Pac-12: Chris Izbicki
- Arizona will play indoors for the first time against Oklahoma State.
- Reviewing Arizona State's season, part III.
- Oregon DE Kenny Rowe does a lot more than rush the passer.
- Taking a moment to consider Oregon State's season. Is the program in an, er, "death spiral?" (Do people really think that? Silly.)
- Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was caught by a reporter singing the praises of his alma mater!
- Here are some candidates to become UCLA's next defensive coordinator.
- USC's lingering questions: What will the recruiting class look like?
- Utah's nine-game bowl winning streak ends with a thud. It wasn't a distinguished bowl week for the Utes.
- More on the sudden departure of Washington tight end Chris Izbicki.
- Washington State: "A Coug Manifesto."
Though listed on the depth chart as a starter, Izbicki officially started just one game this year. He has five receptions over the past two years, with two producing touchdowns.
The Seattle Times on the matter. And the Tacoma News Tribune.
- Arizona OG Vaughn Dotsy -- at 370 pounds -- is trying to get back into playing shape.
- Arizona State is reshuffling its offensive line. And Doug Haller believes Brock Osweiler may be pulling ahead at QB.
- From Jonathan Okanes practice report: "Steve Williams is a legitimate candidate to start at cornerback." The defense is playing faster.
- Speaking of hybrid defenders, Oregon DE Kenny Rowe might be the best in the Pac-10. Is a Duck walk on challenging Stephen Paea as the strongest player in the Pac-10?
- Who's the top guy at middle linebacker for Oregon State? Speaking of linebackers, Keith Pankey is back. More linebacker issues in this notebook.
- Talented Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov is showing maturity.
- UCLA has some questions at linebacker. Notes from UCLA. More here.
- A former Tennessee lineman wants to go to USC. The Trojans are limiting practice time in order to protect their depleted roster. Checking in with cornerback Shareece Wright, who's looking for redemption.
- Washington needs tight end Chris Izbicki to step up. Some Huskies are still springing forward.
- Washington State is looking for a middle linebacker.
- Mark Schlabach on the plane crash that took Stanford guard Andrew Phillips' father, Bill.
- The top-200 twitter sites. Hey, mine is on there. Subscribe! Please.
- Stewart Mandel just earned a saved link -- a handy bowl guide.
Who's back: Nine starters on offense, eight on defense, both specialists.
Big names: Quarterback Jake Locker, running back Chris Polk, receiver Jermaine Kearse, linebacker Mason Foster.
What's new: The Huskies staff returns intact in Steve Sarkisian's second year.
Key competition: With 17 position players back, most of the competition is for backup roles. The biggest question is how things will stack up at defensive end, with Kalani Aldrich and Everrette Thompson trying to regain their form after injuries. The pecking order at free safety is still in question. Backup quarterback behind Locker is unresolved.
Breaking out: Chris Izbicki needs to step up at ight end after Kavario Middleton was kicked off the team. Receiver James Johnson figures to take another step forward after a strong true freshman season. There's a sense that junior tackle Senio Kelemete has All-Conference potential, as does sophomore cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Quote: Sarkisian on the value of having Locker back for his senior year: “Historically in this conference, the teams that have won Pac-10 championships or have been in that race at the end have had veteran leadership at that position. Ultimately, if you really want to win a Pac-10 championship, you have to find a way to win on the road. We will take the advantage of having that senior quarterback who has been in those environments.”
Notes: Defensive end Andru Pulu, a potential starter, was kicked off the team after he was sentenced to six months in jail for breaking a man's nose in an off-campus fight in March ... The Huskies added touted linebacker Josh Shirley to their recruiting class after he was booted from UCLA for allegedly participating in a purse theft with three other freshmen ... Locker made two East Coast trips in support of a Heisman Trophy campaign. You can keep up with Locker on his website ... Two members of the 2010 recruiting class will grayshirt: defensive back John Timu and defensive end Brent Williams ... Safety Justin Glenn, who broke his leg at Notre Dame last season, is still not ready for contact.
Middleton, by the way, was named preseason first-team All-Pac-10 by Phil Steele, even though he only caught 26 passes last year and was being challenged for the starting job by Chris Izbicki.
