Pac-12: Taylor Taliulu

Today, we finish our preseason position reviews.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Safety. Teams in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

GREAT

Arizona: Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis return with a combined 78 starts. On Thursday, Tevis, a former walk-on, was named to the Bronko Nagurski watch list for the nation's best defensive player. Safety is a clear strength for the Wildcats.

Oregon State: Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman both begin Year 3 as starters. Combined, they have 345 career tackles and neither has missed a game the past two years. Murphy was an all-conference honorable mention selection last year.

UCLA: Between Randall Goforth, Anthony Jefferson and Tahaan Goodman, the Bruins are loaded with talent at safety. Both Goforth and Jefferson were named all-conference honorable mention last season, but Goodman has the potential to be the best of the group. Tyler Foreman, a well-regarded recruit, will be coming off his redshirt.

USC: Despite losing Dion Bailey early to the NFL, USC still has the potential to have one of the best safety combinations the conference. Su'a Cravens might have been the best freshman safety in the country last season. Who he'll play next to remains a bit of a question, but if it's Josh Shaw -- who is proven at both safety positions -- or someone else, possibly Leon McQuay III, USC will be in great shape.

GOOD

Arizona State: One of only two returning starters for the Sun Devils on defense is safety Damarious Randall, which, by default, will rise expectations for his performance. The competition for the other starting spot still needs to run its course, but many expect Marcus Ball, who missed last season with an injury, to win the job.

Stanford: Jordan Richards is a potential All-American at strong safety, but the spot opposite him remains the biggest question mark on the Stanford defense. The vacancy, created by Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL, resulted in the coaching staff moving a pair of offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and receiver Kodi Whitfield to safety. Those two will compete with Zach Hoffpauir, who spent the spring playing baseball, and Kyle Olugbode.

WE'LL SEE

California: Much like the case at linebacker, the Bears return several players that have started games, but based on the defense's performance last year, it's hard to generate much optimism. The best thing going for the group is the return of Avery Sebastian, who was a starter before going down with an Achilles tear in the first half of the first game last year (at which point he already had 10 tackles and a pick). He'll likely line up next to Michael Lowe.

Colorado: Jered Bell is back, but the Buffs need to replace Parker Orms, who was a fixture in the starting lineup the last two seasons. Tedric Thompson, Marques Mosley and Terrel Smith have all started games in the past and they'll compete with Ryan Moeller, who is coming off his redshirt.

Oregon: Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson ran out of eligibility which makes safety one of question marks facing Oregon headed into 2014. Pencil in Erick Dargan, a fifth-year senior that has contributed throughout his career, at one spot, but the other isn't as clear. Issac Dixon is probably the favorite, but Tyree Robinson should push him.

Utah: After three years of starting at safety, Eric Rowe split his time between corner and safety in the spring and will likely wind up playing more cornerback. That move leaves the safety spot a little hazy. Tevin Carter, who started his career as a receiver at Cal, went to a junior college and sat out last season due to academic issues, is expected to have one spot. Brian Blechen, who missed last season with an injury, should have the other. Although, Blechen could play linebacker, which would likely result in Charles Henderson at safety.

Washington: The Huskies don't return either starting safety, but have a large group of talented players vying for playing time. It's probably too early to make safe predictions on who will start, but Brandon Beaver, Trevor Walker, Kevin King and Thomas Vincent are all in the mix. UW also signed three safeties to its most recent recruiting class.

Washington State: If you were to name the individual player who meant more to his team's defense than any other last season, Deone Bucannon might have been that pick. Without him, the Cougars have a likely pair of starters in Isaac Dotson, a former quarterback, and Taylor Taliulu, who lost his starting job late last year.

Spring games primer

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
12:00
PM ET
Three more Pac-12 spring games are slated for Saturday. Here’s a look at what to watch in all three.

California

Where: Memorial Stadium
Kickoff: 11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network (Replays throughout the week)

What to watch: The Bears have a new defensive coordinator … again … so watching them adjust to Art Kaufman’s 4-3 vs. Andy Buh’s 4-3 will be of note. Though a depth chart was recently released, there are still a few positions up for grabs. There are some questions about the right side of the offensive line and backup quarterbacks can usually make an impression in the spring. The depth chart lists an “or” between Austin Hinder and Kyle Boehm, so expect those two to jockey for position behind incumbent starter Jared Goff. The event is free and there will be giveaways and kids’ activities. Click here for details.

