Pac-12 Archive: April 2012

It was a meeting of minds that had never really met. Still, Jim Mora knew that he wanted Noel Mazzone running his offense.

Mora, who has spent virtually his entire career in the NFL, was looking for someone with deep college roots. But he also wanted someone who could give him a mental sparring match.

"In watching his offense, I watched it like a defensive coach would watch it, because I'm a defensive-minded coach," said Mora. "I'm watching his plays and wondering 'How am I going to defend that?' And I thought, I don't know. When it posed those problems to me initially, I thought that's the guy."

[+] EnlargeNoel Mazzone
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireJim Mora selected Noel Mazzone (above) to run his offense at UCLA.
And Mazzone jumped at the chance -- even though he only knew Mora by reputation.

"It was sort of the four degrees of Jim Mora separation," Mazzone said. "That's how coaching is anyway. There is always a little bit of a tie because you know a guy who knows a guy who worked with that guy. I didn't even really know him. A good friend of his was someone I worked with at the Jets."

Mora, who had been in broadcasting since being fired as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, had spent a lot of time watching college football. And he kept a close eye on what was happening at Arizona State, where Mazzone had served as offensive coordinator to Dennis Erickson.

"I love his personality," Mora said. "I love his energy. I love his experience. I know he's great with quarterbacks. Now I'm watching his offense and I don't know how I'm going to stop it. With all of the experience I have -- going against [Bill] Belichick and [Mike] Martz and Bill Walsh. Man, I thought, this guy is special."

And that's how Mora and Mazzone came together. And both feel it's going to be a mutually beneficial relationship.

"Well, I haven't missed on a third-and-short to keep the defense off the field yet," Mazzone said. "So we'll see what happens the first time that happens."

Mazzone's up-tempo spread offense comes from years of picking and grabbing what other offensive minds have done for more than three decades. His first influences were Jack Elway, Joe Gibbs and Don Coryell. Then he became friends with Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen and spent time with Mark Richt. Through the years, he's molded his own philosophy and approach to the game from watching others.

"There's not a lot of earth-shattering, unique, new ideas out there because a lot of this stuff was being done in the '30s," Mazzone said. "But an old coach once told me, it's not the plays, it's the presentation. That's how I think of offense. It's not the plays, but how do you present it. How do you present your team to the defense. I've just taken from my past experiences and built something."

And the results have been undeniable. He completely revamped a struggling Arizona State offense into one of the better attacks in the country in just a couple of years. Now Mora is hoping he'll do the same with the Bruins, a team that's been in the bottom half of the national offensive rankings the past few years.

"I watched a lot of college football these last two years," Mora said. "I knew Noel briefly and we'd competed against each other when he was at the Jets. We had common friends. And I always enjoyed his personality and approach. I think it's going to work out great."
The Pac-12 blog loves hype. It loves to throw down bait and watch you folks go at each other.

Such as: Oregon's recent success trumps Washington's historical dominance of the Northwest ... discuss.

But with our subject today -- Oregon's quarterback competition -- we're resisting hype, hyperbole and grand pronouncements.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Don RyanMarcus Mariota had an impressive performance in Oregon's spring game, completing 18 of 26 passes.
Yes, the Pac-12 blog watched Oregon's spring game. Yes, redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota impressed me. A lot. And it wasn't just him completing 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Or an 82-yard TD run that included an option fake that screamed, "DENNIS DIXON!"

It was his smoothness. He looked poised and completely in control. And Bryan Bennett did not.

Yet the best reaction to this as we head into the offseason probably should be, "Hey, that was interesting!" And little else. For one, if both were lousy, Ducks fans, would you be in a panic? No. Everyone would be insisting, "There's no need to panic. This, really, is the Pac-12 blog's fault."

Every spring, players break out or flop. And then they do the opposite in the fall when we play actual games. Last year, I wrote that Colorado defensive tackle Conrad Obi and UCLA defensive end Datone Jones looked like dominant players. I wrote that because they looked like dominant players when I watched them and their coaches supported what my eyes told me.

My eyes were wrong.

Two springs back, I felt fairly confident that Nate Costa would beat out Darron Thomas for the Ducks' starting job. That's what my eyes told me. And it was also a strong hunch. My eyes and hunch were wrong. Two springs ago, I wasn't very impressed with Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler. Three days ago, he was picked in the second round of the NFL draft. In 2000, I saw nothing from Washington's spring game that suggested the Huskies were going to win the Rose Bowl and finish ranked in the top 5.

My point: While it's impossible to not be impressed with Mariota and to give Bennett a deduction, it's premature to hand the job to Mariota. Based on the little we know coming out of closed spring practices, the distance between the two during the previous 14 workouts wasn't great.

