Pac-12: Jarrell Holman
Only UCLA, Oregon State and Washington "officially" welcome back both of their starting safeties, with the Bruins boasting perhaps the best in free safety in the nation: Rahim Moore. Only Arizona State and USC must find two new safeties.
So how do things stack up?
- UCLA: Moore, a true junior and 25-game starter, led the nation with 10 interceptions in 2009 and is a consensus All-American. Tony Dye ranked fourth on the Bruins with 73 tackles.
- Oregon: Sure, the Ducks lost hard-hitting T.J. Ward to the NFL, but Ward was hurt much of last season, so John Boyett, the first freshman to lead the Ducks in tackles, and Javes Lewis, who played both free safety and rover, are returning starters, as is Eddie Pleasant, a linebacker starter in 2009 who's moved to rover.
- Oregon State: Lance Mitchell and Cameron Collins give the Beavers a solid, experienced combination and Suaesi Tuimaunei also has starting experience.
- Washington: Nathan Felner and Nate Williams are both returning starters, but the competition is ongoing among players with experience, not to mention touted incoming freshman Sean Parker.
- Arizona: The Wildcats lost Cam Nelson, and Robert Golden might move back to cornerback after playing strong safety last year. Still, there's talent here. Adam Hall, a touted, 6-foot-4, 212-pound 2009 recruit, might make a move.
- Arizona State: Both starters, Jarrell Holman and Ryan McFoy, are gone, but Clint Floyd and Keelan Johnson have started games and junior Eddie Elder has been surging since the spring.
- California: While the Cal secondary didn't play well in 2009, Sean Cattouse is solid. Senior Chris Conte has converted to safety from cornerback, but he could be challenged in camp for the starting job.
- Stanford: Strong safety Delano Howell should blossom as a junior, and Michael Thomas has potential at free safety. Still, the Cardinal secondary got burned in 2009 and is probably the team's biggest question mark.
- USC: The Trojans are replacing all four starters in their secondary, and the days of giving them a free pass based on recruiting rankings are over. Still, Jawanza Starling, T.J. McDonald and Drew McAllister (if he's healthy) are a talented trio.
- Washington State: WSU lost free safety Xavier Hicks, but LeAndre Daniels, Chima Nwachukwu, Tyree Toomer, Casey Locker and Jamal Atofau give the Cougars hope at the position.
Arizona State: Free safety
Why the competition? Jarrell Holman and Ryan McFoy, who combined for 18 starts at safety in 2009, are gone, while Clint Floyd, who started three games at free safety, was listed No. 1 at strong safety at the end of spring practices.
Candidates: Sophomore Keelan Johnson (6-0, 199) and junior Eddie Elder (5-10, 186).
The skinny: Johnson saw extensive action last year and started one game. He finished with 11 tackles. He's one of the Sun Devils' best all-around athlete -- which is saying something given how athletic the team's defense is -- and he had a solid spring. Elder, the reigning California Junior College Defensive Player of the Year winner, however, showed big-play ability by intercepting three passes in the final two scrimmages. That earned him high praise from some of his comrades in the secondary. "Eddie's going to make some big plays for us," cornerback Omar Bolden told the Arizona Republic. Both of these guys will play. But only one will run onto the field with the starting unit.
2009 overall record: 4-8
2009 conference record: 2-7 (ninth)
Offense: 3, Defense: 4, punter/kicker: 2
Top returners: K Thomas Weber, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE James Brooks
Key losses: WR Kyle Williams, WR Chris McGaha, RB Dimitri Nance, OT Shawn Lauvao, DE Dexter Davis, LB Travis Goethel, LB Mike Nixon
2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)
Rushing: Dimitri Nance (795)
Passing: Danny Sullivan (1,939)
Receiving: Kyle Williams (815)
Tackles: Mike Nixon (73)
Sacks: Lawrence Guy* (4.5)
Interceptions: Mike Nixon, Jarrell Holman, Ryan McFoy (3)
1. Help at receiver: Even though the Sun Devils lost their top two receivers, Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha, the position appears fairly solid, particularly with Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad, who would have started for the Ducks in 2009, and JC transfer George Bell performing well this spring.