Only four teams welcome back their starting tight end, and only one -- California's Anthony Miller -- even earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
Why is the position down? Attrition after an "up" season. Consider the departed: Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, Oregon's Ed Dickson, Stanford's Jim Dray, UCLA's Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya and USC's Anthony McCoy. Those guys are now stocking NFL rosters.
So where do things stand? Well, you might say we graded the position on a curve, though there is plenty of potential here.
- California: Miller was the Bears' third-leading receiver last year. Six-foot-7 sophomore backup Spencer Ladner saw action in seven games.
- UCLA: While the Bruins lost their top two TEs, they look solid here with Cory Harkey, Notre Dame transfer Joseph Fauria and hybrid TE-WR Morrell Presley.
- Stanford: Even though the Cardinal lost Dray, Coby Fleener was their top pass-catcher at the position, and the depth is good with Konrad Reuland, Zach Ertz and 6-foot-8 Levine Toilolo.
- Oregon State: The Beavers get credit here for H-back Joe Halahuni, who caught 35 passes for 486 yards and three TDs in 2009. Senior Brady Camp is a good blocker with 18 career starts.
- Oregon: The Ducks lose Dickson, but David Paulson saw extensive action in 2009 and JC transfer Brandon Williams was impressive this spring.
- Arizona: Gronkowski's back injury made A.J. Simmons the season-long starter, so the Wildcats are at least experienced. Redshirt freshman Jack Baucus is the backup.
- Washington State: The Cougars' depth chart lists five TEs, with Skylar Stormo and Zach Tatman offering experience at the top.
- USC: Attrition and injuries make this a questionable position for the Trojans. If Blake Ayles and Rhett Ellison stay healthy, things should be OK. The incoming freshman class is strong, starting with Xavier Grimble, who ranked No. 1 at the position, according to ESPN Recruiting.
- Washington: With Middleton, the Huskies would have been in great shape. Izbicki had a good spring, but he only caught three passes for 7 yards in 2009 and the depth is questionable.
- Arizona State: Jovon Williams is gone and Dan Knapp is a tackle, but the Sun Devils could move up here just because the position figures to be more involved in the offense in 2010. Trevor Kohl and Christopher Coyle top the depth chart.
Middleton, a 2008 Parade All-American, had fallen behind junior Chris Izbicki on the depth chart during spring practices, but he was nonetheless considered one of the Pac-10's top returning tight ends. He caught 26 passes for 257 yards with three TDs in 2009.
The school didn't supply a reason for the dismissal, but Bob Condotta reported this on his blog:
One source (not Miller) confirmed that there is truth to rumors that a recent failed drug test was the last straw for Middleton. While UW cannot randomly drug test its athletes due to state laws, it can test specific athletes if it has reasonable suspicion.
Miller said only that Middleton had already been given "several chances'' to get back in good standing with the team.
You can read more here. And here. And here.
Middleton is the second key contributor dismissed from the team. Defensive end Andru Pulu was suspended indefinitely and is not expected to return to the team after he pleaded guilty to felony second-degree assault in April.
Why is it deep? Start with the fact that nine starting centers are back from 2009, though Washington's Ryan Tolar has moved to guard and former starting tackle Drew Schaefer has moved inside to center. Then consider that of those nine, six earned a spot on the 37-man watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is given annually to the nation's best center. Even Washington State, which lost Kenny Alfred, probably feels pretty good about Andrew Roxas, who's started nine career games.
The big names: Six players are legitimate all-conference candidates: USC's Kristofer O'Dowd (he could be the top center in the 2011 NFL draft), Arizona's Colin Baxter and Stanford's Chase Beeler (both were second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010), Oregon State's Alex Linnenkohl (who has 26 career starts), Oregon's Jordan Holmes and UCLA's Kai Maiava.
Thin: Tight end
Why is it thin? Only four teams welcome back a starting tight end, none of whom earned all-conference honors. In fact, only one returning tight end, California's Anthony Miller, earned honorable mention. And consider the list of departed players from 2009: Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, Oregon's Ed Dickson, Stanford's Jim Dray, UCLA's Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya and USC's Anthony McCoy. Phil Steele recently named his four All-Pac-10 teams, and he made Washington's Kavario Middleton the first-team tight end. Middleton caught 26 passes last year and he's fighting with Chris Izbicki for the starting job.
