Brennan Angel

Even James Noble was once a redshirt freshman trying to climb the depth chart.

And when the Cal Poly football team opens spring practice today, 19 redshirt freshmen will be attempting to do the same under the watchful eyes of head coach Rich Ellerson and his staff.

“There are a lot of spots open right now,” Noble said Monday. “I know people are looking forward to spring ball. People are looking to get starting spots. Everyone’s looking forward to it, especially the young guys. Me personally, I’m just trying to have a strong season, make this season better.”

The Mustangs begin their spring practice season on the “I Field” next to the track and field facility at 7:30 a.m. today. Practices on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will typically run from 7:30 to 9:15 a.m. and those on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Although the team has only 15 scheduled practice dates, the spring season itself will not wrap up until a tentatively-scheduled Spring Game on March 11.

Noble, a junior-to-be who is now entrenched as Cal Poly’s starting tailback after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, is one of seven starters returning on offense.

Defense is another story, with only four starters coming back from a unit that ranked No. 5 among 121 Division I-AA teams in fewest yards from scrimmage allowed per game in 2006. The lone returning starter in the secondary is senior left cornerback Andre Thomas.

“It’s always a great adventure,” Ellerson said Monday of spring practice. “You’ve got some things you can’t wait to try, young players to evaluate. There are a handful of guys that aren’t going to be able to participate. That creates some opportunity to see some of the younger guys.”

Five sophomores and one redshirt freshman are penciled in as defensive starters on the spring depth chart.

That could change, however, as the spring depth chart is rarely an indicator of exactly who will start come the fall. For example, the team’s leading receiver as a sophomore last year – 6-foot-6 receiver Ramses Barden – is not listed on the depth chart because he is recovering from injuries along with junior-to-be slotback Ernie Cooper.

Because of the injuries and graduation of 22 lettermen (including 13 on defense), Ellerson feels the time is now for the younger players on the roster to let their presence be felt.

“This is their chance to get in the hunt for playing time in the fall,” Ellerson said. “This is the time of year when a lot of those impressions are made. When you come back in the fall, there are some rough edges and lingering issues in training camp that have to be resolved.”

There is a veteran group on offense, however, that features a slew of skilled-position players such as Noble, Barden, quarterback Matt Brennan and deep-threat receiver Tredale Tolver along with H-back Jon Hall. All of those players will be juniors or younger despite having at least a full year of starting experience.

“That’s a big positive,” Noble said. “Mainly we’re going to go out there and motivate the young guys and see what they can do and coach them up.”

Noble said spring practices are similar to those during the season, but that the team is “going to try out some new plays during spring ball just to see what direction we can go in.”

Noble said one of the team’s goals for 2007 is to have more fun than in 2006.

“Everybody’s going to have a good time,” Noble said. “That’s one of the major things. That’s one of our goals, is having a lot more fun. We do our best stuff when we’re having fun out there as a team. That’s one of our main goals.”

In no particular order, here are other goals and roster happenings facing the Mustangs as they head into the spring and upcoming season:

Hives II moves to defense

Former running back Fred Hives II is listed on the spring depth chart as the team’s starting middle linebacker, a spot occupied last season by Buck Buchanan Award winner Kyle Shotwell.

Hives, a 5-10, 210-pound junior-to-be, rushed for 221 yards and two touchdowns last year, averaging 5.7 yards an attempt. He was an effective change-of-pace back for the shiftier Noble.

Hives said Tuesday, though, that the move is not yet permanent.

“It’s just something we’re trying out for spring ball right now,” Hives said. “Everybody has to sit down with coach Ellerson after the season. He brought it up to me and I said, ‘sure.’ It’s not exactly set in stone. This is kind of an experiment so far. It depends on how long it takes me to pick up the position, how much I can do instinctively. If I can get the position down fast without having to be told too much, I’ll probably stay.”

Hives played strong safety at times during each of his four years at St. Mary’s College High in Vallejo.

“It’ll help out a lot,” he said of playing previously in the back seven of a defense.

Hives said the biggest difference would be the more physical nature of playing in a linebacker corps compared to being a member of a defensive secondary.

Hives added that players are “ready to get after it” in spring ball.

“I think it’s going to be really exciting to see where guys fit in,” he said.

Dally, Cordier enter fold at QB

Ellerson is excited about two new faces who will see some reps under center during the spring.

