SDSU Spring Camp Top 5 Position Battles

SDSU leaves a morning workout. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

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SDSU team listens to instruction during an offseason workout. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

SDSU is in the unfamiliar place of having won the offseason. Aztec nation’s reception of new head coach Sean Lewis has been nearly all positive. The excitement around the program is at a level unseen in the Brady Hoke era.

Beginning next week, the team will have the first opportunity to carry that momentum onto the practice field. Spring camp starts on March 12 and culminates with the “Aztec Fast Showcase” on April 20. Lewis will have 15 total practices to send his players into the summer.

“It’s a fun and exciting time of year; five days away here from spring ball getting kicked off and getting ready to get going with these guys,” Lewis said on Thursday. “We’re really eager to get on the grass with them, see what we got, and do great work. So, really look forward to the next 15 practices as we get going with all of this to build this thing the right way and do all that is necessary to bring a championship home here.”

With a new staff, most of the depth chart is up in the air. Competition should be fierce at every position. Below are five of the key battles to keep an eye on.


Four unproven signal callers will compete during spring camp. Kyle Crum’s five career completions, 17 attempts, and 54 yards pace the group. Crum will battle Florida State transfer AJ Duffy, redshirt freshman Javance Tupou’ata-Johnson, and early enrollee Danny O’Neil. As his scholarship from the Seminoles suggests, Duffy was the most highly decorated prep athlete of the quartet.

Conventional wisdom would have Duffy or O’Neil as the favorites to start since they were the high-profile prospects that Lewis brought in. SDSU’s new head coach emphasized when he was hired that the returning players were now his players, too, but coaches generally go with the guys they bring in. A source told EVT that Duffy and O’Neil have been running in the top two spots in offseason throwing sessions.

This group is not only competing with each other. The wild card in the competition is the ghost of a potential veteran transfer QB haunting the spring practices. Lewis’ hopes of a fast start and an explosive offense hinge on a competent signal caller. If the QBs fail to play at a high level, adding more arms to the room will be a must. Even if a pair proves capable, additions to the roster at the position would be wise.

EDGE Rusher

The Aztecs, moving from the 3-3-5 to the 4-2-5 under first-year defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt, remade the entire defensive front. Schmidt’s designs are not fully known, but most 4-2-5 schemes have a space-eating nose tackle and a smaller, more athletic DT next to him. They are flanked by a strongside defensive end, who can hold up against double teams from tight ends, and a weakside end, who is a pass-rushing specialist.

EDGE appears to be an emphasized position with the Aztecs. Schmidt coached that group at Washington before coming to the SDSU. Lewis elevated Idaho defensive coordinator Rob Aurich from the FCS ranks to lead the room this season.

The Aztecs have an EDGE coach, but no EDGE players are listed on the roster. Washington had 13 athletes placed there in 2023. How Schmidt and Aurich divide the defense will be intriguing to see. Garrett Fountain’s entrance into the transfer portal this week thins the ranks some.

Dominic Oliver, a pass-rushing specialist last season in the 3-3-5, should be considered a favorite for time at weakside end. Brady Nassar looks to build off his impressive freshman season. Richmond transfer Marlem Louis totaled 16 sacks the past two seasons at defensive end for the Spiders.

2023 SAM LBs Trey White, Caleb Otlewski, and Darrell Masaniai are the wild cards in the competition. Their roles in the 3-3-5 were similar to what a strongside EDGE is asked to do. In high school, each played more defensive end than linebacker.

Interior vs Exterior Offensive Line

Akron transfer Nate Williams has started 27 games in his career and figures to add more to that total in 2024. The question Spring Camp can answer is what part of the line Williams preps for over the summer.

Brayden Bryant working out at SDSU. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

As much as establishing a pecking order at any one position, the 15 practices in March and April will allow offensive line coach Mike Schmidt to evaluate the overall strength of the 15 Aztecs he inherited. If three step up at tackle, Schmidt could slide Williams inside to guard. Prior to camp, right tackle looks to be Williams’ place on the line, but his experience will allow him to move wherever he is needed.

