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Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Three pleasant surprises this spring

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

CBS Sports Bruce Feldman made a top-10 list of his "most pleasant surprise guys of the spring," and it included three from the Pac-12: Washington DT Danny Shelton, UCLA RB/WR Steven Manfro and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota.

Three good choices.

Here's what he said about Shelton:
Danny Shelton, Washington, DT: The U-Dub defense was brutal in 2011, ranking 108th in scoring D and 106th in total D. They also were No. 87 in TFLs and No. 76 in run defense. Still, the revamped Huskies had some holes in the middle of that defense to replace, starting with massive Alameda Ta'amu, a fourth-round pick of the Steelers. The new Washington defensive staff though is very, very excited about the development of Shelton. The 6-1, 325-pound sophomore, who made 11 tackles last season, adjusted to the new system and techniques the best, U-Dub DL coach Tosh Lupoi says.

Lupoi knows plenty about disruptive D-linemen from producing more than his share at Cal. He says Shelton, a former state champion shot putter, has (former Cal first-rounder) Tyson Alualu-type hands and strike but is 325-pounds (as opposed to Alualu's 295) and that Shelton has the heft and explosiveness to be a two-gap defensive end at the next level. Better still, Shelton is smart and coachable.

And Manfro:
Steven Manfro, UCLA, RB/WR/KR: If Bruins fans hadn't heard about the redshirt freshman before spring, they almost certainly did by the end of UCLA's spring game when the 5-10, 190-pounder lit up the Rose Bowl making big play after big play. It's crazy to think that the guy who had almost 3,500 rushing and receiving yards and 39 TDs from scrimmage his senior year in Southern California at Valencia High only had offers from Wyoming and UCLA. The new Bruins staff is lucky to have him though. Manfro, who lists Maurice Jones-Drew and Danny Woodhead as his favorite athletes, has earned the nickname "the White Mamba" for his exploits on the field. UCLA coaches say Manfro – pegged as more quick than fast -- "flashed" in every practice they had and can be a line-up-all-over the field difference-maker as well as game-breaker for all of the Quick Game stuff new OC Noel Mazzone wants to run. The kid's family also has an amazing backstory, as detailed here by Fox's Lisa Horne.

"I'm excited about him," says Mazzone, who has a strong group of weapons out of the backfield that also include Jonathan Franklin and Jordon James. "He's a perfect hybrid for what we do. He can run routes. He's flexible enough to get in the slot. He's a back that can run in between the tackles and can play in the slot."

And Mariota:
Marcus Mariota, Oregon, QB: When word got out that Darron Thomas was jumping early to the NFL, folks close to the Ducks program weren't in a panic because they'd seen how dangerous young Bryan Bennett could be running Chip Kelly's offense. They'd also knew they had a smooth, swift 6-4 redshirt freshman from Hawaii in Mariota who would push Bennett hard for the starting job. And that's exactly what Mariota has done. He also looked more impressive in the Ducks nationally televised spring game, breaking off TD runs of 82 and 14 yards. As we've said, before it's risky to put too much stock in a spring performance, much less one spring game because of the variance of the circumstances, but Kelly had to be very pleased with how his young QB looked in his first chance under a spotlight.

"He's got that Hawaiian Island, laid-back, cool-breeze kind of attitude," Kelly told the Register-Guard after the spring game. "And it helps him."

Shelton is a sure-thing starter. If healthy, he's going to be expected to take up a lot of space in the middle of the Huskies' D-line.

Manfro and Mariota still have a fight ahead of them. Lots of guys shine -- or surprise -- during spring practices but then fade in the fall when coaches make hard decisions about playing time. That said, Manfro provided a playmaking spark that's mostly been missing for the Bruins. And everyone saw how good Mariota looked in the Ducks' spring game. If that's point A for the redshirt freshman, then big things might lay ahead.