Pac-12: Thretton Palamo

Utah Utes spring wrap

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
7:00
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Utah Utes

2012 record: 5-7
2012 conference record: 3-6 (Fifth in South Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; Defense 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners: WR Dres Anderson, TE Jake Murphy, QB Travis Wilson, RB Kelvin York, LB Brian Blechen, LB Trevor Reilly.

Key losses: RB John White, LT Sam Brenner, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Joe Kruger, DT Dave Kruger, KR Reggie Dunn, P Sean Sellwood, K Coleman Petersen.

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: John White (1,085)
Passing: Travis Wilson* (1,311)
Receiving: Dres Anderson* (365)
Tackles: Trevor Reilly* (69)
Sacks: Joe Kruger (6)
Interceptions: Ryan Lacy (2)

Spring answers
  1. Identity found: Sort of. The addition of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson has given the Utes the identity on offense that they were sorely missing last season. The Utes will join the ranks of several other spread teams in the conference with the hopes of improving the passing game. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said the team had previously been transitioning to the spread, but the addition of Erickson to the staff has hastened the process. Last year Utah ranked last in the Pac-12 in passing, averaging 190.7 yards per game.
  2. Shoring up the line: For now, it looks like Utah has found its starting five on the offensive line. And it’s a big, big bunch with an average weight of 320 pounds. Jeremiah Poutasi (345) is in at left tackle, Jeremiah Tofaeono (320) is in at left guard, Vyncent Jones (305) is in at center with Junior Salt (guard, 325) and Siaosi Aiono (305) on the right side. A lot of folks are excited to finally see Salt in action and the coaching staff has been singing his praises for more than a year.
  3. Backing up the back: It’s no secret that the Utes lost a talented runner in John White -- a two-time 1,000-yard rusher. Kelvin York, who sits atop the depth chart, showed promise in limited work last year. And this spring the coaching staff was able to develop some depth behind him with James Poole, Lucky Radley and Karl Williams all in contention to be the first back off the bench.
Fall questions
  1. No. 2 QB? Travis Wilson, who started the second half of last season, did a good job entrenching himself as the starter and creating some separation from the pack. But any Utah fan worth their salt knows how important quarterback depth can be -- especially after the past few years. And the race will be on this fall to see if Adam Schulz or Brandon Cox will be Wilson’s primary understudy.
  2. Looking for something special: The Utes have to replace a kicker and a punter in 2013. As of now, it looks like kicking duties fall to Andy Phillips while Tom Hackett takes over at punter. Speaking of special teams, there’s also the departure of All-American kick returner Reggie Dunn to consider. The top candidates to return kicks are Quinton Pedroza and Charles Henderson.
  3. D-line in transition: Utah lost 75 percent of a very talented defensive line crew -- including first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei and the Kruger brothers. And it looks like a lot remains unsettled. Nate Orchard and Jason Whittingham are separated by an “or” at left end, one of the two tackle spots is up for grabs between LT Tuipulotu and Sese Ianu and Whittingham and converted linebacker Trevor Reilly are both up for that right end spot. Kyle Whittingham has said he’s still not sure how he’ll play Reilly -- who could spend more time with his hand down, working in a hybrid DL/LB role.
Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the war room!
Did you know that Oregon running back Kenjon Barner was recruited as a DB? That position switch has worked out, eh?

Every season, players are moved from one position to another. Sometimes the move is the player's idea. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes he likes the switch. Sometimes he doesn't.

And position switches often don't yield much. But sometimes they do.

So which Pac-12 position switch seems like a "Eureka!" moment this preseason. Here are a couple of ideas.

Kevin Gemmell: This is an intriguing question. Back when spring started, I probably would have said USC's Tre Madden switching from linebacker to running back. As it turns out, Madden got hurt, the Trojans got Silas Redd and all is well once again in the USC backfield.

[+] EnlargeTravis Long
AP Photo/Cal Sport MediaTravis Long will be playing a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position this season.
UCLA's Joseph Fauria and Washington State's Andrei Lintz are also fascinating cases. Both now have "wide receiver" titles and more receiving responsibilities. I'm on record as saying both will flourish in their "new" roles. But they are essentially still just hybrid tight ends.

But it's Lintz's teammate, defensive end-turned linebacker Travis Long that strikes me as possibly the most impactful position change in the entire conference.

Washington State had a run defense that was marginal at best last year -- ranking seventh in the conference while yielding 157.2 yards per game. Long ranked in the top five in the Pac-12 in tackles for a loss, racking up an average of one per game last season.

So it stands to reason that you take WSU's best run-stopper, especially now that Alex Hoffman-Ellis is gone, and you unleash him and let him do what he does best.

At 6-4, 243 pounds, Long had good size as a 4-3 defensive end, but was probably on the smaller side of the spectrum. He relied on his speed to make plays in the backfield, and he was good at it. But now that speed is going to serve him better as WSU's "buck" linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme, which is essentially a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position.

