10. The Two-deep at Safety
Spring practices started with as many as six safeties vying for the top four spots at the position. As one of the six, Chris Warner sustained a season-ending injury, tearing his ACL. He obviously won't be vying for a spot on the two-deep this fall.
That left the Cougars with five safeties to start and sub in on the two-deep roster:
Quinn Gooch and Dustin Gabriel: Both were the starters last season and both are set to start again this season. Gabriel's health is a concern as it was last year, but both did nothing other than entrench their respective selves firmer in the two starting slots at safety.
David Tafuna: Tafuna had a very productive spring, making key defensive plays in coverage in most scrimmages. Tafuna again saw most of his action playing with the 2s at free safety. Although he's not seeing many reps at strong safety, I think Tafuna has proved to be the best backup at both safety positions. If Gabriel can't go, Tafuna would prove to be the best option to fill in for him.
Corby Hodgkiss: Hodgkiss saw most of his reps with the 1s this spring during contact drills, as Gabriel was held out of most of them. Hodgkiss provided what you'd expect from a senior with a lot of game time experience, providing consistent play at the position.
Kellen Fowler: Along with Tafuna, Fowler saw a lot of improvement this past spring. Fowler consistently made plays playing primarily from the strong safety position. With four senior safeties ahead of him on the depth chart, Fowler may be hard-pressed for playing time this coming season. Come 2008, one of the safety spots should be his to lose, however.
9. Coach Weber
Spring practices introduced new offensive line coach Mark Weber to the team. In every interview we conducted with an offensive lineman we asked about their new coach. Every single player on the team had nothing but positive things to say about their new coach.
Weber had his offensive linemen run some new drills, while concentrating a lot on hand-position and work with his players. The offensive linemen obviously miss Coach Grimes, but are grateful for Coach Weber and what he adds to what was taught by Coach Grimes.
8. The New Offensive Linemen
One of the more exciting things this spring was a host of new and promising linemen that were able to participate throughout the practice session. The depth along the offensive line was better this spring than at anytime since we started covering practices almost six years ago.
RJ Willing: Willing got a great opportunity this spring, seeing almost exclusive reps playing left tackle with the first-teamers in place of the injured Dallas Reynolds. Being just three months removed from his mission going in, Willing got constant work against Jan Jorgensen and improved with every practice.
Rick Wolfley and Walter Kahaialii: Both of these linemen were in the same boat this past spring as the primary offensive guards running with the second-team offense. Both Wolfley and Kahaialii redshirted last season, but will both make strong bids this fall to break the two deep.
Kahaialii came in last season and looked good, but saw much improvement this spring. Wolfley meanwhile was lost and looked behind the other incoming freshmen last fall. This past spring Wolfley had noticeably made up a lot of work while receiving praise from his upper-classmen teammates.
Jason Speredon and Nick Alletto: Much like Wolfley and Kahaialii, Speredon and Alletto saw almost all the reps with the second-team offense, playing right and left tackle respectively. Both held their own throughout the spring while steadily improving.
Garrett Reden and Tom Sorensen: Reden got a lot of work playing both left tackle with the 1s and the 2s and center primarily with the 2s. Reden is a versatile lineman who proved to be a good utility backup option this coming year.
Sorensen meanwhile finally saw some contact work the last week of spring practices. Sorensen has the skill to start at either the center or guard position, but will likely be the first OL off the bench this year, playing behind Travis Bright, Ray Feinga and Sete Aulai.
7. Two-deep at Linebacker
Linebacker was viewed as perhaps the deepest position on the team heading into spring and proved to be even more so after seeing some of the recently returned missionaries perform.
Shawn Doman and Markell Staffieri: It was assumed that Doman would be backing up Staffieri heading in, but Doman may have played himself into a starting spot this spring. Doman got all the reps at inside linebacker for the first three weeks before getting hurt, and took full advantage of those reps.
Staffieri meanwhile saw work the final week and played as well as you'd expect from the senior backer with good playing experience. What spring proved is that both of these LBs will play and compliment one another nicely.
While Doman is clearly better in pass coverage and lateral pursuit, Staffieri is better at filling gaps and standing up blockers on the inside. Look for Staffieri to be the short-yardage ILB next to Kelly Poppinga, while Doman will be used in first down and long-yardage situations.
Chris Bolden: Bolden saw every single rep with the 1s this spring, playing opposite Bryan Kehl at the weak side linebacker position. Bolden was solid and likely entrenched himself on the two-deep roster.
Grant Nelson and Dan Van Sweden: I failed to mention Nelson in my preview article and quickly found it was a huge mistake not to serve him notice. Nelson started slowly, but came on very strong toward the end of spring as he got rid of his mission legs.
Nelson provides a big frame that could play either the strong side LB or on the inside. During the spring he was Kehl's primary backup and fared very well, making his share of plays from the position.
Van Sweden meanwhile saw most of his reps on the weak side subbing in for Bolden. Van Sweden showed up in my notes consistently because he made standout defensive plays throughout the spring.
Both Nelson and Van Sweden head the promising under-classmen depth and talent at the linebacker position.
Hooks was obviously part of the much-publicized balloon-gate incident, but will serve his punishment and be a big part of the defense this fall. For the first three weeks Hooks saw work as the primary backup behind Poppinga.
Jorgensen was making a lot of noise before sustaining a shoulder injury. He was well on his way to break the two-deep this fall, but may have fallen behind Nelson as spring practices closed. Jorgensen hopes to be back for the first practice of the fall, but will have a lot of work to make up.
6. The Fourth Wide Receiver
Neely and Beck: Both Ryan Neely and Andrew Beck proved to be the most consistent outside receivers, as was expected heading in. Neely is likely the frontrunner for the last spot on the two-deep roster at outside receiver.
Kozlowski and White: David Kozlowski and Reed White both had very productive springs, nipping at the heels of both Neely and Beck. Both proved to be primary options with the second offensive unit. Subsequently, both should make some noise and threaten to break the two-deep roster this fall.
G-man will return with the second-part of the top 10 stories of spring revisited.