Pac-12: Utah Utes

Many Utah fans are grumpy after consecutive losing campaigns. After the Utes won 33 games over their final three seasons in the Mountain West Conference, they have won 18 in their first three in the Pac-12. Some Utah fans blame coach Kyle Whittingham for not making the transition to the big leagues less bumpy.

Whittingham isn't happy sitting home during the bowl season either, and he's aware of the harrumphs. But after concluding spring practices last weekend and officially beginning the offseason, he's tuning out his critics.

[+] Enlarge Kyle Whittingham
George Frey/Getty ImagesUtah coach Kyle Whittingham was encouraged this spring by the play of QB Travis Wilson.
"I don't pay any attention to that," he said. "We're working as hard as we can trying to improve every year. The external things, I don't pay any attention to them."

What he is paying attention to is the quarterback position. If the Utes can square that away satisfactorily, they could become a player in the Pac-12 South race. While the Pac-12 certainly has presented a greater uptick in competition that most Utes adherents -- coaches, fans and players -- thought it would, it's important to note a significant difference between the 2008-2010 seasons and 2011-2013 seasons: Continuity and productivity behind center.

Dave Christensen -- the Utes sixth different play caller in six years -- was hired to bring his up-tempo version of the spread offense to Salt Lake, and the first order of business is to figure out who will be directing the show. If all goes according to plan, which it hasn't for three years running, that will junior Travis Wilson.

Wilson, whose career appeared threatened after a season-ending intracranial artery injury in November, showed some early rust but by the end of the spring drills he put some separation between himself and Conner Manning and Adam Schulz. He will take the first snaps behind center when fall camp begins.

"As spring wore on, he got better and he started to play more like he did in the fall for us," Whittingham said. "No tentativeness whatsoever. He wasn't apprehensive about anything we were doing. He looked like his old self by the end of spring ball."

Of course, there's an asterisk with Wilson. Whittingham and Christensen won't know if he will be cleared to resume full-contact football until July. So Manning, Schulz, Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson and incoming freshman Donovan Isom could end up being plan B. In fact, some fans are clicking their heels together over Thompson, a redshirt junior who went 4-of-13 with a touchdown and an interception in three seasons at Oklahoma. Those fans might want to revisit our observations on "Incoming Dude Is Obviously Transcendent" (IDIOT) syndrome.

Whatever Wilson's status, Whittingham makes it clear that nothing is resolved at the position.

"[Wilson is] No. 1 guy going into fall," he said. "But there still will be some competition, some jockeying for position, I guess you could say. But we've got to get solidified there rapidly once fall camp starts so we can rep the guys who are the ones and twos on the depth chart."

QB is still at issue, and the knee injury to play-making LB Jacoby Hale was a drag, but Whittingham was upbeat about several areas this spring.

For one, talented OT Jeremiah Poutasi, after cutting about 30 pounds, appears poised for the breakthrough many projected for him last season.

"He is playing at the level that we were hoping he was going to play at last year," Whittingham said.

The depth at running back is strong with the emergence of Devontae Booker and Troy McCormick beside Bubba Poole, with the injured Lucky Radley rejoining the fray in the fall. Dominique Hatfield emerged as a potential No. 3 receiver, at least until touted junior college transfer Kaelin Clay arrives. Westlee Tonga, injured much of last season, gives the Utes an A-list tight end.

On defense, Whittingham was pleased with the development of depth at cornerback, and he believes Nate Orchard is ready for his closeup as a pass rusher. Further, if all goes according to plan with a couple of incoming players, including the arrival of touted JC transfer Pasoni Tasini, the competition should be fierce at defensive tackle.

While getting things squared away behind center is priority one, Whittingham also is quick to answer when asked what needs to change this fall for his team to get back to its winning ways: Turnovers. Both giveaways and takeaways. The Utes had too many of the former and too few of the latter in 2013.

Utah, which led the Pac-12 in turnover margin while going 8-5 in 2011 despite complete chaos behind center, ranked 11th in the conference in turnover margin last fall. They were minus-9 for the season in large part because they tossed 21 interceptions while grabbing only three picks. That was by far the highest interception percentage in the conference and tied for the fewest interceptions in the nation on defense.

