5 Things to WATCH: Aztecs football preseason camp includes questions on both sides of scrimmage

6-8 minutes 7/23/2023
San Diego State coach Brady Hoke was asked about all 12 teams on SDSU’s 2023 schedule during this week’s Mountain West football media days.
While he shared a few thoughts each time, Hoke preferred not to look too far out.
“I’m really worried about Ohio University,” said Hoke, referring to SDSU’s Aug. 26 season opener.
The Aztecs begin preseason practice on Friday, four weeks and a day before meeting the Bobcats.
SDSU opens Mountain West play at home Sept. 22 against Boise State, which has been picked to win the conference in a preseason media poll. The Aztecs were picked to finish fourth, behind Boise State, Air Force and Fresno State.
Asked if he had any thoughts on the matter, Hoke said, “Nope. They’re probably right, right now.”
A preseason progress report will come Aug. 12, when SDSU hosts its annual Fan Fest at Snapdragon Stadium.
Two weeks later, it gets real.
Here are five things to watch coming into camp:
1. The offensive line — again
This was No. 1 on the agenda a year ago and remains the critical issue facing the team.
The unit’s performance in 2022 was inconsistent. Good moments often were overshadowed by poor quarterback protection, small holes for running backs and too many penalties.
All-conference center Alama Uluave must be replaced, along with starting right tackle Josh Simmons, who transferred to Ohio State.
There is starting experience with junior left guard Cade Bennett, an Oklahoma State transfer who was second-team all-Mountain West last year, sophomore right guard Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli and senior right tackle Brandon Crenshaw Dickson.
Juniors Thomas Mirabella and Dean Abdullah are the top two candidates to replace Uluave at center.
Sophomore Christian Jones came out of spring camp listed first on the depth chart at left tackle.
Six newcomers have boosted the ranks on the O-line to 18 players.
“We’ve got to see what they can do,” Hoke said.
He was not referring to the four true freshmen as much as two sophomore transfers — the 6-3, 320-pound Myles Murao (from Washington) and the 6-2, 275-pound Jordan Sandlin (from Florida Atlantic) — that have been added since spring.
“We think they can do certain things, and I’ve seen them on tape,” Hoke said, “but this is going to be a big part, kind of like when Cade came in. He came in and earned it and did it the right way and had a really good year.”
Asked if guys like Murao and Sandlin will have enough time to earn starting spots or simply add depth, Hoke said, “There’s time. Believe me. There’s time.”
2. Newcomers at WR
Replacing the production of wide receivers Jesse Matthews and Tyrell Shavers is a tall task.
Junior Mekhi Shaw and sophomore Phillippe Wesley II moved into starting roles on the post-spring depth chart, but Hoke said “our receivers room needed help.”
He also said: “I think we addressed that.”
Redshirt freshman Jalil Tucker (Lincoln High School) transferred from Oregon in the spring, announcing at the time that he would switch from defensive back to receiver.
The name that should really make close followers of the program perk up is Baylin Brooks.
He’s a 6-2, 195-pounder from Pasadena High School. The names of true freshmen do not often emerge from the lips of Hoke when asked about those who can make an immediate impact.
But Hoke bandied the name Brooks around like he’s a three-year returner. Brooks got people talking about his competitiveness, size and athleticism during voluntary workouts.
“He’s got the attention of the football team,” Hoke said, “not just me.”
3. The RB room
The load again will be spread among five or six players as opposed to one guy getting 20-25 carries a game the way DJ Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington and Greg Bell did over the past decade.
In asking for an assessment of SDSU’s running backs room, one reporter used the expression “thunder and lightning” when speaking about junior Jaylon Armstead and senior Kenan Christon (Madison High School).
Jaylon Armstead, he can be special,” Hoke said. “He’s a more physical guy.”
Added Hoke: “Kenan, he can flat-out run. He was state 100-meter guy and all that stuff.”
Armstead (313 yards, 6.0 ypc, 2 TDs) and Christon (261 yards, 3.7 ypc, TD) are SDSU’s top returning rushers.
Another option to consider is 220-pound quarterback Jalen Mayden. He will have some designed runs, but also has a knack for making positive yards when nothing is there.
“He ran over some people,” Hoke said. “He’s got that ability.”
Camp could be more about determining depth behind them, with sophomores Cam Davis and Martin Blake and redshirt freshmen Lucky Sutton (Cathedral Catholic High School) and Sheldon Canley II.
“It’s a unique room,” Hoke said.
This will be the first opportunity to observe the coaching style of new running backs coach Jimmy Beal.
The Montana State running backs coach was hired in April to replace Ron Gould, who went to the Rams a month after he was hired to replace Jeff Horton, who retired in January.
4. D-line questions
The most unsettled area on defense is along the line, where all three starters must be replaced.
“I feel good defensively on the back end and the linebackers,” Hoke said. “I’m not going to feel good about the D-line yet.”
Senior Garret Fountain is the only one who nailed down a starting spot on the post-spring depth chart.
The dreaded “or” designation is listed four times elsewhere.
As in sophomore Dominic Oliver or senior Wyatt Draeger or senior Daniel Okpoko at one starting defensive end spot and sophomore Darrion Daulton or junior transfer Tupu Alualu or Samuela Tuihalamaka at starting defensive tackle.
Or could mean no one was a clear cut winner of the position in the spring.
Or it could mean coaches wanted competition to carry into the summer.
Or it could mean they plan to platoon at the position.
Or not.
5. Rolling a 7?
Circa Resort and Casino hosted this week’s Mountain West football media days.
It houses what the casino touts as the “largest Las Vegas sportsbook,” a two-story area with dozens of padded seats for sports fans, seven humongous big screen TVs, nine oddsboards and 10 betting windows.
Early odds listed SDSU as a 3-point favorite over Ohio in the 2023 season opener.
Asked what the over/under for Aztecs wins is the season, a man working one of the windows punched a couple buttons on his computer screen.
“Seven,” he said.
That would match last season’s victory total, which was a disappointment after double-digit win totals in five of the six previous full seasons.
Then again, it would be enough to make SDSU bowl-eligible for the 14th straight season.
The Aztecs take the first step on Friday.

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