Aztecs 'tough' going into spring practice

Aztecs 'tough' going into spring practice

Published Apr. 4, 2012 10:42 p.m. ET

The Aztecs may not yet be where coach Rocky Long wants them to be in terms of their physical presence. But they've traveled quite a distance from the finesse team they were dubbed as during most of last decade.

SDSU completed its spring session with an answer to one big question, a plan to address another and a continuance in transformation to a tough football team. The team held one of its scrimmages in the midst of a thunder and hail storm. Its top two quarterbacks combined to complete 7 of 31 passes and just one touchdown.

"I thought this was perfect," Long told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "In fact, when it was hailing or whatever it was, I wish that would've been like that the whole day. You've got to learn how to play when things aren't right. Around here, our weather is so nice, we hardly ever get to practice in something like that."

Something far more concerning to the SDSU program was how to replace four-year starting quarterback Ryan Lindley and two-time Mountain West rushing king Ronnie Hillman. Both left for the NFL (Hillman early), leaving the Aztecs two huge holes to fill.

The Aztecs, coming off back-to-back winning seasons with bowl games attached, may have found Lindley's replacement in Ryan Katz, a senior transfer from Oregon State. He was the starter there until he suffered a wrist injury and never got back in the lineup, even after he was healthy.

SDSU will have to use the committee approach to replace Hillman, who was able to leave after his sophomore season because he had been out of high school three years to satisfy NFL criteria for early entrance in the draft.

Sophomore Adam Muema and freshmen Chase Price, Brandon Wright and De'Saan Hardwick shared the load in the spring while senior Walter Kazee sat out with a knee injury.

Defensively, the big question mark is on the line, where the Aztecs lost five of their six top players and sophomore Dontrell Onuoha is suspended indefinitely for an off-field incident. SDSU also lost key contributors in OLB Miles Burris and CB Larry Parker, but Long likes his depth in the back end.

The key for the Aztecs could be how all the new pieces at critical positions mesh in time for the 2012 season.