Thursday, May 05, 2005

College football: A stormy spring

By Rob Moseley
The Register-Guard
It was a wild spring in the Pac-10 Conference, and not always for the right reasons. While the Ducks experimented with their new spread option offense and the Beavers searched for a new quarterback, injuries, suspensions and arrests marred spring drills around the league.
Among the star players who missed spring with injuries were USC quarterback Matt Leinart and Washington State linebacker Will Derting, who will be among the top candidates for Pac-10 offensive and defensive player of the year honors next fall. Running back LenDale White was among a group of Trojans who missed drills due to academics, and both USC and Arizona State had their camps marred by criminal allegations.

Washington State's Alex Brink (10), the former Sheldon High standout, saw plenty of time at quarterback for the Cougars this spring thanks to injuries to last year's starter, Josh Swogger. WSU coach Bill Doba says he still expects Swogger to be his starter this fall.
Photo: Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images
But there was also plenty of action on the field for Oregon's 11 opponents next fall. Note that the Ducks don't play UCLA this season, and that the Washington State game will be followed by the Nov. 19 Civil War with Oregon State at Autzen Stadium to close the regular season.
Sept. 1, at Houston
A wealth of depth at one position and a lack of numbers at another dominated camp for the Cougars.
Hoping to take advantage of his strong group of linebackers, coach Art Briles switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense this spring. The Ducks will see a 3-4 front from at least two opponents this season, Houston and Stanford.
Offensively, Briles is concerned about his lack of depth on the line. Quarterback Kevin Kolb is an accurate thrower who has started for two seasons, but the Cougars must block for him.
Sept. 10, vs. Montana
The Grizzlies, defending Big Sky champs, spent spring drills trying to settle on a quarterback. Redshirt freshman Cole Bergquist tried to fend off Jason Washington, a transfer from Bowling Green, with Bergquist posting the better numbers in scrimmages.
Not that those were great numbers. Montana's defense mostly dominated the offense this spring. In the final scrimmage, lasting 69 plays, the offense was held to just 108 yards while allowing seven sacks, six turnovers and two touchdowns by the defense. Montana linebacker Shane MacIntyre, the team's leading tackler last fall, is on the watch list for the Lott Trophy, given to the nation's defensive player of the year.
It's too bad this matchup couldn't have occurred a season earlier. In that case, Oregon could have faced off against a former Duck, tight end Willie Walden, who was an honorable mention all-league pick last year as a senior at Montana.
Sept. 17, vs. Fresno State
The Bulldogs have 18 starters back, just one reason coach Pat Hill thinks this could be the best team he's ever had at Fresno State - better even than David Carr and company. Among the starters lost were two taken in the NFL draft, one more than the Ducks can claim.
The Bulldogs are stacked in the backfield, where quarterback Paul Pinegar is poised to become a four-year starter. There is also a logjam at tailback, where last year's tandem of Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis is joined by Dwayne Wright, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2003 who missed last season with a knee injury. Wright may not be back in time for the Oregon game, unless his rehabilitation goes particularly well this summer.
On defense, tackle Louis Leonard missed spring with a wrist injury, though he is expected to start in the fall. The Bulldogs are looking for a replacement for two-time all-WAC safety James Sanders, who entered the NFL draft as a junior.
Sept. 24, vs. USC
After a two-year reprieve, the Trojans are back on the schedule for Oregon this fall, and the Ducks will see a significantly different team from the one USC fielded this spring. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Leinart and all-purpose threat Reggie Bush sat out after surgical procedures, and tailback White missed spring drills to concentrate on academics.
The Trojans also endured the arrest of cornerback Eric Wright on suspicion of rape, though, ultimately, he wasn't charged. For a time USC only had one scholarship cornerback this spring, due to Wright's arrest and various injuries. Then there was the broken jaw suffered by tight end Dominique Byrd - himself academically ineligible - while fighting with teammate Steve Smith.
It wasn't all injuries and suspensions - in the absence of Bush and White, tailback Chauncey Washington stepped up. And the USC offensive line benefited from the return of Winston Justice, one of the most talented linemen in the conference. Justice missed last season while suspended from school.
Oct. 1, at Stanford
The Cardinal opened camp under first-year coach Walt Harris, who said he will stick with a 3-4 defensive front while running a West Coast offense. The big question remains who will run that offense; both Trent Edwards and T.C. Ostrander started at quarterback last season.
