NCF Nation: James Montgomery
While Pac-10 quarterbacks will grab most of the preseason headlines -- that's what happens when the two best NFL prospects at the position play in the same conference -- the class of running backs is nearly as strong.
Three 1,00o-yard rushers are back, and that doesn't include California's Shane Vereen, who piled up 952 yards as a backup, nor does it including Arizona's Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards in 2008. Six of the top-nine running backs will return this fall, and more than a few teams are decidedly deep at the position.
By the way, you might note there is more mention of incoming freshman at this position than others. Two reasons: 1. The Pac-1o had a strong haul of RBs in recruiting; and, 2. RB is often the easiest place for a young player to break into the lineup.
- Oregon: While the Pac-10 blog rates Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers ahead of LaMichael James as an individual player, the Ducks have a decided edge in depth, and not only because James' backup, Kenjon Barner, is one of the conference's most explosive players. The incoming recruiting class also features Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams, the No. 6 and No. 13 prep running backs in the nation in 2009.
- Oregon State: Jacquizz Rodgers is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as the most complete back in the conference. Depth behind him is a little iffy, though Ryan McCants turned in some of his best work during spring practices.
- Washington: Washington fans often note that Chris Polk gained most of his 1,113 yards last year after contact because he was running behind a young offensive line. That line, with four starters back, should be better in 2010. Good depth with Johri Fogerson and freshmen Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, who both participated in spring drills.
- California: As noted above, Vereen put up impressive numbers as a backup and then starter over the final four games after Best got hurt. 12 TDs on 183 carries shows he has a nose for the endzone. Depth behind him is uncertain. Trajuan Briggs, Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Isi Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway are competing for backup touches.
- USC: Allen Bradford, a neglected talent under Pete Carroll, who was oddly in love with the mercurial Joe McKnight, could end up being a first-team All-Pac-10 back. C.J. Gable also will have a chance to emerge from Carroll's doghouse. True freshman Dillon Baxter was the star of spring practices, while Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler are major talents who just need to stay healthy.
- Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back their top three running backs: Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko. But Grigsby, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year when he wasn't hurt, needs to find a way to stay healthy.
- UCLA: It's possible that Johnathan Franklin, Derrick Coleman and Damien Thigpen are first-rate running backs trapped playing behind a struggling offensive line. But the biggest reason that Bruins fans aren't likely fretting this position is the arrival of freshmen Jordon James and Malcolm Jones, the Nos. 5 and 8 running backs in the nation last year.
- Stanford: The Cardinal doesn't have one guy who can replace Gerhart. But who does? The good news for a backfield-by-committee approach with Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and freshman Usua Amanam in the mix is the offensive line in front of them should be outstanding.
- Arizona State: The Sun Devils must replace leading rusher Dimitri Nance, who didn't exactly scare opposing defenses in 2009. Cameron Marshall is the leading returning rusher with 280 yards. James Morrison and Jamal Miles will provide depth, though an incoming freshman might get into the mix. As has been the case for a while with the Sun Devils, the first order is improving the offensive line.
- Washington State: Leading 2009 rusher Dwight Tardy is gone. If James Montgomery is healthy -- and stays that way -- he gives the Cougars a quality runner. He was clearly the best guy last preseason before he got hurt. Logwone Mitz, Chantz Staden, Carl Winston and Marcus Richmond will compete for touches during fall camp. Whatever the pecking order, the offensive line is the biggest issue.
Still, coach Paul Wulff was satisfied. He said the class upgraded the Cougars size and speed.
"I think this is as good a class as has come here," he said.
Top prospects: Linebacker C.J. Mizell, a former Florida State signee, sort of came out of nowhere. You can read about him here. Offensive linemen David Gonzales and Wade Jacobson, both junior college transfers, should compete immediately for playing time. Bobby Ratliff will upgrade the Cougars receiving corps. Tight end Aaron Dunn will play next year.
Under the radar: There's a lot of that with this class, but it's notable that there were plenty of "under the radar" guys playing their way into the NFL when Washington State was winning. More than a few people think quarterback Connor Halliday is underrated.
Issues? The Cougars took a big hit when tight end Asante Cleveland backed out of his commitment and signed with Miami. Also, Wulff was clearly miffed that committed lineman Maxx Forde -- son of a former Cougar player -- decided to sign with Idaho. It's also a bit worrisome that the class only had one defensive lineman and, of the three offensive linemen, only one is a high school player.