Remember how well Bennett played coming off the bench for an injured Thomas against Arizona State last year? Remember how well he played in his one start at Colorado? While it wasn't good that Bennett seemed rattled Saturday, the guy already has shown poise in pressure situations. Know what I think was bothering him? I think -- and this isn't really a good thing -- that he was frustrated by how much worse his offensive line was performing compared to Mariota's

Bennett's team, which lost 41-14, couldn't run the ball and it yielded three sacks. Bennett was consistently under pressure, Mariota was not. Mariota also had De'Anthony Thomas and a much better cast of receivers. Bennett had Kenjon Barner, who had one carry. For one yard.

Bennett labored under adverse conditions, but he did have some nice moments. Mariota thrived under better conditions, but he wasn't perfect.

This isn't over.

So what are some fair takeaways?

  • Rumors of Mariota's impressive potential are true.
  • Oregon has two solid options to replace Thomas. This is not a position that will keep Chip Kelly up at night.
  • Whatever they did in previous scrimmages behind closed doors, Mariota, er, won the day when the doors were opened and the pressure was on.
  • At the very worst for Mariota, he and Bennett head into the offseason in a dead-heat.
  • Mariota now knows his candidacy is serious. And so does Bennett. Now how will each react to that knowledge?
  • Closing 14 practices -- and two previous scrimmages -- may have skewed perception of this competition. The burden for that now falls on Bennett, who will have to deal with everyone acting like Mariota will win the job. Yes, it will be annoying for him.

Before spring practices, I believed Bennett was a solid favorite. As of today, I'd rate -- again, with limited information -- Mariota a slight favorite. My opinion, by the way, means not a thing.

The spring game was interesting. Perhaps even revealing. But we probably won't know the accuracy of anyone's hunches until a week before the opener against Arkansas State on Sept. 1.

Video: NFL draft intriguing players

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
4:30
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Todd McShay examines three players who could be gems and looks ahead to top prospects for the 2013 NFL draft.
Tags:

Big 12, video

Pac-12 lunch links: A big Duck

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
2:30
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No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane.

Some Utah depth chart notes

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
1:25
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While many Pac-12 schools are now treating depth charts as if they spread the plague, Utah does a really cool thing: It provides consistent updated depth charts to fans and media.

You can review the latest here.

Here are some things I noticed:
  • At backup quarterback behind Jordan Wynn, there's an "OR" between true freshman Travis Wilson and senior Jon Hays, who hasn't been on any of the previous depth charts.
  • The Utes officially have an H-back and a tight end. Jake Murphy, son of Pac-12 blog hero Dale Murphy (I will mention your dad only 14 more times, Jake), is the starting tight end, and Dallin Rogers is No. 1 at H-back. This strikes me as a good way to get both these guys on the field.
  • DeVonte Christopher and Dres Anderson are the Nos. 1 at two receiver spots. The third spot gets an "OR" between Luke Matthews and Reggie Dunn. Solid crew there.
  • Sam Brenner is now at right guard and Jeremiah Tofaeono is at left guard. Things were opposite on the last depth chart.
  • The latest depth chart is revealing about defensive line depth. Touted junior college recruit Junior Salt, previously listed as an offensive lineman, is the No. 2 defensive tackle behind Dave Kruger. Converted running back Thretton Palamo is the backup left defensive end behind Nate Fakahafua. Palamo was behind Joe Kruger at right end. Now junior college transfer Niasi Leota is there.
  • Rover linebacker is still a battle. There's an "OR" between Jacoby Hale and LT Filiaga, and neither was listed there in early April.
  • Mike Honeycutt has moved ahead of Lewis Walker at nickel back.

WeAreSC links: Increased contact

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
12:52
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Erik McKinney writes Insider: Oakley, Calif., wide receiver Darrell Daniels has had increased contact with USC, as has Phoenix offensive lineman Kenny Lacy.

Greg Katz writes Insider: There's nothing not to like about the Rose Bowl. But for college football to evolve and move to a playoff, the Big Ten and Pac-12 have to release their grip on the fabeled game.
Three consecutive Heisman Trophy runners-up, two consecutive BCS bowl games and final top-10 rankings: Hey, Stanford's special run of football success was fun to watch. It was neat seeing the most academically elite university playing BCS football whipping the big boys.

But we all know it can't possibly last, right? Jim Harbaugh built it and he's gone. Andrew Luck was a once-in-a-generation quarterback, and he's gone. And he took with him three other offensive players among the first 42 selections in the NFL draft over the weekend.

While the Cardinal certainly had more than 15 minutes of fame, it's time for this program to go back to its familiar brainiac territory -- Faulkner, computer chips and advanced algorithms. Leave big-time football the USCs, Alabamas and Ohio States of the nation.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireDavid Shaw expects his team to take on the same tough-guy persona it has in previous years.
Yes, such talk has worked its way across the grid, onto the Farm and into the Stanford locker room.