The Cougars will get the best of both worlds out of Long. He'll have his hand down a few times, hand up a few times, but still be able to use that burst and explosiveness to make plays. Think of how Stanford uses Chase Thomas and you'll start to get an idea of what Long is capable of.

The move should create a spike in Long's tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks. But he also has pretty good ball instincts, having deflected three balls as a defensive end. Put that to use a couple of yards off the line and you have a guy who can be an impact player in both the rush and pass defense.

Talking with Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske, he told me they plan to be very "multiple" with Long. Meaning they'll move him all over the field. Inside, outside, hand up, hand down and short of being a nickel back, Long will have his fingerprints all over this defense.

Washington State is going to score points. That's a foregone conclusion with the quarterback and receivers they have running Mike Leach's system. At question is if the defense in the new 3-4 look can slow down teams enough. While there will be growing pains, the move is a good one for Long and great one for the Cougars.

Ted Miller: I'm going to cheat by naming two guys. But since it's two guys making the same switch, it's not so bad. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Both Arizona senior Taimi Tutogi and Utah junior Thretton Palamo are running backs who have switched to defense, though Tutogi is still playing RB/FB, so he could go both ways.

They are similar in dimensions. Palamo, a former elite rugby player, is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. Tutogi is 6-1, 260. So these guys are stocky and built low to the ground and, as former running backs, obviously have above average speed.

Both figure mostly to be pass-rush specialists, using their speed and power to slip around lumbering offensive tackles on the edge.

Arizona's situation is a bit more desperate in terms of pass rush. Last year, the Wildcats finished with a measly 10 sacks, which ranked last in the Pac-12 and 116th in the nation. Making matters worse, they are replacing both starting defensive ends from 2011, C.J. Parish and Mohammed Usman.

You might say good riddance, but keep in mind that no one on the roster was good enough to unseat them. Parish led the Wildcats with, gulp, three sacks.

Utah had a solid pass rush last year, recording 30 sacks, which ranked fifth in the conference. But its leading sack man, Derrick Shelby, is off to the NFL -- and playing well in the Miami Dolphins camp. While Joe Kruger has moved into Shelby's spot and has a good shot to match his production, Nate Fakahafua is unproven on the left side. That's who Palamo is backing up.

The early results with both have been promising, though we won't really know their roll and production until the games begin.

It's unlikely either one of these guys is going to become the primary starter. But here's a guess that one -- or both -- is going to bolster a pass rush this fall.
Every team has a strength -- that one position group that can make a play on offense or make a big stop on defense when needed.

Based on what happened this spring, we're going to look at the strongest position group for each school. It could be on either side of the ball -- and it could be subject to change after fall camp goes into full swing.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Utah

Strongest position group: Defensive line

Headliner: Star Lotulelei (44 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks)

Supporting cast: Joe Kruger (35/5/3); Dave Kruger (22/1.5/1); Nate Fakahafua (4/0/0); Thretton Palamo (6/0/0); LT Tuipulotu (6/0/0)

The skinny: With an average weight across the projected starting four of 284 pounds, there isn't a lot of skinny to be found. And it starts in the middle with Lotulelei, the sitting Morris Trophy holder and All-America candidate. The 325-pounder feasts on double-teams. His job isn't to put up mind-blowing stats, it's to take multiple offensive linemen out of the play and allow his linebackers to mop up, and there is no defensive lineman in the conference that does it better. It's why he's being projected as a top five pick in next year's NFL draft.

He's got some pretty good experience alongside him as well with Dave Kruger, a three-year starter at defensive tackle who has 27 starts since his freshman year and has played in 38-of-39 games.

LT Tuipulotu missed spring ball with a knee injury, but should be good to go in the fall and he'll spell Lotulelei and Kruger along with redshirt freshman Seni Fauonuku.

On one defensive end spot, Joe Kruger returns and added some weight. He's up to about 275. Fakahafua will be the only first-time starter, but he saw some time as a true freshman so nothing should really be all that daunting. JC transfer Niasi Leota, true freshman Hunter Dimick and Palamo, a converted running back, add good depth to an already nasty group.

Utah spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
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2011 overall record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 4-5 (T 3rd, South)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 7; punter/kicker: 2

Top returners
QB Jordan Wynn, DT Star Lotulelei, RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, S Brian Blechen, OL Sam Brenner.

Key losses
OL Tony Bergstrom, DE Derrick Shelby; LB Chaz Walker, OL John Cullen.

2011 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: John White* (1,519 yards)
Passing: Jon Hays* (1,459 yards)
Receiving: DeVonte Christopher* (663 yards)
Tackles: Chaz Walker (118)
Sacks: Derrick Shelby, Trevor Reilly* (5)
Interceptions: Conroy Black (4)

Spring answers
1. High hopes: Quarterback Jordan Wynn is healthy -- hopefully for more than just a few weeks at a time. After a fantastic true freshman year, Wynn's career has been hijacked by multiple injuries that have limited his time. He's put on more weight (up to about 210) and if he stays healthy, should have great success with Brian Johnson running the offense.

