No team in the conference is as close to dramatic improvement as is San Diego State. It returns all of its coaches, its best weapons (QB Ryan Lindley and both of his go-to receivers), it has a wealth of runningbacks, and a burgeoning defense. The Aztecs are precisely one viable running threat away from the promised land. But the way to the promised land (which is defined these days in San Diego as bowl eligibility) is blocked until SDSU improves its push up front. Thus the Aztecs's first spring question: which of the five new o-linemen will improve the abysmal push up front the team has manufactured since... since at least as long as anyone at the Wimple can remember?
Impressively sized Juan Bolanos (6-7, 340), Riley Gauld (6-5, 299), and Joe Unga (6-6, 305)transfer in from junior colleges, but none of them participated in spring drills. True freshmen Zack Dilley and Garrett Corbett join the team in August. These new fellows join returning starters Tommie Draheim (LT), Trask Iosefa (C), and Nik embernate (RG), and backups Mike Matamua, Erik Quinones, Damian Shankle, and Emilio Rivera in OC and o-line coach Al Borges's search for the Aztecs' stoutest front five. Atypically, there are no o-linemen in the class ahead of the five signed this week, because Hoke's team did not enroll a single lineman last year, due to their unwillingness to sign a player at those positions without proper evaluation.
The skinny out of spring drills is that the o-line is still a big problem, waiting for the big transferring JUCO players to improve it.
Once it has a better line in place, San Diego State can begin sorting its many runningbacks, including hyped recruit and early-enrolled true freshman Ronnie Hillman. The team must answer the question who will be 2010's workhorse backs, and hoped to have the answer by the end of spring drills. Hillman (pictured) competed with veterans Brandon Sullivan, Davon Brown, Anthony Miller, and Walter Kazee. Kazee was limited in spring drills, but expects to be back in full form by August, when Dwayne Garrett, Adam Muema, and Deonte Williams join the fracas. Somebody among those eight runningbacks will capitalize on better o-line play, if he gets it, and keep opposing defenses honest for the first time in Ryan Lindley's career (and many quarterbacks before him, it can be said...). Hillman appears to be playing up to his billing.
Defensively, the Aztecs return a boatload of starters at all levels. Early-enrolled DE Perry Jackson, a very highly rated JUCO transfer, is competing on the line. Competition among the LBs and DBs will be high, as the coaches settle on replacements for all-MWC LB Jerry Milling and CB Davion Mauldin. Starting and backup Aztec back graduated or left the team this offseason, as well. DC Rocky Long has a full score of players competing for these spots, however. Expect no dropoff, but improvement, as the team answers its last spring question: who'll step up in the back eight on defense?
Andrew Preston (pictured) moved from linebacker to the hybrid LB-S "Aztec" back this spring; he loves the new position. "You get to fly around and get to play the whole field," said Preston. The team focused on man coverage from its cornerbacks. Admittedly, covering Brown and Sampson (and Dominique Sandifer, and newcomer Osborne Nicholas) isn't easy, but there's worry that its secondary isn't getting the job done. They shut down the offense during the spring game however, and drew praise from Coach Hoke.