The Bulldogs can not sink any lower than last year’s 4-8 season. The 2006 season started with much promise and hope, especially after the September 1 season opening win over 2005 WAC Champion Nevada. But the season nose-dived soon after, as the Bulldogs did not win another game until November 11, starting an abysmal 1-7.
The 2007 recruiting class is arguably one of Coach Hill’s best, if not his best class. Every need was met and the Bulldogs picked up 10-15 guys who can contribute as first-year players. However, none of the 2007 recruits will be in for spring. It will be interesting to see the type of energy the 2006 letterman display this April.
Quarterback is a still a question mark and will be the major storyline heading into spring ball for the second straight year. Last spring Tom Brandstater and Sean Norton – who has since transferred to Northern Arizona – competed for the starting job, which was ultimately won by Brandstater. Brandstater returns this spring as the incumbent but will Coach Hill let RFr. Ryan Colburn get a fair shot at the starting job? After all, last season was a learning experience for Brandstater and he can only get better, per se.
Who will replace Dwayne Wright? Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding saw plenty of action last season as true freshmen but neither has separated himself from the other. Sophomore Jamal Rashad could push both after redshirting last season. Rich Owens is an underrated talent that had a great spring in 2006.
Fullback Roshon Vercher was the lead blocker for three different 1,000 yard rushers. Although he was injured a good part of 2005 and 2006, his presence will be missed. Frank Padilla is an early favorite to exit spring atop the depth chart. He has excellent speed for a fullback and brings versatility to the position.
The Bulldogs will lack experience at receiver, as none of the four receivers projected atop the spring’s two-deep will be upperclassman. In fact converted running back Shannon Dorsey will be the only upperclassman in spring ball among the receivers. However, sophomores Chastin West and Marlon Moore started games last season and Seyi Ajirotutu and Jason Crawley saw action towards the end of the season.
Bear Pascoe and Isaac Kinter emerged as the team’s go-to-guys at tight end. And both were great blockers on the edge. However the same can not be said about backups Jesus Tapia and Drew Lubinsky. Former defensive end Michael Stuart will be interesting to see in spring. He was one of the top 10 tight ends in the nation coming out of high school.
The Bulldogs must replace two four-year starters on the offensive line, but the losses only look bad on paper. Converted defensive tackle Kenny Avon emerged as capable left tackle in the last four games of 2006. Bobby Lepori – the starting left tackle for the first eight games of 2006 – likely will move to right tackle. Cole Popovich, Ryan Wendell and Adam McDowell started the last four games at left guard, center and right guard, respectively.
If there is a question heading in spring defensively, it is who will become the team’s pass rushing threat. Washington State transfer Jason Roberts did not make the splash many had hoped for in 2006. Tyler Clutts and Ikenna Ike are the team’s most experienced defensive ends. Chris Lewis has a chance to emerge this spring or could be moved to offense. RFr. Taylor Smith is another one to watch for.
Jason Shirley is arguably the best defensive tackle in the Western Athletic Conference heading into 2007. Jon Monga and Charles Tolbert will probably be atop the depth chart in spring at the other tackle spot. Wilson Ramos moved to tackle from end last season and it will be his first spring at tackle. Youngsters Mark Roberts and Cornell Banks are ones to watch.
Nico Herron is penciled in to replace Dwayne Andrews at middle linebacker. The outside positions are stocked with talented, fast and experienced players. Marcus Riley, Quaadir Brown, and Ahijah Lane will have to hold off freshmen Ben Jacobs and Robert Schenck. Speedy strong-side linebacker Trevor Shamblee will sit out spring while rehabbing his knee.
Damon Jenkins is the only returning starter from the defensive backfield. The Bulldogs must replace the rest, which is not essentially a bad thing. However, a number of the projected contributors will not report until August. A.J. Jefferson and Damion Owens are the only lettermen at cornerback that will participate in spring drills. Safeties Marvin Haynes and Moses Harris got a lot of playing time towards the end of season and in nickel and dime packages. RFr. Lorne Bell will push both in spring ball and could emerge atop the depth chart.
Will Clifton Smith finally be healthy this spring? Arguably one of the most electrifying punt returners in the nation when healthy, Smith has not been himself since September 2005. But he is just one facet of the special team unit that underachieved last season. One bright spot was backup kicker/punter Kyle Zimmerman, who filled admirably in for injured punters Mike Lingua and Robert Malone. Clint Stitser looks to improve from his subpar junior season.
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