2. LB answers: The Utes had some holes to fill at the linebacker spot with the departures of Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez, leaving Trevor Reilly as the only returning starter. But V.J. Fehoko appears to have won the job at the middle linebacker spot and either Jacoby Hale or LT Filiaga will fill the rover spot.

3. RB depth: John White had more carries than any other running back in the conference last season. That's a lot of wear and tear, so developing some guys behind him was crucial. Harvey Langi and Kelvin York established themselves as the guys behind White. Both are bigger -- Langi is 228 and York is 225 -- so they'll be a nice change of pace from the speedier White.

Fall questions
1. Who has Wynn's back? Developing a guy behind Wynn -- giving his history of injury -- is pretty crucial. It looks like Jon Hays would probably be the guy if Wynn goes down again -- which makes sense -- because the Utes probably don't want to burn a redshirt year on Travis Wilson or Chase Hansen. But on his latest depth chart, head coach Kyle Whittingham left an "OR" between Hays and Wilson, leaving the door open that maybe he has a little more faith in Wilson.

2. Who has Wynn's backside? The Utes have to fill two substantial holes left by departed tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom. As of now, Percy Taumoelau is penciled in at left tackle and Daniel Nielson is slotted for the right tackle. But Whittingham has said those aren't set in stone. Cullen and Bergstrom were two of the best in the conference. No easy job stepping in for those guys.

3. DL depth: Up front, Utah is probably as good as anyone in the conference with Lotulelei, Joe and Dave Kruger and Nate Fakahafua. But behind them, there are questions. Converted running back Thretton Palamo, Hunter Dimick and junior-college transfer Niasi Leota figure to be in the mix. But like the offensive-line spots, nothing is written in ink. Junior Salt and Tenny Palepoi could also see time in the rotation.

Spring scrimmage roundup

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
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Catching you up on the spring games and scrimmages from over the weekend.

Arizona State

All three of Arizona State's quarterbacks did some good things during Saturday's spring games. ASU didn't keep official stats, but Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic kept his own unofficial stats here.

Michael Eubank completed 8 of 15 passes for three touchdowns, Mike Bercovici went 12-of-21 for a pair of scores and Taylor Kelly was 10-of-12 with a touchdown and an interception. Eubank also rushed for a touchdown to go with 52 yards on the ground.

But the highlight might have been the performance of running back James Morrison, who carried 13 times for 83 yards and a score.

"I thought 'Tank' Morrison had an incredible spring," Graham said following Saturday's game. "... I think Tank is a guy that's going to contribute, no doubt about it."

Haller reports it was a pretty vanilla showing from the defense -- adding that linebacker Jason Franklin and cornerback Joe Eason logged interceptions.

"Once they started grasping and understanding the vision and our philosophy, the football part of it started to come along faster," defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said of implementing the system. "We threw the whole kitchen sink at them. We got everything in."

California

Zach Maynard completed 6 of 10 passes and tossed a 29-yard touchdown to Maurice Harris to open the scoring of the Cal Football Spring Experience. He also added a 1-yard touchdown run that put his team ahead 14-3. But his "Blue" team would ultimately fall to the "Gold" squad as a pair of long James Langford field goals, a C.J. Anderson touchdown run and a 40-yard touchdown pass from Zach Kline put the Gold team in front for good.

With the Blue team trailing 21-14, Austin Hinder connected with Stephen Anderson on a 75-yard touchdown as time expired. But the 2-point conversion failed and the Gold team held on 21-20.

“It was a good game, a hard-fought game and a good practice overall,” Maynard said. “Unfortunately, we got beat by one point.”

Kline, who threw a 40-yard touchdown to tight end Spencer Hagan in the fourth quarter and also completed the 2-point conversion, is off limits to the media. But Maynard said after the game that he thought Kline played well.

"Zach did very well today," Maynard said. "He's progressed since he's been here. He's one of those high-caliber type of guys so he's going to perform quickly and early."

Anderson looked particularly strong, rushing for 85 yards on 14 carries, which included a 15-yard touchdown run.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle noted strong defensive performancesfrom Mustafa Jalil and Cecil Whiteside. Puka Lopa, Whiteside and Nick Forbes shared game-high honors with seven tackles apiece.

UCLA

Following Saturday's scaled-down scrimmage, head coach Jim Mora said he was "encouraged, but not satisfied."

And it doesn't look like there is much clarity in the way of the quarterback competition, either. Richard Brehaut, Kevin Prince and Brett Hundley all threw interceptions. Though Prince and Brehaut both threw touchdowns to Steven Manfro.

Due to injuries and a lack of depth at several key positions, Mora made Saturday more about situational scrimmaging rather than a full experience.

