Tag:Spring practice
Posted on: March 31, 2011 12:31 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2011 12:04 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Kansas

Posted by Tom Fornelli

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice  . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Kansas, which starts spring practice on Friday.

Spring Practice Question: Can Turner Gill find a quarterback worthy of keeping the job this season?

Turner Gill's first season at Kansas was not a success. In fact, it was something that most Kansas fans have probably spent the last four months trying to completely erase from their memories. While the players did their best to adjust to the new lifestyle choices that Gill was instituting -- how does a college kid survive without a cell phone and girls, anyway? -- the results on the field showed that this is a process that is going to take some time.

It was a season that began with a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State at home, and was followed by eight more losses and only three wins. Of those eight losses, five came by 20-point deficits or more. To put that in perspective, Kansas couldn't even manage to score 20 points in nine of its twelve games.

The offense finished 111th in the country in points per game with 17.1, while the defense came in at 103rd with 34.4 points against per game. Not exactly a winning formula.

So, clearly, if you are expecting some great turnaround with Kansas this season, you should share whatever drugs you're on with everyone around you. Your world seems like a wonderful place.

Instead of focusing on winning the Big 12 this season, Turner Gill will be best suited looking to improve his team, and finding answers for the future. The first position he'll be looking to improve, however, is usually the hardest one to get right.

The Jayhawks had a bit of a quarterback carousel through 2010. Through the season, Kale Pick, Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham all got time at starting quarterback. Gill does not want a repeat of that in 2011, and he's answered part of the question a bit by moving Pick to wide receiver this season.

Unfortunately, even though spring practice hasn't even begun, the Jayhawks have already had a setback at the position.

Quarterback Brock Berglund was the biggest recruit that Kansas landed in its 2011 class. There was some thought that the 6'4 dual-threat quarterback from Colorado could come in and start his freshman season. He even graduated from high school last December so he could enroll early at Kansas. Sadly, due to what the school referenced as "personal circumstances," Berglund has returned home to Colorado and won't be around for spring practice.

Which means that April will be a two-man battle between Webb and Mecham. Neither player was fantastic for the Jayhawks in their time, but given the fact that Turner Gill is focusing on the future, I'd have to give an edge to Webb.

Big 12 Primers
He'll be a sophomore this season, while Mecham will be a senior. Normally the experience of a senior might mean something, but Mecham has thrown less passes in his first three years (102) than Webb completed in his freshman season (121).

Webb also played pretty well at times for the Jayhawks. In a four-week stretch following the opening day loss against North Dakota State, Webb completed 67 of 110 passes (61%) with 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. It's just after that nice start, Webb only completed 48 of 93 passes (52%) with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions. Which is the kind of swing you'd expect to see from a freshman playing in the Big 12 for the first time.

So, in that sense, while Kansas will not have its quarterback position settled by the time spring practice ends, I think the next month of practices will be very important for Webb. If he can show improvement and a greater grasp of the offense, he'll enter the summer on top of the depth chart.

Which will give him an advantage over Berglund, who will be in Lawrence this summer, and will have to make up some time if he hopes to wrestle the job away before the season starts.
Posted on: March 30, 2011 6:56 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Kentucky

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice  . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Kentucky, which started spring practice last week.

Spring Practice Question: Can the 'Cats find a passing game?

When all was said and done, the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were about what the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were supposed to be: good enough to scrape to a low-level bowl game (the Birmingham-based BBVA Compass Bowl) , good enough for one major upset (against South Carolina) and a couple of scares, but not good enough to make any real noise even in a watered-down SEC East (2-6 conference record), and not nearly good enough to regain the momentum and top-25 attention from the Andre Woodson glory years. Around .500 was where the Wildcats were expected to finish, and around .500 -- 6-7 following the bowl loss to Pitt, specifically -- was where they wound up.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't something of a major surprise in how the Wildcats got to "around .500" in the first year of the Joker Phillips era. The first couple of seasons following Woodson's departure, Kentucky relied heavily on their ground game as an experienced offensive line, talented rushers like Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, and iffy quarterbacking made that the 'Cats best option. Thanks to Cobb's dynamism and versatility, the Wildcat frequently became the offense's most effective form of attack.

With Cobb and Locke still around and the inefficient Mike Hartline still under center, not many expected that plan to change coming into 2010. But a strong fall camp from Hartline -- which he needed simply to keep the job away from sophomore Morgan Newton -- led to a stunningly good season; the senior increased his yards per-attempt by nearly two full yards and improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 6-to-7 to an impressive 23-to-9. The end result? The second-leading passing offense in the SEC at 269 yards a game and the 31st-best team quarterbacking rating in the country.