UCLA

Where: StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.
Kickoff: 5 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network (Replays throughout the week)

What to watch: As has been the case with UCLA the last couple of years, youth and injuries make for some mixing and matching on the offensive line. This spring has proven no different, so look for the right tackle spot to be highly competitive beyond Saturday’s game. The running backs are intriguing as well. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone saidJordon James has evolved into the one-cut runner that he wants him to be, but Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro and touted redshirt freshman Craig Lee will push for carries. Finding a suitable backup for Brett Hundley, be it Asiantii Woulard or Jerry Neuheisel, is also a top priority, and the spring game could create some separation. Note, tickets are $5 in advance, $10 day of (free for UCLA students and children 2 and younger). Parking is $15. Players will be available for autographs between 3 and 3:45. Click here for details.

Washington State

Where: Joe Albi Stadium, Spokane, Wash.
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network (Replays throughout the week)

What to watch: This is the fourth year the Cougars will be holding their spring game in Spokane. All reports are that quarterback Connor Halliday has shown a strong command of the offense and wide receiver Vince Mayle has been outstanding. However, the big question mark still lies in the secondary, where definitely three -- maybe four -- positions are still up for grabs. The spring depth chart has Charleston White and Daquawn Brown at the corner spots and Isaac Dotson and Taylor Taliulu as the safeties. But those won't be set in stone for a while. There are other position groups of interest, naturally. But defensive coordinator Mike Breske told the Pac-12 blog, while he likes his front seven, the back end of the defense, without question, has been the biggest point of emphasis this spring.
As Washington State kicks off spring ball Thursday, head coach Mike Leach isn’t focusing on one particular theme or message. In his mind, the message should be universal: get better every day, regardless of the calendar. And if he has to remind his guys of that, then, well, they aren’t his guys.

“We don’t have a lot of guys looking for ways to get out of work,” Leach said. “They are all collectively working pretty hard. Those looking for the easy way are quickly getting outnumbered.”

As Leach enters his third spring as the Cougars’ head coach, the team has taken on more of a “his guys” personality. Gone are the days of whiny receivers and bellyaching over workouts. He believes everyone on his roster is committed to his way of thinking … at least, he hopes so.

And his guys know that heading into spring, nothing is certain.

“Everything is a competition,” Leach said. “People have the opportunity to beat one another out and you earn your job every day. The reps will be split up. The guys who are ahead or performing better will get more reps to try and further develop their skills. How you perform will impact the number of reps you get. But that won’t declare anything necessarily. Once you get to camp you have to do it all over again.”

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonMike Leach is stressing competition this spring.
That shines an extremely bright spotlight on a few position groups: the secondary, the offensive line and possibly running back. The Cougars have to replace All-American safety Deone Bucannon and both corners, Damante Horton and Nolan Washington. Several spots on the line are up for grabs -- returning starters included. And even the running back position, where Marcus Mason returns as the team’s leading rusher, isn’t a sure bet. Leach praised the potential of Theron West and Jamal Morrow.

“That whole position is chopping at his heels,” Leach said. “Mason was a steady guy last year. He did some good things. At the end of last year, the hottest running back we had was West. A lot of that took place in the bowl workouts and he had a pretty good game in the bowl game. Then Morrow has looked pretty good. He redshirted and did a lot of good things there. It will be a very competitive position.”

The spring depth chart -- the very definition of a living document -- lists a lot of youth in the secondary, including redshirt freshman Charleston White and sophomore Daquawn Brown as the corners and sophomore Isaac Dotson and junior Taylor Taliulu as the safeties.

“There are plenty of jobs open there,” Leach said. “The corner positions are open. The safety positions are open. It will be interesting to see. It’s a bunch of people who haven’t played a lot so they’ll be fighting it out to see who gets more playing time.”

Notes

  • Leach said he believes backup quarterbacks Tyler Bruggman and Luke Falk will get enough work to put some pressure on incumbent starter Connor Halliday: “I think Bruggman and Falk are both capable of pushing him. Both have a really good skill sets. Connor has the advantage in experience. We’re going to have the opportunity to rep a lot of them. We’ll run two pass skills throughout spring and rotate guys around. They’ll all have a lot of reps.”
  • The depth in the secondary might be complicated by the recent legal trouble of Brown. While he’s still officially listed on the depth chart, Leach said they are taking a wait-and-see approach with him: “We’re going to have to wait and see how everything unfolds. Right now what’s come out has been greatly embellished so we’ll have to see how all of that comes out.”
  • Leach was asked his thoughts on the news Wednesday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees and could unionize: “If these guys are professionals and they want everything to be like it is in the NFL, that means that shortly we’re going to be having a draft and I for one would be pretty excited about having a whole nation full of quality athletes to draft from. So I’m looking forward to that … That means if somebody doesn’t perform well, you pay them less. If somebody performs real well, you pay them more. Although obviously every team should have the same salary cap. In addition to that, you have the opportunity to draft anybody you want. And maybe I’m wrong, but it follows if we’re going to professionalize this kind of stuff. It follows that you handle it like professionals do.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12