"We've talked about that," coach David Shaw said. "But we've also talked about that there can't be anything outside of our meeting rooms that motivates us. The motivation has to come from within. It's the only way that it is real. The only way that it is legitimate. But we've heard it. We know where we're ranked. But preseason rankings don't matter. Postseason rankings do."

In other words, the Cardinal believe reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated.

"They said the same thing when Toby [Gerhart] left and when Harbaugh left," outside linebacker Chase Thomas said. "We're pretty confident. We know what we bring to the table."

Of course, things change. No team can easily replace four elite NFL draft picks from its offense. That's why Stanford may be more about defense in the early going of 2012. Thomas leads a crew of six returning starters from a unit that ranked among the nation's top 30 in both scoring and total defense. The Cardinal's front seven in their 3-4 scheme appears to be particularly strong. Few teams in the nation will be as deep at linebacker, with Thomas and inside linebacker Shayne Skov both rating as potential All-Americans.

But what about that offense? The competition to replace Luck wasn't resolved this spring, with neither Josh Nunes nor Brett Nottingham demonstrating much consistency. And whoever wins the job won't have tackle Jonathan Martin protecting his blind side, or guard David DeCastro grinding defensive linemen into hamburger, or tight end Coby Fleener sprinting open down the middle with his 6-foot-6 self.

"We will continue our commitment to controlling the line of scrimmage," coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "We're going to run power. I don't see us changing much. If anything, if we have a few more opportunities to run power, we'll do that."

That means leaning on running back Stepfan Taylor, who has rushed for 2,770 yards and 27 TDs over the previous three seasons, and a deep stable of backs. That means leaning on a tight end combination -- Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- that is as good as any in the nation, even without Fleener.

Receiver and offensive line? Those two spots remain questions, though the line will welcome back three starters.

Existing talent, however, doesn't tell the whole story of Stanford's potential for sustaining success. The incoming recruiting class is a significant chapter. Rivals ranked it fifth in the nation, Scout seventh and ESPN Recruiting 12th. No team in the nation came close to collecting as many elite offensive linemen: guard Joshua Garnett (Puyallup, Wash./Puyallup), Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz./Corona Del Sol) and offensive tackle Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente).

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kyle Terada/US Presswire Replacing Andrew Luck will challenge Stanford.
Shaw isn't afraid to play the young guys, either. True freshmen will get opportunities on both sides of the ball, including the offensive line.

"There's a reason why we recruited a couple of big-timers at those positions," he said. "They will have an opportunity to play if not start at the left tackle position."

Instead of going away, Stanford may well have found a perfect formula that Harbaugh generated and Shaw has refined. Stanford has a lot to sell a certain type of athlete, one who is equal parts brains and brawn. Despite what many folks think about young athletes, there are plenty who want to challenge themselves intellectually before playing football on Sundays.

"This is a special place that attracts a certain kind of person," said Shaw, a former Stanford player himself. "The GPAs in this recruiting class are high, even positions where they are not always high. Our lowest receiver GPA is a 3.4. Not regular GPA, core GPA. These guys are good students and tough kids."

But how fast are they? A 3.4 is nice, but what about 4.4? The one thing that has held Stanford back is a lack of elite speed all over the field, particularly in the secondary and at receiver. Shaw said they "are getting closer" in terms of speed, but he also admitted that the Cardinal -- just like every other Pac-12 program -- have a bit of an Oregon problem. They are 23-1 versus everyone else over the past two seasons, outscoring those foes 1,024-405. Against the Ducks, Stanford is 0-2, outscored 105-61.

Does Stanford have an "Oregon problem?"

"That's a great question," Shaw said. "I'd like to have a survey on your website if anybody has some ideas. Chip [Kelly] does a phenomenal job."

While Shaw is said this in a good-humored way, it's clear that he and his coaches have spent plenty of time thinking about the Ducks. They recall beating them 51-42 in 2009, particularly how they handled the ebbs and flows of momentum. They know it's about preventing big plays and not wasting opportunities on offense. They know it's about tempo, a pitched battle of contrasting styles. Oregon wants to play fast and slash you. Stanford wants to slow things down and pound you.

At least one insider believes Stanford will sustain its recent run of success.

"Absolutely. Hopefully they do better than we did," Luck said. "I think there are a lot of great players here, starting at the top with the coaching staff. Great players, great recruiting classes. They will only continue to get better."

As for what Stanford will be in 2012, its first season of the post-Luck era, Shaw thinks his team will have the same tough-guy persona. But it'll be angrier.

