Pac-12: Dwight Tardy

Preseason position reviews: running back

July, 22, 2010
7/22/10
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Another year, another strong collection of running backs, even with the departures of Toby Gerhart and Jahvid Best.

While Pac-10 quarterbacks will grab most of the preseason headlines -- that's what happens when the two best NFL prospects at the position play in the same conference -- the class of running backs is nearly as strong.

Three 1,00o-yard rushers are back, and that doesn't include California's Shane Vereen, who piled up 952 yards as a backup, nor does it including Arizona's Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards in 2008. Six of the top-nine running backs will return this fall, and more than a few teams are decidedly deep at the position.

By the way, you might note there is more mention of incoming freshman at this position than others. Two reasons: 1. The Pac-1o had a strong haul of RBs in recruiting; and, 2. RB is often the easiest place for a young player to break into the lineup.

Great shape

  • Oregon: While the Pac-10 blog rates Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers ahead of LaMichael James as an individual player, the Ducks have a decided edge in depth, and not only because James' backup, Kenjon Barner, is one of the conference's most explosive players. The incoming recruiting class also features Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams, the No. 6 and No. 13 prep running backs in the nation in 2009.
  • [+] EnlargeJacquizz Rodgers
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireJacquizz Rodgers may be the most talented individual running back in the Pac-10 this year, but Oregon has the best group.
  • Oregon State: Jacquizz Rodgers is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as the most complete back in the conference. Depth behind him is a little iffy, though Ryan McCants turned in some of his best work during spring practices.
  • Washington: Washington fans often note that Chris Polk gained most of his 1,113 yards last year after contact because he was running behind a young offensive line. That line, with four starters back, should be better in 2010. Good depth with Johri Fogerson and freshmen Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, who both participated in spring drills.
  • California: As noted above, Vereen put up impressive numbers as a backup and then starter over the final four games after Best got hurt. 12 TDs on 183 carries shows he has a nose for the endzone. Depth behind him is uncertain. Trajuan Briggs, Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Isi Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway are competing for backup touches.
  • USC: Allen Bradford, a neglected talent under Pete Carroll, who was oddly in love with the mercurial Joe McKnight, could end up being a first-team All-Pac-10 back. C.J. Gable also will have a chance to emerge from Carroll's doghouse. True freshman Dillon Baxter was the star of spring practices, while Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler are major talents who just need to stay healthy.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back their top three running backs: Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko. But Grigsby, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year when he wasn't hurt, needs to find a way to stay healthy.
Good shape
We'll see

  • Stanford: The Cardinal doesn't have one guy who can replace Gerhart. But who does? The good news for a backfield-by-committee approach with Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and freshman Usua Amanam in the mix is the offensive line in front of them should be outstanding.
  • Arizona State: The Sun Devils must replace leading rusher Dimitri Nance, who didn't exactly scare opposing defenses in 2009. Cameron Marshall is the leading returning rusher with 280 yards. James Morrison and Jamal Miles will provide depth, though an incoming freshman might get into the mix. As has been the case for a while with the Sun Devils, the first order is improving the offensive line.
  • Washington State: Leading 2009 rusher Dwight Tardy is gone. If James Montgomery is healthy -- and stays that way -- he gives the Cougars a quality runner. He was clearly the best guy last preseason before he got hurt. Logwone Mitz, Chantz Staden, Carl Winston and Marcus Richmond will compete for touches during fall camp. Whatever the pecking order, the offensive line is the biggest issue.

A-list position battles: Washington State

May, 24, 2010
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The final post in a series taking a look at top position competitions this fall.

Washington State:

Why the competition? The Cougars leading rusher each of the last four seasons, Dwight Tardy, is gone.

