- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Spring ball is a lovely little dose of football that gets us all through the year, but it’s a far stretch from what we know and see in the fall. For the most part, it gives the young guys solid snaps and lets the older guys tune their skills.
But the coach who put it best this spring was Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who said, “In spring ball, you’re panning for gold a little bit. There’s a bunch of crap and one fleck of gold. You grab it and build on that and try to fix the other parts.”
So, here’s a look at who or what those flecks of gold were for the Pac-12 South.
Arizona: What is certain is the Wildcats are deep at receiver. What is not yet certain? The pecking order. If Austin Hill regains -- or improves upon -- his 2012 form, he looks like a potential lead dog. Or in this case, Cat. But there were times this spring when Texas transfer Cayleb Jones looked like a future first-round draft pick, while Notre Dame transfer DaVonte' Neal showed so much athleticism that he could triple as a slot WR/RB and CB.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils had spring risers all over the field. On the offensive line, OG Christian Westerman and C Nick Kelly pushed their way into likely starting gigs. At receiver, Ellis Jefferson suggested he could be a second option beside Jaelen Strong. On defense, true freshman LB D.J. Calhoun looks like a budding star.
Colorado: The Buffaloes defense looks like it will get a boost from CB Ahkello Witherspoon, LB Kenneth Olugbode and DE Derek McCartney, who certainly has good Buff bloodlines. On offense, WR Bryce Bobo pushed into the top three at receiver, while redshirt freshman RB Phillip Lindsay provided a challenge to veterans at one of the team's deeper positions.
UCLA: The Bruins started spring looking solid at receiver, but they exited looking certifiably strong with the continued rise of Thomas Duarte, a 6-foot-4 red-zone threat, and the emergence of Mossi Johnson and Eldridge Massington. The defensive line and secondary also are strengths. On the D-line, Kenny Clark took another step forward after a strong freshman season, while Eli Ankou also caught Jim Mora's eye. In the secondary, Fabian Moreau repeatedly received effusive praise from Mora, who's not really a guy who effuses just for the heck of it. Safety Tahaan Goodman also began to look like the elite recruit he was in 2013.
USC: The Trojans defense might be even better next season than it was in 2013, when it ranked among the nation's leaders in many categories. Part of that is the rise of young players in key spots. On the defensive line, there's juco transfer Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons. At outside linebacker, there's Jabari Ruffin. And in the secondary, there's cornerback Chris Hawkins. While the offensive line -- particularly OT -- remains a question, it's pretty clear that true freshman Toa Lobendahn and sophomore Zach Banner are ready to start or at least contribute.
Utah: Offensive lineman Jeremiah Poutasi looked like the NFL prospect this spring he was projected to be last fall, which is why he was moved from guard to left tackle. The Utes feel good about the depth at running back, where Devontae Booker and redshirt freshman Troy McCormick made big moves this spring. That depth is why Marcus Sanders-Williams moved to linebacker, and he immediately made an impact at the injury-ravaged position. While Nate Orchard is expected to be the Utes’ top pass rusher, sophomore defensive end Pita Taumoepenu has flashed potential, including a pair of spring game sacks.