Of course, Hartline didn't manage it alone. There was Cobb, for starters, who made multiple All-American teams as an all-purpose player but spent most of his time at wideout and wound up with 1,017 receiving yards. He was followed closely by 6'5" Chris Matthews, who blossomed after a ho-hum junior season with 925 yards of his own. Even Locke chipped in with 318 yards out of the backfield.

So the good news for Kentucky is that after years of relying on one aspect or the other, their offense finally gained some semblance of balance. The bad news is that all the key players who made that balance possible are gone: Hartline, Matthews, and Locke have all graduated, and Cobb elected to turn pro a year early.

What's left is, on paper, less-than-inspiring. Newton will take over at quarterback after completing just 58 percent of his 43 passes in 2010 without a touchdown; he threw 135 times in 2009 but completed just 55 percent of those for a meager 5.2 yards per-attempt. But Kentucky won't have many other options, with Phillips citing grayshirted true freshman Max Smith as Newton's only competition at the moment. (Smith and Newton are, in fact, the 'Cats only scholarship quarterbacks.)

Spring Practice Primers
At receiver, junior La'Rod King returns after snaring 36 balls for 478 yards a year ago. But the next most prolific returning wideout is senior Matt Roark, who caught just 12 receptions without a touchdown, and no other wideout caught more than three. Tight end Jordan Aumiller and whoever emerges at running back -- likely sophomore Raymond Sanders -- will no doubt contribute as well, but it's nonetheless hard to see Newton getting that much help out of his receiving corps.

That doesn't mean there's not hope, though. Phillips is the same coach who coaxed the massive year-to-year improvement out of Hartline; who's to say he can't do the same with the athletic Newton? And if Newton won't get that big of a boost from his receivers, he ought to get plenty of one from his running game, one led by an offensive line with four retunring starters including all-conference junior guard Larry Warford. Then there's Phillips himself, who's guided the Kentucky offense for years and has consistently produced quality results.

But this is likely his biggest challenge yet. Without a functional passing game, even this line likely wouldn't be able to generate a game-winning rushing attack all on its own, and certainly not without the likes of Cobb or Locke. The Wildcat defense should improve, but if Phillips can't use this spring to rebuild some measure of last year's aerial success, Kentucky's school-record bowl streak may not make it to 2012.


Posted on: March 28, 2011 4:58 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2011 5:35 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Oregon

Posted by Bryan Fischer

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football   we  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Oregon , which starts spring practice on Tuesday.

Spring Practice Question: Can Oregon find replacements on both lines and keep the momentum from last season going?

As disappointing as last season's narrow (and by narrow, we mean just four points) championship game loss was, it also marked an unprecedented level of success for a program that won a conference title for just the eighth time in school history. Now comes the hard part, retooling and reloading for another run at the national championship and the inaugural Pac-12 title.

At the same time he's trying to find answers on the field this spring, head coach Chip Kelly will also have to deal with an ongoing NCAA investigation into recruiting services used by the school. It's not often people enjoy watching the big bodies in the trenches work but that might be where you'll find Kelly when he's not putting Lee Corso on a poster board.

Both lines have to replace three starters and it's an even tougher task when you consider who has moved on. Defensive end Kenny Rowe , the Ducks' sack leader, and both defensive tackles are gone, leaving Terrell Turner to lead a group that should feature multiple underclassmen on the two deep. Turner had 32 tackles and two sacks last season but needs to take his game to the next level after showing flashes at times last year. Senior Brandon Hanna should fill the other end spot but junior Dion Jordan could push him for playing time after getting a taste of the position last year after starting his career on offense.

There are several sophomores in the running for the two defensive tackle spots, led by Ricky Heimuli and Taylor Hart . Both turned in very solid debut seasons as freshmen and Oregon coaches are hoping they can go from contributors in a rotation to full-time starters. Sophomore Wade Keliikipi will also make a push but is coming off a year in which he rehabbed a shoulder surgery.

Even of that group, there's no sure-fire starter penciled in at the start of spring drills and part of the reason why everyone has a chance to crack the two-deep. Junior college transfers Isaac Remington (who redshirted last season) and Jared Ebert should be solid contributors in the rotation at tackle but the Ducks will hope they can wrestle one of the starting spots away from the younger players. Highly regarded line coach Jerry Azzinaro will have his hands full this spring but he's excelled with undersized linemen in the past and is finally starting to work with some big bodies thanks to better recruiting so it will be interesting to see what this unit looks like next month.

