Normally in spring practice, everything is positive. Everyone is undefeated and coaches are more than happy to run through a list of players that are “competing” and “working on fundamentals” during this period of organized, yet regulated, team activities. But that’s not the real world, where injuries and depth concerns loom large along with program stability and ticket sales.
Below, we’ve got some worst-case spring practice scenarios for the Pac-12. Some are serious, many are not, but all of the potential topics would not be good news if they surfaced at the end of April when the final spring games are done.
|Defensive injuries: Injuries this time of year are always extra tough to swallow. Depth is already at a premium and many teams are still recovering from the previous season. Such is the case with Cal, but the silver lining is the Golden Bears do return some experience on defense. That’s been an abysmal side of the ball in recent years, so forcing younger and/or less experienced guys into the starting fold wouldn’t be ideal.|
|No defensive “dudes” emerge: Oregon is rebuilding under first-year coach Willie Taggart. That takes times, but it also means a clean slate and there are plenty of opportunities for younger players to shoot up the depth chart. New defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is one of the best at his job. He’ll get things turned around. But the cupboard is bare. It’d be a bad sign if not a single stud emerged during spring drills.|
|Any news is bad news: Oregon State’s spring has already ended. The worst-case scenario now would be if the entire team somehow gets suspended for the season opener against Colorado State for violating team rules.|
|Blocking remains an issue: How the offensive line comes together is the top offseason story for the Cardinal, not the quarterback competition. That’s not something you expect from Stanford, but ultimately, it might not matter who’s under center if he’s running for his life every play. Stanford’s offense relied too heavily on former running back Christian McCaffrey, but no new playmakers will emerge if plays don’t have time to develop.|
|Jake Browning’s shoulder turns into a problem: The inconsistency in Washington’s usually potent passing attack towards the end of last season made a lot more sense when it was revealed quarterback Jake Browning had a shoulder injury. A minor offseason surgery should mean he’s good to go, but the Huskies don’t want Browning to tweak his shoulder again. The nightmare is if Browning’s minor issue becomes a bigger, lingering one.|
|Mike Leach takes a vow of silence: He’s been terrific so far, talking about dancing and whatnot. It would be a dark day if Leach thought “You know, it’s best that I revert to every cliche in the book.”|
|Where have all the videos gone? The Wildcats wrap up spring this week. The only thing that would make the long summer summer go by terribly is if Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez opted not to make amazing offseason videos.|
|The quarterback competition ends up being a dud: I don’t foresee this happening because the wealth of depth the Sun Devils have at quarterback is impressive. Manny Wilkins, last year’s primary starter, returns along with Alabama transfer Blake Barnett and a crop of other players. But with a new coordinator (Billy Napier), what if the offense struggles to take off -- not in spring, necessarily, but this year? And what if the Sun Devils have to go through a revolving door to find something that works? Again, I don’t foresee this being an issue, but it would be such a letdown if quarterback becomes a letdown.|
|Stop Ralphie stop: Colorado’s spring game is over. But what if Ralphie goes for a run one day and never comes back? The 2017 season will be ruined.|
|The new offense looks disastrous: Bringing in a new offensive coordinator (Jedd Fisch from Michigan) and installing a new scheme takes time. Growth happens in waves and UCLA’s offense isn’t going to look consistently great or advanced for a while. All the same, it’ll be a long summer if the Bruins look totally disjointed. Quarterback Josh Rosen is coming off a season-ending injury and the running game, ranked second-to-last in 2016, can’t continue to stall.|
|Rebuilding the offensive line goes wrong: Honestly, there aren’t many major holes to fill for USC. That, coupled with a strong finish to 2016, is why the Trojans carry so much hype with them. Yes, replacing cornerback/utility weapon Adoree’ Jackson is key, but the more pressing issue is rebuilding the O-line with three starters (and all-conference players) gone. There’s some experience coming back, but even though quarterback Sam Darnold can elude pressure doesn’t mean USC wants to make it a habit.|
|The running game stalls: Utah is sort of living its worst-case scenario seeing as the ground game is the offense’s bread and butter. Running back Joe Williams was a hell of a story last year. He was also a productive runner, to put it modestly, with 1,407 yards. Williams is gone and the Utes are spring time thin in the backfield because of injuries. That means the running back competition won’t really pick up until August.|