"We are moving closer to the kids understanding my expectations," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told Chris Foster of the L.A. Times. " … It's hard for me to get mad at them for trying to run stuff they have never run before. We're getting to the point where these guys should have a handle on it. It's like a Rubik's Cube; you have to keep turning it until the colors line up."

Utah

Jordan Wynn completed 8 of 11 passes for 124 yards and a score, but two of the incompletions were interceptions in the annual spring game in front of more than 13,500 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Wynn's touchdown was a 48-yarder to Dres Anderson. It looked like he had touchdown No. 2, but a holding call negated the 21-yard pass to Westlee Tonga and Wynn was picked off in the end zone on the next play by Tyler Cahoon.

Naturally, head coach Kyle Whittingham isn't thrilled with turnovers in the end zone.

"You can't turn the ball over," he told Mike Sorenson of the Deseret News. "That's job one for the offense. You have to take care of the ball and we didn't get that done. That was one of the negatives, but the flip side is, the defense was making plays and they came up with two interceptions."

Running back Jarrell Oliver ran for a pair of scores and 24 yards on five carries.

Defensively, Dave Fagergren also had an interception and Joape Pela, running-back-turned-defensive end Thretton Palamo and Cameron Taylor all logged sacks.

"A lot of progress was made in many areas," said Whittingham. "Always, the most critical thing for us is to get fundamentals and technique sound during spring football. There is some scheme we will also put in with the change of coordinators. But overall, this was a very positive spring. We stayed very healthy, which is always something in question. It is still a work in progress, but with each successive recruiting class we have been able to add to the depth."

Washington State

Jeff Tuel was a crisp 19-of-21 for 285 yards two touchdowns as the first team offense had its strongest showing of the spring.

"Guys kind of let it go and we just played," Tuel said. "There wasn't a lot of hesitation from the first-team offense which was good to see. ... It's easy to come into a scrimmage and not be 100 percent focused. Today we really treated it like a game so guys came real focused and were real sharp with their routes and my reads and the receivers and myself were really on the same page and I felt good about it."

Marquess Wilson and Dominique Williams both had monster receiving days. Wilson caught four balls for 149 yards and a score and Williams had five catches for 122 yards to go with his touchdown.

Logan Mayes continued to be a terror on the defensive side, notching 4.5 touch sacks.

"I was pretty happy with our play, especially the D-line," Mayes said. "I feel like we've been getting after it all spring and we really proved it here. ... People are thinking of us as an offensive team right now, but we have some good defensive players out there. It's going to be an exciting year I think."

Pac-12's most intriguing players this spring

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
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There are plenty of stars back in the Pac-12 this spring. And there are plenty of interesting competition and young guys about to break through.

But here's a team-by-team list of the Pac-12's most intriguing players this spring. These are guys who could be ready to emerge, redeem themselves or are simply critical for their team's success.

Arizona: LB Brian Wagner
The senior transfer was a tackling machine at Akron and he's likely to start for a rebuilding Wildcats defense. But can he keep up with Pac-12 offensive skill?

Arizona State: QB Michael Eubank
The redshirt freshman was recruited by new Sun Devils coach Todd Graham when Graham was at Pittsburgh, so Graham obviously believes Eubank has what it takes to run his no-huddle, spread offense. Impressive athlete.

California: WR Maurice Harris
The redshirt freshman is the top candidate to become the No. 2 receiver behind All-American candidate Keenan Allen.

Colorado: OT Stephane Nembot
Recruited as a defensive end, the redshirt freshman has an NFL frame -- 6-foot-8, 310 pounds -- and tons of athletic ability. He's green, but that might not stop him from earning a starting spot.

Oregon: WRs Devon Blackmon, B.J. Kelley and Tacoi Sumler
All three are redshirt freshmen. All three were touted recruits. At least one needs to step up at a position that is questionable for the Ducks.

Oregon State: OT Michael Philipp
Philipp was a touted recruit -- everybody in the Pac-12 wanted him -- and he won the starting left tackle spot as a true freshman in 2009, earning Freshman All-American honors. But, in large part due to injuries, his career has regressed. Will he take a step forward this spring? It would be huge for the Beavers if he did.

Stanford: CB Wayne Lyons
While coach David Shaw said Lyons was only about "85 percent" during the Cardinal's first of two spring sessions due to his on-going recovery from the broken foot that ruined his freshman season, Shaw also said he believes Lyons is a future All-American.

UCLA: QB Brett Hundley
While Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut both are back with significant starting experience, it wouldn't be surprising if Hundley, a redshirt freshman, won the starting job. Or at least earned playing time next fall.

USC: LB/RB Tre Madden
Madden is a beastly good athlete who is going to play on one side of the ball or the other. Maybe both. He backed up Dion Bailey at strongside LB last year, but the 6-foot, 220-pounder may end up bolstering the backfield depth.