Edwards seems to have the lead after spring drills, though Ostrander isn't out of the picture. As a whole the offense struggled to adapt to the new system, but with 10 starters back, a quick learning curve should be expected. It's not rocket science, after all - and some of these guys are smart enough to be majoring in rocket science.
The defense didn't face such dramatic change this spring, which is good for a unit that lost six starters. One of the five returners, pass-rushing linebacker Jon Alston, missed camp with a knee injury.
Oct. 8, at Arizona State
No camp was more tumultuous this season than Arizona State's, which endured tragedy beyond the scope of a coaching change or major injury. Running back Loren Wade's arrest on murder charges cast a pall over Sun Devils camp that probably won't lift until the fall.
On the field, Arizona State was so depleted by injuries in the secondary that basketball player Jason Braxton spent three weeks as a cornerback before deciding the injury risk was too high. The Sun Devils will eagerly await the arrival of two JC transfers and two freshmen in the fall, not to mention the return to health of corners Jason Golden and R.J. Oliver.
Oliver was granted a sixth year of eligibility due to medical hardship, as was safety Emmanuel Franklin, though he missed spring drills for undisclosed reasons. Also, potential starting linebacker Matt Fawley left the team for personal reasons.
Oct. 15, vs. Washington
New head coach Ty Willingham got down to business in a hurry with the Huskies - facial hair was limited, and players couldn't wear their hair below the shoulders. It might have helped the team's aesthetics, but Washington's lack of talent in relation to the rest of the Pac-10 should be a bigger concern.
Once again, the Huskies spent spring drills trying to decide on a starting quarterback. By the conclusion of the spring game, the athletic Isaiah Stanback was atop the depth chart, with Oregon transfer Johnny DuRocher second. The ascension of Stanback probably shouldn't be set in stone, as the Huskies amassed just three points on offense in their spring game.
And that was against a defense depleted by injury. Linebackers Joe Lobendahn and Scott White missed most of the spring, and the line was equally sapped. Washington also has to replace both starting cornerbacks, and will look to the arrival of three JC players in the fall for help.
One bright spot was the play of Joe Toledo, who moved from tight end to tackle this offseason and could be a starter in the fall - a nice story, but what happened to the guys on the roster who had been playing tackle their entire careers?
Oct. 22, at Arizona
The intensity didn't wane in the Wildcats' second spring under fiery head coach Mike Stoops, particularly on defense. Though the offense outscored the defense in Arizona's spring game, the UA defense was without four regulars, and still managed to tally four interceptions and six sacks.
Of course, the Wildcats were without their starting quarterback throughout the spring. Richard Kovalchuk sat out drills after undergoing back surgery, allowing walk-on Adam Austin to take over the first string - a telling sign of the talent gap that still exists as Stoops tries to rebuild at Arizona.
One bright spot this spring was the renewed vigor of tailback Mike Bell, a shifty back who is being urged to employ a more powerful running style. He went for 106 yards on nine carries in the spring game before going to the sidelines due to a hyperextended knee suffered on a 50-yard carry.
Nov. 5, vs. California
The Golden Bears restocked their supply of JC players after the departures of J.J. Arrington, Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Riddle and company. The most important of the newcomers is quarterback Joseph Ayoob, who enrolled in time to compete with freshman Nate Longshore for the starting job this spring, though Longshore appeared to have the lead coming out of camp.
Despite the departure of safety Matt Giordano, the Bears think they will be much improved in the secondary. All four cornerbacks from the 2004 two-deep are back, and safety Donnie McCleskey hopes to be fully recovered from knee surgery by the fall.
The defense also got a boost by the return of end Tosh Lupoi, who was granted a medical hardship. Chase Lyman wasn't so lucky on the offensive side, which was also without three linemen this spring due to shoulder surgeries.
Nov. 12, at Washington State
Yet another team whose quarterback questions weren't answered this spring. With Josh Swogger limited by an injury, Sheldon High School's Alex Brink stepped in and played well, though coach Bill Doba insists that Swogger will still be the starter as fall camp opens.
The Cougars spent the spring looking for two new starting tackles, and the running game was inconsistent due to the presence of only one scholarship tailback - Jerome Harrison. Allen Thompson quit due to injuries, and Kevin McCall was suspended.
Washington State was also without star linebacker Derting. He hoped to participate in spring after undergoing offseason wrist surgery, but the injury didn't heal quickly, and he had another surgery late in camp to speed up that process.

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