On the other side of the ball, it might be even more important to sort things out on the offensive line with the season opener against LSU and some mighty SEC defensive tackles looming. Guard Carson York and tackle Mark Asper will be the foundation of the unit and bring much-needed experience to the group with over 20 starts under their belts. Gone is one of the better interior lineman the Ducks have had in center Jordan Holmes , who was a first team All-Pac-10 player last year. Sophomore Karrington Armstrong will likely get first crack at the position and don't be surprised if the former wrestler ends up holding onto the starting spot for several years. Redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu will compete against Armstrong.

Spring Practice Primers
Darrion Weems will be the left tackle barring injury after starting seven games last year, including the championship game against Auburn . Ramsen Golpashin, Mana Greig and Ryan Clanton will all get a look at right guard with Golpashin likely getting the nod after playing a lot last season. Don't be surprised if the coaches try and set the two-deep for next year during the spring so they can redshirt talented offensive line recruits Andre Yruretagoyena, Jake Fisher and Tyler Johnstone .

Luckily for all of the starters, they won't have to hold their blocks for long. Quarterback Darron Thomas turned in a fantastic debut season and is one of the best run-pass threats in the country. It wasn't too hard to notice Heisman finalist LaMichael James either, as the speedy running back led the nation in rushing. Backups Kenjon Barner and redshirt freshman Lache Seastrunk are just as quick (if not quicker) than James and figure to be a nice change of pace from fast to faster.

There's plenty of talent on the roster this spring as Oregon looks to figure out the winning combination on both lines to go for an unprecedented third consecutive conference title. If they can plug some holes here and there, the skill position talent should allow the Ducks to aim well beyond another conference title and look to return to the national championship game. Hopefully, Turner and Hanna establish themselves early on and allowing all of the attention to be on the youngsters on the interior defensive line. Three offensive line positions are pretty much set so it's up to a solid group of guys to fill in at guard and tackle this spring. 

Either way you look at it, it's a long road to New Orleans for a trip back to the title game. The first step for Kelly and the Ducks is Tuesday and they'll likely spend it in the trenches.


Posted on: March 28, 2011 3:14 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Ole Miss

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice  . So we here at the Eye on College Football    will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers   . Today, we look at Ole Miss , which starts spring practice today.

Spring Practice Question: Can the Ole Miss defense be rebuilt?

As the local Clarion-Ledger pointed out today , the headline story regarding Houston Nutt's fourth spring camp at the Rebel helm will undoubtedly be the quarterback derby. Following Jeremiah Masoli's single-season cameo, four different quarterbacks are battling it out under new Rebel offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Lee: pocket passers Nathan Stanley (Masoli's backup in 2010 and the narrow favorite) and JUCO transfer Zack Stoudt, and dual-threat QBs Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti. (Brunetti, a transfer from West Virginia, will need a hardship waiver from the NCAA in order to avoid sitting out his transfer year this fall.) Lee swears any of the four could be named the Rebel starter this fall, and given how little experience any of the four enters the competition with, he's likely not exaggerating.

But as intriguing as the quarterback battle promises to be, what's most important for the Rebels' chances this fall is what will happen on the other side of the ball. While the occasionally-rocky transition to Masoli drew plenty of attention, in the end the Rebels finished a respectable 43rd in total offense. But despite the presence of eight senior starters to begin the season, Ole Miss finished a disastrous 105th in the country in yards per-play allowed, worst in the SEC. It's fair to say the Rebels weren't paying defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix one of the nation's highest assistant salaries to watch the team lose games in which they scored 24, 31, 36 or -- in the case of their infamous season-opening embarrassment against FCS Jacksonville State -- 48 points.

Nix has survived to try and clean up his own mess, but it's not clear if he has the tools with which to do it. As you might expect from that "eight senior starters" detail, the Rebels' defensive losses are major; gone are All-SEC tackle Jerrell Powe, explosive defensive end Kentrell Lockett, leading tackler and tackler-for-loss linebacker Jonathan Cornell, a pair of senior safeties, assorted other contributors at tackle, corner, and linebacker ... Nix won't be starting from scratch, but scratch and the point he'll start from won't be more than a stone's throw apart.

