It feels as if the San Diego State Aztecs just wrapped up in Honolulu, HI with the Hawaii Bowl Trophy and on top of the Mountain West Conference. Coach Rocky Long's Aztecs start their spring practices on Monday with a little bounce in their steps as champions with a long road ahead back to the top of the Mountain West.
For the most part San Diego State looks like the same team that finished 11-3, but there are still some questions and story lines going into spring ball that will become clearer as the semester concludes.
Will he or won’t he?
Maxwell Smith is in graduate school at San Diego State. That we know, but since he left the field with an ACL injury late in the 2015 season, it’s unclear if he will petition for a sixth year of eligibility. Smith had injuries (shoulder) while at Kentucky missing out on the 2014 season before coming to San Diego State. The Aztecs staff will do their best to prove Smith had missed two seasons while at UK to be granted the extra year.
His decision will impact the pecking order behind him with sophomore Christian Chapman ready to compete with the rest of the quarterbacks if Smith decides to not petition.
Who blocks on offense?
Darrell Greene and Pearce Slater are graduating and might get a crack onto a NFL roster. These guys along with the remaining offensive linemen helped move mountains aside for Donnel Pumphrey last year.
So not including whoever signed on National Signing Day, it’s up to the current guys to step up and be competitive. There's five current seniors who had a year to gel, do they get to pick up where they left off? It’s no secret that Rocky Long loves his power run game, so who will step up?
Who helps Calvin Munson?
Rocky Long has been a defensive coach for all his career, and his attention to the defensive side of the ball has helped generations of Lobos and Aztecs. Long has Calvin Munson, but super senior Jake Fely will finally graduate. Randy Ricks and Ryan Dunn will do their best to keep the ball rolling at middle linebacker. Fely was just a havoc linebacker that helped Munson so well, so it's going to be tough to get another man up to replace him and help Munson.
Who runs behind DJ?
Pumphrey will be one of the seven top upperclassmen who will be getting limited reps. That means drinking water next to the coach when the ball goes live. The list behind DJ runs as juniors Rashaad Penny, Marcus Stamps, and sophomore Juwan Washington.
Penny comes out the favorite to be the main backup as he took 61 rush attempts and was a special teams standout. It’s clear that it will be the most competitive, as Rocky Long stated at this week’s presser, "...Everybody knows that our backup running back gets to carry the ball a whole bunch of times."
Who ends up having the best spring?
The biggest concerns really is at quarterback. Maxwell Smith really determines the pecking order, but right now Christian Chapman is the starter. Last year though Jake Rodrigues had a great spring game, the staff was clearly split on Smith and Chapman. Smith barely edging the redshirt freshman, Chapman.
Chapman is going to have a great spring because he helped hoist the Aztecs' trophy this year. The best spring might go to a defensive player like Trey Lomax who missed part of the 2015 season to injury, and has been integral to the Aztecs dominance in the defensive backfield.