Aztecs open preseason camp with notable position battles at running back, offensive and defensive lines

A year ago, after collecting a school-record 12 victories during the 2021 season, the San Diego State football team reconvened looking to see what it could do for an encore.
SDSU’s 2022 season concluded with a 7-6 record, capped with a Hawaii bowl loss to Middle Tennessee State.
The Aztecs’ streak of 13 straight seasons bowl eligible was extended, but the season was a disappointment by most measures.
SDSU opens preseason practice for the 2023 season Friday afternoon, four weeks and a day before the Aug. 26 season opener against Ohio at Snapdragon Stadium.
Outsiders have modest expectations for the Aztecs. Las Vegas oddsmakers place the over/under for victories at seven. Mountain West media members picked SDSU to finish fourth in a preseason poll.
SDSU coach Brady Hoke was asked this week what he needs to see over a couple dozen practices to be confident entering the season.
“I’ll always be confident,” Hoke said. “I might be frustrated if we don’t take care of the ball, if we don’t tackle well, if we don’t do the basic things at the line of scrimmage that you have to do. Then I’d be pretty upset with them. But I don’t foresee that happening.”
Fans can get a progress report midway through camp when SDSU scrimmages Aug. 12 at Snapdragon Stadium.
It is a free event, though fans are asked to secure tickets at goaztecs.com/FanFest.
SDSU has a dozen starters returning, although several new starters must be identified at the line on both sides of the ball.
Here are three notable position battles to keep an eye on:
Running back
It’s a deep position, but how carries are distributed remains to be seen.
Senior Kenan Christon (Madison High School) was listed atop the depth chart after spring practice. Most noted for his sprinter’s speed, the 5-foot-11 Christon has added some weight — he’s at 190 now — that should help him give as good as he gets.
Sophomore Cam Davis and junior Jaylon Armstead are the next two players on the depth chart, though it is the 215-pound Armstead, a bruising back, who has received most of the attention after Christon.
Local fans are eager to check on the progress of redshirt freshman Lucky Sutton (Cathedral Catholic). Another redshirt freshman, Sheldon Canley II, also bears watching.
Sophomore walk-on Martin Blake made some noise at the end of the spring game and is intriguing as well. He’s 5-6, 205 pounds and could be a short-yardage weapon.
“He can be physical at the point of attack,” Hoke said.
Added the coach: “How to get them all on the field, well, that’s our job ... “In the next 15-16 days, you’ll have a good idea who that’s going to be.”
Offensive line
Junior left guard Cade Bennett, sophomore right guard Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli and senior right tackle Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson all are returning starters.
The biggest question mark is at center, where veteran Alama Uluave has moved on after exhausting his eligibility.
Juniors Thomas Mirabella and Dean Abdullah were the top two players at the position coming out of the spring.
Hoke said sophomore Myles Murao, a transfer from Washington, will be tested at center as well as guard. Another Division I transfer, sophomore Jordan Sandlin from Florida Atlantic, also is expected to compete for a starting spot.
Sophomore Christian Jones, who stands 6-feet-9 and weighs 315 pounds, nailed down left tackle in the spring. Jones is the biggest guy on the team, so who was going to tell him no?
Defensive line
The Aztecs lost all three of their starting defensive lineman — brothers Jonah and Justus Tavai and Keshawn Banks.
Jonah Tavai, with 10 1/2 sacks among 14 tackles for a loss, was the most disruptive.
One candidate Hoke mentioned to step in there is 6-1, 290-pound senior Samuela Tuihalamaka, a transfer from Oklahoma State. Junior Tupu Alualu, a transfer from Mt. SAC, also is competing at the position, along with junior Darrion Daulton, who played primarily on special teams last season.
Sophomore Dominic Oliver appeared to have the edge at one of the defensive end spots, though seniors Wyatt Draeger and Daniel Okpoko have not conceded the position.
Senior Garret Fountain (41 tackles, three sacks), the leading returning tackler up front, earned the starting spot in the spring at the other defensive end.

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