2. Em-Bolden: Cornerback Omar Bolden looked like the budding star he was supposed to be as a true freshman, but he struggled mightily as a sophomore and then missed 2009 with a knee injury. Entering spring, there were questions about whether he could regain a starting spot. No longer. Bolden may have turned in his best work yet this spring and should be a leader in the secondary.
3. For the defense: The Sun Devils lost seven starters from their outstanding 2009 defense, but they may be even better this fall. There's lots of speed and young players who excelled in 2009, most particularly linebacker Vontaze Burfict, had a year of seasoning in which to mature and refine their game.
1. Who's the QB? Before spring, many expected Michigan transfer Steven Threet to win the job. At the end of spring, sophomore Brock Osweiler instead emerged as the leader. In the fall, Samson Szakacsy rejoins the competition after sitting out spring drills, hopefully with a healthy arm. All three are capable, so there may be a few more plot twists before this one is resolved.
2. What about the O-line (again!)? The Sun Devils were already replacing two starters on the O-line when veteran guard Jon Hargis injured his knee, ending his 2010 season before it began, so there are lots of questions. For instance, will Zach Schlink and Matt Hustad be available? Both are talented but have been riddled with knee problems. And: Are JC transfer Brice Schwab and redshirt freshman Evan Finkenberg ready for Pac-10 play? Both are slated to start at tackle. It doesn't matter who plays QB if the O-line can't get the job done.
3. What about maturity? Sure, there's loads of talent on defense, but look at the sorts of guys who graduated: end Dexter Davis and linebackers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel. Each were smart, savvy players and strong locker room guys. In other words, leaders. It's unclear who will fill their shoes. Even with those guys, the Sun Devils had over 1,000 yards in penalties last year -- 200 more than any other conference team. Smarter, more disciplined play might make a difference in close games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
- Arizona expects its injured players -- including running back Nic Grigsby and defensive end Brooks Reed -- to be ready to play at Washington. It appears, based on that notebook, that some youngsters who didn't travel to Oregon State should have ordered a pizza and watched a movie instead of hitting the town.
- Arizona State safety Jarrell Holman is playing for more than himself. At the bottom of that notebook is more bad injury news on the offensive line.
- California vs. USC is more about desperation than exultation -- only seven times has a Pac-10 champion suffered two conference defeats. Recalling a classic between these two teams. Interesting comments about how Oregon confused the Bears with unanticipated changes on both sides of the ball.
- The absence of cornerback Walter Thurmond will tax Oregon's banged-up secondary. Hard to say which way receiver Jamere Holland's career is going.
- "Groundhog Day" is a great movie but Oregon State would prefer to avoid the obvious reference as it tries to avoid its fourth consecutive 2-3 start. LB Keaton Kristick is coming home but he's battling a stinger. If you've ever had one of those, you know that injury would be better described as a "debilitating lightning bolt shooting through your neck" -- "stinger" is just shorter.
- Chris Owusu's ability on kickoff returns gives Stanford a big field-position edge. And if you read the entire notebook, you get to imagine Jim Harbaugh singing.
- They may play for rival UCLA, but Rahim Moore and Johnathan Franklin are tight with USC's Stafon Johnson, a former high school teammate, who suffered a serious windpipe injury in a weight-room accident. Playing at Stanford will be a big test for quarterback Kevin Craft, who's trying to re-write his UCLA legacy.
- USC quarterback Matt Barkley's shoulder still bothers him but that's not going to stop him from playing at California. Pac-10 sack leader Nick Perry is the latest Trojan to get hurt.
- After getting pushed around by Stanford, Washington needs to get stronger. What did Steve Sarkisian say on his radio show?
