Speaking to the media for the first time in a long time on Thursday, San Diego State head coach Rocky Long spoke with AztecSportsReport.com for nearly half an hour, addressing several pressing issues with his SDSU football team.
Transfers officially in
The moves were finally official on Wednesday, so Long could address the mid-year transfer situation for the first time this year on Thursday.
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He said Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz, USC receiver Brice Butler, USC running back Dillon Baxter, Santa Monica Community College tight end Aaron Boesch, Chaparral High quarterback Matt Morin and two grayshirts, Ryan Jack and Micah Seau, are all certified and ready to go for SDSU this semester.
"This is a great opportunity for each of them to continue their collegiate careers and provide us with some experience and depth at several different positions," he said.
Katz figured to be the frontrunner to be SDSU's new starting quarterback now that fifth-year senior Ryan Lindley graduated, but Long stressed there will still be a competition in the spring and fall, and even Morin will get a shot at the job.
"I'm guessing Ryan and Adam Dingwell and Jake Bernards are really competing for the starting job," Long said. "Chad (Jeffries) is a lot like Matt (Morin). He's a freshman. We're going to give them all reps, so Chad can show out there that he's the best guy. We're going to give them all reps and that's the good part of having them out here in the spring. They'll all get reps and they'll all be live, so you'll actually get to see which one is the best quarterback."
As with Katz, Butler also appeared to be slated as the starting receiver, considering his experience and his four-star recruit background, but Long also said no spot will be just given to him either.
"I would say no he's not slated as a starter," Long said. "If I had to pick right now, I would say that would be one of our stronger positions on the team."
He specifically mentioned Dominique Sandifer, Colin Lockett, Dylan Denso, Larry Clark, Paul Pitts, Jemond Hazely and Ezell Ruffin as those who will certainly be in the mix at the receiver spot this year as well.
As for Boesch, Long said he'll have a long way to go before he can become a solid blocking tight end for SDSU, but his athleticism and receiving skills are way above average, and he could find himself on the field in the fall.
Click Here to view this Link."He's a really good athlete," Long said of Boesch. "Right now he's a better receiver than he is a blocker. He's only about 220 pounds. They used him a lot in the slot. So he's got some skills. We've got to get him bigger and stronger so he can block there."
With the grayshirts, Long said he fully expects Seau (shoulder) to be 100 percent and ready to go for spring ball, but Jack (knee) is still a question mark.
Finally, the most highly-touted of the mid-year additions, Baxter comes to SDSU with a resume that includes a former five-star No. 1 all-purpose back in the country ranking, but also plenty of baggage from USC, including multiple suspensions and a dismissal from the team.
Long said he and Baxter have talked, and they are both on the same page when it comes to being an Aztec (he's set to officially be eligible to take the field in 2013).
"If they don't want to abide by your rules, they're not going to make it," Long said. "And if they're not going to make it, and if they don't make it, then their playing career is probably over."
He added: "Dillon and I understand each other completely."
Strength and conditioning update
From an outsider's perspective, the strength and conditioning coach position at SDSU has been somewhat of a disaster. First, the well-respected Aaron Wellman bolted for Michigan when Brady Hoke was hired. Then his replacement, Rick Court, left after the season and took a job at Ohio State. Then his replacement, Joey Boese, quit on SDSU just days after he was hired earlier this week, presumably to search for a similar job at Fresno State.
But Long hasn't been fazed by any of the moves.
"It hasn't been a nightmare," he said calmly.
Perhaps that's because he and the school have announced the hiring of Adam Hall, a former SDSU quarterback who worked with Wellman a few years ago and was on staff at the University of Texas recently.
The school is expected to officially name Hall the strength and conditioning coach on Friday.
As for the Boese quitting fiasco, Long declined to comment.
"I don't talk about people that quit on us," he said.
Long preferred not to speak on injured players earlier this month, but on Thursday, he opened up and explained SDSU's injuries and surgeries. He said 12 current guys either had surgery in the offseason or were injured and may or may not be ready for spring ball. The list includes:
-Guard Nik Embernate (Shoulder) - Doubtful for spring ball.
-Defensive tackle Sam Meredith (Shoulder) - Doubtful for spring ball.
-Tight end Gavin Escobar (Shoulder) - Probable for spring ball.
-Safety Gabe Lemon (Shoulder) - Probable for spring ball.
-Safety Marcus Andrews (Shoulder) - Probable for spring ball.
-Running back Dwayne Garrett (Shoulder) - Probable for spring ball.
-Running back Walter Kazee (Knee) - Out for spring ball.
-Linebacker Rob Andrews (Foot) - Questionable for spring ball.
-Center Alec Johnson (Foot) - Out for spring ball.
-Linebacker Vaness Harris (Knee) - Out for spring ball.
-Defensive back King Holder (Shoulder) - Out for spring ball.
-Running back Brandon Wright (Hernia) - Questionable for spring ball.
Long also said several graduating seniors also went under the knife, specifically mentioning defensive end J.J. Autele.
Additions and departures
Offensive tackle Reggie Jones would be the biggest departure, perhaps both literally and figuratively, but he has not decided if he's leaving yet, Long said. Although it doesn't appear that Jones will be back at SDSU this semester.
"He's dealing with some personal issues at this time," Long said of Jones. "If you're asking me right now, I'm saying he's not going to be there in the spring. He's got a little more time to work it out. So we'll see what he does."
He either has to start attending classes at SDSU or drop out by the school-mandated deadline of Feb. 2.
Receiver Jay Waddell was the only other departure Long mentioned, saying the wideout will likely attend junior college and get his AA degree before he attends SDSU again.
Additions back to the team include defensive end Everett Beed and cornerback Tony Bell. Receiver Ezell Ruffin is also back, and Long said the receiver is doing very well in the classroom.
"Ezell Ruffin had a really good semester," Long said. "He had over a three-point-something (grade point average)."
Former tight end Bryce Quigley is sliding over to the left tackle position and will get serious consideration to be the starter next season, Long said.
Another former tight end, Robert Craighead, is switching positions to the defensive line.
As of right now, those are the only position changes heading into spring ball. Although Long did say some of the running backs could find themselves at other positions when spring practices end, strictly because of how athletic they are and how he only wants to have three guys rotate in the mix next season.
"Other than the guys that are established at running back, like Walter, all those guys are young and all those guys are good enough athletes they can play someplace else," Long said. "You're going to want the three best tailbacks at tailback. So if you have six running backs, and all of them are really good athletes and you find who your three best tailbacks are, and you're short someplace else, those guys can play someplace else."
Long said he's been keeping an eye on quarterback Ryan Lindley and the Senior Bowl on the NFL Network this week. ... When asked if he thought bringing in a fifth-year senior quarterback like Katz could stop the progress of young guys like Jeffries, Morin or Dingwell, Long said "No," and said in fact it should help them all grow: "If you're competing and you're competing at a high level, the more good players you have and the higher the level of competition is, the better you get, the faster you get better. I think it actually adds to their growth, rather than stunting their growth." ... Outside of the receiver spot, Long said the offensive line spot should be the biggest competition, especially with Embernate and Johnson expected to miss spring camp. With no returning starters at tackle either, the "first string and second string might change daily," he said. ... Long said with the amount of receivers SDSU is slated to have on its team this year, the Aztecs could implement a bit of a spread-option offense next season. Although it will depend entirely on the starting quarterback (Bernards is the only one incapable of running that kind of offense, Long said).