There is good news for the Ole Miss defense, though, and it's two-fold:

1. Obviously, all of those seniors didn't do a whole lot for the Rebels in 2010. While there's no good way to spin the losses of players like Powe and Cornell, as a unit Ole Miss really can't get a whole lot worse than they were last season. In many cases, the new blood may prove to be a better option than the old blood was anyway.

2. Thanks to some impressive recruiting hauls (particularly by Ole Miss standards) by Nutt and his staff, the talent cupboard is far from bare. Nix won't have a lot in the way of experience to work with, but the raw material with which a good defense could be constructed should be there.

That's especially true in the front seven, where Nix will call on junior linebacker D.T. Shackelford to spearhead the rush defense after Shackelford recorded 9 tackles-for-loss a year ago and continued to flash the kind of big-hitting potential that made him one of Nutt's most prized recruits in the class of 2009. Junior weakside linebacker Joel Kight should also be ready for a big season after winning a starting job in last year's fall camp, making the LBs a strength. If Nix can find any tackles following the loss of the entire rotation from a year ago -- expect 310-pound JUCO arrival Gilbert Pena to get a long look -- the line shouldn't be too shabby, either, given the presence of high-ceiling ends like senior Wayne Dorsey, junior Gerald Rivers and sophomore Cameron Whigham. (If Lockett receives a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, things will look even better this fall.)

The biggest question mark is in the secondary, which a year ago was roasted to the tune of 8.4 yards per passing attempt and a 6-to-24 interception-to-touchdown ratio, both easily the worst marks in the SEC. Up to nine players will compete for the four starting spots (though returning starting corner Marcus Temple is out with a sports hernia), but are any of them SEC caliber? Nix will have to hope so, with the most likely candidates senior safety Damien Jackson and sophomore safety Brishen Matthews.

No one would argue the quarterback battle isn't critical. But with what should be one of the SEC's best offensive lines (one with all five starters returning), rugged running back Branden Bolden, several big-play receivers, and Nutt and Lee's combined offensive acumen, the Rebels should have a functional attack no matter who winds up taking snaps.

The same simply can't be said of the Rebel defense--meaning that even if the QB competition grabs the headlines, it's a sure bet it's the battles on the other side of the ball that will have a huge, huge share of the coaches' attention. If Nix can't find the players this spring that will push his unit forward this fall, the Rebels are going to almost certainly spend a second season in the cellar of the SEC West.

Posted on: March 28, 2011 2:26 pm
 

Penn State loses Massaro for the season

Posted by Tom Fornelli

While coaches across the country generally hope that spring practice will help give them a better idea of how their team will shape up in the coming season, most coaches will tell you that instead of solving position battles, the thing they want the most from the spring is for every player to come out the other end healthy. Or, at the very least, with only minor injuries that will heal long before games start. Which means that there are some not-so-happy coaches in Happy Valley these days.

Penn State has already lost wide receiver Curtis Drake for the entire spring thanks to a broken tibia -- the second year in a row Drake has suffered such an injury -- though it's possible that he'll be back in time for the season. The same likely cannot be said for defensive end Pete Massaro. Massaro suffered a knee injury on Friday, and the school announced on Monday that he's torn the ACL in his left knee and his season is over.

It's a big blow to the Nittany Lions, as the team has already lost Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore for the spring, leaving the defensive line rather thin at the moment. What makes matters even worse is that Massaro was one of the most productive defensive ends Penn State had in 2010. Massaro started the last 11 games of the year, making 37 tackles along the way, including 8 tackles for a loss. He also had 3.5 sacks.

This is the second time the redshirt junior has suffered an ACL tear, tearing the ligament in his right knee during the Blue-White spring game in 2009. That injury cost him the season as well.
Posted on: March 27, 2011 2:29 pm
 

Lane Kiffin doesn't buy Marc Tyler's story

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Here's a helpful hint for any college football player, or athlete in general who is reading this blog: if you get injured in practice, don't blame the team or the coaching staff. It seldom works out to your benefit.

For instance, last week USC running back Marc Tyler pulled his hamstring in practice. It's an injury that is going to keep him sidelined through spring practice. Well, when talking to the media about the injury, Tyler wanted to make sure that everybody understood it wasn't his fault he got hurt. According to Tyler, the reason he pulled up lame running a route in practice was because the team failed to hold proper stretching excercises before practice.

“I didn’t know we weren’t going to stretch like we usually do,” Tyler said. “I guess they want us to come here earlier and stretch before. I didn’t know they changed it.  My legs didn’t feel good all practice.”

