Analysis of SDSU’s Spring Roster

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Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT

SDSU released their first roster for 2022 on Tuesday. The Aztecs are in the middle of winter conditioning, with the start of spring camp just around the corner on February 28. The new roster details the loss of numerous players from 2021 and shows who needs to rise to the occasion to replace them. Below is an analysis of the roster, a first of many looks before SDSU starts their 100th season and opens Snapdragon Stadium on September 3 against the University of Arizona.

1. QB room has rarely been better … on paper

On paper, the quarterback room has never been filled with more talent. Braxton Burmeister was a four-star recruit, so was Jalen Mayden. They join a trio of three-star recruits in Will Haskell, Kyle Crum, and Liu Aumavae. The most NFL-looking of the bunch is 6’5” 225 sophomore walk-on, Marshall Eucker from nearby La Costa Canyon.

There will be a lot to write about this position, but the place Mayden and Burmeister are in their careers is important. They both begin the make-or-break portion of their collegiate days, where their potential must be realized, or their NFL dreams will never become a reality. Judging from coach Hoke’s comments during last week’s press conference, Burmeister and Mayden enter 2022 as the favorites for the position, while the rest try and develop quick enough to push their way into the competition.

3        Will Haskell              6-4     200    R-Fr.  RS

4        Liu Aumavae           6-3     195    Fr.      HS               

5        Braxton Burmeister    6-1     205    Sr.     

9        Kyle Crum                6-3     190    Fr.      HS               

17      Marshall Eucker           6-5     225    So.     SQ              

18      Jalen Mayden           6-3     230    Jr.      SQ              

2. The offensive line is very young

Super senior Alama Uluave is the only senior on the roster. He will look to anchor a line needing to replace six of its eight top linemen from 2021. Brandon Crenshaw-Dixon returns after starting all of last season as a sophomore. More than just three new starters, Mike Goff needs to find depth when the starters inevitably go out with injury.

The interior of the line appears to be in better shape with Kyle Trombley, Cade Bennett, Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli, Josh Simmons, and Tommy Mirabella in the mix. Finding two tackles, one to start and one as a swing replacement, is a tall task with Jonathan Harrison, Zavier Leonard, and Joey Wright first in line to earn those reps. The offensive line is the big red flag on the roster.

60      Cade Bennett                     6-3     315    So.              

61      Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson    6-6     320    Jr.     

62      Jonathan Harrison                6-5     320    So.                        

63      Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli           6-4     340    R-Fr.  RS               

65      Chandler Patterson              6-2     300    Jr.      SQ    

67      Kyle Trombley                       6-5     315    Jr.      SQ              

68      Thomas Mirabella                 6-4     305    So.     SQ    

70      Christian Jones                      6-9     350    R-Fr.  RS     

71      Zavier Leonard                      6-4     315    R-Fr.  RS               

72      Alama Uluave                     6-2     305    Sr.      4L     

77      Josh Simmons                       6-6     330    R-Fr.  RS               

79      Joey Wright                            6-5     320    So.     SQ    

3. The WR room is a lot smaller

“Less is more.” SDSU is hoping the axiom proves true about the wide receiver room. Last season, the roster had 15 wide-outs on it at the end of the year, 13 of which participated in spring camp. This year that number is reduced to nine. Fewer bodies mean more repetitions in practice, more attention from wide receiver coach Hunkie Cooper, and potential for greater chemistry with the quarterbacks.

Jesse Matthews is the only proven receiver in the group. Tyrell Shavers is the next most productive on the roster with 28 career catches. No one else has double-digit receptions in their career. The lack of experience might be more concerning, but they are attempting to replace players who produced very little the past few seasons.

11      Brionne Penny            6-3     190    Jr.      SQ              

14      Tyrell Shavers           6-6     210    Sr.      1L     

41      Phillippe Wesley II      6-0     185    R-Fr.  RS     

45      Jesse Matthews           6-0     190    Sr.      3L     

80      TJ Sullivan                6-0     200    Sr.      2L               

83      Mekhi Shaw             5-10  170    So.     1L               

84      Darius De Los Reyes   5-9     170    So.              

85      Josh Nicholson            6-0     175    R-Fr.  RS     

86      Ronald Gilliam             6-2     200    So.     SQ   

4. The defense looks stacked

The defense looks to resume its place as one of the best in America. It is difficult to look at the unit and find gaping holes. SDSU is losing very productive starters but replacing them with experienced athletes. Depth behind the projected starters is a concern, but even there are proven contributors.