"We're going to go right at people and hit them in the mouth," he said. "And it helps to feel like you're disrespected."

Under the radar: Utah

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
11:00
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We're continuing with our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name but who may be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a critical role in 2012.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Utah: DE Joe Kruger

2011 production: Kruger had 35 tackles, five tackles for a loss and three sacks in 2011.

Making the case for Kruger: First off, I realize a Kruger doesn't go under the radar in Salt Lake City. Former Ute and older bro Paul, plays for the Baltimore Ravens. Other older brother Dave is a starting defensive tackle. His brother in law is former Utes offensive tackle and new Oakland Raider Tony Bergstrom. Finally, mercurial brother, Freddie, had a nice movie career and apparently is retired and living in a sweet Malibu beach house. Yes, folks in Salt Lake know the Krugers. Moreover, Joe, at a lean 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, is hard to miss. But when some benighted souls in the Pac-12 blather about Utah being overrated and the like, I sometimes -- in less than charitable moments -- imagine one of Joe's catcher's mitt hands enveloping said critics face and casting him into the stratosphere. But here's the deal. Kruger, who was a force this spring, has moved from the less flashy left side to right end, which was manned last year by the highly productive Derrick Shelby (55 tackles, 10 TFL, five sacks). I wouldn't be surprised if Kruger ends up with eight to 10 sacks in 2012. I see the true junior with sneaky speed as being poised for a breakout year. It also helps that offensive coordinators are going to be obsessing about handling 325-pound DT Star Lotulelei inside. If they commit two blockers to him, which is highly likely, that means less attention on the edge for Kruger. Perhaps as much as any team in the conference, the Utes seem fully capable of getting consistent pressure with just a four-man rush, which any defensive coordinator will tell you is a gift from the football gods. Don't be surprised if Kruger ends up getting some All-Conference attention this coming fall. Maybe Freddie will come to a game?

Pac-12 scrimmage roundup

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
9:00
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Catching you up on all of the scrimmage and spring game info from over the weekend.

OREGON

One of the most secretive quarterback competitions in the country made a very public splash as Marcus Mariota outshined Bryan Bennett in Oregon's spring game.

Mariota ran for an 82-yard touchdown, threw for another and led his team to four touchdowns on five drives. He completed 18 of 26 passes with a score and an interception while rushing for 99 yards on five carries.

Bennett, conversely, was 19-of-32 for 209 yards, throwing two interceptions (including a pick-six) and he also fumbled.

“That’s why you have days like this,” UO coach Chip Kelly said. “It’s interesting to see how guys react.”

A very important note from Rob Moseley of The Register-Guard:
Afterward, Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich reiterated that Bennett and Mariota will be judged on their entire bodies of work from this spring, and that the Ducks won’t feel any pressure to name a starter until the week of their 2012 opener, Sept. 1 against Arkansas State. Public opinion, at least, no doubt swayed toward Mariota on Saturday.

In other words, while Saturday provided a nice peek behind the curtain, official word probably isn't coming any time soon.

OREGON STATE

Sean Mannion completed 8 of 15 passes for 81 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Backup quarterback Cody Vaz, who coach Mike Riley has singled out numerous times for having a good spring, was 11-of-21 for 151 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

“I thought they both made some good throws and plays in general,” Riley said. “I feel like we have two starting quarterbacks right now.”

Malcolm Agnew had the lone rushing touchdown while Jordan Jenkins led the way with nine carries for 45 yards. Storm Woods carried eight times for 37 yards. Kicker Trevor Romaine connected on field goals of 41, 33 and 45 yards.

Ryan Murphy, Micah Audiss and Peter Ashton all recorded interceptions for the defense and Audiss blocked a 50-yard field goal attempt.

“We have a long way to go before we win a game, but there were guys making plays today,” Riley said. “We had a great spring practice session and I’m excited to get going again this fall.”

UCLA

The Bruins might be a step closer to naming a starting quarterback, writes Chris Foster of the LA Times.

Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley had a strong showing on Saturday, working almost exclusively with the first-team offense, where he completed 7 of 11 passes that included a 28-yard touchdown to Shaquelle Evans and he also added a 5-yard scramble for a touchdown.

"Getting 24 plays was fun," Hundley told Foster. "But I don't worry about whether I'm getting looked at longer. I just trying to master my craft."

It appears Hundley is finally starting to distance himself from seniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, the other two top contenders for the starting job. But despite the surge over the past few practices from Hundley, head coach Jim Mora wasn't ready to name anyone the starter yet.

"We will announce it at the appropriate time, when it becomes apparent, when we have a chance to sit down as a staff and talk about which way want to go," Mora said.

WASHINGTON

Washington's defense was the stronger unit in Saturday's Spring Game.

