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BY STEVE BRANDON/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Fresh talent opens eyes at camp as PSU lineup starts to jell

COURTESY: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Tight end Charlie Taumoepeau is Portland State's leading returnee in pass receptions. The Vikings will open Aug. 31 at Nevada.Things are getting a little clearer for the Portland State Vikings. Not crystal clear, but more in focus.

With their football season opener Aug. 31 at Nevada, and coming off an 0-11 season, the Viks went into the week with most of their starting spots all but nailed down.

Still up for grabs, though, as the week began: quarterback, kicker and punter.

And still to be determined: How deep will the Vikings go at running back? How will they divvy up the passes to their various wide receivers and tight ends?

The defense has been ahead of the offense throughout fall camp, says coach Bruce Barnum. PSU is looking faster and more athletic on defense this season, and new coordinator Payam Saadat has that unit more attack-minded and showing more and different looks than in some time.

"Defense has been our nemesis the last couple of years. But it's going to have to carry us," Barnum says.

The offense has more question marks than the defense, not that answers won't come. The PSU offense simply has fewer returnees who have played less time, and the quarterbacks are still relatively young and inexperienced.

Sophomore QBs Jalani Eason and Davis Alexander both have played some and had success, though both struggled at times last season as well. The two candidates have gone neck-and-neck for the starting job in fall camp. Eason, who ran plays with the first string on Monday, is more of a runner; Alexander has the stronger arm, though neither is totally one-dimensional.

A sophomore transfer, Danny Velasquez from Modesto Junior College and Turlock, California, also is in the QB mix but is still learning the system.

"Somebody's got to separate himself," Barnum says. "But they're all doing well. It's a good problem to have."

Barnum says he wants to pick one QB and go with him.

"I don't want to get in a game and be using three guys, like a quarter apiece. I'm not going to do that, even if they're close," he says.

The intriguing surprise in the backfield is running back Sirgeo Hoffman, 6-0, 220 pounds, a JC transfer who prepped at Gresham High. "He's faster than everybody else on the field," Barnum says. Major colleges were looking at Hoffman a couple of years ago, but he went the community college route in Pima, Arizona, and "I think the Pac-12 schools forgot about him," Barnum says.

The Vikings lost big back Jason Talley, an ex-Jesuit runner who decided not to return this season. But they've probably more than made up for that with the addition of smaller JC transfers Darian Green (5-9, 190), from Ball State, and Quinton Baker (5-8, 185), out of Western Kentucky.

The primary air target could be 6-3, 240 junior tight end Charie Taumoepeau, who had 45 receptions a year ago and has next-level potential. The next returning Vik in terms of 2017 catches: first-string running back Carlos Martin, who caught 12 balls.

Sophomore Emmanuel Daigbe, 6-1, 200, and from Kent, Washington, has looked good at wideout. Dagbe, who was born in Liberia, wrestled instead of playing football while at Highline and Green River CCs. But he's on pace to start for Portland State in his first try at college football. "He makes us bigger at receiver," Barnum says.

Also opening some eyes in camp is a freshman receiver from Beaverton High, Mataio Talalemoto. Others to watch include sophomore Easton Trakel, freshman Beau Kelly (5-9, 165) out of Scottsdale, Arizona, and even Davis Koetter, a redshirt freshman (and son of NFL Tampa Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter), who has moved from QB.

"Davis looks like he's been playing wide receiver since Pee Wee football," Barnum says.

PSU, which has lost 13 consecutive games, has ex-Roosevelt High standout Semise Kofe to plug the middle of the D-line this year. He'll be surrounded up front by senior Larry Ross, juniors Kenton Bartlett and Anthony Del Toro, sophomore Noah Yunker and others.

A 6-0, 200 junior, Houston Barnes from Lanett, Alabama, is listed as a middle linebacker, and could wreak havoc. Senior Kasun Jackett also is back at that spot.

Senior Sam Bonine, a Canby product, is listed as a 240-pound weakside linebacker and appears to be thriving in a new role. "He was always a bit slow for linebacker and not big enough for D-line," Barnum says. "He'll be reading the guard, run or pass, and then just reacting and playing football."

The secondary looks set, with senior Artuz Manning and former Tigard High standout Sam Inos at the safety spots and redshirt freshman Anthony Adams out of Newberg and junior Montre Brown leading the way, for now, at cornerback.

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