Sonny Dykes has inherited a roster with potential, but one that needs close attention. 11 of the 22 listed starters on the pre-spring depth chart are underclassmen, including eight on the offensive side of the ball.
“We’re young and need to get settled, but that’s what spring and fall camps are all about – finding maturity and confidence,” said Dykes during a phone interview. “The good thing about this group is that they picked things up quicker than we anticipated.
“They’re making each other better every day,” he added. “I like what I’ve seen.”
Of those younger players, three are expected to fill positions within the offensive front. Sophomores Freddie Tagaloa (LT), Jordan Rigsbee (LG), and freshman Matt Cochran (C) had a strong spring session and will continue to compete for starting roles into the regular season.
Dykes has been really impressed with the overall competition along the line.
“They’re going to be a good group,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent and toughness there. They started to gel toward the end of practice and have really been coming together. There are 6-8 guys that we think can play, so we’ll see how it plays out.”
Another huge position battle comes at the quarterback position, where three underclassmen – with no game experience – continue to vie to replace long-time starter Zach Maynard under center.
Redshirt junior Austin Hinder could emerge as the leading candidate in the coming months. He hasn’t seen game action at the collegiate level yet, but has been with the program for three years and would fill the leadership role.
Hinder has great size (6-4, 200) and a strong arm, but what sets him apart from the rest of the group is his ability to escape the pocket when needed, find running lanes and make plays with his feet.
Then there are freshmen Zach Kline and Jared Goff, who Dykes seemed very high on. Both are very talented pocket passers that spread the field, hit targets downfield and make excellent decisions during pressured moments.
All three are viable options to help get this program back on the winning track.
“Quarterback is the one [position] that is an unanswered question right now,” said Dykes. “The three guys battling all have strengths and weaknesses, and I’m excited to see how it plays out.
“It’s a very important position and has a lot to do with how good our team will be this year,” he continued. “We’re going to be inexperienced, but talented. I’m excited about them and excited to see how they improve.”
Another key question on the offensive side of the ball is who the starting quarterback will throw to. The early departure of wide receiver Keenan Allen is a big one, and the young field general will need a reliable weapon to mesh with early.
That question may have been answered this spring, as both sophomore Bryce Treggs (X) and redshirt freshman Kenny Lawler (Z) stood out as playmakers throughout the spring.
“We’ve got some depth and talent at receiver,” Dykes said. “Most of them are young guys; Bryce has chance to be pretty good, and Lawler really impressed. There are a lot of different body types and types of players that can do different things with football, so that’s encouraging.”
Dykes and the rest of the football staff are currently on the recruiting trail until the student-athletes finish out their spring semester, and then will “hit the ground running” in June.
“I feel really good about where we are,” said Dykes. “We’re in a good spot right now. …it’s a very important time of the year for us.”
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