2003 Spring Practice Recap

Following an 8-6 record and an improbable third place Pac-10 finish, expectations this spring were high for an ASU team that has lost only five out of 22 starters on both offense and defense. When analyzing the performance on both sides of the ball the last few weeks, it would be hard for even a pessimistic Sun Devil fan not to be thrilled about the prospects that loom this fall. DevilsDigest evaluates each position at the conclusion of spring practice.

Quarterbacks

Up until yesterday's spring game, some may have argued that Andrew Walter had a solid, but not remarkable spring session. However, his 271 yards and four touchdowns in the final spring scrimmage were a decisive reminder that he is capable of leading this ASU offense to new heights this year. His arm strength still causes NFL scouts to salivate, his decision-making is as sharp as ever, and his leadership and demeanor are key in leading his maroon jersey teammates. A proven and successful signal caller is usually a recipe for success in the pass-happy Pac-10, and with Andrew Walter at the helm the Sun Devils can boast of having arguably the conference's best in that position.

Chad Christensen came on strong the second half of spring practice to not only entrench him self as Walter's backup, but also fence off Kellen Bradley who does posses a stronger arm. Christensen experience and wisdom could come in handy if and when the time comes to relive Walter behind center.

Running Backs

During the spring youth was served and served well at this position, and the mediocre performance from 2002 is not likely to repeat this coming season. Mike Williams is still the starter, despite splitting duty at the wide receiver spot the last few weeks. The senior heads one of the deepest core of ball carriers in recent ASU memory. The nifty Cornell Canidate, last season's leading rusher, showed observers that he's still a threat to unseat Williams as a starter. Loren Wade and Randy Hill finally got to strut their game following their redshirt year, and both didn't disappoint. Hill probably made a stronger impression, but that's only due to Wade's injuries in the spring. With such a stable of talent at the team's disposal, 2003 could feature a well-balanced attack that is vital to improving last year's record.

Wide Receivers

This skillful unit features several potent targets for Walter to fire at. Skyler Fulton has replaced Shaun McDonald as Walter's main receiver, and has proven that he can both use his size to make the crucial short yard catches, as well as stretch the field a bit. However, when it comes to chasing down the long ball, Daryl Lightfoot is a cut above his teammates. His surname is indicative of his blazing speed, and touchdown catches of 30 yards or better could easily become his signature play. Matt Miller is another wideout that has thrilled observers this spring. His combination of size and speed has always been attractive, and it seems that he has finally utilizing his god given talents to become another weapon in the Sun Devils' armory. Terry Richardson is a young and exciting receiver that has shown glimpses of greatness, and as a fourth wide receiver is a luxury ASU is happy to have. Derek Hagan may have had an average spring session, but his performance in 2002 has proven that he's capable of being a vital contributor to ASU's passing game. Walk-on Moey Mutz put together a solid spring campaign, and proved that he is worthy of a scholarship.

Offensive Line

Just like the running back unit, the hogs upfront came on a mission to erase the memories of last year. Being a year older and a year wiser, along with some key position changes, have translated into a solid front five with depth to boot. Regis Crawford has moved from left tackle to his more natural position of guard on the right side of the line. The senior replaced Drew Hodgdon who also went through a constructive position change to center. That duo along with Tim Fa'aita gives the Devils a strong and experienced presence at the interior line. Inserting the versatile Grayling Love into the starting lineup was long overdue, and he figures to be a permanent fixture at right tackle, replacing Chaz White who was shuttled to left tackle. Late in the spring White has had trouble holding off Andrew Carnahan in the battle for a starting position, and that duel will be worth watching in fall camp. Tony Aguilar has been and will continue to push for playing time in the interior of the line, as well as Stephen Burg at right tackle. Overall, this core of players should elevate the running game's performance, as well the protection of its quarterback.

Tight Ends

The much-anticipated debut of stud Junior College transfer Aaron Austin was overshadowed by the rest of the players at his position. While Austin was going through the natural but painful learning curve that every first year player undergoes, the athletic Jamaal Lewis has been taking every opportunity given to establish himself as another viable option in the running game. Lee Burghgraef has shown great promise himself, and Frank Maddox hasn't been trailing that much behind. It's no secret that coach Dirk Koetter is very excited at the depth of this group, and has stated that he expects great things from each and everyone of its members.