Utah: DE Thretton Palamo
Palamo flashed potential in the running back competition last preseason, but that same athletic ability might make the 6-foot-2, 250 pounder a dangerous pass-rusher. No question about ability to tackle, seeing that he's a former rugby star.

Washington: DT Danny Shelton
The 6-1, 334-pound sophomore looks like a nice fit at nose tackle if the Huskies move to a base 3-4 with new D-coordinator Justin Wilcox. But whatever the defense is, Shelton showed signs during his true freshman season that he can be an All-Pac-12 defensive lineman.

Washington State: DE/OLB Travis Long
Long is a three-year starter at defensive end, and during that span has mostly been the Cougars' best defensive player. It's interesting, however, because new coach Mike Leach said he's intrigued with Long playing outside linebacker in a new 3-4 scheme. Can the 6-foot-4, 256-pounder make that transition work?

Wynn looks good in Utah scrimmage

August, 11, 2011
8/11/11
4:43
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Maybe Jordan Wynn's shoulder is OK after all.

Wynn, who didn't throw Wednesday after seeing only limited action the previous two days, completed 9-of-17 passes for 152 yards and a 26-yard touchdown in a 90-play scrimmage Thursday. He was not intercepted.

Wynn is coming back from shoulder surgery, so this was his first full-go work since last November.

"It was great to have Jordan (Wynn) back," coach Kyle Whittingham said in a quote provided by the school. "He engineered two or three really nice drives. John White did a really nice job running the ball.”

White, a JC transfer, led all rushers with 12 carries for 47 yards, as the competition at tailback with Harvey Langi and Thretton Palamo continues. Langi rushed for just 10 yards on seven carries, while Palamo had eight carries for 21 yards. Fourth option Tauni Vakapuna provided the long run of the day at 31 yards.

While the scrimmage showed that Wynn's shoulder is progressing, it also seemed to show how much the Utes need him to be healthy. Backup quarterback Jon Hays tossed three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, completing 4 of 12 passes, while Tyler Shreve was 0 for 2 on the day.

Lunch links: Buffs' issues at cornerback

August, 11, 2011
8/11/11
2:30
PM ET
There are two kinds of people in this world : those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and those who are smart enough to know better.
The Pac-12 features another strong crop of running backs -- five returning 1,000-yard rushers -- but there are also a few teams facing uncertainty at the position.

So how does it stack up?

Great shape

    [+] EnlargeLaMichael James
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesLaMichael James leads a talented running back corps that has both experience and depth.
  • Oregon: It's not just that the Ducks have Heisman Trophy finalist and unanimous All-American LaMichael James coming back, it's that they have Kenjon Barner and Lache Seastrunk to help carry the load. When you toss in touted incoming freshman De’Anthony Thomas -- play or redshirt? -- Oregon may have the best backfield in the nation.
  • Washington: Chris Polk is a workhorse who gained 1,415 yards last season -- he's also a good receiver -- and there's good depth with Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper, who sat out last year with a knee injury.
  • Stanford: Stepfan Taylor lead the way with 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2010, but the depth is phenomenal with Anthony Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney and Jeremy Stewart.
  • UCLA: Not unlike Stanford, there's a returning 1,000-yard rusher -- Johnathan Franklin -- and great depth: Derrick Coleman, Malcolm Jones and Jordan James.
  • Colorado: Rodney Stewart, at 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, is a diminutive workhorse. He rushed for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010. The only issue here is depth, though redshirt freshman Tony Jones had a nice spring.
Good shape
We'll see

  • California: Strange to see Cal down here, eh? What in the name of J.J., Marshawn, Jahvid and Vereen is going on? Isi Sofele is No. 1 on the post-spring depth chart, but it's wide open after that, with incoming freshmen expected to be immediately in the mix.
  • Oregon State: The Beavers have experience with Ryan McCants, but he's struggled to break through. Sophomore Jovan Stevenson, redshirt freshman Malcolm Marable and grayshirt freshman Terron Ward are options, as is Jordan Jenkins, who missed spring with a shoulder injury.
  • Utah: The Utes lost their top three backs from 2010, and their top three backs heading into 2011 have no experience. But John White, Harvey Langi and Thretton Palamo showed plenty of promise this spring. It's just we don't know what they'll do when the lights go on in Pac-12 play.
  • Washington State: Logwone Mitz and Carl Winston are back -- they combined for 353 yards in 2010 -- and hopes are high for Ricky Galvin, who was injured early in the Cougars opening game last fall. But this is not a position of strength for the Cougars.
Previous reviews

Quarterback

A rugby insurrection!

May, 10, 2011
5/10/11
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The rugby community in Berkeley appears to be planning a scrum that runs right over the Pac-12 blog.

It appears there was a not-so-minor mistake in a note we had on Utah running back Thretton Palamo, who doubles as an international rugby star when he's not competing to be the Utes starter. We noted -- INCORRECTLY -- that Utah had beaten California for the rugby national championship.