Candidates: Senior Chantz Staden (5-10, 211), junior Logwone Mitz (6-1, 229), senior Marcus Richmond (6-1, 214,), sophomore Carl Winston (5-8, 197), freshman Leon Brooks (5-6, 160) and senior James Montgomery (5-10, 193)

The skinny: One ball, six guys. After reading a bunch about the competition here, my impression is no one knows how this one will play out. Montgomery is the most talented and would have been the No. 1 guy in 2009 if not for a horrible episode with "acute compartment syndrome" with his calf. He also had knee surgery and didn't participate in spring practices. If he's 100 percent and back to his old form in August, count on him pushing hard for the starting job. Further complicating things this spring were injuries to Winston -- 164 yards rushing in 2009 -- and Richmond, who started spring atop the depth chart despite not having a carry in 2009. That left most of the carries to Staden, who missed last season with a knee injury after backing up Tardy in 2008, and Mitz, who rushed for 173 yards in 2009. Staden had 86 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries and Mitz 59 yards on 10 totes with a 16-yard touchdown reception in the spring game. Brooks is a former walk-on who has flashed potential.

Washington State spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
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Washington State

2009 overall record: 1-11

2009 conference record: 0-9 (10th)

Returning starters

Offense: 8, Defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Jared Karstetter, DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, P Reid Forrest

Key losses: C Kenny Alfred, RB Dwight Tardy, FS Xavier Hicks, LB Andy Mattingly

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Tardy (417)

Passing: Tuel* (789)

Receiving: Karstetter* (540)

Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis* (84)

Sacks: Travis Long*, Toby Turpin, Casey Hamlett*, Anthony Laurenzi* (2)

Interceptions: Xavier Hicks (3)

Spring Answers

1. Solid at QB: Both sophomore Tuel and junior Marshall Lobbestael played well this spring. Both are more skilled, more mature and better versed in the offense than when they were prematurely forced into action the previous two seasons. Tuel is the heavy frontrunner to start, but it's always nice to have two quarterbacks with starting experience.

2. Offensive line improvement: A big area of concern the past two seasons, the Cougars added a pair of JC recruits midyear and the additions greatly enhanced the competition and depth up front. Also, the addition of offensive line coach Steve Morton and his 35 years of experience, which includes five Morris Trophy winners, already has made a big impact. The line lost one starter from last season (center Kenny Alfred) but the return of four starters, along with the JC additions and return of Andrew Roxas, who missed 2009 due to illness, could make this one of the most improved units in the conference.

3. There's some depth: Everyone around the program insists this is by far the best spring for coach Paul Wulff since he took over a beleaguered program two years ago. Part of that success is legitimate competition for starting spots and playing time. Players who redshirted the past two seasons, in particular, made an impact during the 15 practices

Fall questions

1. Confidence? The Cougars have won just three games over the past two seasons -- just one Pac-10 game. Many of their defeats have been blowouts. While the talent looks better heading into 2010, the Cougars have to believe they can compete -- and win -- in the Pac-10. That belief will drive players to work out hard during the summer. That belief will keep games close into the fourth quarter. That belief might even help them steal a few games. But that belief has to be real, which means it will have to block out all the talk about another dreary 10th-place finish.

2. Will the D-line step up? Sophomore end Travis Long should take the next step. JC transfer Brandon Rankin lived up to his considerable hype at tackle. Senior end Kevin Kooyman is back from injury and had a good spring. That's the good news. The bad news is three of the top four or five tackles are either gone -- or close to going -- before their time. Toby Turpin was kicked out of school over an undisclosed academic incident, while tackles Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Luapo are struggling to remain academically eligible (coaches are more hopeful about Wolfgramm getting back on track). That means youngsters such as Justin Clayton, Dan Spitz, Jordan Pu’u Robinson and Anthony Laurenzi will need to be ready -- and be better than they were in 2009.

3. Receiver depth? The Cougars went through spring with just four scholarship receivers (Jeffrey Solomon, Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone and Daniel Blackledge). The incoming recruiting class features five receivers. JC recruit Isiah Barton is probably the most ready, but at least a couple of freshmen will need to earn spots in the rotation.

Tuel will make second start for Washington St.

October, 8, 2009
10/08/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


It appears that true freshman Jeff Tuel will make his second start against Arizona State on Saturday, and the Cougars are probably hoping it will last longer than his first one.

Tuel was knocked out in the first quarter of last week's game with Oregon with a hip/back injury, but he's been running with the first-team offense this week.

The Spokesman-Review reported that Tuel has been helped by "a special pad constructed by equipment manager Josh Pietz and trainer Brian Oelke" that protects his hip.

