Another spring has come and gone. With that, teams across the nation finished up spring practice and the annual Spring Game held at the end of those spring practices. Every team has its own issues and problems that the coaching staff must address and fix. While all the issues won't be solved and amended all at once during these spring practices, this can be an opportune time for the building blocks to be placed to address these.
As we head in to the long summer, in what virtually feels like an eternity until the next whistle blows for opening kick-off at summers end, let's take a look at what the San Jose State Spartans were able to accomplish, and what yet they still need to accomplish in the fall, during these spring practices.
What the Spartans Accomplished
In the 2014 campaign, the Spartans boasted a defense that ranked 32nd in the nation by the end of the season. They even ranked as high as 12th nationally through the first six games and were able to hold four of those opponents to under 280 offensive yards. Then, the injury bug hit. It also didn't help them that the offense was ranked last in the Mountain West. However, the defense did give up over 400 yards in five of those last six games.
To make matters worse, it looked like the defense had forgotten how to get to the quarterback. Or even how to get takeaways. In 2013, the Spartans were able to record 18 sacks, 12 interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Fast forward to 2014, and those numbers are 12, 6, and 10, respectively. The one saving grace in this is that the defense was able to create quite a bit more fumbles. However, with a drop-off with those types of numbers, along with a lackluster offense, SJSU was doomed for a dismal season. To make matters worse, Eugene Taylor and Christian Tago were unable to record any sacks in 2014 after earning four a piece in their freshmen campaign. This caused the Spartans to be ranked 120th out of 128 in sacks last year.
It looks like this is all about to change for 2015.
In the spring game, both Taylor and Tago were able to record two sacks each. SJSU was able to record a total of seven quarterback sacks on the day. San Jose had three senior defensive linemen out with injury during the spring, but are fully expected to be back for the fall. This good news (not the injuries, of course, but the fact that the defense was able to record seven sacks without three seniors is promising) should bring some extra hope for the Spartan faithful.
With the resurgence in the pass rush, this has helped the secondary make plays. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that with a decrease in sacks from 2013 to 2014, there was a decrease in interceptions during the same period. With three returning starters coming back (Jimmy Pruitt and Cleveland Wallace at cornerback, while Maurice Mcknight gets the nod at free safety), along with talented incoming freshmen in the fall, expect the secondary to boast double-digit interceptions like they accomplished in 2013.
This is quite an accomplishment to achieve during spring practice.
What Needs to be Accomplished in the Fall
As exciting as it is to look forward to what the defense will be able to achieve, there is still some unknowns that will need to be sorted out in just a few months. The counterpart to the team's defense has some glaring holes to fill. First, there is quite a bit of unknown along a few of the different positions on the offensive line. Second, the coaches have to figure out who is going to be their signal-caller.
Let's address the offensive line situation first. Despite Keoni Taylor starting the spring game at left guard, it looks like he is going to get the nod from the coaches to be the primary snapper for whoever wins the quarterback battle. If this is the case, then Kolone will probably be moved over to the left guard position.
However, it is still a likely possibility that Jeremiah Kolone could end up taking over starting center position. It seems like they plan on moving Nate Velichko from playing right guard last year, to playing right tackle this year. Evan Sarver was the guy at right tackle last year as a means to put Velichko at right guard to have the five best linemen on the field, but the coaching staff is very high on Velichko as a tackle, so expect him to take that spot. Right now it looks like Chris Gonzalez has the starting right guard spot for the moment. Wes Schweitzer should remain as the starting left tackle.
Just about all of this is speculation, which is why it is something that needs to be figured out by the fall. Figuring out which combination of linemen should be on the field together isn't an exact science. It's all about which five guys can gel and communicate together to perform the best. It may not be the most exciting positions to watch and keep up with, but it is one of the most important units to get clicking together for the sake of the offense, and that of the team.
One thing that is exciting is a quarterback battle.
To make things even more exciting for Spartan fans, is that it's not just a two-way battle, but there are actually three quarterbacks who Coach Ron Caragher say are all pretty even. Joey Gray looked a little unsettled at first during the spring game, but was able to finish the completing 9 of 11 passes for 104 yards and a nice touchdown pass to receiver Jourdan Soares.
Malik Watson also had a very nice spring game. He was able to finish the day with 8 of 9 passing for 81 yards. Although he did not record a TD pass, he did set up a TD run Tyler Erwin and another drive of 71 yards that was finished off with a field goal from Austin Lopez.
Kenny Potter was 5 of 13 for 56 yards on the day. Even though that completion percentage isn't quite at the same level as the previously mentioned quarterbacks, those numbers can be misleading. Potter did trow two touchdown passes and ran for another one. He did have a bad pick as he seemed to throw it up, only for Maurice McKnight to come down with it. He may be a little fitful at times, but he does seem like to be the type of player to make a play at the right time.
These are two major issues that need to be figured out in the fall. Arguably, these are the two most important position/unit combinations. Certainly, on the offensive side of the ball, but with a an incapable quarterback and disheveled offensive line, it doesn't matter how great your defense is or how many playmakers you have at wide receiver, you won't win many football games without those issues figured out and addressed.