So Whittingham isn't focused on his critics as he turns his attention to the offseason. He's focused on his QB situation and improving his team's turnover margin.

Here's a guess that if he solves both of those issues he'll have a lot less grumpiness to ignore.

Spring games roundup

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
9:00
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Here's a quick look at some of the highlights of the four spring games this past weekend.

Arizona State

Sophomore linebacker Viliami Moeakiola stopped running back Jarek Hilgers on fourth-and-short on the final play as the Maroon team held off the Gold squad 29-23 in front of 8,456 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 7 of 22 passes with a touchdown for the Maroon team. Gold quarterback Mike Bercovici went 11-of-24 with three touchdowns and an interception.

“I like the format that we did because it created more competition,” said ASU coach Todd Graham. “The gold team was really down, but came back and fought back, got a chance to win. Maroon held on with a fourth down, goal-line stand. D.J. [Foster] was frustrated with me—he really wanted to play more. I thought he did some good things when he was in there. Loved the big shot to Jaelen [Strong] from Taylor Kelly. I thought Kelly really looked good today. He really managed the offense and was very much in command of things. Both offensive lines divided up evenly on each team — all those guys did some good things."

The complete stats are available here.

USC

In front of 17,500 fans at the L.A. Coliseum, kicker Andre Heidari made four field goals. But the offense failed to get into the end zone and the defense came out on top 16-15.

Newly re-anointed starting quarterback Cody Kessler completed 5 of 10 passes for 86 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Max Browne went 6-of-17 for 76 yards with no scores or picks and Jalen Greene was 4-of-11 for 61 yards – also without a touchdown nor an interception. Notes Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times:
Before getting too alarmed, it is worth noting that dating to the Pete Carroll era, USC's spring finale has not served as a reliable indicator of fall performance.

Rather, it's annually an exercise in avoiding major injury while looking ahead to summer.

So a true evaluation of [Steve] Sarkisian's new fast-paced, no-huddle scheme cannot begin until USC plays its Aug. 30 opener against Fresno State at the Coliseum.

Walk-on tailback James Toland IV was the top rusher with 36 yards on eight carries and tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick caught three passes for 56 yards. Scott Starr had a game-high six tackles, with three for a loss.

"We had a couple big pass plays, but the defense played really well and tackled well,” Sarkisian said. "And we got out of the game with no serious injuries."

Utah

Despite 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns from transfer Devontae Booker, the Red team took down the White squad 28-27 in front of 12,056 fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Quarterback Travis Wilson, still shackled by noncontact restrictions, completed 7 of 12 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in five drives.

Dominique Hatfield (four catches, 93 yards) and Westlee Tonga hauled in touchdown receptions for the White team. Troy McCormick rushed eight times for 34 yards with a touchdown to lead the Red squad.

"We've been high on Devontae Booker ever since he got here," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He didn't get here more than a week or two before the start of spring ball, so he was fighting his lack of conditioning all spring. But as soon as he gets himself in great shape, I think he'll be a very good running back in this conference. All of the running backs ran hard today. A strong running game is where everything begins, even if you are a spread team."

Sal Velasquez and Filipo Mokofisi each picked off Brandon Cox, who threw the only interceptions of the game. Adam Schulz was 9-of-13 for 110 yards with a touchdown and Conner Manning was 9-of-12 for 86 yards and a score.

The complete stats are available here.

Washington

Though Washington didn’t keep official stats for its drizzly spring game, quarterback Jeff Lindquist threw four touchdowns in red zone and situational drills and, per Adam Jude of the Seattle Times, was unofficially 11-of-15 for 134 yards.

Troy Williams, who has been splitting reps all spring with Lindquist while the team awaits the status of Cyler Miles, was 11-of-18 for 38 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Deontae Cooper, Lavon Coleman and Ralph Kinne were the only backs who participated. Cooper carried nine times for 68 yards, Colmean rushed 18 times for 99 yards and a touchdown and Kinne had seven carries for 38 yards.

Head coach Chris Petersen told Gohuskies.com that picking a quarterback to replace Keith Price could go all the way up until the season opener – if not longer.

