SDSU Aztecs spring camp update

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Credit: SDSU Zoom

On Monday, San Diego State Aztecs offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski and star running back Greg Bell met with the media.

Fresh off the seventh practice of camp, they gave insight into a number of topics including the team’s performance in its first scrimmage.

The quarterback competition is still neck and neck.

The coaching staff is trying to find a starting quarterback by keeping the pressure on the players competing for the role. Only through live-action can they truly see who the best player is. As such, the scrimmage on Friday was live and the defense was allowed to hit the quarterback.

Jalen Mayden continues to show rust from not playing extensively the past three seasons. However, coach Hecklinski said Mayden played well in the scrimmage and has bridged the gap with the others. Jordan Brookshire started the scrimmage, but not too much should be made of that fact according to Hecklinski. The quarterbacks are being rotated equally among the starters, backups, and third-string units.

“What I have just told the quarterbacks is just take it day by day,” Hecklinski said. “We can’t worry about what happens two weeks from now or three weeks from now, that’s predicated on their performance. We hope someone has taken the reigns and we have the ability to (name a starter after Spring Camp), but then again it’s up to the other guys to make sure nobody gets that far ahead and that far away from them.”

“We’re just taking this day by day, and learning to be the best quarterbacks we can with this system,” Hecklinski said. “This system allows the quarterback really to be the ultimate playmaker because everything runs through him, and they saw that really for the first time on Friday in the scrimmage.”

The offensive line is in good hands.

Zach Thomas has slid over to left tackle and Hecklinski feels he is more “natural” at that position than right tackle. With that, Thomas should play at a first-team all-conference level. Getting the first crack to replace Thomas at right tackle is Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson, who started the scrimmage. He is being pushed by Jonathan Harrison, Desmond Bessent, and Joey Wright, and so far all five tackles are playing at a high level.

Credit: SDSU

“BCD, Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson, he’s the right tackle. He’s made probably, from an athletic standpoint, one of the biggest jumps offensively for us. He’s done a really nice job of slimming down his body, and working to play hard and finish. You can see the work that he’s put in through the course of the winter with coach Hall and his staff. You can really see that pay off. He started to come on last year at right tackle, and it’s been seamless with him moving into the right tackle spot.”

Two back sets are going to be a staple of the offense

Kaegan Williams and Jordan Byrd, in addition to playing running back, are also learning to play wide receiver. Having two players who can be part of the sets where SDSU employs two backs is important because it allows continuity in case one gets injured. Even though they are lining up outside, the duo’s bread and butter will be lining up in the backfield. Williams had a huge run in the scrimmage of over 40 yards where he was cutting and making defenders miss on his way down the field. Byrd also had a long run.

“We’ve been doing a lot of two-back stuff (in Spring Camp),” Greg Bell said. “It’s opening up the offense even more. I think it’s going to get us in space a lot, so there should be more touchdowns coming.”

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Getting the ball in space is a concept Aztec fans have heard for the past few years, but have yet to see it materialize. During the scrimmage, SDSU focused more on its base offense than packages with multiple tailbacks. They will have to wait until later scrimmages to see how it works in game situations.

This and That

  • Greg Bell has switched back to 22. It is a number he has used most of his life.
  • Bell reiterated it would be “huge” to win a championship for San Diego.
  • Bell credited coach Horton with the reason the running back room is as special as it is. He allows his players freedom and teaches them to celebrate the success of their teammates.
  • Hecklinski said Aaron Greene has lost about 15 pounds and has really transformed himself.
  • Jaylon Armstead “has a chance to be special,” Hecklinski said. Armstead’s name gets dropped at nearly every press conference. In the scrimmage, Armstead had a pair of touchdowns where he took on multiple defenders and carried them deep into the end zone for scores.
  • Isaiah Richardson and TJ Sullivan are two wideouts having strong camps.
  • Darius De Las Reyes and Mekhi Shaw are freshman receivers who Hecklinski mentioned showed well during the scrimmage when asked about young players emerging in camp.
  • Jay Rudolph “has a chance to be a stud.” He has been with the starters the entire time and along with Daniel Bellinger is doing “a great job.”
  • Mayden has a “natural pocket presence” according to Hecklinski. He converted a 3rd and 15 in the scrimmage with a pass down the middle of the field where he anticipated the receiver breaking open.
  • SDSU has been practicing with five wide receiver sets.
  • Tommy Merribella is playing center and has a “chance to be special.”
  • The best thing for the offense is getting to play against a top 5 defense in the country every day. In scrimmage one, the offense held its own against that stout defense.
  • A name that keeps coming up at corner is Adonis Brown. Brown is a transfer from Texas Tech. Both coach Hoke and, in an earlier interview, defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix have mentioned Brown when asked about who is showing well in camp.
  • Matt Araiza is once again being allowed to compete at punter. He is being pushed by Jack Browning. Hoke said he is confident SDSU will once again be good in the kicking game.
  • Players on defense who stood out to Hoke from the scrimmage should come as no surprise: Tayler Hawkins, Trenton Thompson and Caden McDonald. Hoke mentioned Hawkins has been playing corner and safety. At safety it is apparent Hawkins benefitted from playing corner last season.
  • On the recruiting front, SDSU is out of scholarships, but that could change if players transfer out. The addition of Avory Hart to the program presents a shift to longer players along the defensive line.
  • Coach Hoke reiterated how important live game action was to the evaluation of the quarterback. He also said it helps the defense because they do not learn bad habits. He said he has seen defenders pull up before hitting opposing signal callers in games because that is how they have practiced.
  • When asked if he agrees with coach Hecklinski’s evaluation that Jaylen Armstead could be special, Hoke said, “Yep, no doubt, no doubt.” He mentioned that at 220 Armstead brings an element the other backs do not possess, he can carry defenders with him.

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