Actually, the Utes beat the Bears last June in an invitational 7-vs-7 tournament -- 31-26 in overtime -- after the college season was over.

From the sports information offices in Berkeley: "It was branded as a 'championship' but it was not -- that name was co-opted by the organizers and, in fact, NBC Sports, which televised it."

Further, "A month earlier, in May 2010, Cal defeated BYU, 19-7, to win the national collegiate rugby championship that is contested by all universities, whereas the tourney Utah won was and still is a one-off, 16-team invite."

Speaking of rugby, football's crazy uncle, this Saturday the 2011 national semifinals take place in Glendale, Colo., and guess what? It's the Utes -- and Palamo -- versus the Bears, which you can watch live on the web on ESPN3 and on TV by tape delay the same night on ESPNU. The other semifinal features BYU and Arkansas State.

From Berkeley: "These are for berths in college rugby's real title match."

Which, by the way, Cal has won like a gazillion times.

Pac-12 spring superlatives

May, 9, 2011
5/09/11
1:30
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Everyone loves "best of" lists. Here's one for the Pac-12 after spring practices concluded.

Best performance by an offense: Noel Mazzone's crew saved its best for last. Arizona State's offense gained 601 yards in the spring game: 446 yards passing and 155 yards rushing. Junior quarterback Brock Osweiler completed 17 of 22 passes for 237 yards and five touchdowns.

Best performance by a defense: Utah's "Red" defense held the "White" offense to 106 total yards in a 7-0 "Red" victory.

Best performance by a defense II: The Oregon "Green" limited the "White" to 164 total yards, including only 63 rushing yards on 31 attempts, in a 16-0 Green win.

Best QB troika: Arizona's three senior quarterbacks -- Nick Foles, Matt Scott and Bryson Beirne -- combined to complete 31 of 42 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the Wildcats' spring game. Foles (11-16-133), Scott (11-14-134) and Beirne (8-9-115) found a total of 13 different receivers in 60 plays.

Best QB-TE connection: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and tight end Zach Ertz connected six times for 56 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.

Best "Jake Locker-who?" moment: In Washington's spring game, QB Keith Price completed 20 of 28 passes for 212 yards with three TDs and no INTs, while also rushing for 53 yards and a TD on just five carries.

Best catch: In a scrimmage on April 14, UCLA WR Nelson Rosario made a leaping one-handed catch in the end zone over perfectly-positioned CB Sheldon Price for a 30-yard touchdown.

Best performance by a redshirt freshman tight end: Oregon State's Connor Hamlett had 11 receptions for 153 yards in the spring game.

Best run: In California's spring game, running back Isi Sofele dashed for a 65-yard TD run where he dove into the end zone just outracing safety Vachel Samuels.

Best run II: Oregon RB LaMichael James sprinted for a 67-yard touchdown run on his third and final carry of the spring game.

Best run III: Washington State RB Logwone Mitz broke off a 70-yard run down the left sideline for his first score of the Cougars spring game.

Best crowd: Oregon played its spring game in front of a conference spring game record crowd of 43,468.

Best performance by a walk-on: Colorado's sophomore walk-on running back Josh Ford rushed 17 times for 164 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown in the Buffaloes spring game.

Best performance by a backup QB: While starter Ryan Katz was out with a wrist injury, Cody Vaz cemented his status as the backup with a consistent strong performance all spring.

Best newbies: Arizona got a likely starter at receiver in Texas transfer Dan Buckner. Arizona State's big-armed trued freshman quarterback Mike Bercovici might end up as the Sun Devils backup QB. One of Cal's starting linebackers is likely to be grayshirt freshmen Cecil Whiteside and Chris McCain. Oregon freshman TE Colt Lyerla lived up to his recruiting hype and looks like he'll be in the rotation in 2011. JC transfer defensive end Rusty Fernando is on track to win a starting job at Oregon State. UCLA true freshman QB Brett Hundley is still in the race to start. Utah's three candidates to start at running back are newbies: JC transfer John White, freshman Harvey Langi and walk-on Thretton Palamo. Washington freshman TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is listed as an "Or" for the starting spot with redshirt freshman Michael Hartvigson. Washington State JC transfer Ian Knight finished spring No. 1 at DE.

Most international interest: Speaking of Utah's Thretton Palamo, he's best known as an international rugby star. A first-year sophomore who walked on this spring, he was the youngest player ever at age 19 to play in the Rugby World Cup. He played rugby for the Samoan national team in 2007 (his father captained Samoa’s national team as a teenager) and then switched to the U.S. National Team. He also played professionally for the French team Biarritz Olympique.

Best "you've never heard of me but you will": Colorado DT Conrad Obi had just four tackles last year and has played just 100 snaps in his career, but the 310-pound fifth-year senior was selected as the Buffaloes Most Improved Player this spring. In the three scrimmages, he had 20 tackles (17 solo, six for losses, two sacks), four third-down stops and four tackles for zero yards (so 10 of the 20 were at or behind the line of scrimmage). Oh, and he also forced fumble.