“Absolutely, that’s possible. Yeah, we could go to Game 9, if it hasn’t been decided,” Petersen said. “We’ll take this one day at a time. One day, one game. I know it sounds cliché, but it really will be. … I mean, it’s all nice to have a starting quarterback, but that guy graduated in December. And so, we are at square one. Until one guy establishes himself, we don’t have a guy.”
Four more spring games are set for Saturday, at which point more than half the Pac-12 will be done with spring ball. You know what that means ... the countdown to fall camp begins!

Here is quick peek at the four games being played this weekend:

Arizona State

Where: Sun Devil Stadium
Kickoff: 11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Arizona (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: When there are steaks on the line, like there will be in this one, you can pretty much guarantee a competitive atmosphere. Instead of an offense vs. defense scoring system, coach Todd Graham broke up the team with a good amount of starters on each side. Starting quarterback Taylor Kelly will lead the maroon team and Mike Bercovici will quarterback the gold team, but the with nine starters departed off last season's defense, it's that side of the ball that will be worth paying attention to. Running back D.J. Foster, who has battled a minor toe sprain throughout the spring, will see limited action despite a clean bill of health. Former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer will serve as the analyst on the Pac-12 Arizona broadcast.

USC

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Kickoff: 3 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It would have been a lot more fun if coach Steve Sarkisian waited until after the spring game to announce Cody Kessler as the starting quarterback. That way everyone could have overanalyzed the competition based on one meaningless game. But really, who are we kidding? The overanalyzation will go on regardless -- and Sarkisian did leave the door open for Max Browne to work his way back into the mix. It'll be interesting to watch both Kessler and Browne operate the up-tempo offense Sarkisian brought with him from Washington and how a rebuilt offensive line stacks up against a talented defensive front. The guys from WeAreSC kick around much more to pay attention to in this roundtable discussion.

Utah

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. MT
TV: Pac-12 Mountain (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It'll be good to see quarterback Travis Wilson back under center in a game-like situation again, and even more intriguing because he'll be running new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense against the Utes' base defense. While the setting won't showcase the depths of the playbook, the Cliffs Notes version should provide enough to develop a better understanding of how things will be different next season. The clock will operate as it would in a regular game during a pair of 10-minute quarters in the first half and will use a running clock in the second half after an eight-minute halftime. If you're planning on attending, a food competition and MUSS football game will be held at 11 a.m. MT, with an alumni football game to follow at noon.

Washington

Where: Husky Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Washington (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: Is Shaq Thompson the new Myles Jack? It has been a major storyline in Seattle throughout the spring how the talented linebacker -- and former minor-league baseball player -- is working with the offense. And after watching his some of his high school highlights, it's understandable why new coach Chris Petersen is intrigued by letting him go both ways. Any time there's a brand new coaching staff, the spring game carries a little extra sizzle, but it should also be noted those games aren't necessarily always as telling due to the lack of time the players have spent with the staff. It's a lot of fundamentals, a lot of evaluation, and the scope of what is accomplished is different when compared with schools with established staffs that are familiar with their rosters. Petersen has installed about 50 percent of the playbook. With Cyler Miles still suspended, quarterbacks Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams top the depth chart and will make their cases to replace the departed Keith Price.
Happy Friday!
After leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense in 2011, Utah has slipped into the middle of the pack in the conference the past two seasons. While the numbers have been generally solid -- most notably against the run -- you get the feeling that coordinator Kalani Sitake isn't happy with being fair-to-middling.

The Utes entered spring needing to replace some key guys, most notably outside linebacker Trevor Reilly, who was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2013, DT Tenny Palepoi, who earned second-team honors, and cornerback Keith McGill, who is expected to be picked in the NFL draft in May. It also didn't help the cause when playmaker Jacoby Hale blew out his knee in March.

Still, the Utes have some intrigue talent returning on defense, as well as some notable newcomers.

So, with the Utes' spring game scheduled for Saturday, it seemed like a good time to check in with Sitake, a guy who has generated some buzz as a future head coaching candidate.

First let's look back: What was good about the 2013 defense, and what were you unhappy about?