- It's a real challenge to keep up with Washington State's injuries, so we're going to let Vince Grippi, one of the legendary Golden Knights from the storied program of St. Francis High in Southern California, do it. Suffice it to say the Cougs will take a beaten up team -- with a true freshman QB -- to Oregon. As for the frosh QB, he gives the Cougs their best chance to win.
- USC writer Michael Lev makes a good point about leaving early for the NFL: If you can, go. The folks who want you to stay are thinking about themselves, not you.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Oregon senior tight end Ed Dickson, Arizona senior cornerback Devin Ross and Stanford sophomore kick returner Chris Owusu are the Pac-10 Players of the Week.
Dickson caught a career-high 11 receptions for 148 yards and three touchdowns, which covered 26, 9 and 36 yards in Oregon’s 42-3 win over sixth-ranked California. He also was named National Offensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
Ross had a game-high 12 tackles -- seven solo -- and picked off a pass in the waning moments to seal the Wildcats’ 37-32 win at Oregon State.
Owusu returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown in Stanford’s 34-14 win against Washington. It marked the second week in a row Owusu returned the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown. In just four games, Owusu has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, which ties the Pac-10 single season record (Anthony Davis, USC, 1974, and Matthew Slater, UCLA, 2007). Owusu leads the nation in kickoff returns with a flashy 59.2-yard average.
Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterback Nick Foles of Arizona, wide receiver Damian Williams of USC and running backs Toby Gerhart of Stanford and Dimitri Nance of Arizona State. Also nominated on defense were linebackers Clinton Snyder of Stanford and Michael Morgan of USC, safety Jarrell Holman of Arizona State and end Kenny Rowe of Oregon. Also nominated for special teams play were punters Keenyn Crier of Arizona and Jacob Harfman of USC and kicker Morgan Flint of Oregon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Who stood out in Week 4?
Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli: Masoli shook off three frustrating weeks by completing 21 of 25 passes for 253 yards with three TDs and no interceptions in the Ducks' 42-3 win over No. 6 California.
Arizona QB Nick Foles: Making his first career start, the sophomore completed 25-of-34 for 254 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats' 37-32 win at Oregon State.
Arizona State safety Jarrell Holman: Holman returned one of his two interceptions 47 yards for a TD in Arizona State's 20-17 loss at Georgia. He also recovered a fumble.
Stanford receiver Chris Owusu: In the win over Washington, Owusu upstaged Stanford running back Toby Gerhart's career-high 200 yards rushing, which included a 60-yard TD run, by returning the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. It was his third kickoff return for a TD this season. In four games. That ties the Pac-10 record set by USC's Anthony Davis in 1974 and UCLA's Matthew Slater in 2007.
Oregon's coaching staff: The Boise State game was a disaster. The Cal game plan, a thing of beauty. The defense basically pitched a shutout, while the offense looked like its old fancy self. After USC muddled through its win over Washington State, it's not ridiculous to crown the Ducks the new Pac-10 frontrunner.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Arizona State came up with a big stop on fourth-and-1 from its 28-yard line against Georgia, preserving a 17-17 tie.
That game isn't on in the Autzen Stadium press box, but it's clearly been a defensive struggle.
The Sun Devils have only 200 total yards with eight minutes left, but a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown from Jarrell Holman helps when your offense is struggling.
Guessing Georgia fans thought this one would be a little easier.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The Pac-10 is solid at safety -- it's not all about Taylor Mays either.
In fact, the stockpile in the secondary likely will make choosing an All-Pac-10 team a big challenge.
- USC: It doesn't matter if Josh Pinkard stays at safety or moves to corner: The Trojans are stacked here, starting with Mays, a two-time All-American. Will Harris is hardly a stop-gap if he steps in for Pinkard, and there's good depth.
- California: While the Bears lack the Trojans' star quality, they are experienced, productive and deep with Marcus Ezeff and Brett Johnson leading the charge.
- Arizona: Cam Nelson is an all-conference-type player, while Robert Golden is an all-conference-type talent who is transitioning from cornerback.