If Tuel struggles, he'd be replaced by sophomore Marshall Lobbestael. The problem is No. 3. With senior Kevin Lopina out with a calf injury, sophomore walk-on Dan Wagner is the third option.

The Cougars' overall injury situation remains fairly bleak. Overall, the Cougars are down five players from the preseason offensive line depth chart.

Receiver Jared Karstetter (hip), linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis (staph infection), offensive guard Brian Danaher (concussion) and offensive guard Zack Williams (ankle) are likely out, while running back Dwight Tardy is nursing a shoulder injury and that could limit him. The makeshift offensive line that struggled against Oregon likely will remain the same against the Sun Devils, whose defense is as good or better than the Ducks. That line includes a 253-pound true freshman, Alex Reitnouer, at left guard and a redshirt freshman, Tyson Pencer at left tackle.

There is good news. The Cougs get a bye next week, which should help them get at least a couple of injured players back.

Pac-10 lunch links: WSU's Montgomery visits practice

September, 25, 2009
9/25/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Most times you can't hear 'em talk, other times you can.
All same old cliches -- is that woman or a man?
You always seem outnumbered, you don't dare make a stand.

Pac-10 preseason power rankings

August, 10, 2009
8/10/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

What's our preseason projection for the Pac-10? Probably not many shocks here. This mirrors my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

1. USC: The Trojans are No. 1 until somebody knocks them off the mountain. With nine starters back on offense, including what might be the nation's best offensive line, there will be plenty of help for the new quarterback. And do you really think USC's defense won't be elite again in 2009? Come on.

2. California: The Bears have 17 starters back from a team that went 9-4 in 2009, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Jahvid Best. The secondary will be one of the nation's best and the defensive line is as good as any in the Pac-10. Replacing three of four linebackers doesn't seem to be causing much stress in Berkeley. The only issue is how much the passing game improves. If it improves significantly, this is a potential BCS bowl team.

3. Oregon: Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount give the Ducks a strong one-two punch on offense and an athletic corps of linebackers and cornerback Walter Thurmond and end Will Tukuafu will lead the defense. Both lines are questions that, if answered, could push the Ducks to the top of the conference.

4. Oregon State: Rebuild or reload? The Beavers have transitioned to the latter category, which is why most are overlooking a defense that needs to replace eight starters, including the entire secondary, and an offensive line that must replace three first-rate starters. There are two veteran quarterbacks in Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield and the explosive Rodgers brothers -- James and Jacquizz -- leading the offense, while tackle Stephen Paea and linebacker Keaton Kristick lead the defense.

5. Arizona: Losing three offensive mainstays -- quarterback Willie Tuitama, receiver Mike Thomas and tackle Eben Britton --- hurts, but the Wildcats should be even better on defense in 2009, and the general feeling is the offense will be solid whether Matt Scott or Nick Foles wins the job. For one, tight end Rob Gronkowski is the best target in the Pac-10.

6. Stanford: The Cardinal have lots of guys back -- 17 -- from a team that fell just short of bowl eligibility in 2008. They also have seven home games after playing just five a year ago. The key is passing -- on offense and defense. Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck is supposed to be the answer for the offense, while an injection of young talent should improve the athleticism in the secondary.

7. UCLA: The Bruins have two big questions: quarterback and offensive line. The defense should be good, led by tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner -- all three are All-American candidates -- but it won't matter if the running game remains anemic. One big reasons for optimism: five offensive players are again available who would have started last year but were out for various reasons back: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and tackle Sean Sheller.

8. Arizona State: Not unlike UCLA, Arizona State has questions at quarterback and on the offensive line while the defense looks solid. Senior Danny Sullivan played well in the spring and looks to be the favorite at quarterback, while new faces could key dramatic improvement on the offensive line. If things fall into place, the Sun Devils could win eight or nine games, but it's hard to project that until the offensive line proves itself.

9. Washington: The good news is the Huskies could be the most-improved team in the conference. Of course, it's hard to regress from an 0-12 season. Moreover, Washington could play much better and still have little to show for it because the nonconfernce schedule features LSU and Notre Dame. Still, the return of 18 starters, as well as quarterback Jake Locker and linebacker E.J. Savannah, suggests the Huskies won't be anyone's patsy this fall.