Kalani Sitake: The good part is we had some good play out of our defensive front. We've been solid in run defense for years now. I think the passing game was a little bit spotty at times, not the best. But the thing that was most negative was the lack of turnovers, specifically interceptions. We had three interceptions. In 2011, we led the Pac-12 in interceptions [with 19]. All of the sudden it dwindled to where we were last last year. Not that we didn't have opportunities, we just need to capitalize on opportunities. Three interceptions can't do it. So there's been a huge emphasis this spring on finishing plays and capitalizing on our opportunities. That was a huge, glaring negative for us last season.

With the spring game on Saturday, give me an overall assessment of where your defense is right now.

Kalani Sitake: We have some guys who are banged up, specifically at D-tackle, who haven't been participating. We also are counting on a few guys who have done some good things this spring. I think Eric Rowe and Reggie Porter, our cornerbacks, our defensive backfield of Davion Orphey and Justin Thomas -- I'm naming those guys as corners -- they have really improved. We seen really good things from them. I feel more comfortable with that position now than I did earlier. I think our safeties, with Brian Blechen playing there and as soon as Tevin Carter gets healthy, I think we'll see our safeties start to come along. We're going to be a lot deeper when we get some of these newcomers, Tevin Carter specifically, coming in. I think our defense as a whole got better. I think we are a lot more set. Going through some of the issues we had last year, a lot of guys are more experienced. It wasn't the best defense statistically for us, but the experience a lot of these young guys went through is going to pay off huge for us this fall. Going through the grind of the Pac-12 conference has been good for these guys.

Who replaces OLB Trevor Reilly's production?

Kalani Sitake: We did some things with Nate Orchard and we think he's going to be that guy. Probably not as much at inside linebacker as Trevor played. You'll see Nate doing a lot of what Trevor did last year. He's in his senior year. He's had a great spring, though we held him out of a lot of the scrimmage stuff. He's our big-play guy up front. I see him now as our leader. He's really starting to come into his own, which is perfect timing for us, especially with us replacing Trevor Reilly. Nate Orchard is the next guy in and I think he'll do a great job at it.

What does it mean to have S/LB Brian Blechen back and how will you guys use him this fall?

Kalani Sitake: It's huge because he has more interceptions than any of the defensive backs who are returning. He won games for us as a true freshman with interceptions. The main thing for us is he is a big-play guy. Having a big play guy at safety is valuable for us, specifically when we need turnovers, interceptions. Whether he causes a fumble, makes a big hit or gets an interception, just to have the impact he has. We'd like to keep him at safety but with his versatility and him knowing football so well and knowing our defense, he can play any of the spots on our defense. Having a guy that gives you those options is a huge benefit and huge asset for us defensively.

Let's go through all three levels. First, your defensive line: Who's had a good spring up front?

Kalani Sitake: Up front, I saw some good things out of Hunter Dimick and Jason Fanaika, playing D-end. Jason can also play inside at D-tackle. Same with Hunter. Viliseni Fauonuku has had a great spring. He was banged up a little bit but came back. He's the explosive defensive lineman we need at D-tackle. Pita Taumoepenu has proven that he's a good pass rusher. We're going to need him. As a true freshman last year, he wasn't ready to be an every-down guy. This next little bit in fall camp, I'd like to see him develop into an every-down type of D-end. A little bit undersized [6-foot-1, 230 pounds], but we've had guys we've had to add weight on before. Nate Orchard used to be that guy his freshman, sophomore year. We have some guys up front who are doing some really good things. I'll be excited to get some of our D-tackles back healthy -- Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, Sese Ianu -- and we're getting Star Lotulelei's little brother, Lowell, in the fall. And then there's Sam Tevi. So there's four D-tackles who haven't participated in spring. And Filipo Mokofisi will be huge for us up front, too. We also have a [junior college] transfer from Snow College, Pasoni Tasini, who will be huge for us. Defensive tackle-wise, I'm excited about those guys. I think the front is going to be a strength for us.

I think our defense as a whole got better. I think we are a lot more set. Going through some of the issues we had last year, a lot of guys are more experienced. It wasn't the best defense statistically for us, but the experience a lot of these young guys went through is going to pay off huge for us this fall.

Utah coordinator Kalani Sitake on the state of his defense going into the 2014 season.
And at linebacker?

