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No Quarterback Controversy at San Jose State

August 4, 2016 GMT

San Jose State has endured so much uncertainty at quarterback over the years that coach Ron Caragher almost forgot what it was like to have clarity -- and to sleep soundly in the ramp-up to training camp.

But Caragher’s only source of concern about the position this season is keeping incumbent Kenny Potter healthy.

“It’s been a while,” Caragher said with a mix of relief and excitement. “A long time.”

Not that anyone’s counting, but it has been 980 days since David Fales took his final snap for the Spartans and left behind a void they have repeatedly tried -- and failed -- to fill.

Potter took on the assignment last fall after transferring to SJSU, but inexperience and an early-season ankle injury tempered his impact.

He returns for the 2016 season with a healthy ankle, sound grasp of the playbook and the respect of his teammates.

“It’s the first time we’ve named a starter going into training camp since (Fales) left,” said Caragher, whose team opens training camp Friday afternoon. “Kenny’s only been on campus for 16 months, but his teammates picked him as a captain. That tells you a lot.”

It tells you that Caragher can devote more time during fall camp to solving the Spartans’ other problems and reversing a multiyear period of stagnation.

Here are four areas of focus: Huge shoes to fill Not surprisingly, Caragher fielded more questions about replacing Tyler Ervin than any other topic during the offseason.

The do-everything tailback had one of the greatest seasons in school history with 1,601 yards rushing, 202.8 all-purpose yards per game and 16 touchdowns. (Nobody else had more than seven.)

But Caragher is fretting less about replacing Ervin than one might expect.

“I always allude to having four starters back on the offensive line,” he said.

The line should be a unit of strength for the Spartans, especially when combined with an experienced quarterback in Potter.

What’s more, there are options at tailback, including Thomas Tucker, who has a 94-yard game to his credit, sophomore Malik Roberson and the built-like-Ervin redshirt freshman, Zamore Zigler.

But the player with the best chance to take over at tailback might be Deontae Cooper, who transferred to SJSU after a slew of injury-plagued seasons at Washington. When healthy, Cooper averaged 5.4 yards per rush for the Huskies. Void out wide The attrition at receiver is also severe. In addition to the departure of Hansell Wilson (35 receptions), the Spartans announced last week that presumed starter Tyler Winston will miss the 2016 season for academic reasons.

Absent Wilson and Winston, the Spartans’ focus will shift to a group of four potential replacements:

Diminutive veteran Tim Crawley, sophomore Justin Holmes, who proved reliable on third down last season, redshirt freshman Bailey Gaither and cornerback-turned receiver Rahshead Johnson, who transferred from USC.

The return of all-conference tight end Billy Freeman (94 career catches) will help offset the losses at receiver. The front seven While not overly concerned about receiver and running back, Caragher does admit that the Spartans’ run defense will be “an important focus.”

Little wonder: The Spartans allowed a whopping 5.1 yards per rush last season, which ranked 10th in the Mountain West and 107th nationally.

Plugging the leak requires not only an upgrade in talent and size, but also depth.

Three returning starters (Nick Oreglia, Keenan Sykes and Isaiah Irving) form a solid core, particularly when combined with inside linebackers Frank Ginda and Christian Tago, one of the top players in the conference.

But the Spartans need more than three reliable options on the line if first-year coordinator Ron English is to solve a continuing problem. Firm up the edges The Spartans must replace one of the top cornerback tandems in school history in Jimmy Pruitt and Cleveland Wallace. (Both were honorable mention all-conference last season.)

The top candidate is junior Andre Chachere, who led the Spartans with eight passes broken up. Sophomore Dakari Monroe, who played on special teams last season, is the tentative starter opposite Chachere.

“I don’t think there will be a dropoff with Andre,” Caragher said.

If so, that would allow Caragher to cross another concern off his list. For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner’s College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports . Contact him at jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com or 408-920-5716.