The first practice of spring camp is the only one fully open to the media until the Spring Game on March 24. That dress rehearsal is also open to the public giving the fans their first glimpse of the 2022 Aztecs. How much weight should be placed on the competition that took place Monday afternoon at the practice field at SDSU? Probably not much, but it was 1/15 of the total time the NCAA allows the players and coaches to be together on the practice field.
SDSU Quarterback Competition
As the final group out of the locker room on Monday, the QBs had a different look than last year. Three of the four scholarship players are new to the team. True freshmen Kyle Crum and Liu Aumavae fit in well along with veterans Will Haskell and Braxton Burmeister. Monday was the first time Burmeister took the field as an Aztec.
Fans trying to capture a mental image of the transfer should think of long-time NFL QB Jeff Garcia. Not only does Burmeister wear the same number five as Garcia, but his mechanics and throwing motion are similar. Garcia mentored Burmeister in high school, so the similarity is not by accident.
On the first day, the only way Burmeister distinguished himself from the rest of his counterparts is he took repetitions with the first team, and he was clearly the most comfortable asking questions and getting clarifications from quarterbacks coach Jeff Hecklinski. In skelly drills, he was an unofficial 4 of 9 with two drops by his wideouts. The defensive backs also dropped a pair of relatively easy interceptions. Burmeister’s main highlights were a long TD reception to Mekhi Shaw, who ran past Jaiden Brown, and a beautiful pass down the seam to JP Murphy after the QB pump-faked the tight end open for a huge gain.
Will Haskell split reps with Burmeister throughout the evening. It was not the redshirt freshman’s best day. He was inaccurate often during drills. Here is one example. The QBs were about thirty yards away, throwing to a person standing two yards deep and ten yards to the left of center in the end zone. The receiver often moved from his dedicated spot to catch throws that were a couple of yards off target. Without a pass rush, every pass was completed except one. Haskell sailed an attempt ten yards over his intended target’s head. The ball crashed into the fence separating the two practice fields. These types of overthrows and inaccuracies were common enough for Haskell on Monday that they stood out.
Haskell’s poor play continued in the 7 on 7 drills. He was 5 of 8 with one interception. Zyrus Fiaseu picked Haskell’s pass on an ill-advised attempt following a poor snap. On one of his reps, he even took a sack, which means he did not attempt a pass before the coaches blew the play dead after about seven seconds. Haskell did throw nice passes to Mekhi Shaw and Jesse Matthews during the period.
One of the best throws during 7v7 at the first practice of Spring Camp. Haskell to Matthews. pic.twitter.com/jLXfq9hZxn
— Andre Haghverdian (@ahaghver23) March 1, 2022
The young signal-caller and primary threat to supplant Burmeister as the starter looked fourth among four quarterbacks in drills. His day, though, got a lot better when the teams played closer to real football. The final period of practice was 11 on 11. Here, Haskell’s athleticism showed. He kept a play alive with his feet, allowing Brionne Penny to break free down the sideline. Haskell also found Penny for a 12 yard gain when Haskell accurately dropped a pass over a linebacker and in front of a corner. He went from having the worst day of the QBs to finishing with the strongest performance in the closest thing to a game setting.
Kyle Crum was the third QB to play. Coach Hoke said post-practice this was due to Crum’s competitiveness during winter conditioning. Crum was the best QB in the drills. He was accurate to both sides of the field and showed very good arm strength. If anyone was watching without knowledge of age or past experience, Crum would have stood out most. In skelly, he was 3 of 4. The one incompletion was on a drop on a throw down the seam that was a little high but catchable. Converted QB Jaylen Mayden intercepted the pass that caromed off the hands of Crum’s intended target.
Crum’s day came to a crash during 11 on 11, however. He was 0-5 during that frame and put too much zip on a couple of passes that should have been completed. His receivers did not do him any favors, but it was clear the pass rush bothered the true freshman.
“(Crum), to me, is just a really good football player,” Hoke said. “I like his demeanor. I like how he throws the ball. Not saying I don’t like the other guys, but he really is a guy, I think, will be a good quarterback here, someday.”
The final scholarship QB Liu Aumavae was good in drills as well. Like Crum, he excelled in throwing to all areas of the field. He showed easy arm strength. The ball zipped from his hand to the receivers with minimal exertion. He, in no way, looked out of place among the group. His reputation as a polished passer was evident. In 7 on 7, he was three of five. All of his completions were check downs or quick throws. When he threw beyond the short-range, Cedarious Barfield welcomed him to the team with an interception.
Judging off drills after only one day of practice, the QBs ranked by arm strength would be Haskell, Crum, and Aumavae, with Burmeister a distant fourth. Ranked according to accuracy would be Crum, Burmeister, and Aumavae, with Haskell a distant fourth.
Starters on Day One
Obviously, there is a long way to go between now and day one of fall camp, but the starters were as follows. On offense, Burmeister, RB Chance Bell, WR Jesse Matthews, Tyrell Shavers, and TJ Sullivan began the 11 on 11 period. They were joined by Mark Redman at TE. On the offensive line, Jonathan Harrison started at LT, Cade Bennett at LG, Thomas Mirabella at C, Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli at RG, and Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson at RT. Alama Uluave missed practice due to a conflicting class.
On the defensive side of the ball, Garret Fountain started along the line with Jonah Tavai and Keshawn Banks. Cooper McDonald started at the linebacker position his brother, Caden, has held down for the past few seasons. Caden played in the middle of the field and was flanked by Michael Shawcroft, who had a lot less hair flowing from his helmet. Noah Tumblin started at one corner. With Noah Avinger and Dallas Branch out during contact drills, Jaiden Brown played a lot of staps with the starting group. CJ Baskerville and Cedarious Barfield started at Warrior safety with Kyron White playing Aztec on Monday during the team period instead of Patrick McMorris, who practiced, but did not play during the team portion.
Players of the Practice
Offensively, Mekhi Shaw was the top performer. He made big play after big play. He went up and battled for the ball several times and won. A smaller player like Shaw is helped, perhaps, when the players are not in pads, but for one day at least, he excelled. Brionne Penny had a nice day as well. Jesse Matthews made a couple of his typical contorting, ‘how did he do that’ catches in drills.
Defensively, Cedarious Barfield intercepted a pair of passes and could have had a third. This team was quieter than previous versions. The defense and offense did not jaw much with each other. One exception was when Barfield dropped an interception opportunity thrown by Burmeister early in the 7 on 7 period. The typical cliches about DBs not having “hands” range out with one offensive player opinioning that Barfield will “never get a pick.” Barfield reminded his teammate that he already had an interception on the first play of the period. For good measure, he added a second. Coach Hoke also mentioned the strength Justus Tavai exhibits as something that stood out today. His brother Jonah had a sack after collapsing the pocket.