- Oregon: T.J. Ward is one of the conference's premier hitters. He figures to become a complete player this fall. Javes Lewis won the competition at rover to replace Patrick Chung.
- Stanford: Bo McNally is a reliable veteran and Delano Howell, albeit green as the former running back switches to defense, will improve the Cardinal's athleticism.
- UCLA: Sophomore Rahim Moore looks like a budding star. Tony Dye leads the battle at strong safety over fellow sophomore Glenn Love.
- Oregon State: Junior Suaesi Tuimaunei will replace Al Afalava at strong safety and Lance Mitchell will set in for Greg Laybourn at free. While they lack experience -- Tuimaunei started twice in 2008 -- they are more athletic than their predecessors.
- Arizona State: Perhaps it's a sign of the Sun Devils' depth that expected starters Clint Floyd and Ryan McFoy are listed second-team on the depth chart behind Jarrell Holman and Keelan Johnson. Coach Dennis Erickson said Monday he hasn't decided who will start. This gives us pause, though there's no lack of athletic ability here.
- Washington State: The Cougars probably feel pretty good about Xavier Hicks and Chima Nwachukwu, a solid pair of returning starters.
- Washington: Nate Williams is a solid strong safety and redshirt freshman Greg Walker has flashed ability at free, but the Huskies have a long way to go in the secondary.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson is throwing names around and reporters pens are racing and it's hard to figure out who's first team, who's second team and who's merely intriguing.
The confusion, by the way, is a good thing.
|Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire|
|Arizona State's Danny Sullivan is one of five guys competing for the starting quarterback spot.|
"We've got bodies for a change," Erickson said. "That also brings in the thing USC has -- competition."
Of course, when spring practices start on March 24, everyone will be asking about the quarterbacks, and Erickson is glad to answer.
And the names start flowing.
He's got five guys competing. Senior Danny Sullivan, who waited patiently while Rudy Carpenter owned the position the previous three-plus seasons, starts at No. 1. Sophomore Samson Szakacsy is No. 2, but he's got to prove his elbow has fully healed.
Then there's the tall guy.
He's No. 5 for now, but 6-foot-8, 235-pound Brock Osweiler, a true freshman from Kalispell, Mont., has already enrolled and already has tongues wagging.
"He's got a chance," Erickson said.
Coy isn't a term often applied to Erickson, but there's just a hint of that when he fields questions about Osweiler. Time's winged chariot might be hurrying near, as coach Andrew Marvell once told reporters, but Osweiler's candidacy could linger into the fall as the Sun Devils' coaches winnow the field to two or three guys.
"Age has nothing to do with who will be the guy," Erickson said. "None of them have any experience."
That's not completely true. Sullivan has seen spot action. He went 15-of-43 for 151 yards last year with two interceptions and one touchdown. But Erickson isn't counting those uninspiring numbers, or counting out Sullivan, whose lack of mobility is countered by his experience and strong arm.
"We've seen Danny Sullivan every day for two years, and I think he's very underrated," Erickson said.
Of course, quarterback isn't everything. The Sun Devils felt pretty good about Carpenter last year, but their inability to protect him over the past two seasons seemed to catch up to them as the season wore on and the record-setting hurler seemed to lose his rhythm.
Which brings us back to the exact same Big Issue Above All Others ASU had a year ago. Any Sun Devils fans know what's coming?
"Bottom line is you've got to block somebody," Erickson said. "Bottom line is you've got to be able to run the football."
That is where Erickson is most optimistic about improvement. He now sees a for-real two-deep depth chart with more guys who look like they can play.
The only certainty is workout-warrior Shawn Lauvao moving from guard to left tackle. After that, it's wide open.
On the other side of the ball, there's also going to be competition and player-shuffling, but the questions are more pleasant.
"Defensively, we've got a lot of good players coming back," Erickson said. "That's a strength for us."
