It's a hard thing, making a value judgement on a program as a whole when the offense and defense are playing against each other. Every positive has a negative counterpart on the same team. That's why you hear Paul Wulff talking about things like having good practices overall and the tempo with which people are practicing.
Rather than try to highlight units, let's focus on things that clearly broke through as positive or negatives this Spring and what implications they might have on this Fall.
Hit the read more button for our thoughts on the top stories this Spring:
1) The emergence of Brandon Rankin.
It didn't take long for the staff to see that Rankin was going to make some noise on the defensive line. At 274 pounds this Spring you could see that he was causing problems for the offensive line. You can expect him to be north of 280 pounds by the time Fall camp starts. He'll be more of a Rien Long type of defensive tackle. You should read our defensive line preview if you haven't yet. It is pretty close to exactly how the Spring played out on the line. Rankin was the key to making it all come together though. He won't be visible as a light defensive tackle on every play this Fall but he will have to be accounted for on the interior line with double teams from the center and guard. That means one on one match-up's for at least one of our defensive ends and the other tackle. Good news for the potential of a viable pass rush this Fall. Overall, we lost Turpin and Luapo in the middle but everything else played out exactly how you would hope. Light on depth but at least the players getting reps are legitimate BCS starters.
2) Receiver depth and consistency is an issue.
Take a look at our receiver Spring preview here. As we thought, there is lots of talk from the mouthpieces of the program around freshmen adding great depth and competition to the rotation. It's silly talk as depending on freshmen receivers is a dangerous path. The surprise wasn't the issue of depth. We've known that's existed for a while now. The surprise was the inconsistency in catching the ball with our big four. Let's hope this Spring was Levy tweaking their mechanics. Similar to a hitting instructor breaking down a player's swing that results in poor early results as they focus on the process rather than production. The other area of concern is the lack of a playmaker. All of our receivers are steady but none scream ability in making players miss or in getting behind quality corners on a consistent basis. Rather than hope for one of the freshmen to come in and be a star, we should hope that one or two of the new guys will be able to come in and add a different dimension to the receiver rotation because right now we have four guys with very similar skillsets. Let's hope Isaiah Barton is the second coming of Sammy Moore. If we have a guy with speed that will help our passing game immensely.
3) With a bullet (at least from Paul Wulff's perspective), Jeff Tuel is QB1.
Back in October, we talked about why it was important to sit Marshall Lobbestael. Read that write-up here. He's not a Pac-10 starter and there is plenty of statistical data to tell us that. He might have flashes but he's not a guy you invest in to run your program week in and week out. Here's the problem. Paul Wulff badly wants competition at each spot and he also knows that the likelihood of Jeff Tuel taking every snap this Fall is extremely unlikely. In other words, he needs someone to step-up and compete. That's why we wrote here in our Spring preview that the nightmare scenario is Wulff continuing to play the game of "no one has won the starter job" coming out of the Spring. Unfortunately, it looked to be headed that way until the final week of practice in which it was clear that Jeff Tuel is a clear-cut QB1. That's good news. The quarterback position is going to be a struggle this coming season. A shortage of receivers with experience and an offensive line that's inconsistent is going to be maddening at times. Let's hope that Jeff Tuel survives the season and is able to get the reps he needs to become a star QB before his career is done. At least the question of whether he would get those reps as the starter has been put to rest this Spring.
4) Our cup runneth over in the secondary.
Heading into the Spring we wrote that the secondary was going to be our most competitive area. We focused mostly on the freshmen four (Atofau, Locker, Washington, and Carpenter) but it turns out that the guys making the most noise were the young veterans. Daniel Simmons might be our best pro prospect on the roster coming out of the Spring. He'll lock down a corner. Aire Justin successfully held of Nolan Washington at the other corner spot. Tyree Toomer and Myron Beck asserted themselves as guys that need reps at safety. All of this is fantastic news for the program. It gives the youngsters time to grow and it creates that long dreamed about competition among a large set of players for four spots. Chris Ball, you are a gift to the program.