Cal Poly announced Dec. 20, 2006, that it had signed former Allan Hancock College quarterback Jonathan Dally. The other newcomer will be Scottie Cordier, a 5-9, 170-pounder who accounted for 30 touchdowns as a senior at San Leandro High in Oakland in 2005.

Cordier redshirted in 2006.

The incumbent starter is junior-to-be Brennan, who threw for 1,208 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions last year.

“(Dally and Cordier) are going to join the hunt at quarterback,” Ellerson said.

Although Brennan completed 45 percent of his passes in 2006, he was effective in running the option last season, rushing for 344 yards and two scores.

Noble looks forward to seeing Brennan continue to develop in the scheme of the offense over the next couple weeks.

“He’s just getting smarter all the time,” Noble said of Brennan. “He’s getting more experience. Coach brought in a lot of other guys to fight for his spot. We’re going to see how he makes it through spring ball. I’m sure he’ll come out strong and everything. He’s going to work hard. He should be fine.”

Mole awaits opportunity

Although he cannot participate in spring ball because he will enroll at Cal Poly in the fall, incoming junior and Sacramento State/Allan Hancock transfer Ryan Mole looks forward to making an impact.

Mole had 944 yards from scrimmage as a second-team All-Big Sky Conference sophomore at Sacramento State. His signing was announced by Cal Poly on Feb. 7.

“I’m very excited,” Mole said Feb. 14. “I have a second chance. I’m very excited to be playing with Dally again too. He’s a great athlete.”

Mole and Dally were previously teammates at Righetti High in Santa Maria.

Mole said he transferred from Sacramento State for a variety of reasons.

“A lot of it had to do with (that) I wasn’t fitting in very well,” Mole said of Sacramento State. “The losing seasons had a big part in it. When I had my shoulder injury, I had a chance to transfer. It’s going to be great to be on a winning program.

“(Cal Poly) is close to my home, my family and local fans can come and watch. It’s a great program. I can be noticed and have a good opportunity to make it to the next level.”

Mole said he is OK with Cal Poly not playing Sacramento State next season. The Mustang Daily reported Jan. 30 that the two schools would not play each other for the first time since 1982.

“It would have been fun to play against them,” Mole admitted. “It’s no big deal. It doesn’t really matter to me.”

Mole said he anticipates often playing either in the same backfield or in the same offensive set as Noble.

“Speaking with the coaches, they want to try to put us all on the field and spread the field out,” Mole said. “I think it will be better for all of us. Keep fresh legs and I think we’ll all benefit from it.”

Noble agreed.

“I’m just going to go to practice and try my best,” Noble said. “Hopefully we can do things together. I know I’m going to do what I do. Hopefully we can mesh together.”

Mole described his running style as “pretty versatile.”

“I run hard downhill,” Mole said. “In the open field, I can make guys miss. I’m pretty much a power back.”

Mole said his ultimate goal upon arriving at Cal Poly is to win a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) national title.

“To go out there and shoot for the playoffs and go for the championship,” Mole said of his goals.

Replenishing the secondary

Cornerback Courtney Brown, free safety Kenny Chicoine and strong safety Randy Samuel were each All-Great West Football Conference picks after their senior seasons.

And now all three must be replaced.

Thomas stepped in as a starter late last season and performed well, finishing with 22 tackles and two pass breakups.

As for who the other three starters might be, the spring depth chart lists sophomore Xavier Gardner at right corner, sophomore David Fullerton at free safety and senior Martin Mares at strong safety.

Of Gardner, Fullerton, Mares and redshirt freshmen safeties Brandon Williamson and Mike Anderson, Ellerson said: “We’re encouraged. Those guys are here with expectations. I know we’ve got Andre. We’ve got to find another corner.”

New faces along the O-line

With quick tackle Josh Mayfield, quick guard Julai Tuua and strong guard Will Hames III all graduated, the team will need to replace three starting offensive linemen.

The anchor who has been starting since his freshman year is junior-to-be center Stephen Field. Dylan Roddick, a senior-to-be who started last season at strong tackle, has been moved inside to strong guard, according to the spring depth chart.

Left to right, the team’s starting offensive line according to the spring depth chart is: junior-to-be Mike Porter (6-2, 275), senior-to-be Daniel Bradley (6-4, 291), Field, Roddick and sophomore-to-be Alex Lee (6-3, 220).

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