PSU boasts experience, depth at many positions
by: Steven Brenner, Viking fans look forward to former New Mexico State running back Mu’Ammar Ali, who brings potential star power to the team.

Can Portland State finally get over the hump?

Coach Tim Walsh raves about his talent, especially on defense. The Vikings have depth at many positions, a senior quarterback in Sawyer Smith and plenty of players who remember going 7-4 and 6-5 the past two seasons and being some strong fourth quarters away from the Big Sky Conference championship.

Training camp starts Monday, and the Vikings will start to address things right away. On offense, Walsh says the emphasis will be on throwing the ball efficiently. The Viks will even work on some QB packages for wide receiver Tremayne Kirkland, and aim to develop their tight ends. On defense, depth at linebacker will be needed, and PSU will look to determine one of its starting safeties.

The optimism starts on the defensive line, with the addition of transfers Dave Howell and C.J. Niusulu giving the Vikings eight players 'who could legitimately start,' Walsh says. The coach knows Cole Smith will be one defensive end, with Johnathan Benjamin-Nichols, Jimmy Ko, Dan Kuykendall and JC transfer Doniel Galloway also vying to start.

Casey Tyler and Matthis Gehring will be listed as defensive tackle starters, but Howell and Niusulu will be looming.

'The smallest guy across the front is Jimmy Ko at 6-1, 260,' Walsh says.

Starting linebackers will be D.J. Robinson, Jordan Senn and Adam Hayward. 'They'll be the leaders as far as emotion,' Walsh says. The 240-pound Hayward could play some end in passing situations.

Charles Manigo has emerged as a potential star at free safety, with Michael Dorsey listed at the other safety, although three others, including incoming freshman Jake Fetzer of Beaverton, will get their chance. 'That position is critical,' Walsh says. 'If we don't feel good about it, you might see Dominic Dixon there.'

Dixon and Odell Jackson return as solid cornerbacks, and Walsh also likes the backups.

Offensively, the key will be Smith, whose inconsistency last year greatly affected the Vikings.

'The No. 1 thing we want him to do is work on getting rid of the football sooner,' Walsh says. 'No. 2, he needs to make a decision and go with it. Mostly, we're looking for consistency and efficiency. We need Sawyer Smith to be a great player.'

Kirkland, the transfer from UNLV, will surely make plays at receiver and returning punts and kicks, but he also can play quarterback.

Like the defensive line, the offensive line has plenty of depth and size. Five returning starters could start again, led by All-America candidate Brennan Carvalho. A key position battle, Walsh says, will be right tackle between Cody Feakin, Daren Heerspink and JC transfer Landan Laurusaitis.

At tight end, 'we have no idea,' Walsh says. The top candidates are Brent TenBruggencate when the Vikings line up in traditional two-back sets, and Matt Nelson and Chris Fultcher in spread sets. 'We're OK there,' the coach adds.

Kirkland and Brendan Ferrigno are probable starting wide receivers, with speedster Kenneth Mackins and Brandon Jones also playing.

Fans are anxiously waiting to see Mu'Ammar Ali and his impact on the Vikings. The former New Mexico State running back can rip off game-breaking runs, and he doesn't shy away from contact. A late transfer, James Magee from Ohio University, will get some playing time, if he pans out.

'We'll see. He's an unknown,' Walsh says. 'He was highly recruited out of high school (Culver City, Calif.). His best friend is one of our corners, Ashton Lee.'

Another tailback, Kelena Ho'okano, and two fullbacks, Olaniyi Sobomehin and Bobby McClintock, also will get some action running and catching the ball.

Tygue Howland emerged as the backup quarterback after spring ball.

Walsh expects kicker Eric Azorr to be pushed by two others. Andrew Levers pretty much has the punting job. The Vikings have the return positions filled with Ferrigno and Kirkland on punts - 'you might see us put two guys back there sometimes,' Walsh says. Ferrigno, Kirkland, Ali and Magee are all capable of returning kickoffs.

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