Pac-12: Darren Ervin


Earlier this morning, we took a look at who might replace the guys who jumped to the NFL in the South Division. Here’s a look at the North.

Leaving: Brendan Bigelow, RB, Cal

The replacement: Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco are both coming back, so there is at least some experience at the position. Jeffrey Coprich and Darren Ervin could also see some time. Incoming freshman Devante Downs is built more like a fullback but could also see some carries in the running game.

Leaving: Richard Rodgers, WR, Cal

The replacement: Stephen Anderson is a possibility to emerge at inside receiver. Darius Powe is going to see action regardless of whether it’s inside or outside and Raymond Hudson, Jacob Wark, and Drake Whitehurst are all possibilities.

Leaving: Khairi Fortt, LB, Cal

The replacement: Nathan Broussard is coming off an injury and Raymond Davison and Jason Gibson are moving back to linebacker from safety. Juco transfers Sam Atoe and Jonathon Johnson could help. Also, Downs (see the Bigelow section) comes in as an athlete, and putting him on the defensive side of the ball is a possibility.

Leaving: Kameron Jackson, CB, Cal

The replacement: Darius Allensworth and Trey Cheek will get the most looks. Cedric Dozier saw some starting time last season. He’s not a lock but has some experience. Isaac Lapite, Adrian Lee and Joel Willis are also possibilities. Stefan McClure should also be back from his 2013 injury, and Cameron Walker, who was playing out of position at safety, might move back to corner.

Leaving: Viliami Moala, DT, Cal

The replacement: Jacobi Hunter should be the main guy, but transfers Trevor Kelly and Marcus Manley should help out across the line. Austin Clark is still waiting to hear about his sixth year of eligibility, but if he gets it, he and Mustafa Jalil could shuffle up and down the line as they look to replace the graduated Deandre Coleman as well.

Leaving: Chris McCain, DE, Cal (Previously dismissed from team)

The replacement: Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa were the top two guys to replace McCain after he left. Brennan Scarlett is also expected back and Johnson could be in the mix. The coaching staff seems to be really high on him.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDe'Anthony Thomas' unique set of skills will be hard for Oregon to replicate.
Leaving: De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

The replacement: Unless Oregon is hiding another multitalented back who can run like DAT, there is no "real" replacement. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should continue to get the work as the primary 1-2 punch, but it will be interesting to see if the Ducks use either in a more dynamic way like they did Thomas.

Leaving: Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (Left the team earlier in the season).

The replacement: Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis and John Mundt will all continue to get work, probably in that order. They all pitched in in some capacity after Lyerla left the team, so the Ducks should be in good shape at the position.

Leaving: Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon

The replacement: That Ifo Ekpre-Olomu opted to return bodes well for the Ducks. Troy Hill would have been the obvious selection, but he remains suspended indefinitely, and his future with the program is in question. Dior Mathis has experience and the coaching staff is high on redshirt freshman Chris Seisay. Juco transfer Dominique Harrison enrolled early and will participate in spring ball, so there are options.

Leaving: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

The replacement: Much like USC’s dilemma with Marqise Lee, The Beavers' task of replacing a Biletnikoff winner is no easy one. Victor Bolden is the logical choice. He returned kicks, ran a few fly sweeps and was Cooks’ immediate backup. But a big wide receiver class last year that included Bolden, Hunter Jarmon and Walter Jones could make things more interesting in the spring.

Leaving: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

The replacement: Lavonte Barnett was the backup all season but didn’t have much production. Jaswha James has bounced around a bit -- mostly at linebacker -- but has finally settled at DE and had a nice bowl performance. Titus Failauga is also a possibility as Mike Riley went out of his way to specifically mention him during a recent teleconference. There are also rumblings that Obum Gwacham -- a talented athlete who hasn’t worked out at wide receiver -- could move to defensive end.

Leaving: David Yankey, OL, Stanford

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergStanford has a lot of offensive linemen with experience, but replacing an All-American such as David Yankey is never easy.
The replacement: A member of Stanford’s lauded offensive line recruiting class of 2012, Joshua Garnett has already seen his share of playing time. That’s one of the big advantages of being an offensive lineman at Stanford. With their multiple offensive-linemen sets, there is plenty of rotation. Then again, Yankey was a two-time All-American -- it's tough to replace that.

Leaving: Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

The replacement: Like Garnett, Kyle Murphy was part of the ’12 class and has also seen his share of action on the offensive line. The Cardinal are replacing four offensive linemen, but most of those replacements -- such as Garnett and Murphy -- already have some playing experience.

Leaving: Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford

The replacement: Good question. All of Stanford’s free safeties are gone, while returning strong safeties include Jordan Richards and Zach Hoffpauir. Someone could make a switch, or it’s possible that former quarterback Dallas Lloyd, who is now making the transition to safety, could play here.