In a format with the defense being awarded points for stops, turnovers, etc., the defense topped the offense 36-10. With close to 12,000 fans on hand at CenturyLink Field, head coach Steve Sarkisian saw a defensive unit that was much maligned last season show encouraging improvement.

"I thought our guys defensively really played well and that's on a lot of fronts," head coach Steve Sarkisian said after the game. "One, I thought we lined up really well. We didn't have a bunch of busts where we lined up wrong. They were aggressive. They played enthusiastic and I thought one of the big telling things defensively is that they won a lot of the one-on-one battles, especially down the field with the ball in the air. They closed on the ball and they were confident closing on the ball in the back end and they made plays. That was extremely encouraging.''

Quarterback Keith Price completed 14 of 28 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. Running back Bishop Sankey did the bulk of the work on the ground, rushing for 34 yards on 11 carries. James Johnson led the receiving corps with six catches for 42 yards.

But the story was defense. Andrew Hudson helped lead the charge for the Huskies with six tackles, a pair of sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss.

Pac-12 doesn't shine in NFL draft

April, 29, 2012
4/29/12
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California led the way in the Pac-12 for what was a poor showing in the 2012 NFL draft, with just 28 total players selected. It seemed perfectly reasonable to project more than 40 picks a few weeks and months ago.

In 2011, 37 players were drafted, one fewer than the SEC. This year, the SEC led the way with 42 draft picks. The Big Ten was second with 41 and the ACC was third with 31. The 10-team Big 12 had 25, which actually puts it ahead of the Pac-12 by a per-team measure.

California had six players drafted, tied for the second-most by Cal, which also had six players picked in both the 1977 and 2008 drafts. A school-record 10 Cal players were chosen in 1952.

[+] EnlargeChris Polk
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireDespite rushing for over 4,000 career yards, star Washington RB Chris Polk went undrafted.
There were plenty of negatives from the weekend, starting with Washington RB Chris Polk, who some had projected going as early as the second round, not getting picked. The reported explanation is concern that Polk has a shoulder problem. Polk and his horrible, no-good shoulder rushed for an often punishing 4,049 yards in his career, the second-most in school history.

The Philadelphia Eagles committed grand larceny when they signed him as a free agent.

Other negatives: Character counts. The Pac-12 bad boys, Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict and Oregon CB Cliff Harris, both once viewed as potential first-round picks, weren't drafted.

Oregon QB Darron Thomas, who surprised many when he opted to enter the draft a year early, went undrafted. (Meanwhile, in Eugene, Ducks fans watched redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota dominate the spring game in the competition with Bryan Bennett to replace Thomas).

Other undrafted notables: Arizona State WR Gerell Robinson, Oregon S Eddie Pleasant, Oregon State WR James Rodgers, Stanford WR Chris Owusu, Stanford S Delano Howell and Washington WR Jermaine Kearse.

Here's the conference draft tally. UCLA and Washington State had no players selected.

California: 6
Oregon: 4
Stanford: 4
Arizona: 3
USC: 3
Arizona State: 2
Colorado: 2
Washington: 2
Oregon State: 1
Utah: 1

And here's the round-by-round.

First round
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: Indianapolis
4. Matt Kalil, OT, USC: Minnesota
24. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: Pittsburgh
28. Nick Perry, DE, USC: Green Bay

Second round
2. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford: Indianapolis
5. Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California: Cleveland
10. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford, Miami
14. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California: Philadelphia
25. Brock Osweiler, QB Arizona State: Denver Broncos
29. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: San Francisco 49ers

Third round
7. Bryan Anger, P, California: Jacksonville
16. Brandon Hardin, S, Oregon State: Chicago Bears
25. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Philadelphia
32. Tony Bergstrom, OL, Utah: Oakland

Fourth round
6. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State: Denver
14. Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington: Pittsburgh
33. Rhett Ellison, FB/TE, USC: Minnesota

Fifth round
16. Senio Kelemete, OT, Washington: Arizona
20. Josh Kaddu, LB, Oregon: Miami
25. Ryan Miller, OG, Colorado: Cleveland
31. Marvin Jones, WR, California: Cincinnati
33. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona: Oakland

Sixth round
8. Mark Asper, OG, Oregon: Buffalo

Seventh round
9. D.J. Campbell, S, California: Carolina
12. Trevor Guyton, DE, California: Minnesota
24. Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado, Pittsburgh
33. David Paulson, TE, Oregon, Pittsburgh
38. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona: Cleveland

Pac-12 in NFL draft so far

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
11:38
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The only surprise to me during the first three rounds of the NFL draft was California punter Bryan Anger getting picked early in the third round.

