For the past three years, San Diego State has been known for its poor running game and it's not something second-year coach Brady Hoke likes to talk about.
In each of the past three seasons, the Aztecs have ranked 105th, 117th and 116th, respectively, nationally in rushing, and it’s been the reason none of those seasons resulted in winning campaigns.
When Hoke took the job prior to signing day 2009, he said his goal in that class was to fix the running game. But it averaged just 78 yards per game in 2009. So with a full year to identify talent, Hoke thinks he might have righted the ship.
“We, quite honestly, didn’t have the depth or even the quality of depth,” Hoke said of his running back position. “Every recruiting class you’re trying to recruit better than what you have and that’s something that we’ll always try and do.”
Of the 27 players San Diego State signed on Wednesday, five are offensive linemen and three are running backs.
Dwayne Garrett, Adam Muema and Deonte Williams will compete for backfield playing time with returning starter Brandon Sullivan, backup Davon Brown, three other running backs who were signed in the 2009 class and Atiyyah Henderson, who is trying to get a sixth year of eligibility. All will have a chance to show what they can do, but several might move to other positions.
However, the running game is only going to be as strong as the team’s offensive line. Hoke did not recruit any offensive linemen last year because he didn’t have enough time to evaluate them, which makes the additions of junior college linemen Juan Bolanos, Riley Gauld and Joe Unga so important. All three will be asked to fill an immediate need on the offensive line to give the running game some breathing room.
“I think from a standpoint of guys up front and guys who can move people off the ball, I feel better about that,” Hoke said.
The Aztecs also got better defensively. While the unit was OK last year, defensive coordinator Rocky Long didn’t have the right players to run his 3-3-5 defense properly. This year, he had time to find athletic players with the ability to play the Aztecs' hybrid positions and get speed off the edges. Defensive standouts who could contribute right away include linebackers Jake Fely and Cody Galea and defensive ends Jordan Thomas and Everett Beed.
“We’ve added some real speed guys and athletic guys on the edges of the defense,” Hoke said. “Joshua Gabbert is a guy who really may be able to play that Aztec position, that kind of hybrid strong safety, [Brian] Urlacher, middle linebacker guy. So, I think both of those areas will be a real plus for us this year.”