Fill the void? Miller and Middleton (Izbicki?) could be breakthrough players. UCLA is excited about the Joseph Fauria-Cory Harkey combination. Joe Halahuni, though a hybrid, H-back sort, is a threat for Oregon State. Stanford's Konrad Reuland, a Notre Dame transfer, is promising. It appears that David Paulson, Dickson's backup last year, and JC transfer Brandon Williams will be solid for Oregon. Perhaps Blake Ayles finally stays healthy for USC.
And there it finds receiver Devin Aguilar.
Even a jaded onlooker who's watched plenty football practices finds himself glancing side-to-side to confirm the appropriate reaction: "Golly."
Most quarterbacks would have been sacked. The Locker of 2007 or 2008 probably would have used his 4.4 speed to run for a short -- or perhaps not so short -- gain. But this is Locker 4.0, who bypassed an opportunity to be a top-10 NFL draft pick on April 22 and returned to the Huskies for his senior season. Once seen as just an athlete playing quarterback, now he can play well within a pro-style system while reserving the right to riff a bit of improvisation when the feeling strikes.
"A lot of times when plays break down is when you get your biggest plays," he said. "It's about a good balance of both; of understanding when it's going to be productive to get outside the pocket and try to make a play and when you need to stand in there and make a throw."
This Locker, who accounted for 28 touchdowns in 2009, is expecting to refine his considerable skills in Year 2 under coach Steve Sarkisian and lead the Huskies to their first bowl game since 2002.
"In my opinion, the real strides, the real improvement, occur from Year 1 to Year 2," Sarkisian said. "That's historically what we've seen."
That expectation is shared by more than a few folks. It's why many draft experts are projecting Locker to go No. 1 overall in 2011 -- ESPN's Mel Kiper told reporters it was "etched in stone."
But first things first: Locker has yet to experience a winning season or go to a bowl game in his career. He can't do it alone. What's ignited the buzz in Seattle, however, is that he won't need to. His supporting cast on offense is the match of any in the Pac-10, particularly at the skill positions.
- Quarterback Jake Locker may play some baseball with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this summer but a schedule has not been set. Sarkisian said it won't interfere with his football work.
- Players who won't practice due to injury include running back Chris Polk (shoulder), offensive tackle Cody Habben (shoulder), defensive end Kalani Aldrich (knee), Everrette Thompson (Achilles), safety Victor Aiyewa (shoulder).
- Running back Brandon Yakaboski (knee), cornerback Desmond Trufant (groin) and Justin Glenn (leg) will be limited.
- Defensive end Andru Pulu is still suspended indefinitely and is not on the roster.
- Tight end Dorson Boyce has moved to fullback.
- Marquis Persley has moved from cornerback to safety.
- Drew Schaefer has moved from tackle to center. Ryan Tolar from center to guard.
- The starting offensive line as of Monday: Schaefer, Senio Kelemete at left tackle, Tolar at left guard, Mykenna Ikehara at right guard and Skyler Fancher at right tackle
- Linebacker Alvin Logan could see action as a defensive end. Sarkisian said the lack of depth at end due to injuries and suspensions means that some other players, including defensive tackles, could see time at end.
- Players who have left the program: quarterback Ronnie Fouch, running backs Willie Griffin and Curtis Shaw, linebacker Kurt Mangum, cornerback Matt Mosley and receiver Vince Taylor.
- Four freshmen will participate this spring: linebacker Victor Burnett, running back Jesse Callier, running back Deontae Cooper and quarterback Nick Montana.
- The priority is adding depth on the offensive and defensive line.
- Sarkisian said he's interested to see how receiver D'Andre Goodwin and tight end Chris Izbicki perform. Goodwin was the Huskies best receiver in 2008 but fell behind other players in 2009. Izbicki is fighting for touches behind Kavario Middleton.
- He also said that there should be plenty of competition in the secondary between cornerbacks Desmond Trufant, Adam Long, Quinton Richardson, Vonzell McDowell and converted receiver Anthony Boyles.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.
Sometimes those questions don't get answered. Other times they do.
