Pac-12: Chike Amajoyi

Ranking the Pac-10 linebackers

September, 1, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Just about every Pac-10 team feels good about its linebackers.

Not an easy position to rank.
  1. UCLA: Senior Reggie Carter was second-team All-Pac-10, up-and-coming sophomore Akeem Ayers and senior Kyle Bosworth man the two outside positions, while sophomore backup Steve Sloan started nine games last year.
  2. Oregon State: Keaton Kristick was second-team All-Pac-10, and the two-headed monster on the weakside -- Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey -- is back. Sophomore David Pa'aluhi -- a mixed martial arts fighter -- is promising in the middle.
  3. USC: Yes, USC gets the benefit of the doubt, despite three new starters. By season's end don't be surprised if Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith look like the conference's best unit.
  4. Oregon: Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews return, and Eddie Pleasant steps in for Jerome Boyd on the outside. There's good depth and good speed here.
  5. Arizona State: The Sun Devils have a lot of experience as well as young talent, but the starting crew of Travis Goethel, Gerald Munns and Mike Nixon doesn't possess top-end speed. And sophomore Shelly Lyons is hurt and the NCAA Clearinghouse hasn't yet cleared spectacular true freshman Vontaze Burfict.
  6. California: On the outside, Mike Mohamed and Eddie Young have plenty of experience. Inside, Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt are promising but green. The depth is solid.
  7. Arizona: The Wildcats are fast with Sterling Lewis, Xavier Kelly and Vuna Tuihalamaka, and Lewis and Kelly have starting experience. There's a pretty fair drop-off to the second unit.
  8. Stanford: Clinton Snyder will lead a solid crew that includes Will Powers and Chike Amajoyi. The uncertain status of Alex Debniak (knee) hurts.
  9. Washington: The Huskies have a solid triumvirate. E.J. Savannah returns after missing all of 2008 due to a suspension. He'll play outside opposite Mason Foster with Donald Butler in the middle. Depth is an issue.
  10. Washington State: Andy Mattingly's return on the strongside from defensive end should help. Jason Stripling is a senior on the weakside, but isn't terribly experienced -- he missed almost all of 2008 with a shoulder injury. JC transfer Alex Hoffman-Ellis will man the middle. He redshirted last year. It would help if undersized but quick Louis Bland was 100 percent because he would add much-needed speed.

Practice players of the week

August, 21, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Those camp legs are setting in. But the games also are getting closer.

Who is fighting through the pain and keeping his eyes on the prize?

We have this week's Pac-10 Practice Players of the Week. These are based on reports from program insiders and news accounts.

Receiver Juron Criner. Criner, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound sophomore, has proven to be one of the team's most improved players after being a reserve as a true freshman. He has made catches all over the field with consistency and has challenged senior Terrell Turner for a starting job.

Arizona State
Receiver Gerell Robinson. A coach at Arizona State tried to get the entire Sun Devils receiving corps this award, but the Pac-10 blog is nothing but inflexible. So hearing that Robinson, a touted 2008 recruit who struggled last year, is the team's "most improved player" earned him this week's honor.

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore was supposed to be good, and he's living up to high expectations during camp, nailing down one of the Bears two inside linebacker spots

Center Jordan Holmes. Coach Chip Kelly calls Holmes "a real warrior." Holmes stepped in for All-Conference lineman Max Unger and has being a key leader for a unit that is rebuilding. He has not missed a snap this preseason.

Oregon State
Offensive lineman Grant Johnson. Johnson is a sophomore walk-on from Baker City, Ore. He's played just about every O-line position during the preseason, but he's now the frontrunner to start at left guard. Johnson has come out of nowhere to earn consideration for playing time.

Linebacker Chike Amajoyi. Amajoyi didn't live up to high expectations in 2008 but he's having as good a camp as any of the Stanford linebackers.

Receiver Ricky Marvray. Marvray, a true freshman, is battling for a spot in the rotation and makes at least one great play a day, according to head coach Rick Neuheisel.

Receiver De'Von Flournoy: While USC is incredibly open with the media, but it also has a policy of discouraging interviews with true freshmen, at least during preseason camp. That is unless they are competing for immediate playing time, see quarterback Matt Barkley. So it is meaningful that Flournoy, who's made numerous big plays in camp, met with reporters this week.

Running back Johri Fogerson. Fogerson, a sophomore, moved back from safety to tailback this offseason. He starred in Wednesday's scrimmage with six runs for 48 yards, two receptions for 58 yards and a 50-yard punt return. It seems that he and Chris Polk are the top two tailbacks.

Washington State
Defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm. This is a big one for Cougars fans. Wolfgramm has battled a persistent back injury for over a year but is showing signs of turning the corner with his play. If healthy, he could help plug the middle of the Cougs defense.

The hit men: Who's loaded at linebacker?

March, 11, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

And finally there were linebackers. Or a lack thereof.

All three first-team All-Pac-10 linebackers are gone. USC and California both lost three starting linebackers from elite units.

The only team that welcomes back an intact crew is Washington, which is a mixed blessing when a defense is among the worst in the nation the previous season.

