Pac-12: Ian Taubler

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
9:00
AM ET
Here are some keys and storylines to watch this spring in the South Division. Yesterday Ted looked at the North Division.

ARIZONA WILDCATS

Start date: March 3

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New battery: The Wildcats are looking to replace a top-notch quarterback-center combo in Matt Scott and Kyle Quinn. The rock-solid duo helped produce one of the top offenses in the league. Jesse Scroggins and B.J. Denker are among those in the mix to run the offense and several returning offensive linemen are versatile enough to move around. Chris Putton and redshirt freshman Beau Boyster could be in the mix at center.
  2. Many happy return(er)s: Arizona returns a big chunk of its offensive production -- including running back Ka'Deem Carey and receiver Austin Hill. Both should be on all sorts of preseason teams and awards watch lists. But behind the big names, there's also David Richards, Johnny Jackson, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton back in the mix.
  3. No learning curve: Last spring, the talk was about Rich Rodriguez calling out his team for its lack of physical conditioning. The fact that the majority of the team understands what is expected -- and they don't need to spend the whole spring learning new systems, should be a huge help. Consider that the Wildcats return their entire defense from a group that was, at times, shaky, but will certainly benefit from another full season of playing in the 3-3-5 scheme.
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Plugging the middle: One of the few losses to ASU's roster is middle linebacker Brandon Magee -- a leader on and off the field and an all-around heck of a player. Carlos Mendoza looks to be a good fit -- though he's likely to miss spring while continuing to recover from a shoulder injury suffered against Illinois. Folks might remember his two interceptions before going down for the year.
  2. Catching on: Unlike last spring, the Sun Devils have their quarterback. And he's a good one. Now, they need to find folks he can throw to. JC transfers De'Marieya Nelson (H-back, 6-3, 230) and Jaelen Strong (WR, 6-4, 205) are both big bodies who could step in and contribute immediately.
  3. Wait and see: The kicker here is a lot of these players who are expected to compete won't arrive until the fall. So in the meantime, a lot of the younger players and redshirts will get a ton of reps in the system. And speaking of kicker, don't underestimate how much of an impact Josh Hubner made at punter. Iowan Matt Haack, who arrives in the fall, is a rugby-style kicker who can kick with either foot. That's just cool.
COLORADO BUFFALOES

Start date: March 7

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Meet your QB: Whomever it will be. There are five on the roster and a sixth coming in. Safe to say, quarterback play was extremely inconsistent last season for the Buffs. With an entirely new coaching staff coming in and installing the pistol, this could be one of the more interesting and wide-open position battles in the league.
  2. Curious defense: One needs only to review Colorado's national rankings last year to realize they struggled. As one Buffs insider mentioned to me, they were ranked No. 1 in a lot of categories. Unfortunately, that "1" was followed by two more numbers. Only three defensive ends have playing experience. However a secondary that lacked experience in 2012 has a lot more looking into 2013.
  3. Receiver options: The Buffs welcome back Paul Richardson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Colorado's premier offensive playmaker will be a nice veteran presence to whomever wins the quarterback job. Grayshirt Jeff Thomas also is back. An improved passing attack should help give the quarterback some confidence and open up the running game.
UCLA BRUINS

Start date: April 2

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Life after Franklin: The Bruins say goodbye to the best statistical back in school history -- leaving a huge void in the backfield. Johnathan Franklin was a great presence for young quarterback Brett Hundley, but now someone has to step up to fill that role, either solo or along with a committee. Look for Jordon James, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen to all get looks.
  2. New No. 1: The Y-receiver, aka hybrid tight end, was filled wonderfully by Joseph Fauria -- Hundley's favorite red zone target. Darius Bell and Ian Taubler both had looks last year, but Fauria too will be tough to replace. Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien round out a pretty good receiving corps.
  3. Secondary solutions: The Bruins must replace two corners and a safety -- Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester, Andrew Abbott -- and there isn't a ton of starting experience. Randall Goforth has five starts, but veterans such as Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson have more special-teams experience than actual secondary play. Keep an eye on the secondary too when the Bruins start fall camp to see if any freshmen jump into the mix immediately.
USC TROJANS

Start date: TBD

Spring game: April 13
  1. New defensive scheme: The Trojans will move to a 5-2 defensive scheme under Clancy Pendergast, and the spring drills will be the first opportunity to see the defense in action. The Trojans will have an experienced front seven, but four new starters are expected in the secondary.
  2. Replacing Barkley: Max Wittek got the first extended audition in the battle to take over for Matt Barkley, but he didn’t do enough in two late-season starts to claim the job. Cody Kessler and freshman spring enrollee Max Browne also will be looking to take the reins at one of the glamour positions in college football.
  3. Lane Kiffin on the hot seat: The Trojans are coming off a disappointing season, and the fans are howling in protest, but so far his boss Pat Haden has maintained full support for his coach. Now is the time for Kiffin to show why that support is warranted. -- Garry Paskwietz, WeAreSC
UTAH UTES