10. Washington State: The biggest hope for the Cougars lies in a potentially improved running game that could keep a defense that is thin on talent on all three levels off the field. That didn't happen last year -- see an offense that ranked 118th in the country that surrendered 38 turnovers, tied for most in the nation. But there's experience on the offensive line and James Montgomery and Dwight Tardy give the Cougars a pair of solid backs. If either Marshall Lobbestael or Kevin Lopina provides adequate quarterback play, Washington State might surprise some folks.

Hope and concern: Washington State

July, 21, 2009
7/21/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Tenth in a series on grounds for optimism and worry.

Biggest reason for hope -- The running game should improve.

A solid running game would solve a lot of the problems that plagued Washington State last year. Or at least significantly help them. There are reasons to believe that can happen. For one, four starters, including underrated center Kenny Alfred, are back on the offensive line, as well as three others with starting experience. Some of those guys were too young in 2008 and were physically overwhelmed. That shouldn't be as much of a problem after a year in the weight room. What's more, running back might be the Cougars deepest position, with Dwight Tardy, James Montgomery and Logwone Mitz forming a solid threesome. An improved run threat could cause a ripple effect, improving the passing game, limitings turnovers and sacks and allowing the defense to rest.

Biggest reason for concern -- The defense lacks depth and experience.

The Cougars were historically awful on defense last year, surrendering nearly 44 points per game. Just six starters are back, including just three in the front seven. The hope is some redshirts and JC transfers will be able to step in, but that's far from a sure thing. It didn't help either that promising defensive end Cory Mackay suffered a serious back injury after spring practice, or that defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm, a JC transfer who redshirted last year, is nursing a troublesome back. Or that two likely starting defensive backs, Romeo Pellum and Devin Giles, were dismissed from the team. If the Cougars are going to be competent defensively in 2009, guys are going to have to grow up quickly.

Got help? Which teams found relief at key spots this spring

May, 22, 2009
5/22/09
11:09
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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.

Washington State spring wrap-up

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Washington State Cougars
2008 overall record: 2-11

2008 conference record: 1-8

Returning starters

Offense 8, defense 5, kicker/punter 2

Top returners

C Kenny Alfred, RB Dwight Tardy, FS Xavier Hicks, LB Louis Bland, LB Andy Mattingly, P Reid Forrest, K Nico Grasu

Key losses

OT Vaughn Lesuma, TE Devin Frischknecht, WR Brandon Gibson, LB Greg Trent, CB Romeo Pellum, DT A'i Ahmu

2008 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Dwight Tardy* (481)
Passing: Marshall Lobbestael* (571)
Receiving: Brandon Gibson (673)
Tackles: Greg Trent (88)
Sacks: Toby Turpin* (3)
Interceptions: Romeo Pellum, Xavier Hicks* (2)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Stanford
Sept. 12 Hawaii (in Seattle)
Sept. 19 Southern Methodist
Sept. 26 at USC
Oct. 3 at Oregon
Oct. 10 Arizona State
Oct. 24 at California
Oct. 31 vs. Notre Dame
(in San Antonio, Texas)
Nov. 7 at Arizona
Nov. 14 UCLA
Nov. 21 Oregon State
Nov. 28 at Washington

Spring answers

1. Culture change: Big injury issues within many position groups limited a lot of definitive depth chart moves, so what the Cougars' coaches talked most about at the end of spring was establishing a better team culture, which includes practice tempo, trust among players and staff and off-field responsibilities, both in the classroom and weight room.

2. Tardy and Montgomery running: The Cougars feel good about their depth at running back, with senior Dwight Tardy and California transfer James Montgomery leading the way. If the offensive line can stay healthy -- depth is a big issue -- the running game has a chance to improve dramatically.

3. New faces' chance to shine: The injuries allowed youngsters and newcomers to make statements, and a handful did, including redshirt freshman defensive ends Dan Spitz and Cory Mackay, redshirt freshman tight end Skylar Stormo and junior transfer receivers Johnny Forzani and Jeffrey Solomon.

Fall questions

1. Get healthy: The spring injury list was a who's who of likely starters, and some of the issues will be worrisome. For example, Bernard Wolfgramm was practically penciled in as a starting defensive tackle, but he had back surgery this winter and back problems are tricky. The Cougars suffered epidemic injuries last year; they need to avoid that if 2009 is going to be any better.

