Pac-12: Chidobe Awuzie

We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year’s rankings here.

Up next: Cornerbacks. Considering the talent pool of quarterbacks in the Pac-12, each team’s secondary is going to be tested more and more this season. Teams are really (read: really, really, really) going to want to be good here in 2014.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is back, and considering how much opponents want to throw (though, who knows how much they will actually throw at him), he’s looking at what could be a really, really impressive final season. Through the spring, fellow senior Dior Mathis emerged as the other starter, though Troy Hill could make this an intriguing position battle to watch. Backing up these guys will be Chris Seisay, junior college transfer Dominique Harrison and Stephen Amoako. Elite talent and excellent depth make this one of the best position groups for the Ducks.

Stanford: The Cardinal have a new defensive backs coach in Duane Akina. In his 13 years with Texas he developed two Thorpe Award winners and 14 all-conference defensive backs, and he inherits a stocked pantry at Stanford. Alex Carter -- who sat out this spring -- and Wayne Lyons are both very, very good players who will anchor the secondary. Ronnie Harris will play the outside when Lyons shifts over to cover the slot.

UCLA: Last year at this time, UCLA’s cornerbacks were in the “we’ll see” category. Well, we saw. We liked. The Bruins return Fabian Moreau, Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson -- they combined for 201 tackles, six interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 2013. With an offseason to gel as a unit, mature and condition, expect those numbers to grow. If need be, Randall Goforth could play some cornerback, and early enrollee Adarius Pickett and 2014 signee Jaleel Wadood (younger brother of Arizona State cornerback Rashad Wadood) could also contribute.

GOOD SHAPE

Oregon State: Steven Nelson has one of the cornerback spots locked down. He recorded 62 tackles, six interceptions and eight pass breakups last season. Opposite him, Larry Scott and Dashon Hunt are vying for the starting spot. Scott has more game experience but spent half of the spring on the sideline nursing a hamstring injury, giving Hunt more and more reps as the spring season went on. And considering these guys go up against quarterback Sean Mannion every day in practice, their learning curves are going to be expedited.

Washington: In Marcus Peters (55 tackles, five interceptions, 14 PBR in 2013) the Huskies have a very, very good cornerback on their hands. Opposing quarterbacks probably aren’t going to throw at him a ton, which brings the second starter into question. The starter opposite Peters will be the one put in bigger situations (at least until he proves himself as a lockdown cornerback. If he doesn’t, the passes will keep coming). Redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly and former Alabama transfer Travell Dixon had the first shot at the job in spring ball, and the Huskies will get four freshman cornerbacks in the fall to add to that group. It is a young group, but expect Peters -- who we think could be one of the best defensive backs in the Pac-12 this season -- to pull along whoever plays the opposite spot.

Colorado: Senior Greg Henderson is the most experienced defensive player returning to the Buffs this season, and his history of steadily improving through his Colorado career is a good sign that this season will be his best. On the other side, Colorado is still going through a position battle with junior college transfer Ahkello Witherspoon (who had an interception three pass breakups in the spring game) and Kenneth Crawley (who played in 11 of 12 games last season for the Buffs). Chidobe Awuzie also returns, making cornerback one of Colorado's deepest positions.

WE’LL SEE

USC: A coaching change and a lot of questions about players made this a hard decision between Good Shape and We'll See. With the pure talent the Trojans have, it will be surprising if this is not a productive group, but that potential doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Kevon Seymour has one starting spot. He ended last season on a high note and played well in the spring, but has had a very up-and-down career. Can he sustain this recent production? We’ll see. Opposite Seymour, there is a battle brewing between Josh Shaw, Chris Hawkins and possibly Adoree' Jackson. This might be the group with the most upside and the most downside (basically, the most unknowns) of any cornerback corps in the conference.

Arizona: Earlier this spring, head coach Rich Rodriguez said he wasn’t as excited about his secondary’s depth as he wanted to be. Considering the Wildcats play with a five defensive back system, that is not great. But, they have Jonathan McKnight to anchor one side. He started all 13 games for the Wildcats last season and led the team with eight pass breakups. The other side is still a question mark as the team tries to replace Shaquille Richardson.

Utah: Expect to see a lot of nickel from the Utes as they prepare for life-after-Trevor-Reilly. Eric Rowe -- the team’s third-leading tackler in 2013 -- is back and has secured one of the starting spots. He is the fastest defensive back on the team (4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash) but the other starter remains a question. Utah likes sophomore Reginald Porter (10 tackles in 2013) and senior Davion Orphey (eight starts, 33 tackles in 2013) but they could see competition from incoming players like Travonne Hobbs and Casey Hughes.