Best "graduate-a-semester-early-from-high-school-enroll-in-the-spring-earn-a-starting-job-by-default": USC fullback Soma Vainuku went from high school to Stanley Havili's replacement the first week of spring practices.

Best buzz, non-football division: Arizona State's "It's Time" campaign created plenty of a national buzz in advance of the April 12 launch of the rebrand, which included a new logo. The Sun Devils joined Oregon as the most fashion-forward Pac-12 team.

Best "Thank you for Starbucks" decision: USC starting all weekday spring practices at 7:25 a.m.

They said it (best quotes of spring)
Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton on QB Andrew Luck:
"He was able to complete 70 percent of his passes last year. Our goal is for him to complete 100 percent of his passes."

California coach Jeff Tedford on falling short of expectations in Berkeley:
"Eight wins is not what they want. And that's because that's where we put the standard. I get that now."

Washington State coach Paul Wulff on turning things around in Pullman:
"As those things start to grow and age -- like a fine wine -- your team is going to start winning football games. I think this team is going to win football games and I think we can compete for a bowl game, without question."

Arizona State receiver Gerell Robinson on the Sun Devils new logo:
"It's different. I like it. It's more aggressive. Sparky had a smile on his face."

USC coach Lane Kiffin on where the Trojans stand:
"There's too many questions. I think it would be a little tough to say this team is better than last year."

Arizona coach Mike Stoops on his receivers:
"I think he gives us the two best outside receivers maybe in the country. Having [Dan] Buckner and [Juron] Criner on opposite sides is going to create problems for people."

UCLA Rick Neuheisel on potentially being fired:
"If it were to happen that they were to replace me, I'm confident I would find another job. It wouldn't be the end of the world. I don't think my kids would starve. But I'm adamantly wanting to be here because this is my school and I believe we're closing in on where we want to go."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on whether he feels any sentiment for the Mountain West Conference:
"Not really. I'm not a sentimental guy so there's really no emotional ties or anything of that nature. I can say the Mountain West was very good for us. It was a good run."

Colorado coach Jon Embree on what his team needs to do to win:
"We've got to attack. We can't just sit back. I'm an honest person. We are not good enough to just line up and say we're going to beat you. From a talent standpoint, we're not at that elite level yet."

Spring concludes: Utah

April, 15, 2011
4/15/11
1:30
PM ET
Spring game: The Red-White game will be played in Rice-Eccles Stadium at 3 p.m. ET or 1 p.m. MST. Admission is free.

What happened: The Utes had a handful of goals this spring, including installing a new offense with coordinator Norm Chow, finding a backup QB behind Jordan Wynn, figuring out a pecking order at running back and completely rebuilding the secondary. Based on the scrimmages, the defense is ahead of the offense in achieving those goals. With Wynn sitting out after shoulder surgery, neither Tyler Shreve nor Griff Robles was able to consistently assert himself, so it's possible that new JC transfer Jon Hays could get into the picture this fall. It didn't help that a couple of key players were banged up on the offensive line. Things were encouraging on defense, where a number of youngsters stepped up to fill voids on the line and in the secondary.

What's ahead: The big question in preseason camp will be getting Wynn up to speed with Chow's offense, then figuring out who the backup will be. Former rugby star Thretton Palamo was the surprise star of the running back competition, but that competition is on-going with John White and Harvey Langi. All three figure to get plenty of touches. A number of players who missed much or all of the spring with injuries will re-entering competitions in August. Pecking orders don't seem firm at defensive end and in the secondary just yet.

Spring stars: Palamo, at 6-foot-2, 237 pounds, is intriguing because of his raw mix of size and speed. Sophomore DE Joe Kruger was a consistent presence on the edge. Redshirt freshman receiver Dres Anderson moved past junior Reggie Dunn on the two-deep. Terrell Reese, Michael Walker, Tyrone Morris-Edwards and Damian Payne have eased concerns at safety. Junior cornerback Ryan Lacy had a nice spring. When healthy, John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom give the Utes a strong combo at OT.

Notes: Players who won't play in the spring game for precautionary reasons or injuries include Jordan Wynn, Star Lotulelei, Joape Pela, Matt Martinez, Vyncent Jones, J.J. Williams, Sam Brenner, Greg Bird, Tony Bergstrom, James Aiono, DeVonte Christopher, Lei Talamaivao, Chaz Walker, Kendrick Moeai, Ryan Lacy, Dallin Rogers and John Cullen, among others. Others such as Brian Blechen, Conroy Black, Joe Kruger and Derrick Shelby will play only in the first half.

Pac-12 1,000-yard backs in 2011

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
9:00
AM ET
The Pac-10 produced six 1,000-yard rushers in 2010 -- seven if you include Colorado's Rodney Stewart -- and all seven could have returned in 2011 if Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and California's Shane Vereen had not opted to enter the NFL draft a year early.