Kalani Sitake: We had those unfortunate injuries with Jacoby Hale and Gionni Paul, but Gionni Paul will be back for us for fall camp and for the season. With Hale, it's as soon as we can get him back from his ACL, we'll take him. That's part of football. The great part of it is we've got some depth. We'll get Jason Whittingham back in the fall. Jared Norris has emerged as dynamic at linebacker for us. He can do anything. He can play inside or outside. He's got what it takes. I see, as far as last year to this year, he's made a huge improvement, his speed and agility. I'm excited to see what he can do this fall. Uaea Masina will be a solid linebacker for us this fall. We moved Marcus Sanders-Williams from running back to linebacker after those two injuries, and for a guy who's only been a linebacker for a week ... his second day of being a linebacker was our scrimmage, and he graded out higher than I've had a newcomer grade out. He understands defense and made a ton of big plays. For a guy who's got a lot of speed, I'm excited about him at linebacker. Those guys have done some really good things who we will be relying on this fall.

And in the secondary?

Kalani Sitake: Overall, Eric Rowe, we can play him at free safety, but we feel like Tevin Carter can be a guy, so we've got Tevin Carter and Brian Blechen at safety. We feel good with those guys. I also feel good with Charles Henderson backing up the safety position. A couple of these freshmen coming in should be able to help us out. We also moved Hipolito Corporan from corner to safety. Those guys will give us a solid group at free safety and strong safety. Eric Rowe can be a swing guy from corner to safety, but we feel really comfortable with him replacing Keith McGill and being a big corner for us. Reggie Porter will join him at a corner spot with Justin Thomas as our nickel corner. You also have Davion Orphey who started for us last year at corner. We feel really solid about those four corners right there. And Wykie Freeman is a guy that also gives us a corner we feel good about. We'll see how the young guys come along. We feel really good about our five corners, and Eric Rowe has been dynamic for us.

I know you coach defense, but folks are curious about QB Travis Wilson and his health. How has he looked this spring?

Kalani Sitake: He's a lot lighter now and he's actually caused problems for us scrambling around. He's going against the first-team defense every day and he's looking a lot quicker. He's more comfortable the more he plays. I've been really impressed with some of the things he's done. I think he's back to himself. He's taking on leadership roles with the team. It will be really exciting to see what he can do this fall. Losing the weight, he's a lot more elusive for a 6-foot-7 guy -- I think that's working for him. He can make guys miss and run around and beat guys to the edge. I see him doing some really good things. He's older and feels more comfortable, even though it's a new offensive system.
I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads, the nickels and dimes, yours and mine. Did you cash in all your dreams?
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on on the Metaphysician Network.

To the notes!

Matt from Beaverton, Ore., writes: I'm sure by now you've read the news about the Ducks losing Bralon Addison this season due to an ACL tear. He looked to take a huge step in becoming a focal point of the Ducks offense with Huff graduating. Do you think Oregon returns to running the ball far more frequently, or are there players you think will step up to fill the void? I'm curious how Jonathan Lloyd (senior point guard for the basketball team) pans out as a return specialist/WR.

[+] EnlargeBralon Addison
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe Ducks are not devoid of offensive talent, but replacing Bralon Addison will be difficult.
Ted Miller: Losing Addison is a big blow for two reasons. First, he's an intriguing talent who was expected to become QB Marcus Mariota's No. 1 target this fall, an important distinction considering Mariota is a Heisman Trophy contender. Second, the Ducks are now as green at receiver as any team in the Pac-12. They will be without their top four receivers from 2013.

What's left? There's veteran Keanon Lowe, a good leader and a tough blocker, but he only caught 18 passes last year. In terms of wideouts, the next most productive returning receiver is sophomore Chance Allen, who caught five passes.

Of course, there's young talent. A top-five team with Oregon's offensive name brand isn't going to be devoid of guys who could immediately step in and shine, but how that pecking order develops is a mystery. Allen, sophomore Dwayne Stanford, redshirt freshman Darren Carrington and the mercurial B.J. Kelley are possibilities.

Lloyd? It's fun to speculate, but being a great athlete doesn't mean you'll be a good receiver. That gets a firm "We shall see."

