Posted: Monday April 17, 2006 12:45PM; Updated: Monday April 17, 2006 3:13PM
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Joe Ayoob, the Cal quarterback whose erratic ways cost him his starting job late last season, reasserted himself in the Bears' current four-way QB derby with a strong showing throughout spring, including two long touchdown passes in Saturday's scrimmage. Sophomore Nate Longshore, whose broken leg in the first game last year opened the door for Ayoob, currently holds the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, while converted fullback Steve Levy, the star of last year's Stanford game, remains in the mix as well. Freshman Kyle Reed is considered a long shot.
Head coach Jeff Tedford's decision may ultimately come down to which guy is most comfortable in the new shotgun-spread playbook former Northwestern coordinator Mike Dunbar is installing. Normally a mobile QB fits best in such systems, in which case Ayoob or Levy may hold an edge over Longshore, while Reed may be the most athletic of all of them.
From Thomas Hamner and Terry Jackson to Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, no team in the country has churned out more stud running backs in recent years than Minnesota, but there's major uncertainty surrounding the position right now. None of the Gophers' three standouts of a year ago have been participating this spring -- Maroney (1,464 yards in 2005) left for the NFL, Gary Russell (1,130 yards) is academically ineligible and Amir Pinnix (467) is out with a high ankle sprain.
The attrition has left juco transfer Brylee Callendar, a local product who spent the past two seasons at Feather River (Calif.) College after failing to qualify academically, as the No. 1 tailback, and apparently that's not a good thing. "We don't have a running back right now that's capable of playing at a Big Ten caliber," offensive coordinator Mitch Browing told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
While most of the attention surrounding Arizona State this spring involves its high-wattage quarterback battle between Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter, several surprise performers have emerged on defense, where the Sun Devils are looking to upgrade a unit that was downright horrendous last season. They include junior safety Josh Barrett, who's been plagued by injuries in the past but is finally healthy and emerging as a big-time playmaker; BYU transfer Michael Marquardt, a former defensive end who, following his two-year Mormon mission, has bulked up to 290 pounds and become a solid tackle; and 22-year-old freshman linebacker Mike Nixon, a former UCLA signee who spent the past four years as a catcher in the Dodgers' farm system.
The most intriguing defender of all, however, has to be first-time cornerback Rudy Burgess. The notoriously speedy junior has moved back to his preferred position of receiver from tailback, where he ran for 644 yards last year, and is now taking on the Charles Woodson/Chris Gamble two-way role. In a recent scrimmage he played 28 snaps at cornerback and 23 at receiver.
Apparently Florida coach Urban Meyer wasn't kidding when he said earlier in the spring he was fed up with underachieving tailbacks DeShawn Wynn and Markus Manson. He's moved fullback Billy Latsko -- primarily used as a blocker last season -- to tailback, and when the Gators scrimmaged Saturday, Latsko opened as the No. 1 tailback. Here's guessing the move will be temporary, and was done in large part as an effort to motivate the other tailbacks.
It was widely expected in Tampa that vaunted sophomore quarterback Carlton Hill, a onetime Miami recruit, would beat out two-year starter Pat Julmiste during USF's spring practices, but Julmiste isn't going away. With a solid performance in Saturday's spring game, which included several big plays both on the ground and through the air, he ensured the Bulls' QB competition -- which also includes redshirt freshman Matt Grothe -- will remain open through the summer.