Leaving: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

The replacement: Jesse Callier started the 2012 season, but a season-ending injury gave rise to Sankey. Dwayne Washington seems like he could be an every down-type back, while Callier excels in third-down situations or as a changeup back. Deontae Cooper will also see carries.

Leaving: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

The replacement: Joshua Perkins was the No. 2 all season, so there’s little reason to think he won’t graduate to No. 1. He’s more receiver than blocker, but he’s got talent and shouldn’t have a problem assuming the role of the outgoing Mackey winner.
The Pac-12 features another strong crop of running backs -- seven return after compiling more than 900 yards rushing in 2011 -- but there are also a few teams facing uncertainty at the position.

Evaluations aren't easy here. A number of teams have an A-list leading rusher back but uncertain depth. Others have plenty of experience returning but no proven A-lister. So stars and depth matter here.

A general impression: Running back is strong position in the conference. No team has a sense of desperation here.

So how does it stack up?

Great shape

Stanford: Stepfan Taylor was second-team All-Pac-12 last year after rushing for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns. But the Cardinal also welcomes back its second- and third-leading rushers, Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, as well as Ricky Seale, who was impressive this spring. And, of course, there's a guy called BARRY SANDERS arriving in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJohn White
Chris Morrison/US PresswireJohn White is the Pac-12's leading returning rusher -- and could get help in the Utah backfield.
Utah: John White, also second-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, is the conference's leading returning rusher with 1,519 yards last year. He was mostly a one-man show -- he led the conference in carries -- but that won't be the case this fall. Harvey Langi and Kelvin York, both over 220 pounds, showed they are ready to contribute quality reps this spring.

California: Isi Sofele ranked fifth in the conference with 1,322 yards rushing in 2011, but he'll have to old off a challenge from C.J. Anderson -- 345 yards and eight TDs in 2011 -- to retain his starting job this fall. The depth is strong with Brendan Bigelow, Daniel Lasco and Darren Ervin.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils have both a star in Cameron Marshall and good depth. Marshall rushed for 1,050 and 18 touchdowns last season. Depth? Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison, Deantre Lewis, Marion Grice and incoming freshman D.J. Foster will be battling for touches.

Oregon: The Ducks are difficult to rate. If everything falls into place -- and it's reasonable to believe they will -- Kenjon Barner, LaMichael James' longtime backup, will become a star, spectacular hybrid RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas will make a bunch of big plays in a change-of-pace role and touted incoming freshman Byron Marshall will become the third option. Nonetheless, one injury here would be a major blow.

USC: The Trojans are just like the Ducks: Top-heavy with questionable depth. The underrated Curtis McNeal -- the 1,000-yard rusher averaged 6.9 yards per carry in 2011 -- is back, and so is D.J. Morgan, who rushed for 163 yards last year. If redshirt freshman Javorious "Buck" Allen and incoming freshman Nelson Agholor step up, things should be fine. But depth here is one of the Trojans' few question marks.

Good shape

UCLA: Johnathan Franklin is back, and he's been highly productive -- if fumble-prone -- for a while. Malcolm Jones, who rushed for 103 yards in 2011, is back, and Steven Manfro was a spring standout. While the position isn't spectacular for the Bruins, it's certainly not a chief worry heading into the season.

Arizona: Is promising sophomore Ka'Deem Carey ready to become a star? He rushed for 425 yards last year and looked good this spring. There's also good depth behind him: Daniel Jenkins, Taimi Tutogi, Kylan Butler, Greg Nwoko and Jared Baker.

Washington State: The two leading rushers from 2011, Rickey Galvin and Carl Winston, are back, and they combined for more than 1,000 yards. But sophomore Marcus Mason was with the No. 1 offense during the spring game, and Leon Brooks also is in the mix. Catching the ball well will be almost as important as taking a handoff under new coach Mike Leach.

Washington: Workhorse Chris Polk is gone, but Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey both saw plenty of action in 2011. Might Deontae Cooper get healthy -- finally -- and work his way into the picture? Like a lot of teams, the Huskies have the potential to be fine here. But it's reasonable to expect the running game to take a step back this fall, particularly with issues on the O-line.

We'll see

Oregon State: Everybody is back, but no Beaver rushed for more than 423 yards last year. And, of course, Oregon State was one of the nation's worst rushing teams. The pecking order also didn't seem to completely work itself out, though redshirt freshman Storm Woods had a strong spring.

Colorado: The good news is Tony Jones had a good spring and looks capable of replacing the departed Rodney Stewart. Still, he averaged 3.8 yards per rush in 2011. Josh Ford rushed for 128 yards last season. Depth is a bit uncertain also, with D.D. Goodson and Malcolm Creer, who is coming back from a knee injury.
With one of the top running backs in the Pac-12 last season returning, the Cal Bears already know who is going to get the majority of the carries next season.