The Aztecs do not grow first, or second-round NFL draft picks on trees, so replacing Cameron Thomas, the unquestioned star of the 2021 team, is not going to be easy. Still, the defense has players on the NFL radar and looks primed to be the strength of the team once again.

Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT

5. Deepest position groups

Given all that was just said, the deepest groups on the team reside on the defensive side of the ball. The linebacker, defensive line, safety, and cornerback positions have talented players from every class. Names to keep an eye out outside of the projected starters from the defensive linemen include Wyatt Draeger, Dylan Taylor, and Nassir Sims. Linebackers Vai Kaho, Cooper McDonald, and Garret Fountain are all poised to be in the rotation. Safety New Zealand Williams, Kyron White, and Isaiah McElvane could push for playing time. Cornerbacks Noah Avinger, Jelani Whitmore, and Adonis Brown will push Tumblin and Branch at corner.

6. Shallowest position groups

The shallowest groups are on the offensive side of the ball. Despite the potential in the quarterback room, Burmeister and Mayden have played for five schools between them, and the three younger players have yet to see significant action in a scrimmage, let alone in a game. Wide receiver and offensive line have already been mentioned. Add to that the kicking game needing to replace Matt Araiza and the coaching staff’s work is apparent.

7. Running Backs is a question mark

For the first time in a long time, the running back position is not one of the deepest on the team. Greg Bell and Kaegun Williams are gone. Jordan Byrd and Chance Bell return, but neither has been the featured back in their careers. If one of them were able to seize that role in spring camp, it would go a long way toward stabilizing one of the positions on the offense.

They will be pushed for snaps by Jaylon Armstead and a host of others. SDSU deserves the benefit of the doubt that their younger players will be ready to produce. Nonetheless, watching how the backs play, particularly as the offensive line gels, will be a key storyline of camp.

15 Jordan Byrd 5-9 170 Sr.

21 Chance Bell  5-10 185 Sr.

26 Nicholas Gardinera 5-10 195 Fr. HS

29 Cam Davis 5-8 180 R-Fr. RS

30 Lucky Avinger 6-1 205 Sr. SQ

37 Ace Saca 6-2 185 Fr. HS

38 Jaylon Armstead 5-11 220

8. Tight ends are very young

While not mentioned as one of the shallowest groups, the tight ends are certainly among the youngest. Mark Redman is a junior, but he has only started one game in his career. Jay Rudolph is also a junior. He started at fullback last year. With only one reception in his career, however, he has shown little sign yet of being the pass-catching threat to replace Daniel Bellinger.

What the group lacks in experience, tight end coach Savai’i Eselu hopes they make up with talent. There is not a group of more highly decorated recruits on the roster than the tight ends. Watching them compete for playing time should be a treat for Aztecs fans this spring. True freshman Logan Tanner is a pass-catching TE/WR hybrid to keep an eye on. With only one player to replace, compared to three for the offensive line, the inexperience at this position is not as much a cause for concern. 

42      Gus McGee              6-5     245    R-Fr.  RS     

47      JP Murphy                6-4     220    R-Fr.  RS     

49      Cameron Harpole       6-4     205    R-Fr.  RS     

81      Mark Redman             6-6     250    Jr.      TR     

82      Jay Rudolph             6-4     245    Jr.      2L               

89      Logan Tanner           6-3     225    Fr.      HS               

94      Aaron Greene           6-4     255    So.     1L     

9. The defensive backs have great length

By design, the players on the back end of the defense are tall. The cornerbacks average nearly 6’1”, with their smallest corner being 5’11” Dallas Branch. The safety group averages a little over 6’0” with only three players under 6’0.” Joshua Goynes is the shortest at 5’10.” Football is a game of inches, and SDSU has clearly recruited with height in mind.

While extra length is no guarantee of success, it should allow the secondary to be more versatile in man or zone, plus it obviously helps the Aztecs compete against taller receivers.

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10. This roster is not complete

There are 85 players on the spring roster. With the second signing day fast approaching on February 2, the rest of the roster will be taking shape. Depending on how the younger players perform, it would not be surprising to see the staff bring in players from the transfer portal once spring practice ends, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

SDSU would be wise to bring in another offensive lineman, a tackle in particular. They need help at wide receiver and possibly running back and tight end. Of course, should the quarterbacks fail to live up to the city’s hopes, it would not be surprising to see changes to that room heading into the fall.

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