Notes: One of the Cougars best new players may be JC defensive end Brandon Rankin, a 2009 signee who's already enrolled. ... The class features five wide receivers, which should help Wulff run the shotgun, no-huddle spread offense that he brought from Eastern Washington. ... Running back James Montgomery, who missed last season after major surgery on his calf, may be ready to return for the 2010 season. The California transfer was the Cougars No. 1 running back before getting hurt. ... Wulff said told reporters he may still sign a couple of JC players. ... The Cougars signed players from four states, including eight from the Bay Area and three from the Spokane area.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
There was no news and good news coming out of Washington State's final scrimmage.
"We're going to make a decision on that in the next couple days," Wulff told the Spokesman-Review.
The season and Pac-10 opener against Stanford is just a week away.
Lopina completed 9 of 11 passes for 123 yards with a 7-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Gino Simone. Lobbestael completed 7 of 13 for 88 yards. Neither threw an interception.
The good news is on the injury front: Cornerback Brandon Jones, running back James Montgomery and receivers Jeshua Anderson and Jeffrey Solomon all seem to be coming around and should be ready to practice next week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
What's our preseason projection for the Pac-10? Probably not many shocks here. This mirrors my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
1. USC: The Trojans are No. 1 until somebody knocks them off the mountain. With nine starters back on offense, including what might be the nation's best offensive line, there will be plenty of help for the new quarterback. And do you really think USC's defense won't be elite again in 2009? Come on.
2. California: The Bears have 17 starters back from a team that went 9-4 in 2009, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Jahvid Best. The secondary will be one of the nation's best and the defensive line is as good as any in the Pac-10. Replacing three of four linebackers doesn't seem to be causing much stress in Berkeley. The only issue is how much the passing game improves. If it improves significantly, this is a potential BCS bowl team.
3. Oregon: Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount give the Ducks a strong one-two punch on offense and an athletic corps of linebackers and cornerback Walter Thurmond and end Will Tukuafu will lead the defense. Both lines are questions that, if answered, could push the Ducks to the top of the conference.
4. Oregon State: Rebuild or reload? The Beavers have transitioned to the latter category, which is why most are overlooking a defense that needs to replace eight starters, including the entire secondary, and an offensive line that must replace three first-rate starters. There are two veteran quarterbacks in Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield and the explosive Rodgers brothers -- James and Jacquizz -- leading the offense, while tackle Stephen Paea and linebacker Keaton Kristick lead the defense.
5. Arizona: Losing three offensive mainstays -- quarterback Willie Tuitama, receiver Mike Thomas and tackle Eben Britton --- hurts, but the Wildcats should be even better on defense in 2009, and the general feeling is the offense will be solid whether Matt Scott or Nick Foles wins the job. For one, tight end Rob Gronkowski is the best target in the Pac-10.
6. Stanford: The Cardinal have lots of guys back -- 17 -- from a team that fell just short of bowl eligibility in 2008. They also have seven home games after playing just five a year ago. The key is passing -- on offense and defense. Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck is supposed to be the answer for the offense, while an injection of young talent should improve the athleticism in the secondary.
7. UCLA: The Bruins have two big questions: quarterback and offensive line. The defense should be good, led by tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner -- all three are All-American candidates -- but it won't matter if the running game remains anemic. One big reasons for optimism: five offensive players are again available who would have started last year but were out for various reasons back: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and tackle Sean Sheller.
8. Arizona State: Not unlike UCLA, Arizona State has questions at quarterback and on the offensive line while the defense looks solid. Senior Danny Sullivan played well in the spring and looks to be the favorite at quarterback, while new faces could key dramatic improvement on the offensive line. If things fall into place, the Sun Devils could win eight or nine games, but it's hard to project that until the offensive line proves itself.
9. Washington: The good news is the Huskies could be the most-improved team in the conference. Of course, it's hard to regress from an 0-12 season. Moreover, Washington could play much better and still have little to show for it because the nonconfernce schedule features LSU and Notre Dame. Still, the return of 18 starters, as well as quarterback Jake Locker and linebacker E.J. Savannah, suggests the Huskies won't be anyone's patsy this fall.
