Houston spring wrap

2009 overall record: 10-4

2009 conference record: 6-2, t-1st C-USA West

Returning starters

Offense: 9, defense: 7, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

QB Case Keenum, WR James Cleveland, WR/KR Tyron Carrier, WR Patrick Edwards, OL Chris Thompson, RB Charles Sims, RB Bryce Beall LB Marcus McGraw, S Nick Saenz, CB Jamal Robinson K Matt Hogan

Key losses

LB C.J. Cavness, DE Tyrell Graham, CB Brandon Brinkley

2009 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)

Rushing: Charles Sims* (698 yards, 9 TDs)

Passing: Case Keenum*(5,671 yards, 44 TDs)

Receiving: James Cleveland* (1,214 yards, 14 TDs)

Tackles: Marcus McGraw* (156 tackles)

Sacks: Tyrell Graham (7)

Interceptions: Jamal Robinson* (5)

Spring answers

1. Kicker woes solved: The Cougars had some kicking struggles late last season, but those were rectified this spring with walk-on Matt Hogan and deep snapper Brandon Hartson. They were so good that coach Kevin Sumlin decided to put both on scholarship.

2. Switching up defenses: The Cougars spent the spring transitioning from the 4-3 to new defensive coordinator Brian Smith’s 3-4 attacking defense. The goal was to get the right people in the right positions, especially on the front line. The Cougars think they achieved that with defensive ends Matangi Tonga and David Hunter, and Tyrone Campbell on the inside. The Cougars are also high on junior college transfer Sammy Brown and Kelvin King at linebacker.

3. Fighting fatigue: Sumlin thought one of the reasons his team lost its final two games of the season was because of fatigue and a lack of depth. This spring, the Cougars concentrated on finding a core group of second-string players to complement the first string so that wouldn’t be a problem as the schedule wore on.

Fall questions

1. Safety competition will continue: The Cougars had five safeties competing this spring and that competition will continue into the fall. Juniors Nick Saenz and Roisean Haynes were listed as the starters coming out of spring, but the competition is far from over for a team that allowed 224.71 passing yards per game.

2. Looking for a breakout player: Houston is looking for players both on offense and defense to have a breakout 2010 season to complement the play of Keenum. On the offensive line, guard Isaiah Thompson is poised to have a big year, while Brown and Tonga could turn the defensive line into something it hasn’t been in quite some time.

3. Handling the pressure: If there’s one thing that Sumlin hoped his team learned from last year, it’s the ability to handle the pressure and they hype surrounding being ranked. Houston has tough games at UCLA and at Texas Tech, and both will be a good opportunity to see whether the Cougars have matured from a year ago.