The biggest position switch is Travis Goethel moving from strongside linebacker to the middle, replacing Morris Wooten, where he'll compete with former starter Gerald Munns, who's returning after leaving the team last season for personal reasons. The arrival of prep All-American Vontaze Burfict in the fall figures to further thicken the plot.
The biggest competition will be to replace All-Pac-10 safety Troy Nolan. The list of candidates for Nolan's spot -- and strong safety for that matter -- includes Clint Floyd, Max Tabach, Ryan McFoy, Keelan Johnson, Jarrell Holman and freshman Matthew Tucker, who's already enrolled.
So, yeah -- whew -- that's a lot of guys.
Which has Erickson expecting his Sun Devils to emerge from spring practices believing 2008 was the program equivalent of eating a bad oyster.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
One of the charms of college football is the mostly predictable roster rotation. Young guys break through, become stars and then leave after their third, fourth or fifth year. Then a new cast tries to fill the void.
While there are numerous size 36 EEE shoes to fill -- figuratively speaking, of course -- in the Pac-10 this spring, we'll focus on five here.
|Jeff Golden/Getty Images|
|It's going to be tough for the Trojans to replace Rey Maualuga.|
And because quarterback competitions across the conference are so obvious, we're going to make this a "non-quarterback" category.
Also note that spring is a time for the experimentation. Coaches love to mix-and-match players, so there might be some surprises we didn't anticipate.
Big shoes: USC LB Rey Maualuga
Stepping in: Sophomore Chris Galippo
- Out goes everybody's All-American Maualuga, in goes everybody's 2006 prep All-American Galippo, a sure tackler who packs a punch at 255 pounds. He had 12 tackles, two coming for a loss, and an interception last season. He saw action as a true freshman before suffering a herniated disk in his back, an injury that also limited him last season. He seemed healthy the second half of the season, but back injuries are tricky. That might be the biggest issue standing between Galippo and future stardom.
Big shoes: California C Alex Mack
Stepping in: Junior Richard Fisher or junior Chris Guarnero
- Fisher is a former walk-on and a vegetarian. For real. He was listed as the backup behind Mack last season. Guarnero started the first three games at left guard before suffering a season-ending toe injury. He is expected back for spring ball. With a new offensive line coach, Steve Marshall, and lots of returning starting experience -- seven players have started at least one game -- there might be lots of experimenting up front this spring.
Big shoes: Oregon DE Nick Reed
Stepping in: Junior Brandon Bair, junior Kenny Rowe, JC transfer Zac Clark
- Reed had 20 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks last year (29.5 for his career). His potential replacements had no sacks last season. Some Oregon fans took issue with my suggesting in our "What to watch this spring," that Bair was the frontrunner to replace Reed. I wrote that because Rowe was listed at 215 pounds on last year's depth chart and was almost exclusively a pass-rush specialist. Meanwhile, Clark is an unknown quantity as an incoming JC transfer. On the other hand, Bair is more in the mold of returning big end Will Tukuafu, so perhaps Rowe, who's listed at 230 pounds on the updated roster, and Clark will battle it out. Guessing this one is wide open, to be honest.
Big shoes: Arizona State FS Troy Nolan
Stepping in: Sophomore Clint Floyd leads a pack of possibilities
- Nolan had 64 tackles and four interceptions playing center field for the Sun Devils' defense, and he'll be the toughest guy to replace for a unit that should be fairly salty next fall. Floyd will get first crack, but junior Max Tabach, redshirt freshman Keelan Johnson and senior Jarrell Holman could make a move.
- Stroughter was the Pac-10's only 1,000-yard receiver last year. Morales added 743 yards, while this duo combined for 15 of the Beavers 25 touchdown receptions. Catchings caught only seven passes but was No. 2 on the depth chart. Bishop was impressive while redshirting, particularly during Sun Bowl practices. And slot receiver James Rodgers figures to see more balls downfield this fall after mostly being a fly-sweep specialist the past two seasons.