When the team left spring ball, the players in camp had a clear picture of their strengths, weaknesses, and what the coaches wanted them to improve on. The staff’s task was to allow the process to play out without shortcutting the competition.
With game week for Arizona finally here after years of anticipation, the new depth chart provides answers to some key questions about the makeup of the team.
At the end of February, SDSU offensive line coach Mike Goff balked at the idea of switching Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson (BCD) to left tackle. Throughout the spring and at the beginning of fall camp, BCD played exclusively at right tackle. As the coaches evaluated where the line was and the strengths of their players, Goff changed his mind and placed his best tackle on Braxton Burmeister’s blind side. That move opened a door for ultra-talented redshirt freshman Josh Simmons to compete for a starting role. Simmons is listed first at RT, but the staff is not ready to name him the starter. He is listed as an OR with Jonathan Harrison. If Simmons starts, the right side of the line would be manned by two redshirt freshmen who spurned offers from the biggest programs in America to play at SDSU.
The top three tight ends on the depth chart are as expected. Mark Redman and Jay Rudolph are listed as starters, and Aaron Greene is the primary backup at both spots. It will be interesting to see how Rudolph is utilized this season. With a more veteran QB, the team could use a lot more two tight-end sets than last season. Doing so would allow the Aztecs to be more physical up front, provide help for their young line, and bring two of their better offensive players, regardless of position, into the game.
Down the depth chart, Cameron Harpole was rewarded for a redshirt season that saw him gain 30 pounds while keeping the same explosiveness and speed. Harpole is listed third at the TE-Y position. Gus McGee is ahead of the final two tight ends. It is notable Logan Tanner benefited from enrolling early in the spring. Tanner is listed above JP Murphy. Murphy de-committed from USC before signing with the Aztecs.
The Chance Bell Era at SDSU has started. All offseason speculation wondered which of the incoming running backs would jump Bell into the starting role with the Aztecs. True freshman Lucky Sutton and his four-star resume was a favorite at one point. USC transfer Kenan Christon and his world-class speed was another. In the end, the competition never fully materialized. Following an offseason where Bell transformed his body to fit the mold of an NFL featured back, he was head and shoulders better than the rest of the backs on the roster.
Below Bell, the competition did not sort itself out. Four backs, Christon, Jaylon Armstead, Jordan Byrd, and Cam Davis, are all tied for second on the depth chart. Davis’ ascension is a great sign of his potential. He is squarely in the mix for time this season. Below this group, freshman Martin Blake’s strong offseason with production in scrimmages during spring and fall camp was rewarded.
Defensive Line and Linebackers
After spring camp, there were questions about how the Aztecs would line up in 2022. It was a discussion centered primarily on how defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix wanted to utilize Caden McDonald and Jonah Tavai. The two deep brought clarity. Tavai is a defensive end, which should give him more versatility to move and stunt as he applies pressure on the defense. McDonald moves from SAM LB, where he was a two-time all-conference performer, back to where he started his career as a MIKE LB. The two deep at every position on the defensive front has a starter who could be all-MW by the end of the year and a capable backup who can play at the division one level. The front six looks to be the strongest place on the team as the Aztecs open 2022.
Kyron White’s absence is felt.
Before his suspension for using a helmet in a fight during camp, White had solidified himself as the fourth safety and primary backup. Capable of playing warrior and aztec, White would have been the first player off the bench if any starter was injured. With White unavailable, there is a drop-off between the starters and those behind them on the two-deep. True freshmen Eric Butler and Josh Hunter are the backups at field warrior, with walk-on Davaughn Celestine behind CJ Baskerville at Boundary Warrior. There was a noticeable difference between the ones and twos in camp.
– Jack Browning was named the starter at all three kicking spots. It will be interesting to see how he handles three roles usually split among multiple players.
– Many thought Kenan Christon’s place to make an impact would be on kickoff returns, but he is not listed there at all.
– Another Penny is a kickoff returner at SDSU. Brionne Penny is the starter alongside Jordan Byrd. Teams will likely want to kick away from Byrd, so Penny should have his chances.
– The staff’s belief in Mekhi Shaw and Darius De Los Reyes is evident. They are listed frequently throughout the depth chart.
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– Dallas Branch and Noah Avinger both were partial participants in spring, but once they returned from injury, they separated themselves quickly in the cornerback competition.
– Jalen Mayden is listed as the backup at Aztec ahead of Jatavious McGee. Assuming Patrick McMorris heads to the NFL instead of exercising his Covid year, there will be a battle for the position next year.
– Mayden’s rise up the depth chart is impressive for a player who has been a QB prior to 2022.
– The 2022 team captains were named. Jesse Matthews, Patrick McMorris, Jonah Tavai, and Alama Uluave were the honorees. An argument can be made these are the four best players on the team.
– Kyle Crum is the third QB despite Liu Aumavae’s production in multiple scrimmages. Crum’s athleticism impressed from the moment he started workouts in January.
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.