Stephen: I know you've answered a ton of Ronnie Hillman questions these past few months, but last one, promise. Now that he's leaving, what do you make of him, his career at SDSU and his future in the NFL?
Well if this is going to be the last Hillman question in these mailbags, I'm glad it was a good one. As far as him as a person, I really enjoyed being around him, especially during the offseason, when it was only me and the local paper's beat writer out there covering him. He wasn't so fed up with interviews, so he would always be in the mood to joke and laugh. He had a fun personality, and talking to him about anything - whether it was the toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he ate to pack on weight or the equipment guys yelling at him because he wore his chinstrap too loose and his helmet would always pop off - he was always a lot of fun to talk to. And we in the media will miss a candid guy like that every week.
As for his career at SDSU, he has to go down as one of the top 10 players to ever play here, yeah? I've covered this team for half a decade now, and he was by far the best talent the Aztecs had in my time, and that includes NFL players Kevin O'Connell, Russell Allen, Vincent Brown, DeMarco Sampson, Ryan Lindley, etc. And every week he was smashing some kind of record and dominating some poor Mountain West defender with a sick juke, so I believe he's going to go down somewhere near the top of Aztec lore.
Finally, as for the NFL, I think he'll end up somewhere in the third or fourth round, especially if he can run a 4.4 or even a 4.3 40-yard dash at the combine or pro day. He runs like and has the same body type as Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, and Johnson turned out to have a pretty nice NFL career. Ultimately, I think Hillman made the right decision, even though I thought he was at times dreadful against teams with NFL speed (TCU, Michigan, Utah, BYU, even Louisiana-Lafayette). Some argue he could have gained a better draft stock by putting on more weight and showing better hands, but I don't buy it. The guy rushed for more than 3,200 yards and 36 touchdowns in two years. What else does he need to prove, and at what risk injury-wise, to show he belongs a few picks higher in the draft?
Lloyd1991: Rocky mentioned 11 or so players had surgery after the bowl game. Do you know who and what surgeries took place? Are any of them projected starters for the fall?
As I wrote in the football notebook last week, Long wouldn't specify who the 11 guys were and what their surgeries were. He did confirm Vaness Harris was one of those guys. And I bet by looking at the injury report down the stretch, you can probably take a guess at the rest.
We know Alec Johnson was injured, Nik Embernate was beat up, Walter Kazee had the severe knee injury, Jake Fely looked like a walking ball of tape with all of his injuries, Gavin Escobar had shoulder and hand issues, Dontrell Onuoha had back spasms, Sam Meredith was playing with a shoulder that has needed surgery for a few years and Marcus Andrews had a knee problem; and those are just the guys we knew about. Like Rocky said, we'll know for sure when spring ball rolls around next month and the guys aren't practicing. But I bet you can take a pretty good few guesses at the 11 guys right now.
Ninjabynight: Did you happen to ask Rocky if he was opening up the search for a defensive coordinator this off season?
Next time I speak with Long, this may very well be the first question out of my mouth, because you all clearly want to see this thing answered. Personally, I've never heard any rumblings whatsoever that Long is or was looking for a defensive coordinator this past year, and I think it's a completely fan-driven idea.
This is what Long does. He's a defensive coordinator. It's what makes his teams so good. And it's what he's done for plenty of years here and at New Mexico, so I don't really understand why now it would all the sudden be "too many jobs for him to handle" at once. He's never going to have too much on his plate, because he's been at this for longer than you or I have been alive. Plus, I didn't hear this argument when Brady Hoke was here coaching the D-line.
I think if a competent defensive coordinator became available and it was one that Long really trusted, then I think you could see it. But I really don't think he's out there actively looking for a new DC right now. And I'd be careful what you wish for if you're one of the ones who would like to see him find a new one, because he may very well be one of the top 10 best defensive coordinators in all of Division I football.
Krish: Given that Gavin Escobar was a redshirt sophomore and technically eligible for the draft, are you aware if he gave any indication of thinking about it? I'm hoping he stays an Aztec for another couple years, but I would guess he at least tests the NFL waters next year?
As for this year, no, he's not thinking about coming out now. Next year, though, I think is a completely different story. SDSU should have some competent wideouts on the outside next season, which should open up the middle of the field again for him to have a monster year statistically. Also, any coach you talk to says his blocking is only getting better and better.
Plus, when you look at the superstar tight ends in the league today, all of them have the same body type and build as Escobar (6-6, 245): Jason Witten (6-6, 265), Tony Gonzalez (6-5, 247), Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265), Jimmy Graham (6-6, 260) and Antonio Gates (6-4, 260).
Escobar is certainly on his way to the draft soon, and when we asked Long about it a few months ago, his response was, "Why would you bring that up?" As if we were planting ideas in places he didn't want them planted.
People really sleep on Shrigley for some reason. Maybe it's because he plays in San Diego and the competition isn't as good as Los Angeles or Las Vegas, but the guy is a phenomenal basketball player. You can see it with your own eyes on Friday night when he takes on Torrey Pines at 7:30 p.m. or when he takes on La Verne Lutheran at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday night (I'll be there for that one). He has deceptive bounce and he can knock down a jumper from anywhere on the floor. Don't be surprised if he's pressing for big minutes down the stretch next season like Jamaal Franklin was at the end of last season.
As for Spencer, you know what he's going to bring to the table. He should be 6 feet 10 by the time he gets here (and still growing), and he's already a shot-blocking wizard in high school right now. He could have a Luke Nevill-like impact here for the next four years.