Arizona State: ASU lost both cornerback starters in Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson following the 2013 season. Nelson accounted for 57 tackles, six interceptions and six pass breakups, and Irabor tallied 54 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups. Their backups -- Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood -- finished the spring atop the depth chart. Those two combined for just 32 tackles in 2013. There is always the argument that these two will step right into their mentors’ shoes as they have had time to learn, but the verdict is still out on how effective these two will be.

Washington State: The Cougars have taken major steps forward under head coach Mike Leach. At some point the cornerbacks need to follow suit (especially considering what they face in practice every single day). The Washington State secondary is in a major rebuilding period after losing cornerbacks Nolan Washington and Damante Horton. The only player with any kind of experience is Daquawn Brown, but beyond him it could be a lot of youth in the secondary.

Cal: The Bears have new defensive backs coach Greg Burns, who helped USC win national titles in 2003 and 2004 (in those two seasons the Trojans gave up just 239 passing yards per game) so there is certainly not a lack of talent and experience on the coaching end. But on the field, it’s a different matter. Cameron Walker -- who had to play safety last season because of injuries -- will return to cornerback and start alongside Stefan McClure. Both have experience at safety, which should help the defense be more dynamic, but again, that alone doesn’t necessarily propel the group into good or great shape this season.

Other position reviews:
The first round of spring games in the Pac-12 kicks off Saturday with Colorado, Arizona and Stanford. All three games are free to the public. Here’s a primer on what you need to know.

Arizona

Where: Arizona Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)


What to watch: The Wildcats are in the hunt for a new quarterback to replace B.J. Denker and a new running back to replace Ka'Deem Carey. Rich Rodriguez hasn’t said much on the quarterback front, with Anu Solomon, Connor Brewer, Jesse Scroggins, Jerrard Randall and Nick Isham. Per Rodriguez, “one through five is pretty much bunched up.” You read that right --- one through five! How those reps all get divided will be very telling if Rodriguez is leaning one way. Or you could just crush some tea leaves and check the planetary alignment. Because right now, those make as much sense as any guesswork. One note about returning wide receiver Austin Hill, a 2012 Biletnikoff Award semifinalist who missed all of last season with a knee injury: “He won’t play a whole lot,” Rodriguez said. “He played a lot in spring. We will give him a couple series. He is a proven veteran and we know what we have in him. He’s slowly getting his confidence back. He’s 100 percent, but there’s a transition period in getting your confidence back.” … There will also be a celebrity/alumni flag football game kicking off at 11:15 a.m.

Colorado

Where: Folsom Field
Kickoff: Noon MST
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: Obviously, there is going to be a lot of attention at wide receiver to see who steps in for the departed Paul Richardson. The Buffs are eyeballing a rotation/committee of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, Bryce Bobo and Elijah Dunston. There is no Richardson out there. So, as Colorado wide receivers coach Troy Walters recently said: “We’re going to have to do it collectively … if we get two or three guys to do with P-Rich did, then we’ll be in good shape.” Richardson caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. On the other side of the ball, guarding those receivers has been an interesting power struggle. The Buffs look set at their two starting cornerback spots with Greg Henderson and Kenneth Crawley. But developing depth has sparked a pretty good competition with Chidobe Awuzie and juco transfer Ahkello Witherspoon. (Colorado is quickly making a push to contend for the Pac-12 blog’s all-scrabble team.) … After the game, Colorado will host a Healthy Kids Day. Children can go through fitness stations with athletes from all of Colorado’s sports programs and get a free T-shirt.

Stanford

Where: Stanford Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PST (fan activities begin at 12:15)
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: How will the running back carries be divided? With Remound Wright suspended for the second half of spring practice, that opens the door for Kelsey Young, Barry Sanders and Ricky Seale to get some extra work. The Cardinal are trying to replace Tyler Gaffney, who carried 330 times for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. Recall a year earlier, they were trying to replace Stepfan Taylor and his 322 carries, 1,530 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Cardinal have used bell cows the last couple of seasons, though head coach David Shaw told the Pac-12 blog he’d prefer to have multiple guys working in a committee – similar to the stable of the 2011 group. Keep an eye on the offensive line as well. All five projected starters are from the much-heralded 2012 recruiting class. … All players will be available after the game to sign autographs.

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Monday, 12/22
Saturday, 12/20
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
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12