ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: San Diego State's head coach Rocky Long watches the action on the field during the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated San Diego 28-7. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
The first team to begin spring football for the Mountain West is the San Diego St. Aztecs and they have a lot of question marks heading into the 2012 season as they began spring practice on Tuesday. The offense will be extremely inexperienced this spring and next fall:
Since December, the Aztecs have lost their all-time leading passer [Ryan Lindley]... their No. 3 all-time leading rusher [Ronnie Hillman]... their all-time leading punter [Brian Stahovich] ... all five starting offensive linemen... their leading tackler [Miles Burris]... their leading pass interceptor [Larry Parker]... and their starting kicker [Abelardo Perez].
All graduated from the team or are injured right now, forcing SDSU to replace many of them with rookies and transfers.
So... San Diego State has to replace a lot of key players this spring. I guess the good thing is that the wide receivers will be experienced this year. Kidding aside, the running back situation will obviously take a step back, but that position should be able to be fairly strong with Dwayne Garrett, Adam Muema, Brandon Wright and others to attempt to fill Hillman's void.
The quarterback position is not completely lost as San Diego State did gain Ryan Katz from Oregon State who has graduated so he is eligible to play right away, however do not put your money on Katz being the starter. Head coach Rocky Long still believes that Adam Dingwell will be the starter in the fall mainly because he has been with the program.
San Diego State also brought in two other Pac-12 players via transfer in wide receiver Brice Butler and running back Dillon Baxter from USC, but only Butler is eligible to play in the fall since he like Katz has graduated, whereas Bulter must sit out the mandatory one-year. For those looking to ask Rock Long about Baxter, don't even try since he will only discuss players who can play in 2012.
The offensive line was extremely experienced the past few years, and with that not many backups played. Three of the starters graduated and guard Nik Embernate (shoulder) and center Alec Johnson (foot) are out this spring with injuries. Having a brand new offensive line will have an effect either positive or negative on the running game, and with both groups being new this group needs to gel quickly.
As for the defense San Diego State loses five of the top six players due to injury or graduation at three defensive line spots positions This means that sophomores tackle Kenny Galea'i, defensive ends Cody Galea and Dontrell Onuoha will have a chance to show their worth.
One positive note that San Diego State can take from having key players injured is that it will allow their backups to get some much needed playing time in the spring, and get them prepared for when they enter games in the fall.