Pac-12: Charles Clark

Spring is a time of improvement. But who is improving the most? Your bloggers debate the position groups they expect to be better in 2013.

Ted Miller: One of the most memorable images of the bowl season was Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz getting sacked by Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

It went like this: Sack, sack, sack, sack, sack, sack, sack, sack, sack. And sack.

I will now pause while all of you hassle Oregon State fans about that so we can then resume requisite decorum.

[+] EnlargeAlex Okafor
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsOregon State's offensive line gave up 10 sacks in a loss at the Alamo Bowl.
All good? Well, enjoy it now, because the Beavers aren't going to yield that sort of quarterback feast in 2013. In fact, the Beavers offensive line, which was actually vastly improved in 2012 compared to the previous fall, is going to be pretty salty this go-around.

Four of five starters are back, and there are experienced backups and a solid group of youngsters providing depth. Among those returning starters is true sophomore Isaac Seumalo, who will push Oregon's Hroniss Grasu for the title of "Pac-12's best center." He and guard Grant Enger were honorable mention All-Pac-12 last year.

That's a good start, but the best news might be that talented but mercurial left tackle Michael Philipp, who has 35 career starts, is playing "the best ball of his life" according to head coach Mike Riley. The entire unit has 88 career starts, and experienced sophomore Gavin Andrews is the frontrunner to replace Colin Kelly at right tackle.

Further, projecting improvement is logical, just based on how much better the unit was in 2012 compared to 2011, if at least we can forget the Alamo. The Beavers rushed for just 86.9 yards per game in 2011, which ranked 118th in the nation. They improved to 124.2 in 2012. In the 12 games before getting Alex Okafor'd, the Beavers yielded 23 sacks, compared to 27 in 12 games 2011.

But an offensive line looking good is often about more than the line itself, and the skill components of the offense should help the Beavers cause up front. Running back Storm Woods stepped up last year, falling just short of 1,000 yards. He'll get that total this fall, and his backup, Terron Ward, is solid. Taking another step forward in the running game will help protect whoever wins the starting quarterback job, where two veterans, Vaz and Sean Mannion, are competing.

Part of winning the quarterback job will be pocket presence. As in, get rid of the freaking football before you get sacked.

In 2011, the Beavers had one of the worst offensive lines in the Pac-12. Next fall, count on it being one of the best.

Kevin Gemmell: Sometimes, you just have to go out on a limb. So here and now, I'm declaring that Colorado's pass defense is going to be better in 2013. Bold statement? Perhaps. Well, not really.

When you consider the numbers it's really not too much of a stretch. Because they actually can't get much worse.

  • Last nationally in pass defense efficiency.
  • Last nationally in passing touchdowns allowed (39).
  • 118th out of 120 schools in interceptions (3).
  • Colorado surrendered five or more passing touchdowns four times in 2012.

But fear not, Ralphie retinues, because it's going to get better. And here's why.

Last year Kenneth Crawley took 642 snaps at cornerback -- second most ever for a Colorado true freshman. Marques Mosley took 524 -- fourth most. Yuri Wright took 310 -- 12th most. That's 1,476 snaps from true freshmen in the secondary. And with each snap -- hopefully -- they learned a little something about college football and the speed of the game.

This is a quarterback driven league. Consider some of the quarterbacks Colorado faced in 2012; Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Matt Barkley, Marcus Mariota ... those are high-efficiency guys operating high-efficiency offenses. The end result was almost predictable when you throw three true freshmen -- just three months removed from high school -- against some of the best quarterbacks and wide receivers in the country.

Here's your diploma. Now go cover Robert Woods. It was trial by thermonuclear detonation.

But just as the ugliness of 2012 was predictable, so is the expectation of improvement in 2013. With a year of experience and a full offseason in a collegiate training program, those pups are going to get better. It's even possible that by 2014 Colorado might have the most experienced defensive backfield in the league consisting of some of the Pac-12's most feared pass defenders.

Safety Terrel Smith is the veteran of the group and behind Mosley at the other safety spot is another senior in Parker Orms. Behind Crawley are a pair of juniors -- Josh Moten and Harrison Hunter. There is a some good depth. The Buffs actually have 17 players listed as DBs on their roster. Numbers aren't the problem.

Plus there are two full-time coaches working the secondary -- Charles Clark handling the safeties and Andy LaRussa working with the cornerbacks. Both of them were with Mike MacIntyre during his San Jose State reclamation project. No one is expecting them to be a lockdown defense overnight. But with the experience gained last season, they should show respectable improvement.
New Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is bringing most of his staff with him from San Jose State. MacIntyre has hired six former assistants from the Spartans, according to a report from the Daily Camera, including both coordinator positions.

Writes Kyle Ringo:
MacIntyre has hired Brian Lindgren as offensive coordinator and Kent Baer as defensive coordinator. Klayton Adams, Gary Bernardi, Charles Clark and Jim Jeffcoat also have been hired. What positions those four will be assigned to coach and what titles and responsibilities each will hold were still being refined.

This is a solid first step by MacIntyre. Because while he gets a lot of the credit for turning San Jose State around, he clearly didn't do it all on his own. He did it with his guys.

And as coaches move up the ladder, sometimes loyalty gets lost along the way. With a bigger spending pool for assistants, sometimes there is the desire to go out and get "bigger-name" coordinators. But MacIntyre clearly believes in his staff and the job they did turning the Spartans into an 11-win team.

After it became clear San Jose State wouldn't hire its new head coach from within -- going instead with San Diego's Ron Caragher -- it would make sense that MacIntyre's guys would go with him. Baer, who coached the Spartans to a 29-20 win over Bowling Green in the Military Bowl, reportedly wanted the job but was passed over for Caragher. Baer is no stranger to the Pac-12, having served various roles throughout his career at Cal, Stanford, Washington and Arizona State.

Nice to see MacIntyre repaying the loyalty to the coaches who helped him get to where he is.

 

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