Imagine that, an athlete who has been participating in sports for years having to make sure he stretches himself before practice. How crazy!

Anyway, Tyler's head coach Lane Kiffin caught wind of the excuse and quickly put an end to it.

“We’ve discussed that with Marc,” Kiffin said. “Since he pulled his hamstring two hours into practice, it wasn’t the stretching before that.”

Kiffin also pointed out that USC has four stretching tables available to its players at all times, and that he doesn't think "any college in America does that." 

I guess Tyler wants eight.
Posted on: March 25, 2011 2:03 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Iowa State

Posted by Tom Fornelli

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers. Today, we look at Iowa State, which started spring practice on Tuesday.


Spring Practice Question: Is the quarterback position as wide open as Paul Rhoads claims it is?

Over the last three seasons there wasn't much question regarding who would be playing quarterback for the Iowa State Cyclones. The job was Austen Arnaud's, and one he did pretty well. Arnaud finished his Iowa State career second on the school's all-time passing yardage list with 6,777 yards, and had the highest completion percentage in school history.

However, Arnaud is gone now, and the main focus with Iowa State this spring will be the battle to replace him. 

Before practice began earlier this week, head coach Paul Rhoads declared it an open battle, and said that whichever one of his quarterbacks performs the best is going to win the job. 

"You'd like to leave spring drills after 15 practices and three full scrimmages with a guy you know is your number one," said Rhoads. "There won't be any panic if we don't."

At the moment, Jerome Tiller is atop the depth chart, and that makes a lot of sense. After all, he has the most experience on the roster, as he's been needed to fill in for Arnaud at times over the last two years thanks to injuries.

Behind Tiller is rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett, but I don't see either of these two wrestling the job away barring some kind of super-heroic performances this spring. No, I believe there's another quarterback Tiller should be looking over his shoulder at.

Number two on the quarterback depth chart is Steele Jantz. Let's be honest, if we were going on name alone, Jantz would win this competition easily. However, there is more to being a quarterback than having a cool name.

"I know Steele's coming to take the first place job, and it's my job to protect it," said Tiller. "And may the best player play, but I plan on it being me."

Though I'm not sure that it's Rhoads' plan.

Jantz is new to Ames, as he comes to Iowa State as a junior college transfer. One that there has been a lot of talk about in recent months. Now, while Rhoads may claim that the competition is wide open, I'm just not sure that is really the case.

Big 12 Primers
Yes, Tiller has experience with the team. The output during that time, though, has been less than stellar. Tiller has completed 51% of his passes for under 5.0 yards per attempt over the last two seasons, and has thrown only 2 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. You could point out that Tiller is mobile, but after rushing for 216 yards on 44 carries in 2009, Tiller only managed 66 yards on 42 carries in 2010.

21 of those yards came on a single carry.

Jantz, on the other hand, threw for 3,075 yards and 23 touchdowns with City College of San Francisco last season. He also ran for another 610 yards while leading the team to an 11-1 mark. Now, I know there's a huge difference between the level of play at a junior college than in the Big 12, and I don't expect Jantz to just show up and start laying waste to Oklahoma's defense right away.

What really makes me wonder if the competition is as open as it's claimed to be is that Jantz is in Ames to begin with. If Paul Rhoads was really so comfortable with the idea of Tiller taking the reins this season, then why did he bring in a junior college transfer?

Why not just sign another high school quarterback to develop in your latest recruiting class?

I just find it hard to believe that Iowa State is bringing Jantz in from San Francisco to have him send in plays from the sidelines. So while Jerome Tiller may be on top of Iowa State's depth chart to start practice, I wouldn't count on him being there for very long.
Posted on: March 24, 2011 7:39 pm
Edited on: March 24, 2011 7:46 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Arizona State

Posted by Bryan Fischer

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers. Today, we look at Arizona State, who started spring practice on Tuesday. 

Spring Practice Question: Are Brock Osweiler and Vontaze Burfict ready to step up and lead the Sun Devils?

Oh what a difference a year makes.

Coming out of spring practice a year ago, Arizona State was picked to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10 and faced issues at just about every position group. Entering the spring this year, the Sun Devils are now considered the favorite to win a Pac-12 South title thanks to 18 returning starters from last year's squad that played top ten teams Oregon, Stanford and Wisconsin tough.

