Originally Published: April 29, 2018 5:57 a.m.
PHOENIX — The Pac-12 has five new coaches this season, so there was extra importance placed on spring football at UCLA, the two Arizona schools and the two Oregon schools.
After months of talking about how they would do things differently, the new coaches had a chance to implement their systems on the field.
“Normally, when you’ve been in a program for at least a year, you can kind of pick up in spring ball and they have a ton of retention from what you did, whether it was in bowl practice or during the season,” first-year UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “So where we even line up for stretches is even brand new to them. So every day, I’m just hoping they get a little bit better.”
Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin, Arizona State’s Herm Edwards, Oregon’s Mario Cristobal and Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith are all in the same situation, trying to get solid footing in new jobs.
Edwards may have the biggest learning curve. He hasn’t coached since being fired by the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in 2008 and his last college coaching experience came in 1989 at San Jose State.
Edwards and the Sun Devils athletic department want to run the team in a pro-style model and set up the structure so all he has to do is worry about coaching and recruiting.
The approach seemed to be taking hold during spring drills as Edwards has instilled discipline and threatened to cut players — but not pull their scholarships — who don’t perform up to his standards.
“When you change coaches there is always an adjustment period,” he said. “They need to know what I’m about, I need to know what they’re about and I think we’ve grown together now.”
A few more things to watch from the Pac-12 this fall following spring practices:
The conference has a strong group of returning quarterbacks despite losing a couple of marquee names.
Washington’s Jake Browning could have ended his decorated career after his junior season to leave for the NFL. Instead, he decided to stick around, giving the Huskies a rare four-year starter.
Arizona’s Khalil Tate is back after an electrifying run during the 2017 season, which he started as the backup to Brandon Dawkins.
Up the road in Tempe, Edwards will have the benefit of having Manny Wilkins back under center for a third straight season.
Cal’s Ross Bowers is back after throwing for more than 3,000 yards and Tyler Huntley should make more big plays for Utah in his second season as the starter.
BIG NAMES MISSING
The two Southern California schools will have the biggest holes to fill at quarterback.
The Bruins’ Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold of the Trojans are gone and should be among the first names called in Thursday’s NFL draft.
Sophomore Devon Modster was Rosen’s backup last season, but Matt Lynch, incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Michigan graduate transfer Wilton Speight could make things interesting this fall.
USC has one of the nation’s most highly touted freshmen in J.T. Daniels, but he will have to beat out Jack Sears and Matt Fink, who have experience in Clay Helton’s system.
Washington State also has a big hole to fill with Luke Falk gone after his prolific career, with Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon expected to battle for the spot.
Washington State’s players had to try to carry on through spring following quarterback Tyler Hilinski’s suicide in January.
The Cougars were shocked when Hilinski was found dead in his Pullman apartment and have struggled to get over his death, even as spring practices started.
“Right now we’re trying to move forward,” Washington State receiver Tyler Sweet said. “We’ll never forget him but we don’t want to just keep being stuck in one spot. We love Tyler and he was a great person but we’re trying to move forward.”