Defensive Line

Filling in Terrell Suggs' shoes may be an impossible task, but a bigger and faster version of Suggs by the name of Nick Johnson, may just pull that feat off. The sophomore is a freak of an athlete in every sense of the word, and once he effectively utilizes his talents, he can become that much needed terrorizing force against opposing quarterbacks. Jimmy Verdon missed the second half of the sprig due to an ankle injury, but until then all indications were that he was poised to continue his fine play from 2002. Shane Jones has had a monster spring, and should flourish at defensive tackle as he ends his short ASU career. The steady Brian Montesanto did nothing to relinquish is starter status. JC transfer Gabe Reininger showed everyone that he's not about to be a slow learner, and could make a serious push for playing time at tackle. Ricky Parker has bulked up and is expected to contribute more as a tackle rather than his original end spot. Defensive ends Connor Banks and Jared Wolfgramm had some shinning moments this past spring, and along with the versatile Matt Mason round up a skilled defensive line.

Linebackers

With all due respect to the now departed trio of senior linebackers, the current core of players at this position are much more adept to play in the aggressive 4-2-5 scheme. Solid spring performances by Jamar Williams and Justin Burks are more than enough to dismiss any apprehensions that some may have in regards to the perceived inexperience at this position. Jordan Hill has played well enough to be used as the middle linebacker when the defensive alignment changes to a 4-3. Bart Hammit and the late resurging newcomer De'Andre Johnson are solid backups, as well Ishmael Thrower.

Safeties

When it comes to worrying about Sun Devil players bolting early for the NFL draft, Andrew Walter's name is the first one to be uttered. Following the conclusion of spring practice, Jason Shivers' name should definitely be the second one to be mentioned. ASU's leading tackler in the last two seasons, is surely to go down as one of the best safeties in Sun Devil history, and his leadership is as valuable as his extraordinary football skills. The ASU coaches have loudly praised Brett Hudson's off-season workout, and in the spring fans witnessed his fine play between the lines. Riccardo Stewart may have worn the non-contact orange jersey due to his injury recovery, but his display of tenacity was quite evident. This trio is only the tip of the iceberg to what is the most skillful group on this ASU team. Matt Fawley, a starter for several games last year has played well in the spring, as did Joey Smith before succumbing to injury. Redshirt freshman J.W. Lucas has proven his worth as a talented backup, while Lamar Baker is still going through the learning curve after switching over from cornerback.

Cornerbacks

Cornerbacks coach Ron English left a full cupboard for new skipper Patrick Ramsey, and the newest addition to the ASU staff has been well received by his players. R.J. Oliver remains as one of the team's best defensive players, and one of the best in his position in the conference. Josh Golden has settled what was once a question mark at second starting corner. Golden has added sure tackling to his already burning speed, and if he can remain consistent, the duo of Sun Devil cornerbacks could cause opposing offensive coordinators some headaches for a change. Emmanuel Franklin looked sharp in his quest to come back from skull surgery. Mike Davis Jr. may have been burnt repeatedly in the spring game, but has overall showed some solid cover skills.

Special Teams

While the team is awaiting the arrival of freshman kicker Jesse Ainsworth, punter Tim Parker was pulling double duty, and did so in a pretty impressive manner while not compromising the quality of his punts. Lightfoot seems comfortable more than ever as a punt returner, while Golden may have claimed the top spot at kick returner. Richardson figures as Lightfoot's backup at punt returns, as does Shivers and Canidate at kick returns.

So far, the majority of Pac-10 pundits aren't convinced that the Sun Devils are a viable contender for this year's Rose Bowl. Even though no one on the ASU staff will deny that replacing all-conference performers such as Suggs and McDonald is an easy task, they realistically have a reason to expect greatness from the 2003 version of ASU football. Coach Dirk Koetter's squad has still room to grow, but this year's 15 spring practices have proven that the progression of this team is definitely on the right rack. Thus, the maroon and gold faithful are rightfully anxious for the start of the regular season, which could go down as the best in Koetter's tenure.

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