As for compensating in the passing game, the Ducks are strong at tight end, so you probably will see more from those guys. They also, as you note, could lean more on the running game, as Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner have the potential to be a 2,500-plus-yard tandem.

One of the Ducks mottos is "next man in" and losing Addison hardly knocks the Ducks out of the Pac-12 and national title race. But if you made a list of the top-five most important Ducks in 2014 a week ago, he would have been on it.

 




Ray from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Recognizing that football is a big moneymaker for college athletic departments, conferences and networks, I'm curious as to whether we've already seen the peak of this sport. Between unionization of athletes and issues with concussions and the incidence of brain damage in former players, it seems like there are some issues ahead. Can educational institutions continue to feature a sport that has apparent long term consequences to the players and cash the checks without some lifetime responsibility to those students? 18-22 year olds always think they are immortal, but the faculty and administrators should know that a significant percentage of the kids have potential for injury and brain damage. Perhaps not as bad as what the Roman gladiators had, but still substantial enough that some court cases could change the financial equation. Do you think you'll need to bone up on badminton or soccer rules as an alternative sport for the Pac-12 blog at some point?

Ted Miller: This is a time of change in college football on many levels, and those changes aren't independent of each other.

We've reached critical mass with the flowing revenue and big-money salaries, where the relative deprivation between athlete and coach/administrator is impossible to ignore. We've also reached a point where we need to take strong steps to address player safety and long-term health issues. Most folks around the game see this, even if they don't agree on all the next steps.

The good news is this: Crisis often breeds progress.

As for your question, "Has college football peaked?" Maybe. But that's not my impression.

Ultimately, I don't think college football is going anywhere. Too many people love it and care about it to not figure out ways to improve things.

And the notion of no Pac-12 blog surely will motivate them all to come up with changes we all can believe in.

 




Derek from Salt Lake City writes: So recently it was announced that the student government at the University of Utah was proposing changes to the fight song "Utah Man" because they felt it was sexist and offensive to some people. I would love to know what someone who is not a die-hard Ute thinks about the whole situation ...

Ted Miller: It's funny how trivial things such as this are often highly controversial, emotional and political. My guess is the folks who most loudly claim they are aggrieved probably have never and will never even sing the song.

Still, my first response? Why not change it to "Utah Fan." What is lost? Fact is plenty of Utah fans are women. The assertion that "man" is an inclusion term is disingenuous.

Don't think so? Your momma is a man. See.

The story included Utah social work professor Joanne Yaffe observing, "I don’t think I’m being hyper-PC, I’m just thinking about not really being included in the song."

I agree. Perfectly reasonable observation. And reason to make a change.

Yet she then unfortunately added, "I think that the U can feel like a very isolating, unwelcoming place, and maybe this song is part of that."

Sigh. That's just gobbledygook. And disingenuous whining is a good way to lose a sympathetic audience.

If I were in charge at Utah, I'd change it to "Utah Fan."

And you folks know I'm up to snuff and never bluff.
And I said "What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?" … Well, that's the one thing we've got.
The ball is tipped and there you are. You're running for your life. You're a shooting star.
Happy Friday!
I saw the sign and it opened up my mind.
On Monday, we took a look at how the Pac-12's offensive players stack up as NFL prospects in the eyes of ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Tuesday, it's the defense's turn.

Defensive line

  • DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State: No. 4 (Kiper), No. 5 (McShay)
  • DT Will Sutton, Arizona State: No. 8 (Kiper), No. 10 (McShay)

If you've been following along since the end of the season, Sutton's spot isn't all too surprising. He didn't have a good showing at the combine and has taken heat about his physical condition, dating to before last season. Even with the concerns, it's hard to imagine he won't eventually find his way in the NFL. After all, he's only the second player in conference history to be a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Washington's Steve Emtman (1990-91) was the other. That's not by accident.

Coincidentally, the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, isn't ranked in the top 10 by either. See the list here. Insider

Other Pac-12 defensive linemen who figure to be in the mix in the draft are Cassius Marsh (UCLA), Taylor Hart (Oregon), Deandre Coleman (Cal), George Uko (USC), Tenny Palepoi (Utah), Morgan Breslin (USC), Ben Gardner (Stanford) and Josh Mauro (Stanford).