Still, the returning collection of rushers is impressive.

Here's the list. Each is good enough to earn All-American and/or All-Conference consideration.

1. LaMichael James, Oregon: James was a Heisman Trophy finalist, a unanimous All-American and was the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's top running back. He also has a fine singing voice and cooks a mean batch of oatmeal cookies. Rushed for 1,731 yards and 21 TDs in 2010. Only thing that might cramp his numbers is a backfield that is crowded with talent. Two 1,000-yards rushers in 2011?

2. Chris Polk, Washington: Polk may be the favorite to lead the Pac-12 in rushing in 2011. Why? For one, the Huskies are breaking in a new quarterback, so it's unlikely they will pass 30 times per game. Second, Polk is a workhorse -- see 1,415 rushing yards in 2010. Third, the offensive line figures to be improved after surging late last year. Still, there is good depth behind Polk, so he might not get 260 carries again.

3. Rodney Stewart, Colorado: Stewart rushed for 1,318 yards last year, his 109.8 yards per game ranking 12th in the nation. "Speedy" -- that's what Stewart is called in Boulder -- at 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, is built a bit like Jacquizz Rodgers. Coach Jon Embree wasn't thrilled with the depth behind Stewart this spring, which could mean plenty of touches. But can Stewart stay healthy with another 290 carries, particularly in a 13-game season with no off weekends?

4. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards last year and would have had a lot more if not for continuing fumbling issues. And if Franklin holds onto the ball this fall, it's a good bet that he'll be in the All-Conference mix.

5. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor quietly rushed for 1,137 yards last year and has shined this spring -- coach David Shaw calls him a "stud." The Cardinal, however, is deep in the backfield. Taylor likely will share touches, particularly with talented sophomore Anthony Wilkerson.

And who are the top candidates to crash the 1,000-yard party? Consider:

Keola Antolin, Arizona: He no longer has to share the backfield with Nic Grigsby. But can he stay healthy?

Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: Marshall likely will split carries with Deantre Lewis, but Lewis has missed spring practices after being the victim of a random shooting in his hometown.

Isi Sofele, California: Cal always has a 1,000-yard rusher, but this year there's plenty of uncertainty in the backfield. Sofele is a clear No. 1, according to coach Jeff Tedford, but a strong incoming recruiting class might produce a challenge.

Terron Ward, Oregon State: Ward is a 5-foot-7, 190-pound grayshirt from powerhouse program De La Salle, and I know little about him. But Jacquizz Rodgers is high on him and that's good enough for me.

D.J. Morgan, USC: Marc Tyler rushed for 913 yards last year, but he struggles to stay healthy. Coach Lane Kiffin -- and reporters -- are gushing about Morgan. Of course, last preseason, everybody was gushing about Dillon Baxter.

Thretton Palamo, Utah: The former rugby star has been turning heads in Salt Lake City and may be the surprise winner of the RB competition.

Rickey Galvin, Washington State: Galvin, who broke his arm in the Cougars season-opener last year at Oklahoma State, is the Cougars most dynamic back. The Cougs passing game should be strong, which might create opportunities in the running game when defenses over-commit.

Utah notes: Wynn getting healthy

March, 28, 2011
3/28/11
5:23
PM ET
SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, who had shoulder surgery in December, will start throwing next week, coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Wynn will toss only short throws with a trainer and won't practice with the Utes this spring, but Whittingham said that Wynn's rehabilitation is "very much on schedule, if not ahead of schedule."

With Wynn out, sophomore Griff Robles and true freshman Tyler Shreve (a grayshirt) have been getting all the work with the first-team offense as they compete to back up Wynn in 2011. In just five practices, Shreve has shown enough that he's squarely in the hunt.

"He's progressed," Whittingham said. "He's a kid who has a strong arm. He sat out last season so he's a little rusty."

Some more notes:
  • Whittingham on the move of Brian Blechen from safety to linebacker: "It's very obvious that's where he belongs."
  • The running back competition is down to three guys: John White, Harvey Langi and Thretton Palamo. Luke Matthews had been listed as a running back but Whittingham said he's become more of a "slash" player: a receiver/running back.
  • In fact, it appears new offensive coordinator Norm Chow is bringing the "F-back" hybrid position to Utah. In the latest depth chart, Matthews and tight end Jake Murphy were listed as "fullbacks." In the previous depth chart, receiver Mo Lee also was listed there.
  • Boo Anderson has moved back to linebacker after starting spring as a fullback.
  • Whittingham seemed to be feeling pretty good about his front seven, particularly defensive tackles Star Lotulelei -- Whittingham said he's "the anchor of the defensive line" -- and James Aiono.
  • When asked for some standout redshirt freshmen so far this spring, Whittingham listed Murphy, receivers Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott, linebackers V.J.Fehoko and Jacoby Hale, and safety Terrell Reese.

Will have more after practice.

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