost assured him a chance of getting into the rotation this year. Willis, who sat out last year due to academic problems, had six receptions for 129 yards and one touchdown in the final spring scrimmage.

ARIZONA

With the core of players returning on offense, the hope is that the Wildcat offense will continue to improve this fall under second-year spread offensive guru Sonny Dykes. Despite the big numbers put up by the offense last season, the ‘Cats were somewhat pedestrian once inside the red zone, converting only 18 touchdowns in 42 drives. Quarterback Willie Tuitama will be looking to throw deeper this season and spread the defense even more by hooking up with Delashaun Dean downfield.

The bad news for Arizona is that only three starters are back on defense, and without playmakers Antoine Cason and Spencer Larsen it could be a rough transition in Tucson. Head coach Mike Stoops is a defensive-oriented coach, who has attracted some talent on that side of the ball, but the lack of experience heading into the season seems to be the main concern.

Devin Ross and Xavier Kelley are being groomed as the replacements for Cason and Larsen. Both bring some big potential to the table, especially Kelley with his lateral speed at linebacker. Ross may excel with his coverage abilities at cornerback, which is always at a premium in the Pac-10.

SPRING STAR: Earl Mitchell -- For fans of what seems to be a dying breed of the fullback, Mitchell was a pleasure to watch and the bruiser was too good not to utilize more often. The staff decided to switch him over to the defensive line, where he succeeded as well this spring. Mitchell appears to be a good bet for playing time in the trenches this year as he already worked his way up the depth chart, practicing with the first team in the latter stages of spring drills.

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