2. Is Lobbestael the man? While senior Kevin Lopina showed significant improvement passing this spring, the general feeling is sophomore Marshall Lobbestael will be the quarterback when Stanford comes to town on Sept. 5. But, again, Lobbestael is coming back from a knee injury and didn't get to do any full-go action this spring. He still needs to win the job on the field.

3. Not to be defensive, but ... Washington State lost six starters from a defense that gave up 43.8 points and 443 yards in 2008, and the departed include mainstays such as linebacker Greg Trent, end Matt Mullennix and tackle A'i Ahmu. The Cougars are set at safety with Xavier Hicks and Chima Nwachukwu, and they feel good about linebackers Andy Mattingly and Louis Bland, but there are a lot of questions here that need to be resolved during preseason practices.

Banged up defense leads Washington State

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
12:29
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Despite having just 22 healthy players on defense, that side of the ball controlled Washington State's spring game. The offense managed just 231 total yards, including 69 yards rushing on 22 carries.

After gaining 189 yards on 25 carries in the first scrimmage, the running game fell silent in the final two, totalling 121 on 40 carries (3.0 yards per tote).

The key for the Cougars heading into the offseason? Getting healthy. A significant number of starters on both sides of the ball were on the sidelines for all or much of the spring.

Sophomore Logwone Mitz, who's competing for carries with Dwight Tardy and James Montgomery, led WSU running backs with 34 yards on six carries, including the longest rush of the day, a 21-yard gain.

With quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, the front-runner to start next fall, sitting out because he's still rehabilitating an injured knee, senior Kevin Lopina and sophomore Dan Wagner mostly relied on short passes. Wagner's 38-yard touchdown pass to tight end Andrei Lintz was the biggest play of the day and the only score.

Senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman and junior defensive end Casey Hamlett each recorded sacks for the Cougars, and sophomore Aire Justin had an interception.

Cal transfer Montgomery could heat up WSU running game

April, 16, 2009
4/16/09
11:21
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

James Montgomery hails from Sacramento, Calif., so the first question about the twists and turns that eventually landed him at Washington State has to be about the weather.

Pullman has, er, different weather than Northern California, as Montgomery relates with a couple of "Oh, mans."

He'd just finished up a "spring" practice with temperatures in the low 40s, but that doesn't approach the heavy part of winter.

"I had some pretty extreme times, coming from California, but I got used to it pretty well -- if I wear everything in my closet," he said.

He laughs about this, though. He likes Pullman, a close community on the Palouse that loves its Cougars.

"It's a college town," he said. "That's what I was looking for out of high school."

But Montgomery didn't come to Washington State out of high school. The junior initially committed to Washington. Then, under pressure, he says, he signed with California.

"I had a lot of factors in the house, a lot of pressure to go certain places. When it all came up, I ended up at Cal," he said. "My mom she really wanted me to go to Cal. I tried it for her. It just didn't work out for me."

Football wasn't the problem. Montgomery's Cal career had a promising start. He was the Bears third-leading rusher as a redshirt freshman, with 171 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 48 yards. While it was clear Jahvid Best was ahead of him in the pecking order, Montgomery likely would have gotten plenty of touches in 2008.

But Cal wasn't a good fit off the field. Let's just say Montgomery isn't the sort to wander Telegraph Avenue in a tie-dye T-shirt.

"It was the place more than the football," he said. "I wasn't in love with where I was at. I wasn't focused on school and football as I should have been. I just hated where I was and I had to get out of there."

Cal's loss, the Cougs gain.

Based on his efforts so far this spring, it's clear that Montgomery, who was forced to sit out last year due to transfer rules, is going to help an offense that ranked 118th in the nation -- second to last -- in scoring (12.69 points per game) and total offense (241 yards per game).

He's now working mostly with the No. 1 offense, splitting time with senior Dwight Tardy, and the running game has shown some life. In a scrimmage last weekend, Montgomery rushed for 61 yards on nine carries with a 33-yard touchdown, the longest play of the day.

Montgomery, at 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, won't compare his running style to anyone in the Pac-10, but he does have backs he likes to watch.