Linebacker

  • [+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFormer UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr could be the first Pac-12 player to be drafted this year.
    OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: No. 2 (both)
  • OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford: No. 6 (Kiper), No. 9 (McShay)
  • ILB Shayne Skov, Stanford: No. 3 (both)
  • ILB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: No. 8 (Kiper)

Barr is widely considered the Pac-12's best hope at landing in the first 10 picks, but if McShay was drafting, that wouldn't be the case. On drafting Barr, McShay wrote:
[Barr] of UCLA is a speed-rusher who stalls out when attempting to convert speed to power, and there is too much finesse to his game for me to pay a top-15 price for him. He looks like he's on skates when he attempts to set the edge.

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the same player Stanford coach David Shaw compared to Jevon Kearse. Shaw called Barr called the best (defensive) player the conference has had in the "last few years."

Murphy is in a similar boat to Sutton in that his college production isn't necessarily being viewed as a lock to translate to the NFL. He still figures to be a good fit for a 3-4 team and should be expected to contribute right away.

Outside of the four listed, it wasn't a very deep year for linebackers in the conference. Utah's Trevor Reilly, who can play both OLB and DE, Arizona State OLB Carl Bradford and USC's Devon Kennard headline the rest of the NFL hopefuls.

Defensive back

McGill should send a thank you card in Pete Carroll's direction. It's largely because of Seattle's use of big-bodied corners en route to a Super Bowl victory that the league appears to be trending in that direction. At 6-foot-4, McGill's size -- in addition to his solid showing at the combine -- is a rare asset among the group of corners.

Bucannon looks like he'll be the first defensive back off the board, but will he be a first-round pick? That's unlikely, but it would be a surprise if he lasts into the third round.

Another storyline to watch is where the three defensive backs who left early -- safety Ed Reynolds (Stanford), cornerback Terrance Mitchell (Oregon) and cornerback Kameron Jackson (Cal) -- wind up.

See the lists for linebackers and defensive backs here.Insider
Last week, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay updated their top-10 lists at each position for the upcoming NFL draft.

Here's a look at how the Pac-12 offensive players stack up:

Quarterback

Marcus Mariota might have been taken No. 1 overall if he decided to leave Oregon, but without him the Pac-12 doesn't have any top-10 representation. Washington's Keith Price, who was not invited to the NFL combine, has a big day on Wednesday when the Huskies hold their pro day. Barring a team taking a flyer on him in the draft, Price is probably going to have to take the undrafted route to forge a NFL career.

Running back/fullback

The surprise here is how little both analysts think of Carey, who was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards. Sure, his 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine (4.70) didn't do him any favors, but this feels like a situation where the film isn't speaking as loudly as it does for others.

The love for Thomas was a bit surprising as well, but it's also tough to compare him to the rest of the group because he doesn't project as a true running back in the NFL. His versatility undoubtedly scored him points, but it also should be noted that 10 other running backs clocked faster 40 times at the combine -- including Stanford's Tyler Gaffney. See the whole list here Insider.

Receiver/tight end

Cooks and Lee, a pair of Biletnikoff Award winners, will both expect to hear their name called in the first round. After that, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the pass-catchers fall into place.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOregon State wideout Brandin Cooks could be a first-round pick.
Notably absent is Colorado WR Paul Richardson, who ran a 4.40 40 at the combine and caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Buffaloes. He still figures to have a shot to go in the second-round to third-round range.

McShay lists Lyerla as the pass-catcher with the biggest risk:
Lyerla has some significant behavioral and emotional issues (leaving the Oregon program at midseason in 2013 and being arrested for cocaine possession weeks later) that just aren't worth dealing with, even for the potential reward his talent promises, were he to straighten things out.

See the whole list here Insider.

Offensive line

If they were quarterbacks, Yankey and Su'a-Filo would be forever linked. Widely regarded as two of the best offensive guards in the country, it will be interesting to see who goes off the board first. Su'a-Filo was the players' choice as the best offensive lineman in the conference in 2013, but Yankey was given the honor in 2012.

Martin is one of eight players Kiper and McShay agree is the best player at his position. See the whole list here Insider.
That was a crazy game of poker.

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March, 26, 2014
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