10. Washington State: The biggest hope for the Cougars lies in a potentially improved running game that could keep a defense that is thin on talent on all three levels off the field. That didn't happen last year -- see an offense that ranked 118th in the country that surrendered 38 turnovers, tied for most in the nation. But there's experience on the offensive line and James Montgomery and Dwight Tardy give the Cougars a pair of solid backs. If either Marshall Lobbestael or Kevin Lopina provides adequate quarterback play, Washington State might surprise some folks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.
Sometimes those questions don't get answered. Other times they do.
Such as ...
Arizona: The Wildcats lost two of their three starting linebackers, but coach Mike Stoops said he believes they will be better at the position in 2009, with junior Vuna Tuihalamaka making a special impression in the middle this spring.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost middle linebacker Morris Wooten, but the LB position looks like it could run six-deep in 2009, particularly with the expected arrival of super-recruit Vontaze Burfict in the fall. The return of former starter Gerald Munns, who left the team for personal reasons, helps as does the emergence of young players whose speed upgrades are intriguing.
California: Not to get stuck on a linebacker theme, but most previews of the Bears will raise questions about them losing three longtime starters at linebacker. Hanging around this spring, however, you get the feeling this position will be fine. In fact, a couple of touted incoming JC transfers will make the fall competition intense. Look for Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks to make a play for All-Conference honors.
Oregon: The Ducks lost three of four starting defensive linemen, including end Nick Reed, so this seemed like as big a question mark as the offensive line entering spring. Apparently not, at least according to coach Chip Kelly. Will Tukuafu should emerge from Reed's shadow as one of the conference's best ends, and tackle Brandon Bair and end Kenny Rowe stepped up. There's still competition at one tackle, but the Ducks' recruiting class included six defensive linemen, at least a couple of whom figure to see action.
Oregon State: The Beavers lost receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, but by the end of spring that didn't seem like a problem, even with James Rodgers sitting out with a shoulder injury. Junior Darrell Catchings broke through and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop lived up to high expectations and others flashed potential.
Stanford: The passing game -- on offense and defense -- has been a problem for Stanford. For the offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck was just short of spectacular this spring. For the defense, the insertion of Delano Howell at strong safety and Michael Thomas at cornerback upgrades the secondary's athleticism.
UCLA: The secondary began spring needing two new starters, but a handful of guys stepped up to complement cornerback Alterraun Verner and free safety Rahim Moore. While Aaron Hester and Glenn Love are the favorites to start at corner and strong safety, respectively, sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods will get extended looks in the fall.
USC: Lose three elite linebackers? Find three more. Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan might not have the experience or pedigree of their predecessors, but they are faster and may end up being nearly as good.
Washington: A lot was made of how well quarterback Jake Locker adjusted to a pro-style offense this spring -- and rightfully so -- but that pro-style passing attack needs targets, so perhaps that part of the pass-catch equation is being undersold. D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar give the Huskies three respectable receivers, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki are solid.
Washington State: One area where the Cougars have quality starters and quality depth is running back, with Dwight Tardy stepping up to the challenge of California transfer James Montgomery this spring, and Logwone Mitz and 220-pound Marcus Richmond adding depth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Not everything went smoothly during Paul Wulff's first year as Washington State's head coach, starting with a 2-11 finish.
Moreover, he's going to miss the first three days of the Cougars' fall practices because of NCAA sanctions he incurred for violations that happened while he was head coach at Eastern Washington.
|AP Photo/Ted S. Warren|
|Paul Wulff was 2-11 in his first season at Washington State.|
But the Cougars also posted a comeback victory in the Apple Cup, dumping Washington into the basement of the Pac-10, and outdid the Huskies during recruiting.
So there is some positive momentum as he looks toward his second season.
It seemed like a good time to check in with Wulff as he and his staff prepare for spring practices, which start March 26.
First, what's the latest on quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who's coming back from a knee injury [and a suspension for a February arrest for an underage alcohol offense]?
Paul Wulff: I think he's going to be do everything but the team segments. A lot of individual work and he'll be able to some 7-on-7 drills.
So he's been reinstated from suspension?
PW: Yes. He had a lot of things to do, but yeah.
Let's put a cap on the 2008 season: First, what went right?
