Take 2: Pac-12 breakout players

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
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A so-called "breakout" player can be a solid player who becomes very good or a guy who comes from nowhere to fill a critical role.

It's not a one-size-fits-all deal. Which makes it perfect for our weekly Take 2: Who is a potential breakout player in the Pac-12 this year?

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBrandin Cooks is looking to improve on his freshman season -- where he ranked third on the team in receptions and receiving yards.
Kevin Gemmell: I talked with Mike Riley earlier this week and mentioned to him I was thinking of picking Brandin Cooks as my potential breakout candidate in the conference this year. I could almost see his eyes light up over the phone lines. Riley loves this guy, and said he's going to play a big role in the OSU offense.

There are a few factors that led me to picking Cooks even before I talked with Riley.

First, he has the one thing that, as the old cliché goes, you can't teach. And that's speed. He's incredibly fast -- maybe even faster than the guy who starts opposite him, Markus Wheaton. He doesn't have the size of Wheaton (Cooks is 5-foot-9, Wheaton is 6-foot) but he makes up for it in quickness.

Riley even went so far as to compare the two -- noting that Cooks is a lot like Wheaton was two years ago. Lots of speed, but needs to become more polished on his route-running.

And that leads me to point No. 2. He's had an entire offseason to work with quarterback Sean Mannion. Last year, neither of them knew if they were going to play, so the chemistry wasn't always there. This season, Mannion knows he's the guy, and he knows who his receivers are going to be, and they've all been working out, developing their timing.

Third, he's learning from one of the best receivers in the conference. Cooks, who caught 31 balls for 391 yards and three scores last year, can use the veteran Wheaton as a sounding board, and also a measuring stick. Talking with Wheaton earlier this week, there is a friendly rivalry going on between the two -- which will likely equal more production for them both.

Also, Cooks is likely to see more one-on-one coverage as Wheaton ascends to the top of the Pac-12 receiving hierarchy. The veteran will probably draw more help over the top, leaving the other safety to handle the third receiver. If Cooks gets into a one-on-one footrace with a cornerback, chances are he's going to win it.

Finally, the Beavers have re-committed themselves to the running game. Whether it actually produces is another question. But if it does (and there are still concerns on the offensive line to consider), then Wheaton and Cooks will both enjoy a boost in their numbers.

I'd put Cooks on pace for about 55-60 catches, about six or seven touchdowns and around 800-900 yards receiving. If he hits those numbers, that strikes me as a pretty good breakout year.

[+] EnlargeDeandre Coleman
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireThe Bears expect Deandre Coleman to develop into a leader on their defense.
Ted Miller: Kevin went with offense, I'm going with defense. And I'm going big. As in 6-foot-5, 311 pounds.

Those are the dimensions of California's junior defensive end Deandre Coleman, who was a beast this spring and could play his way onto the All-Pac-12 team by season's end.

Those who regularly read the blog know I've already crossed this road with Coleman. After an early April visit to Berkeley, I wrote this about the reloading Bears defense, which contained plenty of input from coach Jeff Tedford and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
Start up front, where Pendergast and Tedford are practically giddy over the maturation of 6-foot-5, 311-pound end Deandre Coleman. Said Tedford: "He may be one of the best that we've ever had." Keep in mind that Bears have produced two first-round NFL draft choices at end -- Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan -- over the past three seasons.

"Best we've ever had?" That's high praise for a player who had only 19 tackles last year. But inside that tepid number is this: six tackles for a loss and two sacks (sure three tackles for a loss were against lowly Presbyterian, but work with me here).

Here's how you extrapolate a breakout. You take a guy with impressive physical talent who saw regular action behind good players as a redshirt freshman and sophomore, and then toss in his better play over the final third of last season. Then you watch him push people around this spring and record five tackles in the spring game. Then you just, well, look at the dude. Let's just say he carries his 311 pounds well.

Further, the supporting cast on the Bears D-line is strong. Folks aren't going to be able to commit two guys to Coleman and not pay for it.

Bottom line: Coleman, with his size, should be able to hold up well versus the run, and, with his athletic ability, could record eight or so sacks.

The bad news for Cal fans is that if he has the sort of season that Tedford and Pendergast believe he can, he might not return for his senior year.

Ted Miller | email

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
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Saturday, 1/3
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