Punters don't get picked in the third round very often, but Anger is a special punter who can change field position every time he cranks up a boot. Anger, in fact, is the first punter to be selected in the top-100 picks since 1995, according to a Tweet from none other than Cal coach Jeff Tedford.

Stanford leads the conference with four picks. California has three. Colorado, UCLA, Washington and Washington State have yet to see a player selected. My guess is Washington DT Alameda Ta'amu comes off the board early this morning.

Here's where the Pac-12 guys got picked so far.

First round
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: Indianapolis
4. Matt Kalil, OT, USC: Minnesota
24. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: Pittsburgh
28. Nick Perry, DE, USC: Green Bay

Second round
2. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford: Indianapolis
5. Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California: Cleveland
10. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford, Miami
14. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California: Philadelphia
25. Brock Osweiler, QB Arizona State: Denver Broncos
29. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: San Francisco 49ers

Third round
7. Bryan Anger, P, California: Jacksonville
16. Brandon Hardin, S, Oregon State: Chicago Bears
25. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Philadelphia
32. Tony Bergstrom, OL, Utah: Oakland
INDIANAPOLIS -- At an appearance at Lucas Oil Stadium this evening, Andrew Luck said people smarter than him would be deciding on whether Coby Fleener was the guy for the Colts at No. 34.

Fleener
Fleener
Those people, led by general manager Ryan Grigson, decided Luck’s Stanford teammate was, in fact, the right guy.

Fleener is the team’s second-round pick, and will be a prime target for Luck just as he was in college.

The Colts have a couple dependable receivers in Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie. Beyond that, they’ve got a reclamation project in Donnie Avery and a tight end who’s more a blocker than a receiver in Brody Eldridge.

Fleener is a giant get and fits perfectly with the idea of surrounding Luck with weapons who will maximize his chances at success.

I wasn’t alone in being surprised he made it out of the first round.

Now I expect the Colts will start to look for defenders as they have major holes at cornerback, defensive tackle and linebacker.

Mailbag: No wimpy scheduling

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
6:45
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Mitchell from Boston writes: The first round of the NFL draft should answer you pac fans about which conference is the best. But here's my question. What do you mean with this "Wimpy scheduling needs to be addressed, including finding ways to circumvent misleading measures of "strength of schedule." There is nothing "wimpy" about playing in the SEC. It's big-boy football. The SEC doesn't need to play a tough schedule because it already plays an SEC schedule.

Ted Miller: Glad to explain, Mitchell, because it's important to understand what I am saying and what I am not saying.

The SEC is the nation's best football conference. Six consecutive national titles leave little doubt, particularly with five different teams claiming at least one in the BCS era. And the draft numbers for Thursday were impressive. There is a gap between the SEC and every other conference, and my belief is that gap has widened over the past 10 years -- from being mostly perception to become (self-fulfilling?) reality.

So what am I saying about scheduling? Well, dagnabit, I'm going to pick on Mississippi State again. Apologies in advance, lovely Starkville.

Last year, the Bulldogs' nonconference schedule featured Memphis, Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tennessee-Martin. This is hard to believe, but the 2012 slate is even more embarrassing: Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee.

Our new system for determining a four-team playoff needs to make it nearly impossible to play for the national title with a nonconference record like that, even if lightning struck and the Bulldogs went undefeated. There needs to be an evaluative component that specifically analyzes nonconference competition separate from conference competition, one that gives a team points for aggressively scheduling and deducts points for hiding like a quaking kitten from a challenge.

Further, the new system needs to find a way to spread this deduction throughout a conference. Why? Because Mississippi State starts the 2012 season 4-0. You can't say that about any Pac-12 team. Or Big 12 team, for that matter, because the Big 12 also plays a nine-game conference schedule.

Look at it this way. The worst record imaginable for the Bulldogs in 2012 is 4-8. There is only one sure-thing on Oregon State's schedule -- Nicholls State (I won't mention the Sacramento State debacle in 2011). The Beavers play Wisconsin and at BYU in their other two nonconference games. The Beavers conceivably could end up 1-11 and still be significantly better than Mississippi State. But that wouldn't show up in a typical strength of schedule measure.

Then there is that nine- vs. eight-game conference schedule issue. That almost automatically decreases the strength of schedule ranking for the Pac-12 because it guarantees six more losses annually in the conference. Further, there's this: Guess which three teams Georgia didn't play in the 2011 regular season? Alabama, LSU and Arkansas.

When you have three conference misses a year, it can skew things more than if you have two.

While we can certainly acknowledge the SEC has taken the lead in college football, the SEC can't expect a "just because" perception to be superimposed on the future. It can't be allowed to insist that just because it plays an SEC schedule that it doesn't have to play quality nonconference games -- and on the road, too.