PW: After we played USC [on Oct. 18] we had a bye week, and I think our team changed a lot from a personality standpoint. We grew a lot. I know we didn't play well next against Stanford for a number of reasons, but really after that our team just played better football. We grew a lot. We played much more competitively against Arizona State and then Washington and Hawaii. We just played better. We tried not to compare ourselves against anyone else, we just compared ourselves to ourselves. And we improved as a football team down the stretch.
And what was the root of the struggles?
PW: It was a combination of things. It really wasn't one thing. I think as coaches, we demanded and changed so much of what these players were asked to do, from what they were accustomed to doing, on and off the field. I think there was a natural -- not an intentional resistance -- but just a little bit of what you would say is a culture shock to the system. I think that was part of the issue, in addition to trying to replace some key parts. We lost a four-year starter at quarterback [Alex Brink], we lost a couple of receivers and a tight end who had opportunities in the NFL. It was tough to replace all that experience. And then the injuries on the offensive side of the ball -- the quarterback situation. On defense it was similar, losing both safeties, some defensive tackles, we just couldn't overcome that. Our offense then put even more pressure on our defense. I know before our offense at Washington State has always been very successful. A lot of times that goes hand-in-hand with your relieving your defense, and we weren't able to do that last year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Which Pac-10 newcomers might make a name for themselves this spring and put themselves into position to start or see significant action in 2009?
Let's take a look.
- QB Nick Foles & OT Phillip Garcia: Foles is a sophomore transfer from Michigan State who will compete with Matt Scott and Bryson Beirne to replace Willie Tuitama. Garcia was a JC transfer last January, but the 6-foot-7, 340 pounder hurt his knee and missed the season. He's in the mix at left tackle.
- S Keelan Johnson, RB James Morrison, DE Dean DeLeone: Johnson, a redshirt freshman, is the sort of athlete who could end up playing both ways. Morrison was a true freshman walk-on destined to play last year before he broke his ankle. He's back this spring. The 25-year-old DeLeone, a JC transfer, is already drawing raves for his weight room work.
- WR Marvin Jones & LB Mychal Kendricks: Jones was a touted true freshman last year but hurt his knee and never broke through. Kendricks had 16 tackles and a sack as a true freshman and is a frontrunner to fill one of the three vacancies at linebacker.
- DE Zac Clark & WR Lavasier Tuinei: Oregon has big-time needs on the D-line and at receiver, and these JC transfers will be given an opportunity to immediately ease those needs. Tuinei, at 6-foot-5, should give the Ducks receiving corps some size, while Clark will be eyeballing the vacancy left by Nick Reed.
- WR Jordan Bishop & OT Colin Kelly: Receiver is a need area for the Beavers, and Bishop, a redshirt freshman, impressed on the scout team and during Sun Bowl practices. Kelly, a redshirt freshman, is in the mix on an offensive line that lost both starting tackles.
- QB Andrew Luck, OG David DeCastro, TE Konrad Reuland: Luck almost lost his redshirt last year while Tavita Pritchard struggled, and he'll have a good chance to win the starting job. DeCastro is presently No. 1 on the depth chart, while Reuland is a transfer from Notre Dame.
- QB Kevin Price & TE Morrell Presley: Prince, a redshirt freshman, is the most likely candidate to unseat returning starter Kevin Craft. Presley, a true freshman, could make an immediate impact as a hybrid TE/WR.
- QB Matt Barkley, DE Nick Perry, RB Curtis McNeal: Barkley, the nation's No. 1 recruit in 2009, could jump over Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp in the quarterback competition, while Perry, a redshirt freshman, is almost certain to be in the mix at end or perhaps outside linebacker. McNeal, a redshirt freshman, was a late arrival last year but made an impression with his explosiveness.
- LB E.J. Savannah, C Mykenna Ikehara , WR Anthony Boyles: Savannah is not a newcomer -- he was the Huskies leading tackler in 2007 before finding his way into Tyrone Willingham's spacious doghouse and getting kick off the team. Pencil him in as a starter. Ikehara, a redshirt freshman, could replace Juan Garcia at center. Boyles, a redshirt freshman, was a touted recruit who didn't break through last year but is expected to be sharper this spring.
- DT Bernard Wolfgramm, CB Brandon Jones, RB James Montgomery: It's not unreasonable to go ahead and pencil in all three of these guys in as starters. Wolfgramm is a 2008 JC transfer who redshirted last year, while Jones and Montgomery both transferred from California.