Help Wanted: SDSU’s offense needs transfers from the portal

2023.09.22 SDSU v Boise State FB Boise State wins 34-31

JD Wicker and Adela de la Torre flank Sean Lewis after his introductory press conference. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

SDSU football’s first team meeting is scheduled for January 16. On Early Signing Day, Aztecs head coach Sean Lewis said the team had 23 mid-year spots available, and his expectation was for the roster to be near full for the initial conversation laying out the expectations for the offseason.

For most players across the nation, including those at SDSU, the transfer portal closes on January 2, 2024. Athletes who play in later bowls have five days after their final game to enter. Lewis and his staff have a two-week window in which to add to the roster.

“Roster management is a huge piece of (the job),” Lewis explained. “As we continue to move, day in and day out, you’ve got to be able to sit at the table and know there’s another wave of players that’s probably coming. There’s going to be some late high school qualifiers as well.”

“The only way you can sit down and have the ability to recruit those guys is if you have roster spots and scholarships that are available. We’ll be very judicious about the spots that we have available and the way that we can manage things.”

“Again, this talent acquisition piece never stops. It’s a day-to-day, moment-to-moment deal. I think the biggest piece of it is, with these signees and with the current locker room, I’m very happy with where we are. And we have to keep that whole before we look up and out anywhere else as we move forward.”

Below is an analysis of the current makeup of the team. Only players listed on the rosters provided by SDSU were assessed. Social media commitments did not suffice for inclusion. Each position is graded according to the need to add more players from the transfer portal.

Projected Two Deep: Tobin O’Dell and AJ Duffy
Transfer need: Medium

Six signal callers are expected to compete in spring to be QB1 heading into summer.

Florida State transfer AJ Duffy’s recruiting resume makes him one of the more exciting players to come to SDSU in recent years. If his feel for the position improves, it could unlock his elite physical abilities.

Tobin O’Dell steps in the pocket before attempting a Hail Mary against Idaho State. (Don De Mars/EVT)

He will be competing against three other sophomores, Tobin O’Dell, Kyle Crum, and Liu Aumavae, and a pair of freshmen, Javance Johnson and Danny O’Neil. An argument can be made for every player on the roster assuming the top spot.

Crum embodied Lewis’s slogan “Be the Alpha” by hosting AJ Duffy and Danny O’Neil on their offseason recruiting visits. His competitiveness allowed him to pass Will Haskell on the depth chart in 2022.

Aumavae is a great student of the game. It would not surprise if he learns Lewis’ offense first. If he does, he might be playing the fastest among the QBs in spring camp.

Johnson has every physical tool and a great throwing touch. Arriving on campus last summer prevented him from truly figuring into the QB equation in 2023. Available for a full offseason, 2024 should be different.

O’Dell came out of nowhere in 2023 to earn the backup role. He nearly took the job away from Jalen Mayden last year. Lewis wants a duel-threat QB under center. O’Dell fits that description well. He has good arm strength and accuracy and runs well.

True freshman Danny O’Neil’s relationship with Lewis is documented. Fear of asking questions and admitting mistakes often hold young players back. O’Neil and Lewis’ trust in each other should help the young player navigate the learning curve quicker. O’Neil should be on campus in the next couple of weeks.

While there are presently enough players to fill the roster, if the competition plays out in the same pattern seen across the country at the position, the room should look very different heading into the summer. Expect the athletes without a clear path to playing time to transfer.

Experience is also lacking among the group. While Duffy, Crum, and Aumavae will all be entering their third spring as collegiate QBs, none of them have played extensively. Adding another QB to the mix who has seen more time in games could upgrade the quality of the room.

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Running Back
Projected Two Deep: Jaylon Armstead and Lucky Sutton
Transfer need: Low

For the second straight season, the running backs underperformed. Jaylon Armstead paced the group with only 448 yards. Lucky Sutton led the room with a 5.2 average, but take away his long of 62 yards, and it drops to just 3.1. Expect an open competition for carries among a stable of RBs.

Armstead’s sensational 134-yard performance against San Jose State gives hope he could finally become the clear-cut leader of the group. Inconsistency still plagued him, though, as he spent time on the scout team last year.

Jaylon Armstead has assumed the top spot at running back. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Sutton’s power and explosiveness were evident last year. He ran hard and moved the pile. What he has yet to show on the college level is vision and the ability to make defenders miss.

Cam Davis’ speed could be a weapon, but it has yet to be utilized at running back. As a receiver and punt returner, he has flashed game-changing pace, but he looks shifty and not fast when he gets carries as a tailback.

Martin Blake earned a scholarship last year. Among the RBs, he showed the most elusiveness, but that occurred mostly in the screen game. Blake could thrive in the space of Lewis’ offense because it consistently creates screen-like conditions.

Sheldon Canley’s play was spoken about a lot last year. Aside from a few kick returns, he remains an unknown. Rumors are he has an enticing mix of speed and power that could play well in Lewis’ system that thrives with players would can make cuts and get downhill fast.

True freshmen Anthony McMillian and Cincere Rhaney enter the program with the physical attributes to contribute right away. McMillian will be an early enrollee. With none of the older players seizing the top spot, the door is open for these younger players to start game one.

Wide Receiver
Projected Two Deep: Mehki Shaw, Baylin Brooks, Phillippe Wesley, Nate Bennett, Ja’Shaun Poke, and Mikey Welsh
Transfer need: High

Last week, this position looked to have six experienced players competing for time. Raphael Williams’ transfer, however, leaves a hole on the roster. For all the excitement around the QBs coming into the program, it won’t matter unless they have exciting playmakers on the outside.

Mekhi Shaw established himself as the leader of the group last year, but heading into his final year, he has not proven he could be WR1. The normally surehanded receiver had a few key drops last season.