Now let's give credit where credit is due. LSU posted perhaps the most impressive regular season in college football history last year, in large part due to nonconference wins over Oregon and West Virginia, which both ended up winning BCS bowl games. And Alabama deserves credit for playing Virginia Tech and Penn State in recent years and opening against Michigan in 2012. So, Alabama and LSU fans can take a bow and know we're not writing about you. Not directly.

There is no way to completely remove a substantial subjective element from determining a four-team playoff in college football. But if we're going to create a four-team playoff with mega-millions as the reward for earning a berth -- and a major revenue downer for not -- then we need to insist that our process of evaluation requires in advance certain standards for every conference.

Bob from Raleigh, N.C., writes: If the Pac decides to join the rest of CFB and go to 8 conference games, will they still have the provision of the Bay Schools playing SoCal schools every year? I realize sometimes to get a deal, some schools have to be bought (see Staples Center in basketball), but to be more equatable, they would have to break that up, right?

Ted Miller: If we do, indeed, end up with a four-team playoff in 2014, then the Pac-12 needs to end the nine-game conference schedule if the Big Ten and SEC are still playing an eight-game schedule. To not do so would simply be negligent. Too much money will be at stake to give those other conference an annual head start in the rankings.

And, if the Pac-12 goes to eight conference games, it almost certainly would end the guaranteed annual meetings between the Bay Area vs. Southern California schools.

Some fans would huff and puff, but the longterm benefit to the conference as a whole is too valuable. And, by the way, neither Bay Area coach would frown at such a change.

Miller from Aloha, Ore., writes: I do wonder what the rest of the country thinks/feels about Larry Scott. I'm obviously a huge fan due to what he has done for the Pac-12, but I think that many in the country might not like him because he has been too successful too quickly. And is there a chance this might make the other 11 Conference Commissioners (and the Domer representative) ignore his input due to jealousy, etc?

Ted Miller: Larry Scott is a likable guy. He's gracious and accessible. And he's the least imperious of the major conference commissioners, at least since Dan Beebe was forced out of the Big 12.

If anyone dislikes Scott, it's because he's smart and effective and ambitious. And, yes, I get the feeling that some commissioners don't count themselves as fans because of that. This a competitive business, and Scott has been winning too much for some folks liking. It's easier to like a competitor who is easy pickings.

But there also are no stupid men in the room. "Like" isn't as important as "respect," in any event. They all know that Scott, perhaps more than any other commissioner, knows how to grow revenue in our present age of advancing technology. Within a few months of his hiring, his consistent theme was how undervalued not only the then-Pac-10 was but also how undervalued college football was. His vision is big-picture. And it's clear he sees more of the field than many of the folks yammering in Florida this week.

So, no, they won't ignore Scott. He knows where the money is hiding.

Tim from Winston-Salem, N.C., writes: So far through the spring practices, Washington's defense seems to consistently be getting the better of the offense, with the secondary earning seemingly endless praise from the coaching staff. While I understand that the O-line is in shambles right now, do you think that the defense really is making big strides under Wilcox, or is it just the offense getting use to new looks from the D?

Ted Miller: First, I think Justin Wilcox is pretty much a sure-thing. He will make the Huskies defense better because he's never failed as a defensive coordinator. The biggest concern for Husky fans should be how long before he leaves to become a head coach.

That said: Spring practices won't reveal much of anything about the Huskies defense, particularly with them working against a patchwork offensive line. It muddies things further that the the Huskies are replacing their top skill guys, too.

But there are things you can notice. You bring up the secondary. How many times over the past three years did you go: How did he get so open? Where the heck is the safety? If you watched the Huskies scrimmage this spring, and you saw few if any clearly broken coverages, that suggests that guys understand where they are supposed to be. Being in the right place, properly in position to complete an assignment, is step two for a defense. It's one-third the battle. It's the difference between being sound and unsound, and the Huskies were too often unsound under Nick Holt.

What's the first step? Well, that's something else you can get a feel for after watching a few practices. The first step is playing hard every play. If you watch enough football -- and enough different teams -- you can start to see a difference in how teams play and practice. Is everybody running to the ball? Is there constant chatter and enthusiasm? Are pads popping all over the field? Way back when Chip Kelly used to let reporters watch practice, you could see that Oregon practiced hard. That might be a part of their recent success.

The third step? Being good enough to make the play when you're doing your best and know your assignment. That could be the area where Wilcox is most challenged this year. The Huskies still aren't where they need to be in terms of talent and depth on all three levels.

Ryan from Salt Lake City writes: So what is one supposed to do to pass the time until fall camp? Other than read the PAC 12 blog religiously.

Ted Miller: Well, you certainly hit the chief pass time. The Pac-12 blog NEVER GOES AWAY... even if college football does for a few months.

Other choices?

