Fall camp has changed. It used to be getting information from a team’s practice/scrimmage was harder than finding a great happy hour near the BYU campus. Now it’s as easy as finding a keg and some kindling wood in Morgantown. Beat writers report, the players tweet, and even the athletic departments (if you can’t beat em, join em) have taken to releasing scrimmage reports that allow plenty of opportunity for interpretation. Not that I’m complaining…but it’s almost, I repeat almost, too much.
Thus it becomes important to create your own personal filter. After all, it’s all well and good when a former walk-on has, through a Rudy-like focus, worked his way up to 5th on the depth chart. However it really does no one any good except for that kid’s family on Senior Day. You’ve got to maneuver through the human interest stories, features on the strength and conditioning coach and “new attitude” stuff and figure out what is important.
Each year there are a bunch of players that intrigue me for one reason or another. Often these guys are freshmen because, well, there is something about those youngsters.
However there are other players looking to come back from suspension or simply seize a starting role that has become available. Some are known and some are looking to make an initial impact.
We're kicking off a "Ones to Watch" feature that will feature each conference over the next couple of weeks. These will be players that our staff has decided should be monitored closely over the next month of camp. Most will be written with an eye on 2011, but some players will be viewed through a keeper lens.
To get things started I've taken a look at ten fellas (from a national perspective) who could truly emerge...or they could wander off into fantasy irrelevancy.
Geraldo Boldewijn, WR Boise State
The Broncos need to replace a whole bunch of receptions, but they return Kellen Moore, the man who threw all those passes. And Boldewign is the most intriguing receiver in Boise.
This Amsterdam native checks in at 6’4” and has played very little football in his life. But he’s expected to play a key role at Boise, thus his ceiling goes through the roof. Watch him this fall.
Darius Bright, WR Hawaii
Bright is a talented JUCO who redshirted last season. With Bryant Moniz returning and Hawaii still running the Hawaii offense, this wideout is definitely one to monitor.
Mike Glennon, QB North Carolina State
There is no doubting Glennon’s talent. He likely would’ve seen the field a bit even if Russell Wilson had hung around Raleigh. However because Wilson wanted to continue to moonlight as a baseball player, and Tom O’Brien wanted to play hardball, the job has now become Glennon’s, while Wilson could be quarterback of a national championship-caliber team in Madison.
This will place an inordinate amount of pressure on this 6’6” junior. A great camp will go a long way towards softening the blow of losing Wilson, and it will likely lead to a very nice campaign for this Virginia native.
Josh Haden, RB Toledo
Haden, the one-time BC Eagle, has decided to make Toledo his new collegiate home. He’s a talented back, but so too is Adonis Thomas. Keep an eye on practice reports and the number of carries each receives. Also note how many times Tim Beckman mentions "split carries" or how he's "thrilled to have two such talented backs."
Jake Heaps, QB BYU
Last year we expected Heaps to step right in and do a whole bunch of good things. This didn’t happen early on, but things started to click down the stretch. It ain’t easy starting as a true freshman, and Heaps will make a boatload of improvement.
Expect huge numbers in fall camp, though don’t be deterred if he struggles in the season’s first two games, at Ole Miss and Texas.
Travis Kelce, TE Cincinnati
Ok, this guy has become my chosen one for the 2011 season. This redshirt junior is a freak athlete who missed the 2010 campaign due to some poor off-field decision making. He goes 6-5 and about 255 lbs., and as a redshirt freshman saw a whole bunch of snaps at Wildcat quarterback. Enough said.
Thomas Rawls or Stephen Hopkins, RB’s Michigan
I’m convinced that one of these two will emerge as the primary ball carrier in Ann Arbor. Rawls is a true freshman who will have the chance to play right away. He’s built well to make immediate noise in the Big Ten.
Hopkins is more of the straight-ahead type runner we expect to see take charge at Michigan. He’s not a gamebeaker, but he could move the chains as well as keep blitzing linebackers away from Denard Robinson.
The running back job out of Schembechler Hall is wide open, but these two are the ones to watch in camp.
Dion Sims, TE Michigan State
Sims is one of those athletes. He goes about 6-5 and 277 lbs. and he possesses an unfair amount of speed. He missed the 2010 campaign due to off-the-field issues. He was involved in a stolen laptop scheme, and he was reinstated to the team in time for spring ball.
As a true freshman he saw the field, and in the spring contest he looked like former Pittsburgh Steeler tight end Eric Green, who at a very athletic 6-5, 275 lbs. was a matchup nightmare for NFL linebackers and defensive backs. Sims will likely split time with Brian Linthicum and Garrett Celek, but neither of those two can come close to matching what Sims can do. A good camp and this big fella will be a huge factor in an offense that already boasts its share of offensive talent.
Geno Smith, QB West Virginia
It’s always interesting watching things transpire in Morgantown. Factor in the arrival of a talented offensive coaching mind who also likes to booze and gamble, and suddenly WVU football becomes must-see this season.
Geno Smith is coming off a 24-score campaign, and with Dana Holgorsen calling the shots and some nice talent out wide, there’s reason to believe we could see a big campaign from this Miami native.
Isi Sofele, RB Cal
For the first time in a long time there is no clear succession plan at Berkeley at running back. We knew that Marshawn Lynch would replace J.J. Arrington and that Justin Forsett would replace Lynch. Then Jahvid Best would take over for Forsett only to be replaced by Shane Vereen. Now many, ourselves included, aren’t sure if Sofele has what it takes to keep this train rolling.
This rising junior, who bears a striking resemblance in looks and body type to former Michigan back Mike Hart, still needs to prove that he can carry the load. Certainly he’s talented and he’ll perform in an offense that has produced plenty of talented seasons from its backs.
If Sofele is splitting carries in fall camp it may not bode well for his 2011 season. If he’s running wild and earning Tedford praise, then we could have yet another in an impressive line of Bear backs.