With Montana State quarterback Dakota Prukop looking around and eyeing a transfer to a Power 5 FBS school (Oregon?) for his final season of eligibility, Portland State quarterback Alex Kuresa enters the 2016 season as possibly the top signal caller in the Big Sky Conference.
Perhaps even the conference’s preseason Player of the Year when the honor is announced in July.
Regardless of the loss of 1,000-yard rusher David Jones, wide receiver Thomas Carter (22 receptions in 2015) and left tackle Mike Davis (started every game in 2015), most of PSU’s major contributors on offense return in 2016, beginning with Kuresa, who started all 12 games at quarterback for the Vikings and threw for almost 2,000 yards while completing 54.4 percent of his passes.
Kuresa is also the Vikings’ top returning rusher (755 yards on 158 carries) with rising senior Nate Tago and rising junior Steven Long expected to see their amount of carries increase in the wake of Jones’ departure, along with utility quarterback Paris Penn, who returns for his senior season as well.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Davis has attracted interest from NFL scouts largely because of his toughness and attitude, Barnum said. Davis fought through an injured ankle and kept playing this past season.
Four of five offensive line starters return in 2016, so that unit should be a well-oiled machine. NFL scouts have watched left tackle Kyle Smith, a rising senior, for two years and with another solid season should be well positioned to get drafted in April 2017.
The most sweeping changes should come on defense. Starting safeties Patrick Onwuasor and Walter Santiago were both seniors, while cornerback Aaron Sibley has exhausted his eligibility as well.
UCLA transfer Tyler Foreman will be expected to step up and challenge for a starting safety job after filling a valuable reserve role in 2015.
“He was a quality backup and did some good things. He played a lot,” Barnum said of Foreman. “Now we have to get him ready to start.”
Portland State has just three reliable safeties on the preliminary 2016 roster – Foreman, Nate Salu and Beau Duronslet.
“That’s not enough,” Barnum said.
Six senior linebackers led by leading tackler Jeremy Lutali have played their final games for the Vikings, but A.J. Schlatter was a pleasant surprise in 2015 and returns in 2016.
Filling Lutali‘s shoes could prove difficult, though, considering his level of production the past two seasons.
“We’ll find somebody,” Barnum said. “There are guys here. That whole position group, we need to replenish. We’ve lost (Lutali), (Zack) Berg, Brandon Brody-Heim, guys that have played a lot of football. So we need to fil in some spots there.”
Barnum said the Vikings will focus on restocking personnel at three key defensive positions – safety, linebacker and defensive ends.
“I need to make sure the defense is ready to go entering next season,” Barnum said. “We have to replenish on defense. That’s a priority. There are three positions (S, LB, DE) we need to fix right away, and then we’ll move on to the others. We have to be able to stop people.”
Cornerbacks Aaron Sibley and Demetrius Jackson depart, but Barnum feels the Vikings possess the personnel at that position to adequately fill the void. Anthony Jenkins moved from receiver to cornerback during the season and showed promised, while Artuz Manning started four games and is trending upwards.
Xavier Coleman has started at cornerback for two years and ranks among the Big Sky leaders in pass breakups.
“(Cornerback) doesn’t worry me as much (as safety) because we still have some good skill there,” Barnum said. “Jenkins moved there and really picked it up. He showed great promise. Once he catches up, he’s going to be a quality player. Artuz Manning started games this season. So, that position doesn’t scare me as much. We’ll replenish (at CB), but it will be with young people.”
Defensive tackle Daniel Fusi, a defensive tackle stalwart, graduates, putting the spotlight on Wyoming transfer John Jackson and rising junior William Dawson. Don’t be surprised if Savali Talalemotu (275 pounds) and Michael Doman (265 pounds) end up moving inside permanently.
“We might move the bigger D-ends inside and replenish the defensive end spot,” Barnum said. “We have some guys like Davond Dade, but we don’t have enough right now. We have to make sure we do.”