Such as ...
Arizona: The Wildcats lost two of their three starting linebackers, but coach Mike Stoops said he believes they will be better at the position in 2009, with junior Vuna Tuihalamaka making a special impression in the middle this spring.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost middle linebacker Morris Wooten, but the LB position looks like it could run six-deep in 2009, particularly with the expected arrival of super-recruit Vontaze Burfict in the fall. The return of former starter Gerald Munns, who left the team for personal reasons, helps as does the emergence of young players whose speed upgrades are intriguing.
California: Not to get stuck on a linebacker theme, but most previews of the Bears will raise questions about them losing three longtime starters at linebacker. Hanging around this spring, however, you get the feeling this position will be fine. In fact, a couple of touted incoming JC transfers will make the fall competition intense. Look for Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks to make a play for All-Conference honors.
Oregon: The Ducks lost three of four starting defensive linemen, including end Nick Reed, so this seemed like as big a question mark as the offensive line entering spring. Apparently not, at least according to coach Chip Kelly. Will Tukuafu should emerge from Reed's shadow as one of the conference's best ends, and tackle Brandon Bair and end Kenny Rowe stepped up. There's still competition at one tackle, but the Ducks' recruiting class included six defensive linemen, at least a couple of whom figure to see action.
Oregon State: The Beavers lost receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, but by the end of spring that didn't seem like a problem, even with James Rodgers sitting out with a shoulder injury. Junior Darrell Catchings broke through and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop lived up to high expectations and others flashed potential.
Stanford: The passing game -- on offense and defense -- has been a problem for Stanford. For the offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck was just short of spectacular this spring. For the defense, the insertion of Delano Howell at strong safety and Michael Thomas at cornerback upgrades the secondary's athleticism.
UCLA: The secondary began spring needing two new starters, but a handful of guys stepped up to complement cornerback Alterraun Verner and free safety Rahim Moore. While Aaron Hester and Glenn Love are the favorites to start at corner and strong safety, respectively, sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods will get extended looks in the fall.
USC: Lose three elite linebackers? Find three more. Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan might not have the experience or pedigree of their predecessors, but they are faster and may end up being nearly as good.
Washington: A lot was made of how well quarterback Jake Locker adjusted to a pro-style offense this spring -- and rightfully so -- but that pro-style passing attack needs targets, so perhaps that part of the pass-catch equation is being undersold. D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar give the Huskies three respectable receivers, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki are solid.
Washington State: One area where the Cougars have quality starters and quality depth is running back, with Dwight Tardy stepping up to the challenge of California transfer James Montgomery this spring, and Logwone Mitz and 220-pound Marcus Richmond adding depth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
It's not completely accurate to call it feast or famine at the tight end this spring in the Pac-10.
Washington, California, Stanford, etc. will insist they've got a wealth of talent at the position, despite the lack of returning production.
But in trying to evaluate a position, it seems best to stick with what is proved over what is potential. So there doesn't seem to be much middle ground here.
- Arizona: It's always nice to have back a certain preseason All-American, which is what the Wildcats have in future first-round draft pick Rob Gronkowski. It's also nice to have all four names on last season's depth chart at tight end and H-back coming back in 2009.
- UCLA: Ryan Moya earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2008, but he wasn't even the No. 1 tight end entering the season. That would be Logan Paulsen, who returns this spring after missing last year with a broken foot. And there's talented sophomore Cory Harkey. And touted true freshman Morrell Presley, who's enrolled and will participate in spring practices.
- Oregon: Ed Dickson was second-team All-Pac-10 -- yes, tied with Moya -- in 2008, and his athleticism makes him an NFL prospect. And this depth chart lists eight guys at the position heading into spring.
- USC: Is it possible for a USC player to be underrated? Yes. Let me introduce you to Anthony McCoy, who caught 22 passes for 256 yards last year. Toss in talented sophomore Blake Ayles -- nagging injuries limited him in 2008 -- and you've got two big targets for whoever wins the quarterback job.
|AP Photo/Elaine Thompson|
|Rob Gronkowski hauled in 47 receptions for 672 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008.|
- Oregon State: The good news is all five names on the 2008 depth chart at tight end and H-back are back. The less excited news is those guys combined for 29 receptions. Can the combination of Howard Croom and Brady Camp become more than just solid?
