Answering Five Questions Key To Season

With the season only two months away, DevilsDigest takes a look at the areas in which questions need to be answered heading into Camp T.

1. Will the running game emerge?

Last season the Sun Devils averaged an unimpressive 89 yards per game (2.5 yards per carry) on the ground; however, every offensive lineman in the program last season returns for the 2003 campaign. The interior line should be solid with the move of senior Regis Crawford back to the middle, where he is best suited. The main question will be whether the tackles can keep pressure off QB Andrew Walter and also open up some holes in the running game.

Another question in the running game is who will be carrying the ball? Mike Williams goes into Camp T as the starting TB, but sophomores Cornell Canidate and Hakim Hill, along with freshmen Loren Wade and Randy Hill, will also undoubtedly get some carries. If one of the five does not emerge to command the bulk of the action, the Sun Devils could find themselves in the situation where everyone gets a few carries, but nobody gets the enough to really get into the flow of the game. In the end, if the RBs can average 3.5 yards per carry or more, they should take enough pressure off Andrew Walter to allow the devils to spin the scoreboard like a slot machine.

2. Can the three senior LBs be replaced without a significant drop-off in production?

The names Bates, Unck, and Amobi have been linked to ASU Football for a while and they each made significant contributions last season. Now that they are gone, who will fill their slots and their production? There are major questions that need to be addressed at Camp T here. Can the highly acclaimed Juco-transfer Justin Burks learn the system enough to put his NFL caliber athleticism to full use? Jamar Williams showed flashes as a true freshman, but will he be consistent as an every down player? Are the backups, many coming off injury plagued seasons last year, capable of playing significant snaps and making solid contributions?

The Sun Devils had a very nice luxury with three experienced, solid LBs filling two spots last season. Unfortunately, with the departure of all three at the end of the season, all that is left is questions.

3. Can ASU's defensive line put any pressure on opposing QBs?

Terrell Suggs had more sacks than anyone in NCAA history last season. In addition to those sacks, he consistently chased opposing QBs all over the field. Even when he did not get through to the backfield, QBs were looking over their shoulder for him. Now that he his gone, where will the pressure on the QB come from?

Fortunately for ASU, three fourths of the defensive line returns, and Suggs' replacement, Nick Johnson, got some valuable experience as a true freshman last season. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, those four players only combined for 11.5 sacks in 2002. In order to make the loss of Suggs more palatable, the DLs are going to have to step up each of their individual production. If not, opposing QBs will have a lot of time to find open receivers, which brings us to…

4. Can anyone cover the half of the field opposite R.J. Oliver?

Oliver, a junior, demonstrated the ability to be an above average CB in the Pac 10. He led the conference in pass break ups and generally the man to whom he was assigned was not open. Unfortunately, the receiver on the other side of the field often was.

With Brett Hudson moving back to safety, the fight for the other CB spot should be a good one. Sophomores Josh Golden, Emmanuel Franklin (returning from a head injury), and Mike Davis, Jr. will all attempt to stake their claim on the starting role. Additionally, Juco speedster Chris McKenzie will arrive in the fall and will hope his speed will allow him to quickly adjust to the D-I level.

Although there is a lot of quality depth and experience at CB, the emergence of another "lock down" CB will be essential to any Rose Bowl aspirations the Devils may have. This is especially true in light of question number three, above. Without a quality second CB, WRs in the Pac 10 will have a field day on the side opposite Oliver.

5. Walter will throw it, but will anyone consistently catch it?

Shaun MacDonald has packed up his 87 catches for 1405 yards and left for the St. Louis Rams. The top three returning WRs on the Sun Devil squad did not combine for that many receiving yards last season. Needless to say, there is a big opportunity for senior Skyler Fulton, juniors Daryl Lightfoot and Matt Miller, sophomore Derek Hagan, and RS freshman Terry Richardson.

The question probably doesn't center on whether the group of guys can be productive. They showed that ability last season. The question is who will step up to get open in critical situations? MacDonald seemed to always get open in important situations and Walter usually looked for him at those times. Who will be the "go to guy(s)" in 2003? Additionally, who will emerge as a big time threat to catch the deep ball? Walter throws arguably the best deep ball in college football, so having a WR who can extend the field will be a critical component to the Sun Devil offense.

Other questions that need to be answered at Camp T:
6. Who will be the backup QB? Will one tweak of Walter's knee end any ASU hopes at a quality season?
7. Who will take over kicking duties from Mike Barth? Will P Tim Parker win the job or will the Devils rely on a true freshman?
8. Who will return kickoffs and punts without dropping the ball?

Closer to the start of Camp Tontozona, DevilsDigest will perform a position-by-position, detailed analysis of the Sun Devil offense, defense, and special teams.

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