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PSU ready to size up new cast

Vikings launch 15 days of spring drills on Wednesday

Portland State's football team gets back to business Wednesday, with the memory of four consecutive wins to finish last season fresh in the players' minds, an explosive offense to polish, and defensive tackles and cornerbacks to inspect.

The Vikings will conduct 15 days of spring drills starting Wednesday and culminating with the spring game May 11 at Lake Oswego High School.

A year ago, the Vikings came upon spring drills with many questions, foremost being how Juston Wood would fare as starting quarterback. Well, the results of the 2001 season answered the question:

Wood threw for 3,200 yards and 23 touchdowns, and Ryan Fuqua rose to stardom with 1,586 yards and 15 TDs in basically eight games.

Both are back. So what can the Vikings do for an encore?

Get better at three positions, and try to add to their average of 477 yards per game Ñ fourth in NCAA Division I-AA. Eight players who started at some point in 2001 return.

Spring drills will see the introduction of Jay Williams as Terry Charles' replacement at wide receiver. Williams, a 6-3, 200-pound junior college transfer from Pompano, Fla., will have to go far to match Charles, who could be a high NFL draft pick next week. But, coach Tim Walsh says, 'He just needs to refine fundamentals, and he will become an outstanding player.'

The Vikings return five offensive linemen who played last year. Right tackle will be Mike Stachowiak's position to lose, while Devan Kelley might get some work at center, which would open up some competition at left guard. Walsh says he is very comfortable with the line.

It appears that PSU will go with Saleem Muhammad at fullback. Undersized at 6-0, 210, Muhammad also will get some snaps to give Fuqua rest, meaning that Walsh needs to find another dependable fullback.

Every year, it seems that Walsh's biggest concerns are with defense. But outside of interior linemen and cornerbacks to find and groom Ñ positions that will be finalized in the fall Ñ the PSU defense should be pretty solid.

The Vikings recruited three junior college defensive linemen, including defensive end Josh Ratliff from Chico, Calif. In the fall, Juco All-American Agatupu Sagapolutele will arrive, undersized at 6-1, 280, but expected to fill one of two holes at tackle. He's already listed No. 1 on the depth chart, even though he won't be in spring drills.

Another junior college recruit, Chris Berg, also will arrive in the fall and battle senior Jake Opheikens for the other tackle spot. Defensive ends Matt Jenkins and Stefon Kleinert return as starters, but Walsh says Ratliff will factor into the line somewhere.

Both cornerback spots are open, and early candidates are converted running back Amad Robinson and freshman Dominic Dixon, when he arrives in August. Reynard Carrie and Darius Brown are listed as No. 1 corners for spring. Jimmy Ray Brown may be another player to see first-string action.

Walsh says the 5-9, 180 Dixon, from Seattle's O'Dea High School, 'is athletic and physical enough to compete as a freshman. We hope to be able to redshirt him, but he may prove us wrong as a true freshman.'

Dixon also could field kickoffs. 'He's a special player when he gets the ball in his hands,' Walsh says.

Safety Brent Donnerberg also returns to the defensive backfield after suffering an ACL tear last season.

It's doubtful that another prize freshman, defensive lineman Cleodis Floyd, will play in the fall. The Vikings, 7-4 in 2001, have been Big Sky runners-up for three consecutive seasons, going 23-11 in that span.