- Stanford: Starter Austin Gunder, the Cardinal's third-leading receiver in 2008, is gone, but his 17 receptions were just four more than backup Coby Fleener. Notre Dame transfer Konrad Reuland also figures to be firmly in the mix this spring. And, curiously, Stanford signed four tight ends during the recruiting season, though they won't be around until the fall.
- California: Cameron Morrah, the Bears second-leading receiver, surprised many when he opted to enter the NFL draft a year early. That was a hit. But backup Tad Smith is a good blocker -- just three receptions in 2008 -- and many are high on sophomore Anthony Miller, who caught the winning touchdowns pass in the Emerald Bowl victory over Miami (though that was his only reception of the season).
- Arizona State: There are a lot of names here but little certainty -- see just seven combined receptions among returning players. Sophomore Dan Knapp looked good before getting hurt. Redshirt freshman Steven Figueroa could be a factor. Senior Jovon Williams saw a lot of action last year. Touted freshman Christopher Coyle arrives in the fall.
- Washington: If sophomore Kavario Middleton, a touted but physically undeveloped 2008 recruit, has been working hard in the weight room, he could become one of the conference's breakout players. Behind him are sophomore Chris Izbicki and JC transfer Dorson Boyce.
- Washington State: The top two names from the 2008 depth chart -- Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard -- are gone. Senior Tony Thompson had four catches last year. Touted JC transfer Peter Tuitupou, tabbed as the starter when he signed, shocked the staff by opting to go on a two-year church mission. There's hope that Zach Tatman, a former walk-on offensive lineman, might be able to step in. Perhaps some young guys will step up.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Quick hits before Oregon State and Stanford kick off:
- Oregon State fans can follow along tonight with Cliff Kirkpatrick here and Paul Buker here. Stanford fans might turn here.
- California coach Jeff Tedford updates his blog and makes a request of Bears fans. Don't believe he wrote about this -- the suspension of backup D-lineman Cameron Jordan.
- Bob Condotta taps a Stanford upset tonight over Oregon State, and still has time for Huskies notes, including information on an injured tight end: Michael Gottlieb (hamstring) is out; "That leaves the TE spot in the hands of Walt Winter, Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki, though [Tyrone] Willingham said it could open up even more time for Middleton, the most-heralded recruit in UW's Class of 2008."
- And Rob Moseley goes ahead and picks an Oregon-Washington winner.
- Limited on offense, UCLA is emphasizing special teams.
- USC CB Shareece Wright will start at Virginia. He's been nursing an ab-hip-flexor-groin injury.
Finally, here's a list of the teams with the most players who already have obtained the undergraduate degrees.
10 -- Boston College, Virginia Tech
8 -- Auburn, Clemson, Maryland
7 -- Arizona State, Memphis, Ohio State, Penn State
6 -- Northwestern
5 -- Baylor, Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, UCF
4 -- Kentucky, Northern Illinois, Texas Tech
3 -- Georgia Tech, Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia
2 -- Colorado, FAU, Troy, Utah
1 -- Wake Forest, Western Michigan
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The early news at Washington isn't good.
- The campaign to rebuild the defense took a hit Monday when it was announced that linebacker E.J. Savannah, who broke his arm over the summer, has been suspended. Savannah isn't listed on the current roster, though coach Tyrone Willingham left open the option of him returning this season. The first-team LBs are Donald Butler, Mason Foster and Josh Gage.
- Four freshmen didn't report due to academic issues: DL Craig Noble, RB Demitrius Bronson, DL Senio Kelemete and DB Vince Taylor.
- The Huskies fairly long run without an off-field incident also came to an end with redshirt freshman TE Chris Izbicki being charged with "criminal trespass in the second degree and minor in possession of liquor after an incident on July 20," according to the Seattle Times.
Savannah is a big loss. He was one of the conference's best LB, ranking sixth in tackles with 111 in 2007 (8.5 for a loss). Moreover, Noble was an incoming freshman expected to immediately push for playing time, while Izbicki, the most touted recruit from 2007, was expected to challenge Michael Gottlieb for the starting job.