With less than four weeks until the Rocky Mountain Showdown against in-state rival Colorado, the Colorado State Rams enter fall camp this week with a new slogan; "The Climb". The Rams are focusing on building off the success of last year's 8-6 record and New Mexico Bowl victory over Washington State. Despite losing their top three rushers from 2013, along with four starters on the offensive line, Colorado State returns many key players on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Garrett Grayson, who was invited to the Manning Passing Academy and also named to the Davey O'Brien Award watch list, which recognizes the top passers in the country, is expected to take on a bigger role in 2014. Grayson has three of his top four targets from 2013 returning, with leading receivers Rashard Higgins and Joe Hansley, along with tight end Kivon Cartwright. Add in wide out Charles Lovett who missed five games to injury in 2013 and Grayson will have full a stable of experienced playmakers.
On defense, Colorado State loses the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in Shaquil Barrett, but they return their top two tacklers in from 2013, linebackers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis, along with outside linebacker Cory James who excelled as a pass rusher opposite of Barrett. The Rams also return their entire starting secondary, with cornerbacks Benard Blake and DeAndre Elliot and safeties Trent Matthews and Kevin Pierre-Louis.
Key Position Battles Entering Camp
Names to know: Jasen Oden, Bryce Peters, Dee Hart, Treyous Jarrells and Deron Thompson
What was looking like a depleted backfield after learning about Bibbs leaving for the NFL and Alexander's transfer to Akron, the Rams backfield is now full of rushers ready to be the next premier back. Jasen Oden, who played safety last season for the Rams, comes into camp as the number back on the preseason depth chart. Oden took the majority of first team snaps during spring practice and had a good showing in the spring game, with 120 total yards and a touchdown on 19 total touches. Peters comes into fall camp second on the preseason depth chart and was the only other running back that is competing for touches that practiced with the team during the spring.
Dee Hart is the most intriguing name on this list. Hart is a former high school All-American who is transferring to Colorado State from Alabama. Hart was once one of the most highly touted running backs in the country, but after two knee injuries, he got buried on an Alabama depth chart that is full of All-American running backs. Having graduated from Alabama this year, Hart is eligible to play this fall, however, as of August 3rd, he has not been enrolled in school, therefore possibly delaying the time he has with the team during fall camp. If he can start practicing sooner rather than later, Hart is expected to push Oden for the top spot among the depth chart.
Jarrells and Thompson join the Rams as newcomers as well. Jarrells is a JUCO transfer from Grossmont Community College and Thompson is a freshman out of Wichita, Kansas. Both backs have game changing ability, however, with a full backfield due to the addition of Hart, it is possible that one or both of these backs will redshirt this season.
Names to know: Ty Sambrailo, Mason Meyers, Jake Bennett, Fred Zerblis, Mason Hathaway, Jordan Finely
The Rams lose 4 of their 5 starting offensive lineman from 2013, returning only left tackle Ty Sambrailo. Replacing what center Weston Richburg brought to the team will be almost impossible, but the line does have a solid group of guys that are up to the task. Going into fall camp, the preseason depth chart lists Sambrailo at left tackle, Meyers at left guard, Bennett at center, Zerblis at right guard and Hathaway at right tackle. Finely comes to Colorado State as a JUCO transfer from Sierra College in Rocklin, California and was practicing with the first team in April before a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of spring practice.
The offensive line will feature only one player with starting experience, Ty Sambrailo. The four other potential starters have only one start between them, and that was Hathaway who started one game in 2011. The good news about this line is the versatility of multiple players and their ability to play different positions. The biggest battle going into camp will be at right tackle, where Hathaway and Finley are both expected to get first team reps.
Names to know: Joe Kawulok, Terry Jackson, LaRyan King, Steven Michel
The 2014 defensive line is going to be a completely new starting unit. However, unlike the offensive line, the new starters on the defensive line all played important snaps last year. The projected depth chart lists Kawulok at left defensive end, Jackson at defensive tackle, King at nose tackle and Michel at right defensive end. Michel comes into fall camp coming off of surgery on both shoulders, so his action in camp will be limited initially. Though this group is full of new starters, there is not any expectation of a drop off from last year's defensive line unit.
Others to Watch
Deionte Gaines - Gaines is an athlete from Dr. Phillips High School in Florida. With top notch speed, Gaines can earn touches as a true freshman as a slot receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
Tyree Simmons - Playing as a true freshman last year, Simmons got three starts at cornerback and should prove to be an effective nickel back for the Rams this year, while pushing Blake and Elliot for a starting spot.
Jordan Vaden - Vaden, a redshirt sophomore, played in 11 games last year at wide receiver. In his limited role, Vaden caught 22 passes for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns. With a good combination of size and speed, watch for Vaden to be a deep ball threat for the Rams this year.