It's Isi Sofele, who looks to be picking up in spring practices where he left off last season. In 2011 Sofele rushed for 1,322 yards, 10 touchdowns and an average of 101.7 yards per game. Cal coach Jeff Tedford said he's expecting bigger things from Sofele next year.

"The experience that Isi gained last year and the way he hits a hole now is night and day," Tedford said following practice on Saturday. "When he hits that hole, he really hits it."

A couple of weeks ago, Tedford had talked about his marquee players getting a lot of rest during spring practices -- mainly because "we know what they can do." So far C.J. Anderson has stepped up during spring to provide some quality depth behind Sofele.

"C.J. Anderson looks great and has lost some weight," Tedford said. "When he first came here last fall, he was overweight and wasn't in shape, but now he's in shape and doing a great job. Between Isi, C.J. and those other three guys [Brendan Bigelow, Darren Ervin and Daniel Lasco] we're going to have some depth at that position."

Of course, Cal has only been working out in helmets and shorts -- and everyone looks explosive without pads on. Once the pads go on and the hitting starts, Tedford said he's hoping to learn a little more about the backs behind Sofele.

“As soon as we can get the pads on, it’s going to be critical that we can get those guys in game-type situations,” Tedford said. “Bigelow didn’t have a lot of that type of work last year, Ervin missed much of the season with injuries and Lasco did a great job on scout team. It’s so important to find out what they can do, so we’re going to take a good look at them."

With 252 carries last year, Sofele accounted for 52 percent of Cal's carries. Anderson was third with 72 carries behind quarterback Zach Maynard, who had 84 rushing attempts. Tedford said he's hoping to spread the wealth a little more next season.

"We’ve never really relied on one back,” Tedford continued. “It’s been by committee, sometimes two and sometimes three. If a third guy emerges, and I expect they will, then they’ll be in the rotation. They’re all really good players, there’s going to be a role for all of them if they continue to improve.”

Keenan Allen staying or going?

March, 6, 2012
3/06/12
11:00
AM ET
Keenan Allen is going to get a breather this spring. It will give some of the younger guys a chance to develop while allowing Cal's top receiver to come into the 2012 season with fresh legs. But what about after that? Will this year be his Cal swan song?

Coach Jeff Tedford has no idea. And judging from his comments during yesterday's conference call with the media, it's something he doesn't really want to worry about right now.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireKeenan Allen led Cal in receptions, yards and touchdowns last season.
"I don't know," Tedford said, "we haven't talked about that. Obviously, he's played very well for us the first two years. He caught 98 balls last year and he's one of the top receivers in the country, but we haven't talked about it."

So there you have it ... or you don't.

The conference is going to be loaded at the position with five of the top six statistical receivers returning next season. Allen, who was first-team All-Pac-12, finished second in total catches for 1,343 yards, six touchdowns and an average of 103.3 receiving yards per game. With another strong season, his draft stock should be trending up. And consider, if Zach Maynard starts all of next year before Zach Kline presumably takes the job in 2013, you'd think Allen would be more inclined to come out early rather than come back for another season with a first-time starter throwing him the ball.

But Tedford said there is plenty of time to worry about that in the future.

"I think he's focused on what needs to happen now," Tedford said. "We haven't really gone into that topic. I'm sure we'll have that discussion sometime through the summer, just to make sure that I know what's on his mind and he's able to handle it properly, whatever it may be.

"I know that one of the things his family is really eager about is to have him graduate, so we'll just have to see how it plays out. But right now, he's doing great, happy and working hard. We'll see what happens."

Like many of the veteran players on Cal's roster, he'll be taking it easy when the Bears get their spring practices underway next week. Spring will be an opportunity for Tedford to hopefully develop some depth around Maynard so that his primary weapons don't have to completely shoulder the load -- specifically at tailback where Isi Sofele carried 252 times last season.

"It's going to be a big spring for Brendan Bigelow, it's going to be a big spring for Daniel Lasco, Darren Ervin," Tedford said. "You have those young guys there that really need lots of work. We're pretty sure what Isi can do. He's played a whole year; he's a 1,300-yard ruhser. Not that he can't improve, he can ... the young guys need to step up and get some turns. Bigelow, Lasco and Ervin are all guys there that need to do that."

Finding some depth at wide receiver is also a priority, Tedford said.

"We scholarshipped five guys this year that are freshman coming in and obviously they are not here yet," Tedford said. "But Maurice Harris is a big one [that needs to get reps this spring]. Some of our guys like [Ross] Bostock and [Jackson] Bouza, Stephen Anderson is a guy who I'm really anxious to see what he can do as well. Keenan will get very limited reps."

SPONSORED HEADLINES