"My friend, Jahvid, of course," he said. "Man, I like the little guy from Oregon State [Jacquizz Rodgers]. And USC has a couple of guys I like to watch."

If Montgomery gives the Cougars a boost like any of those backs, then they should improve on a 2-11 finish from last season.

He said it was "extremely hard to watch" things go badly last season when he couldn't contribute. He obviously thinks he can help the cause.

But he's not ready to predict a miracle turnaround either.

"I don't have any predictions or anything, but we are working hard to get this thing going," he said.

Montgomery is not the only reinforcement. Among the other transfers and redshirts expected to see action is junior cornerback Brandon Jones, also a Cal transfer who sat out last season.

Montgomery and Jones, who's from Seattle, are roommates. Both are happy they made their move to Pullman.

And when the temperatures drop into single-digits and snow covers the campus?

"Then we are in our room with the door closed and heat blasting," Montgomery said.

Spring football Q&A: Washington State coach Paul Wulff

March, 18, 2009
3/18/09
10:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Not everything went smoothly during Paul Wulff's first year as Washington State's head coach, starting with a 2-11 finish.

Moreover, he's going to miss the first three days of the Cougars' fall practices because of NCAA sanctions he incurred for violations that happened while he was head coach at Eastern Washington.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Paul Wulff was 2-11 in his first season at Washington State.

But the Cougars also posted a comeback victory in the Apple Cup, dumping Washington into the basement of the Pac-10, and outdid the Huskies during recruiting.

So there is some positive momentum as he looks toward his second season.

It seemed like a good time to check in with Wulff as he and his staff prepare for spring practices, which start March 26.

First, what's the latest on quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who's coming back from a knee injury [and a suspension for a February arrest for an underage alcohol offense]?

Paul Wulff: I think he's going to be do everything but the team segments. A lot of individual work and he'll be able to some 7-on-7 drills.

So he's been reinstated from suspension?

PW: Yes. He had a lot of things to do, but yeah.

Let's put a cap on the 2008 season: First, what went right?

PW: After we played USC [on Oct. 18] we had a bye week, and I think our team changed a lot from a personality standpoint. We grew a lot. I know we didn't play well next against Stanford for a number of reasons, but really after that our team just played better football. We grew a lot. We played much more competitively against Arizona State and then Washington and Hawaii. We just played better. We tried not to compare ourselves against anyone else, we just compared ourselves to ourselves. And we improved as a football team down the stretch.

And what was the root of the struggles?

PW: It was a combination of things. It really wasn't one thing. I think as coaches, we demanded and changed so much of what these players were asked to do, from what they were accustomed to doing, on and off the field. I think there was a natural -- not an intentional resistance -- but just a little bit of what you would say is a culture shock to the system. I think that was part of the issue, in addition to trying to replace some key parts. We lost a four-year starter at quarterback [Alex Brink], we lost a couple of receivers and a tight end who had opportunities in the NFL. It was tough to replace all that experience. And then the injuries on the offensive side of the ball -- the quarterback situation. On defense it was similar, losing both safeties, some defensive tackles, we just couldn't overcome that. Our offense then put even more pressure on our defense. I know before our offense at Washington State has always been very successful. A lot of times that goes hand-in-hand with your relieving your defense, and we weren't able to do that last year.

(Read full post)

Running with the Pac: Who's strong at running back?

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
10:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Pac-10 teams should be able to run the ball in 2009.

Or at least they should if we base analysis on returning talent at running back.

Only two of the conference's top 10 rushers are gone, and one of those is Stanford's Anthony Kimble, who was Robin to Toby Gerhart's Batman in 2008.

The other is Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson, who's ready-made replacement is 1,000-yard rushing LeGarrette Blount.

 
  Kyle Terada/US Presswire
  California's Jahvid Best rushed for 1,580 yards in 2008.

Assuming, of course, Blount takes care of the issues that got him suspended.

As it stands, five 1,000-yard rushers return, topped by California's Jahvid Best, who is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who was only the conference's Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman.

In fact, it's fair to say that no team is in lousy shape with its running backs.

Offensive lines? Well, that's not our topic today.