Read a book. Talk to your wife or kids. Perhaps both.

Watch the all five seasons of "The Wire." Go to the beach. Fix up your back yard. Fix up my backyard. Read -- or re-read -- two literary classics. Learn to cook a heavenly spaghetti carbonara. Train for a triathlon. Develop your own cocktail. Actually become informed on political issues instead of only blathering boilerplate ideological rants. Decide to definitively find out which restaurant makes the best hamburger within 20 miles of your home. Watch baseball. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Expand your musical horizons.

Sleep.

Any other suggestions?

Under the radar: Washington

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
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We're continuing with our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name but who may be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a critical role in 2012.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order, mainly so Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times doesn't have time to trump us with one of his blog polls on Washington.

Washington: WR James Johnson

2011 production: Appeared in 11 of 13 games last year, starting four. Finished with 28 catches for 366 yards and four touchdowns.

Making the case for Johnson: I met James Johnson in 2007 and immediately recognized the potential. It was impossible not to. There are good high school football players, and then there are those head and shoulders above the competition. Johnson was one of those guys. I'd talked with him after games, among a sea of other reporters. But the first time I sat down with him in 2008, he said something that struck me -- "I have to believe that no one can cover me." I admired his confidence. And for the record, I can't recall a high school DB that could cover him. He still holds the San Diego Section record for most career receiving yards. He had swagger without being cocky.

Here's to hoping he still has that confidence, because after a long bout with high-ankle sprains, he's been Washington's forgotten receiver. People that follow the Huskies closely know the name. And he had two touchdowns against Nebraska last year. But the rest of the conference will probably say "Who?" after he catches touchdown after touchdown from Keith Price.

Johnson is under the radar because he hasn't put together a real body of work yet as a starter. He has the frame (6-1, 200 pounds) and the hands to be an elite receiver in the conference. And he has a quarterback who is on pace to put up record numbers. Those all combine for a potentially big year for Johnson. I know who he is. Most Washington fans do as well. This season, if he stays healthy, the rest of the conference is going to find out.

And if you want to know more about his background, check out this amazing piece by UW's Gregg Bell. It's an inspiring read.

Spring notebook: Oregon State

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
4:30
PM ET
As Oregon State wraps up its spring session Saturday with its Fan Fest activities at Reser Stadium, head coach Mike Riley said he's feeling pretty good about what the Beavers accomplished this spring.

Last year's growing pains, which led to a 3-9 season, also produced a lot of first-time starters who now have some game experience. In fact, there will be 27 players on the 2012 roster who have started at least one game. That depth allowed Riley to really focus on the details this spring.

"I'm not sure we got the whole volume of what we wanted to get in, but we got to repeat a lot of stuff," Riley said. "We took this spring as a fundamentals look. We tried not to be too exotic. We worked on the timing of certain routes with the receivers and quarterbacks, worked on the details of fundamentals and blocking schemes. It was a good mixture of coverages, but not too much that we can't get good reps. Volume hasn't been great, but our work on the details has vastly improved."

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Sean Mannion
Jim Z. Rider/US PRESSWIREOregon State QB Sean Mannion said he improved his confidence and throwing accuracy this spring.
Riley said he's liked the growth of the quarterbacks, citing an improvement in efficiency and overall production. Starter Sean Mannion said he's a much more confident quarterback as well.

"The Sean Mannion now is more comfortable," Mannion said, when asked to describe himself from last year to this year. "I think he's more experienced. I think he's improved his accuracy, improved his decision making. But that being said, I know there is a long way to go."

The biggest frustration for Riley this spring was the lack of depth on the offensive line. With players like Colin Kelly and Grant Enger out, Riley said it was a good chance for other players to compete. Plus, with an influx of offensive linemen coming in this fall, there is more uncertainty across the line than any other position group on the Beavers' roster.

"You always want to come out of spring set on starters," Riley said. "But we're not going to be able to do that on the offensive line. We'll still be scratching and clawing to find the right group of guys."

Riley said he's been very pleased with the development of safeties Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman. With Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds returning at both cornerback spots, Riley thinks he's got a pretty good secondary.

"I like the look of that group a lot," he said. "They are all really instinctual players as well as talented. That goes a long way to being successful. Reynolds has grown a lot and Poyer is a proven commodity and it's been fun watching the two safeties grow."

Oregon State also was one of its deepest wide receiving corps in years. And Riley has previously said he wants to take more shots down the field this season. He's moved Obum Gwacham into the slot as a third receiver (though he'll continue to back up Markus Wheaton) in an effort to get more playmakers on the field.

"It's a good step for the growth of this offense and we really like [Gwacham] in that spot," Riley said. "We've gotten a good look at him inside and we've been really pleased how he's adapted to the role."

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