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March 26, 2009
After Fairchild replaced Sonny Lubick, the Rams reached a bowl for the first time in four seasons and finished with a winning record for the first time since 2003.
Fairchild has work ahead of him during the spring to continue that success in his second season. First, he must replace his starting offensive backfield. Tailback Gartrell Johnson III rushed for 2,433 yards in the past two seasons, including 375 yards from scrimmage in the New Mexico Bowl.
Making matters more complicated is the year-long suspension of starting linebacker Ricky Brewer, who had 103 tackles last season. That leaves Fairchild's defense with only four returning starters.
Here's a look at the Rams as they open spring drills.
Positions of strength
The new quarterback will have standout targets in senior wide receivers Rashaun Greer and Dion Morton. The pair combined for 114 catches for 1,973 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The offensive line returns four starters, all seniors, but Colorado State allowed the most sacks in the Mountain West last season. Outside linebacker would have been a major strength had Brewer not been suspended; the three-year starter will miss the season for an undisclosed violation of team rules. That leaves Mychal Sisson as the unquestioned leader of the defense. He led the team with 105 tackles and eight tackles for loss. Sisson is moving from strong side linebacker to Brewer's old position on the weakside.
Help is needed
Spring practice won't help Fairchild solve his quarterback situation. Klay Kubiak, the backup to graduated starter Billy Farris last season, will miss spring ball because of shoulder surgery. Junior college transfer Jon Eastman will take the first snaps in spring. Senior Grant Stucker and redshirt freshman Alex Kelly also are competing. The departure of Johnson leaves no clear answers at running back. The leading returning rusher is John Mosure, who ran for 122 yards on 30 carries last season. As a senior at Miami Columbus, he was a runner-up for "Mr. Football" in Florida in 2005. A special-teamer (Derek Good), two transfers (Amadeus Waters and Leonard Mason) and two freshmen (Micheal Connor and Jonathan Gaye) also are in the mix. Mosure and Mason are the likely front-runners. Colorado State is desperate for defensive playmakers, especially against the pass. No returning player has more than one interception or a half-sack.
Keep an eye on
LB Michael Kawulok: Kawulok, a sophomore, started once last season and appeared in seven games. More will be expected of him this season. He will get the first shot at the strong side linebacker spot vacated by Sisson.
FS Elijah-Blu Smith: The Rams would prefer Smith to play cornerback, but safety has a void and the team returns both starting corners. Smith, a sophomore, had 36 tackles and three tackles for loss last season.
WR Byron Steele: Steele made some spectacular catches on the scout team last season. Now, the 6-foot-3, 203-pound redshirt freshman is trying to crack Colorado State's talented receiver corps.
His time is now
Free safety Klint Kubiak, a senior, is the most experienced player on a young defense. However, he needs to stay healthy after playing only nine games over the past two seasons. In his last full season, as a sophomore, Kubiak had 90 tackles and six tackles for loss. He is the son of Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak and the brother of Klay Kubiak.
There's optimism around Colorado State after last season's bowl win, but the Rams have a lot of work to do in the spring to lay the groundwork for a repeat performance. The offensive backfield might not be settled until the fall, when Klay Kubiak rejoins the quarterback competition. On defense, the Rams need to find answers on the line to compete in the Mountain West.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.