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Erickson impact: The biggest question was what sort of role Dennis Erickson would play in the offense once he arrived. We'll know sooner than later. He already has talked about putting an identity on the Utah offense. That starts in spring when routines are established and expectations are set. And with Erickson on board to give the offense a push, the expectations will be much higher.
  2. Wilson maturing: That leads us to the presumptive starting quarterback -- Travis Wilson -- who jumped in midseason after Jordan Wynn got hurt and Jon Hays struggled to produce. Wilson went from OK to pretty good in just a few weeks. A nice jump considering his experience level. With an entire offseason knowing he'll be the starter -- and with Erickson and Brian Johnson molding him -- it will be interesting to see what progress he makes this spring.
  3. D-line makeover: The Utes lose some talent on the defensive line -- specifically All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Look for DE/LB Trevor Reilly to spend more time with his hand down. Tenny Palepoi, LT Tuipulotu and JC transfer Sese Ianu could all see time in the mix at defensive tackle.
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -- Damien Holmes is on the move.

Again.

With the news that middle linebacker Patrick Larimore -- UCLA's 2011 defensive captain -- opted to take a medical retirement, the coaching staff looked to Holmes to once again switch positions and plug a hole.

After moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in UCLA's new 3-4 scheme during spring drills, Holmes has now been moved to the middle linebacker position. He has 20 starts over the past two seasons, so the experience is there. But all 20 have been at defensive end.

"With the coaching staff we have, I trust their judgment," Holmes said. "If they believe I can do it then I believe I can do it. I think I've gotten comfortable as a linebacker through training camp so I'm excited."

The move not only marks yet another significant shift in technique and mentality, but it also involves a deeper knowledge of the defense. As a middle linebacker, Holmes will be helping align the defensive front and making calls to the secondary.

"The only thing I'm focused on is getting the calls out there, being aggressive, staying low and flying around," he said. "I've always prided myself on is having a motor. Whether that's at D-end or inside linebacker or outside linebacker, that's what I want people to know me as."

Just a few days into his new gig, Holmes said he's adjusting quickly. Instinct helps.

"Outside, you have to hold an edge and you are only worried really about one side," he said. "Inside you have the whole field. As far as leverage goes, as far as the point of attack, I think it's different. Also, you get a different perspective being over the ball. Linemen are coming at you and have to shed them. There is definitely a difference. At the end of the day, it's football. It's getting to the ball and making a play. There is only so much that's different."

Practice notes

Growing up: After a sluggish start to Tuesday's late-morning practice, the Bruins picked up the pace in a goal-line drill, which head coach Jim Mora took as evidence that his team is growing up: "I think that’s the sign of a team that’s maturing. It’s hard to come out here every day and just pound on each other the way we do and sometimes it gets sloppy. But the teams that aren’t making progress, the sloppiness continues. The teams that are making progress -- like I believe our team is making progress -- they find a way to pull it together and that’s what they did today."

Holding out hope: Mora said he had big plans for freshman offensive lineman Simon Goines, but concussion/dehydration issues have kept him off the practice field for a good chunk of camp. But he's not ready to declare the 6-foot-7, 324-pounder from Keller, Texas, a redshirt yet: "I think it's too early to say that. It's obviously a possibility. He's close to being back. If he can come back and show some real progress then we'd like to continue to try to factor him in."

The next 'Y' guy: No one is going to knock Joseph Fauria off his spot as starting "Y" receiver -- which is essentially a hybrid tight end. But Mora has been impressed with freshman Ian Taubler, a 6-4, 250-pound tight end from Fresno, Calif.: "Ian looks good. Blocks well, you can stretch him out ... he's a matchup problem. I think he's going to be a guy that could contribute early. Ian could be one of those guys. I like him in all phases, blocking, running routes and catching the ball."

Live, but not live: After a spirited spring session with plenty of hitting, Mora has been keeping fall camp to what he calls "thud" sessions: "The risk that you take when you don't go live is in that first game there are some missed tackles. The risk that you take if you go live is you get somebody hurt this close to the season. I think if we do a good job of focusing through the end of the play -- not necessarily taking a guy down -- we're going to get the best of both worlds.

"When you say live to a football player, it’s hard to say 'Hey, live, but don’t cut-block. Live, but don’t tackle low. Live, but don’t take a shot on your teammate.' Your mindset changes when you say live."

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