"I thought last year we were really close, now I feel like we're here," head coach Dennis Erickson said at his pre-spring press conference. "Now we've got to do it on the field. Numbers wise, even though we've got a lot of seniors, we do have a lot of young guys playing. We're finally at a place, where if we have the success we think we're going to have next year, that we can plug guys in the year after that and the year after that and the year after that."

One starter returning is junior quarterback Brock Osweiler but it might be a bit of a stretch to actually call him a returning starter. Osweiler played in just five games last season but came on strong in two starts at the end of the year, a blow out of UCLA and an upset win at archrival Arizona.

"Yes, without a question, he is the guy," Erickson said. "Now who is two...that's kind of where we are going into spring football."

In addition to refining the 6-foot-7 quarterback's game this spring, finding a backup (important considering the revolving door at the position recently) is an unexpected challenge for Erickson and staff. Former starter Steven Threet had to retire due to concussions and Samson Szakacsy left the team to pursue other interests. Despite the vacancy at backup quarterback, Erickson still feels as though he has a talented group of quarterbacks with Osweiler, redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly and early enrollee Michael Bercovici.

"It's the best I've ever been around in college, or any place I have ever been, I've never had it that deep," Erickson said "Three of them are unproven, of course. But physical talent...from what you can see is pretty amazing."

Quite a statement for the fifth-year head coach to make considering some of his stops in college and the NFL, such as with the Miami Hurricanes and the San Francisco 49ers. All three quarterbacks have strong arms and can throw it anywhere on the field but Osweiler's maturity and experience have him firmly planted atop the depth chart. The lack of a quarterback battle has allowed him to focus less on beating another player and more on just being himself.

"It's a lot different," Osweiler told the Arizona Republic. "I'm a lot more comfortable. I've been in the offense for a year, and it's a little different. There's not exactly a quarterback competition, so it kind of takes that weight off you and just allows you to play."

Fans in Tempe are hoping that he can duplicate his numbers from the games against UCLA and Arizona, where he threw five touchdowns and no picks in helping the team reach the .500 mark on the year. With the expectation that Osweiler can successfully pilot the offense, Arizona State is undergoing a few minor tweaks this spring in order to help him get the ball in the hands of playmakers like running back Cameron Marshall.

"I think we'll add a few things. It might even be simpler than it's been," Erickson said. "I think one thing we can do right now is line up and run the football without having to trick people. I don't know if that's more complex or simpler. But we're not going to change a lot of things. I think that happens sometimes when you look at this offense is you have success and start putting too much in and they don't become as good."

On the other side of the ball, personal foul machine Vontaze Burfict is expected to - and we're not joking - take on a leadership role as an upperclassman this year. Though he has typically been known for a lack of self control on the field, the recent offseason program has given the talented middle linebacker a chance to help his team instead of hurt it.

"It's amazing his change in the last three months. Now, he doesn't miss workouts, ever," Erickson said. "He's a leader out there doing all sorts of stuff. He's in the best shape I've ever seen him in. He's a big time leader out there.

"The light just came on. I think the light came on at the end of last year. I think from the Stanford game on. I think having some success and winning, and saying maybe that gray-haired (coach) knows a little bit about what's going on."

Spring Practice Primers
In addition to showing NFL scouts he has what it takes to play at the next level between the ears, the 6-foot-3, 240 pound linebacker has set a high bar for the season that goes beyond just a division title.

"I'm trying to get us to a national championship," Burfict said, "and to do that, I feel like I need to become more of a leader."

In addition to leading by example, Burfict will have to get used to playing behind two new defensive tackles following the departure of Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola. Oft-injured tackle Corey Adams is talented but needs to stay on the field and Will Sutton will return after being academically ineligible last season. Despite a few new parts on defense, all eyes this spring will be on how the new and improved Burfict plays.

"I don't know why he had that chip on his shoulder. Maybe it was immaturity," Erickson said. "But it's totally different now."

The head coach hopes spring practice is totally different from years past as well. In addition to seeing Osweiler and Burfict step up their roles on the team, Erickson understands how much this spring means for the future of the program.

"I mean this is my fifth year. I have been going at this for four years," he said. "For me, I think it's a very important season for this program, no question about it."

If the Sun Devils are going to take the leap this upcoming spring and lay the foundation for a run, they'll have to hope Osweiler and Burfict take the necessary leap as leaders. The talk is certainly encouraging and there's no doubt that Osweiler is top dog on offense and Burfict has a better head on his shoulders on defense. But if Arizona State wants to see success in the fall, the next few weeks of spring practice are all about seeing if the two can start walking the walk and not mearly talking the talk.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com