Finding a terrific left tackle would bolster SDSU’s chances next season. Since Zach Thomas’ graduation in 2021, the Aztecs have had trouble filling the position. And while two starters from 2023 left in the transfer portal, it is worth noting that both Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson and Drew Azzopardi were best suited at right tackle. Christian Jones, the athlete the former staff believed to be the best fit at left tackle, remains with the program. He will be pushed by Kyle Stanback, FAU transfer Jordan Sandlin, and Ryan Dirksen.

Inside, Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli and Miles Murao’s resumes suggest they will have an inside track for time at guard or center. Lewis said both are still recovering from postseason surgeries and won’t be full participants in camp. Dean Abdullah has starting experience at multiple positions. North Dakota transfer Braden Bryant also has started multiple games but only played in four a season ago.

The wild cards in the equation are a host of young linemen who will be pushing for time. Most notable among this group is Jonah Rodriguez. Rodriguez, out of local Madison High School, was SDSU’s highest-rated prospect in the Class of 2023, according to 247sports.

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Lewis retained cornerback coach Demetrius Sumler from Brady Hoke’s staff, and it is easy to see why. A native San Diegan who has a reputation as a terrific recruiter, the cornerbacks have routinely been one of SDSU’s strongest position groups during Sumler’s six-year tenure. Sumler’s ability to mold newcomers into terrific players has become his calling card.

Freshman Darren Hall burst onto the scene in Sumler’s first season in 2018. 2019 saw Hall’s continued growth and Castle Park High alum Luq Barcoo’s emergence. Tayler Hawkins moved to CB from safety to replace Barcoo in 2020. All three collected NFL paychecks in 2023.

Over the past two years, Sumler developed Dez Malone, Noah Tumblin, Dallas Branch, and Chris Johnson into quality players. With much of his room cleared out from last year, SDSU needs Sumler’s artistry once again.

SDSU’s running backs at a morning workout. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

Johnson returns for the Aztecs. Since arriving on The Mesa, he has impressed. He forced Sumler to carve out playing time for him in a crowded room. With the CB ranks thinned, the time is now for the junior from Eastvale, CA.

A trio of transfers are competing to supplant or line up opposite Johnson. Tayvion Beasley sat out 2023 after arriving from Colorado. Bryce Phillips (Tennessee State) and Bennett Walker (Eastern Michigan) came to SDSU because of the open competition in the secondary.

Freshmen Isaiah Buxton and Tayten Beyer enrolled early with an eye to playing right away. Both were highly decorated prep athletes competing for two of the best high school programs in California.

Senior Jelani Whitmore is a wild card in the competition. He has not figured much into the competition since arriving on campus in 2020. Whitmore has rotated between CB and WR during his time on The Mesa. In winter conditioning, he has been one of the fastest Aztecs on the field, clocking in on at least one occasion at 21 miles per hour. Elite speed in a 6-foot-2 package is an intriguing combination.

Running Back

Even though all of SDSU’s running backs from a season ago return, the group might not be a position of strength for the team. The Aztecs’ RBs rushed for a combined 1,323 yards on 309 carries. Jaylon Armstead and Kenan Christon paced the group in yards (448 and 378 respectively) and carries (103 and 96). Armstead led the team with eight touchdowns.

RB coach Darian Hagan has the task of reinvigorating a unit that failed to live up to its stellar reputation last season. There is no shortage of possible stars, but until someone elevates his game above the rest, the room will remain a question mark.

A case can be made for the potential of every member of the group. Armstead, Lucky Sutton, and Anthony McMillian should have the size to take advantage of the numbers mismatch Aztec Fast will generate. Christon and Sheldon Canley have the big play potential to capitalize on the confusion the offense causes. Martin Blake and Cam Davis’ shiftiness should play well in the system.

The wild card in the competition is Lewis’ scheme. How the running backs are employed in the offense remains to be seen, but there will be some changes to the skills required for success. At a minimum, the pace they are required to play with will be dramatically different.

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