Spring camp is about 1.5 months away I believe and so with all of the recruiting talk cooling down it’s time to start looking forward to seeing the team back in pads this March.
Here’s what I see as some major things to be watching for come spring ball:
1. Will we have our OC/DC?  Presumably the answer would be yes, but it’s fairly quiet right now with the coaching chatter.  Word buzzing at the signing day event was that the list of candidates for both OC and DC who have applied already is much more impressive than it initially would have been expected.  Bringing in these two new coaches (or promoting within and hiring a replacement) is a tight time-frame, especially at DC.  The guys on the team will be working with their 3rd OC and/or DC in the last 4 years, how will they adapt to the changes?

2. The defensive secondary.  The only real lock to be starting in 2012 is Matt Hermanson.  Bo Tully needs to clean up coverage a bit and really has to have shown improvement in tackling as well.  Lebsock should be back and ready to show what he can do, add in Rominger, Whitted (may still be out with an injury), and then there’s safety transfer Coogan who will also be looking to make an immediate impact.  Even the younger Zach Gratton should be vying for a spot too.  At corner… it’s pretty wide open and awfully thin.  Sean Murray is my presumed front-runner, Kevin Frank Jr will hopefully step up big as well.  Behind them, Marlon Miles the scout team player of the year, Nathan Harris, and Juco Anthony Goodwin will be battling it out.  I’d say that 3 of the 4 starting spots in the secondary are a toss-up right now.

3. Who will step up on the Dline?  All four of the d-line starters are gone, plus some backups as well.  Outside of DE Josh Harris not a lot of the guys returning have a bunch of in-game experience at the D-line outside of the versatile Alex Bienemann.  Pierson, Rehm, Wagenmann, Riggio, and Bradford will be looked at to play opposite of Harris, my early guess would be Wags, Riggio, and Peirson would be leading the pack headed into spring ball.  At DT, outside of Alex you’ve got just two healthy guys back for spring ball, Crittenden & Takai.  Maybe Bradford moves back to DT, but Liccardi and Ginn were both hurt in fall camp so I presume they won’t be back yet.  Tonga is the ideal size for a gap-stuffing NT but he’s got to be more consistent then he’s been so far, he usually starts camps hot and finishes quietly.

4. Who will be the next play-maker WR?  Losing Jabin, Moutra, and Atkins takes all of the experienced explosive WRs off the shelf.  There’s plenty of young talent here but can these guys be consistent?  I’m looking for Josh Dennard, Sean Haynes, and Bryce Carver to fill in that “explosive” role.  More question though – Will Sam Gratton move out of the slot for his senior year?  Mitch Saylor is ready to start, I’m thinking he’ll be the X or Y as his combo of size/speed is a tough matchup for a 1-on-1 corner.

5. What will the ‘backers look like?  I can’t recall, will Kose and Holt be here?  If so that’ll really help.  Tripp I heard is rehabbing well but I’d highly doubt he’ll be back for spring, that leaves just JP Kanongata’a and Brock Coyle, and Josh Stuberg as experienced LBs playing in spring camp.  There’s ST contributor Brian Maus who did well in his role last year, Tuliapupu, Timmer, Pateman, Owen, and Richards who are also looking to make an impact.  Of cour will Timmer/Pateman be healthy and ready?  And if the rumor on Owen is true with poor grades will he get the same treatment as last year’s players that had poor academics and not practice half the time?

6. Will the new Oline come together?  Trevor Poole will be/should be one of the new starters at tackle, but who starts opposite of him?  Does Pohels move out and grab that spot?  Joe Dahl was a guy I thought was going to challenge for that spot but he’s packed his bags and left.  Oiland moves to center, leaving some gaps at guard, presumably Hendrickson will get a long look at guard as well as one of the Hines kids.  There’s also the two hyped recruits Schmang and Kalekini who will be out there as well.  This Oline is going to be lighter and quicker than last years, but will that produce better or worse results?  Also who will become the enforcer?

7.  Where will Kemp line up?  QB, RB, Slot WR, all three?

8.  What improvements will we see out of JJ?  Jordy comes in now as a junior with a cemented leadership role on the team.  He can’t simply just be “as good” as he was down the stretch of the 2011 season, he needs to be continually improving – I’m anxious to see how he does with some new faces at OL and a fairly fresh corps of WRs catching the ball.

9.  How will they get all of these running backs the ball?  Moore, Nguyen, Canada, Hagfors, Walden, Kirschner, (Nelo Butler?)… that’s a deep group.

10.  Will anyone step up and grab the KR/PR role?  Obviously there’s the concern about Nguyen based on his issues fielding punts in traffic, mostly from 2010… behind him you’ve got…

11.  How will the kicking game look?  Spring camp will have Shaw as our punter and Lider as our kicker, two RS frosh I believe.

12.  Does anyone want to play TE?  This team will only have 2 TEs, unless one is coming in as a scout-team player.  Haas is rehabbing his knee, Kavario has graduated, that leaves Hardy and Richards.

There’s more stuff that I’m wondering about come spring ball, but these are some of the major trends I’m looking forward to following.  What additions do you guys have?

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