Great shape

  • California: Best may be the most explosive player in the nation. He's a home-run threat every time he touches the ball, and, oh by the way, backup Shane Vereen ranked 10th in the conference in rushing and averaged 5 yards per carry.
  • USC: Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight and C.J. Gable -- and all the other guys. The Trojans averaged 195 yards rushing per game last year, and with all five offensive linemen back and a new starting quarterback, that total figures to perk up quite a bit.
  • Oregon State: Rodgers will be limited during spring practices due to a shoulder injury and the depth behind him is a bit uncertain, but you cannot ignore a freshman rushing for 1,253 yards.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal will be looking to bolster depth behind Gerhart during spring. Gerhart, who scored 15 touchdowns and rushed for 1,136 yards in 2008, won't be around because he's playing baseball. And therein lies a problem for Stanford fans. Gerhart might get picked high enough in the major league baseball draft -- and get offered a big enough signing bonus -- that he bolts school. That would be a huge hit.
  • Arizona: Who had a better running game last year: Arizona or Oregon State? Well, the production for both was nearly identical in terms of yards, but the Wildcats had 33 rushing touchdowns -- second in the conference only to Oregon's stunning 47 -- while the Beavers had 21. And the Wildcats have a nice one-two punch in Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards last year, and Keola Antolin. Grigsby does have a bit of a fumbling problem, though.

Good shape

  • Oregon: The overwhelming assumption is Blount will be back, which would put the Ducks in the "Great Shape" category. Still, that uncertainty is an issue heading into spring practices.

We'll see

  • Washington State: The Cougars fall just short of good shape because they were awful running the ball last year -- 2.7 yards per carry -- and California transfer James Montgomery is unproven. But everyone on the 2008 depth chart is back and Montgomery was a touted recruit, so this is one position coach Paul Wulff probably isn't losing sleep over.
  • Washington: The good news is everyone is back -- Terrance Dailey, Brandon Johnson, David Freeman, etc. The bad news is the running game was terrible last year. It's tempting to promote the Huskies just because a healthy Jake Locker should dramatically improve the rushing totals, but until someone tells us otherwise, Locker is a quarterback.
  • UCLA: The good news is it would be hard for the running game to get any worse than 116th in the nation (82.75 yards per game). Still, while Kahlil Bell is gone, there's tons of young talent at running back, led by Derrick Coleman and Aundre Dean. Of course, there's that offensive line ...
  • Arizona State: Said the Sun Devils: Thank God for UCLA. Otherwise, their 89 yards rushing per game -- 113th in the nation -- would rank last in the Pac-10. Keegan Herring is gone, but the rest of the depth chart is back and some folks in Tempe are intrigued with redshirt freshman James Morrison, a walk-on sensation who might have seen a lot of carries last year if he didn't get hurt. Still, the tailbacks suffer here because of the woeful offensive line.

Afternoon Musings: Trojans rule, Sparky endures

September, 4, 2008
9/04/08
7:33
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

I collected these despite the tragic circumstances of a jammed iPod.

  • USC's football monopoly isn't only about L.A., it's about all of college football. Consider this, pointed out by the Los Angeles Times' Adam Rose: The No. 1 ranked Trojans are nine weeks away from becoming the program that has spent the most weeks atop the AP poll.
  • Sparky is safe. This news should help all of us sleep tonight.
  • Ohio State RB Beanie Wells won't play this weekend against Ohio. Is he merely resting or really hurt?
  • UCLA notes, including a tidbit on QB Ben Olson throwing passes in practice in full gear with a walking boot on. Still smiling over the Bruins.
  • Washington State RB Dwight Tardy was a bright spot for the Cougars.
  • Oregon's big back LeGarrette Blount is still learning how to practice at the FBS level.
  • One week into the season, and BCS Guru has USC at No. 1, Oregon at 12, Arizona State at 17, UCLA at 22 and California at 23.
  • California is a writerly team. First, there's Coach Blogger, er, Tedford. Then there's Alex Mack, journalist. Hope Bears fans appreciate Tedford's commitment to connecting with them -- it's not like he wasn't already sleeping in his office.

Pac-10 Morning: Offenses go splat

August, 17, 2008
8/17/08
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Sounds like some of the Pac-10 offenses had trouble linking up. Not ever a problem here.

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