SAN JOSE -- San Jose State's monthlong training camp opened Friday with an equal focus on the present and the future.

The Spartans spent the first half of their three-hour-plus session working the veterans into shape. Coach Ron Caragher and his staff focused the rest of the time on getting a good look at the newcomers and reserve players.

It's a method Caragher learned from his assistant days at Kentucky and allows the younger players to get the same type of one-on-one instruction normally reserved for the projected starters.

"You always have a tendency as a coach when you've got everyone out, you gravitate toward those guys who you think are going to play," Caragher said. "But really, football is a game of development. You're developing our players. Coaching them, teaching them proper fundamentals and techniques. I think this is good."

SJSU will stick with that game plan for its first three practices as its slowly builds up to its first practice in pads Tuesday, and Caragher was happy with what he saw from both groups Friday.

"I think the veteran group just hit the ground running," he said. "That what I really wanted and expected.

"With the second group, while we slowed things down from a teaching standpoint, I think some individuals stood out, and I'm excited to continue to work and see what guys can help us this upcoming season."

Among the true freshmen participating in their first practice, wide receiver Justin Holmes and cornerback Andre Chachere impressed Caragher. The coach also noted redshirt freshman offensive linemen Chris Gonzalez and Nico Aimonetti as players who have progressed well.


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With the season opener less than four weeks away, Aug. 28 against North Dakota, here's four issues the Spartans must address during training camp:

  • Replacing David Fales.

    The record-setting quarterback is now with the Chicago Bears. Caragher knows Fales won't be easily replaced, but Caragher is excited about the chance to develop a new starter.

    Junior Joe Gray and senior Blake Jurich are battling, and Caragher says he could see both getting playing time in the first few games. He doesn't want to have a quick hook after he names a starter, but that will be determined by how close the competition is.

    "If there's a gap, you have more patience with that position," Caragher said. "If it's really even, you're a little quicker, but you don't want to be super quick to make a change."

    Caragher is targeting an announcement sometime around the team's second scrimmage of camp Aug. 16.

  • Overcoming inexperience on the line.

    Returning members of the Spartans offensive line have just 23 career starts, last in the Mountain West and 125th (out of 128) in the country.

    The two players back come at the key positions of left tackle (Wes Schweitzer, 13 starts) and center (David Peterson, 10 starts). But SJSU likely will play a sophomore at right tackle in Evan Sarver and a freshman at left guard in Jeremiah Kolone. Another freshman, A.J. Samataua, is battling injury-prone senior Keith Bendixen at right guard.

    "It's a new line, so we all had to learn each other," Peterson said. "But this fall we're going to hit the ground running."

    The performance of the new starters could go a long way in determining if the Spartans can protect their new quarterback and establish a running game.

  • Return to the 4-3.

    After a disaster of a year defensively in 2013, the Spartans have switched back from the 3-4 alignment to the 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.

    The presence of the veteran coach, who won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos as a coordinator, already has people feeling as though the defense should be much improved. That's despite losing the unit's two best players to graduation in linebacker Keith Smith and cornerback Bené Benwikere.

    "There's more of a confidence exuded by our team going into the season than uncertainty," Caragher said of his defense. "Not just in Greg and the staff, but the team as well."

  • Getting special on special teams.

    Junior kicker Austin Lopez is as reliable as they come, but SJSU must replace punter Harrison Waid -- the school's all-time leader in punting average. Redshirt freshman Zach Steinberg is the clubhouse leader, but there's uncertainty at the position.

    The Spartans also must improve a kick return game that was one of the worst in the nation last year, averaging a paltry 18.5 yards per return.

    The return of Tyler Ervin (three career kick return scores) should help, as long as he stays healthy after missing nearly all of last year with a sprained ankle.

    For more on San Jose State sports, visit the SpartanCentral blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sjsu. Follow Jimmy Durkin on Twitter at Twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin.

    Camp essentials

    First day in pads: Tuesday
    Scrimmages: Aug. 9, 4:15 p.m.; Aug. 16, 4 p.m.
    Season opener: Aug. 28 vs. North Dakota, 7 p.m.
    Note: All practices are open to the public. Visit blogs.mercurynews.com/sjsu for full schedule.