Friday, February 27, 2009
Which Pac-10 players will step out of the shadows?
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
We had no idea who Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was at this time last year. Heck, he hadn't even signed, much less played for the Ducks.
Masoli didn't step out of the shadows, though. He was immaculately conceived.
But we did know who Mark Sanchez was. And Jahvid Best. And Brian Price. We just didn't know who they'd become.
We're thinking about guys taking the step up from being a good player to being a star player.
We're thinking about guys stepping out of the shadows and into the light and, to paraphrase the immortal words of Norma Desmond, saying, "All right, College GameDay, I'm ready for my close-up."
- WR Delashaun Dean: The junior will form a solid tandem with senior Terrell Turner. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he's got the size that makes things easy on a first-year starting quarterback. Caught 13 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns in the Wildcats' season-ending wins over Arizona State and BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
- WR Kyle Williams: The senior ranked fourth in the nation in punt returns last season (17 yards per return) and sixth in the conference in all-purpose yards, but he needs to break out as a receiver in 2009. While he only ranked sixth on the Sun Devils with 19 receptions last year, four of those went four TDs and he averaged over 19 yards per catch.
- DE Cameron Jordan: He stepped into the starting lineup when Rulon Davis got hurt, and he didn't play like a sophomore. He finished with 11 tackles for a loss, four sacks and an interception. He and the underrated Tyson Aluala might be the best DE tandem in the Pac-10.
- FS T.J. Ward and DE Will Tukuafu: These two seniors played well last year but mostly in the shadows of rover Patrick Chung and DE Nick Reed. Ward led the Pac-10 in solo tackles (64) and is a lights-out hitter, while Tukuafu recorded 7.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss (fifth most in the conference).
- LB Keaton Kristick: Sure, he was second-team All-Pac-10, but it sure was hard for a LB outside of USC to get much attention last season. Kristick, a senior, had 14 tackles for loss among his 82 total stops in 2008. He will lead an LB corps that should be the strength of a rebuilding defense in 2009.
- LB Chike Amajoyi: The junior regressed a bit last year after hanging up impressive numbers as a freshman, but he has all the physical tools to be an outstanding linebacker. He's expected to step in for Pat Maynor at weakside linebacker.
- FS Rahim Moore: Moore ranked fourth on the Bruins' defense last year with 60 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions as a true freshman. There's no doubt who the Pac-10's best free safety is -- USC's Taylor Mays -- but Moore may be the second-best guy as a sophomore.
- WR Damian Williams: He's hardly unknown -- he was the Trojans' leading receiver last year -- but Williams was merely honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 2008. In 2009, the junior transfer from Arkansas will be the best receiver in the Pac-10.
- WR D'Andre Goodwin: Sure, he was the Huskies' leading receiver last year. But that's like being the leading scorer for the Washington Generals. But with a new pro-style offense being installed and the return of a healthy Jake Locker, Goodwin should see more balls and get more opportunities to show his stuff.
- LB Louis Bland: The undersized freshman -- he's listed at a cornerback-like 5-foot-10, 203 pounds -- was second on the team with nine tackles for loss, and he played a key role in the triumph over Washington in the Apple Cup. His quickness will make him a playmaker on the Cougars' defense in 2009.