Baylin Brooks was thrust into action as a true freshman. He flashed good potential. His 17.5 yards per reception led the team by more than four yards. Brooks athleticism should be more evident this season.

Baylin Brooks runs after the catch against Boise State. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

Phillippe Wesley was arguably the best receiver in fall camp before injuries derailed his year. He caught 11 passes, including four against San Jose State. He is another young player who should be entering the prime of his career.

Nate Bennett transferred from Portland State for a final college year. He has 111 career receptions, but only 14 of those came in 2023. Tall and experienced, he could be a good addition to the group.

Ja’Shaun Poke transferred from West Virginia. His 2023 was marred by injury. A high school track star, Poke has experienced success in Lewis’ system, something no one else on the roster can boast.

Mikey Welsh is a walk-on who might have the best hands on the team. He simply made plays in practice, and if he can stack another offseason of good play, he could work his way into the rotation.

True freshmen Ben Scolari and Will Cianfrini look the part of players who could come in and contribute immediately. Both are tall and polished for their age. Expecting a summer enrollee to make an impact is a tall expectation.

Tight End
Projected Two Deep: Logan Tanner and Gabe Garretson
Transfer need: Medium

As of the writing of this article, neither Colorado transfer Michael Harrison nor USC transfer Jude Wolfe have passed through SDSU’s compliance office. Should either or both join the program, it changes the need for an additional transfer.

Logan Tanner warming up against Colorado State. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Logan Tanner is the only returner with experience at the position. The third tight end last year, Tanner’s athleticism should be featured more in the variety of formations Lewis employs. Tanner has flashed good receiving skills in practice.

Gabe Garretson profiles as the blocking first tight end Lewis used exclusively at Kent State. Strong at the line or in the backfield, if Garretson’s reliability as a blocker at Butte College translates to the Aztecs, he will be hard to beat out for TE1. He also had good hands to keep defenses honest in the passing game.

Like most true freshmen, Arthur Ban and Ryan Wolfer likely won’t figure into the position this season. Wolfer, a better blocker, would profile to have a better chance of seeing the field, especially in short-yardage situations. Ban is athletic enough to help immediately on special teams.

Exterior Offensive Line
Projected Two Deep: Christian Jones, Jordan Sandlin, Nate Williams, and Saipale Fuimaono
Transfer need: Low

New offensive line coach Bill O’Boyle has six options to find a pair of tackles. Four are holdovers. The new staff brought in two. At least for spring camp, that should be sufficient.

Christian Jones started as a redshirt sophomore at left tackle but was replaced midway through the year. O’Boyle’s reputation is that he prefers taller linemen. Could new coaching help Jones reach his potential?

Christian Jones blocks against Boise State. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

Jordan Sandlin, a three-star prospect in 2021, enters what should be his athletic prime as a redshirt junior. He has good size and showed a mean streak in high school that good offensive lines possess.

Kyle Stanback was slowed from participating last year. He has the athleticism to play left tackle. Low weight was a concern when he came to The Mesa from Ventura College.

Nate Williams transferred in from Akron, where he played right tackle. He started all of the 23 games that he was available for the past two years. He was brought in to anchor the line. If someone more athletic cannot hold down the left side, Williams’ experience should allow him to slide over.

Saipale Fuimaono transferred from Allan Hancock College. He played left tackle there but profiles more as a right tackle in college. He plays with good aggression.

Ryan Dirksen redshirted in 2023 after transferring from Butte College. He has good size, 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, but is still an unknown.

Interior Offensive Line
Projected Two Deep: Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli, Myles Murao, Dean Abdullah, Brayden Bryant, Jonah Rodriguez, and Tiger Yu
Transfer Need: High

With so many options at tackle, someone sliding inside to bolster the middle of the line is a distinct possibility. Among the known centers and guards, there is experience but not much depth.

“There will be more (linemen) coming in, and we’ll continue to assess that as we go,” Lewis said on December 20. “At the highest level, the big bodies are at a premium. You don’t want to overreach just to get a guy. There’s not any sense in just putting a guy on because he’s an o-linemen, but he can’t help us win. And we want guys that help us win at a championship level. We’re going to thoroughly vet everyone out and make sure we have the depth that we need along the fronts. The game’s won there.”

Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli lines up at center against Boise State. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli stepped up to play center a year ago. Snapping took some of his explosiveness away. His size and physicality would play more from the guard position. Still, a veteran center is a weapon for any team.

Myles Murao transferred from Washington and, when healthy, was among SDSU’s best linemen. He likely joined the program too late to play center. With a full spring, he should get a look there. Murao was among the highest-rated centers in the nation coming out of high school.

Dean Abdullah started last year inside but played tackle at American River College. His slight frame suggests he would be better suited for the exterior of the line, but his height screams guard. It is a credit to him as a football player that he found a way onto the field.

Brayden Bryant transferred from North Dakota. He redshirted in 2023 after appearing in just four games. He started ten at left guard there in 2022. Bryant transferred to North Dakota from Butler Community College, so he has extensive playing experience.

Jonah Rodriguez, the highest-rated prospect of the Class of 2023, could be in the mix for time this year after redshirting last season. Lewis pulls his linemen frequently, and Rodriguez has the athleticism to move well.

Tiger Yu is a walk-on, who competed with the starters in practice and should figure in the two-deep. He is an old-fashioned player who moves defenders with effort, skill, and technique more than athleticism.

Redshirt freshmen Briley Barron and Ryan Silver would be ahead of schedule if they contributed. Barron is a mauler from Texas who personifies O’Boyle’s values as a coach. Silver looked more polished as a prep than Barron, but his injury last year leaves questions. True freshman Kai Holec has the size, but it is rare for someone his age to compete right away.

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