That said: No one is completely rebuilding.

Each linebacker unit, other than USC, has at least one starter back, and the Trojans crew has seen significant playing time and is probably as talented as any in the Pac-10.

Great shape

  • UCLA: This is a position of strength for UCLA, with a lot of experience and athletic ability, led by middle linebacker and leading tackler Reggie Carter, who was second-team All-Pac-10 a year ago. Akeem Ayers and Kyle Bosworth man the two outside positions, while Steve Sloan started nine games last year.
  • Oregon State: Keaton Kristick, second-team All-Pac-10, leads another solid corps of Beavers linebackers from the strongside. Middle linebacker Bryant Cornell is gone, but he only ranked fifth on the team in tackles. Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey are back on the weakside, while David Pa'aluhi is slated to replace Cornell.

Good shape 

  • USC: Sure, all three starters are gone, but we just can't pull the trigger and downgrade the Trojans. The general feeling that Chris Galippo inside with Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan on the flanks will be as physically talented as any crew in the conference. Each saw significant action last year and recorded double-digit tackles, with Morgan leading the way with 24, including five for a loss.
  • Arizona State: Lost second-leading tackler Morris Wooten but the Sun Devils get everyone else back, including Gerald Munns, who left the team early last season due to personal issues. Moreover, young players such as Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee will push for playing time.
  • Arizona: Lost leading tackler and leader Ronnie Palmer in the middle, but Sterling Lewis (five starts) and Xavier Kelly (eight starts) are back and Vuna Tuihalamaka, who is slated to replace Palmer, saw a lot of action in 2008.
  • Stanford: Pat Maynor is gone, but Clinton Snyder leads an experienced crew that includes Chike Amajoyi, Will Powers and Nick Macaluso.
  • California: Lost three of its four starting linebackers, but both Eddie Young and Mike Mohamed started games last year, with Mohamed ranking third on the team in tackles.
  • Oregon: Jerome Boyd is gone but second-leading tackler Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews are back. Eddie Pleasant likely steps in for Boyd.
  • Washington: Because the Huskies defense was so bad last year, it's hard to rank them in good shape just because all three starters are back. But the addition of 2007 leading tackler E.J. Savannah, who was suspended by former coach Tyrone Willingham, makes this an area of least concern on a team with many concerns.

We'll see

  • Washington State: It might seem like we're picking on the Cougars by leaving them alone down here but here's the situation. WSU lost its best defensive player and leading tackler, middle linebacker Greg Trent, from the nation's worst rushing defense (248 yards per game). Undersized weakside linebacker Louis Bland, who had nine tackles for a loss in 2008, is back, and word is Andy Mattingly might move back to linebacker from end. If that happens, the position upgrades substantially.

Which Pac-10 players will step out of the shadows?

February, 27, 2009

Posted by'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.

Arizona State

  • 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).

Oregon State

  • 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.

Washington State

  • 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.

Harbaugh may have Stanford on the move

August, 12, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

STANFORD, Calif. -- Jim Harbaugh's first season at Stanford started with a controversy. He told in March of 2007 that Pete Carroll wasn't long for USC.

"He's only got one more year, though," Harbaugh told Dennis Dodd. "He'll be there one more year. That's what I've heard. I heard it inside the staff."

A minor storm followed.

Then Harbaugh proclaimed USC "the best team in the history of college football."

A minor storm followed.

Then, when football instead of words took centerstage, Harbaugh and his 41-point underdogs beat USC and Carroll, 24-23.

Major storm.

Harbaugh clearly is tired of talking about his Carroll comments.

"I'm not a controversial guy. Check my track record," he said. "Look at it as a rational human being, what controversial stuff? Define that. I don't see the controversy in that stuff."

That hullabaloo is about over, though. What might last is Harbaugh, who added a Big Game victory over California to a Cardinal season that greatly exceeded horribly low expectations.

With 16 starters back this fall, Stanford might sneak up on some people this fall. Toss in a fast start to recruiting, and the Cardinal might be ready to move out the nether regions of the Pac-10 it has occupied since Tyrone Willingham left in 2001.

Harbaugh much prefers talking about the recruiting effort -- "We're recruiting against national powers" -- and why he thinks hot shot high school players are giving Stanford a look.

"The word is spreading," he said. "They feel like the football program here is a powder keg ready to go off."

Another storm coming?

As for his present roster:

  • Asked to name players who have stepped up thus far during preseason camp, he ticked off a list of offensive linemen: tackle Ben Muth, guard Andrew Phillips and tackle Chris Marinelli.
  • On defense, he called Pannel Egboh and Erik Lorig "two of the top defensive ends in the conference," and then celebrated the depth inside with Brian Bulcke, Ekom Udofia and Sione Fua.
  • Noted that LB Chike Amajoyi, 205 pounds last year, is now 238. "He hasn't lost a step," he added.
  • There are still position battles at one cornerback opposite Wopamo Osaisai and free safety next to Bo McNally 
  • As noted earlier, he said that Tavita Pritchard continues to lead the quarterback competition, though he wouldn't commit to him as the starter on Aug. 28 vs. Oregon State.