Spring Practice Preview Round Table

Devils Digest's staff of Byron Kline, Joe Healey, Kyle Caldwell and Hod Rabino each take a comprehensive look at the state of the Sun Devils entering this year's spring practice.

Byron Kline

In your opinion, what are the three most burning questions on offense?

Who will take over at running back now that Marion Grice has graduated?

Arizona State returns seven starters from an offense that ranked 11th nationally in scoring (39.7) and fifth in the Pac-12 in total offense (457.3) in 2013. The biggest challenge for the Sun Devils though will be replacing running back Marion Grice, who in just two years started 24 games at ASU, racking up 1,675 rushing yards, 863 receiving yards, and 39 total touchdowns (fifth all-time in school history).

The Sun Devils open spring camp with, really, only three running backs on the roster; D.J. Foster, Deantre Lewis, and Kyle Middlebrooks. Foster, who took over for Grice at running back in the final three games last year after the senior suffered a season-ending leg injury, figures to be the featured back while both Lewis (knee) and Middlebrooks (knee) continue to recover from their own injuries. While Foster is without a doubt one of the more dynamic players in the Sun Devil offense, it remains to be seen if he can carry the load as a featured back. Spring figures to be his chance to show if he's up to the challenge.

Arizona State secured commitments from three highly rated running backs (Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage, and De'Chavon Hayes) in the 2014 recruiting class; however they won't arrive on campus until the summer. The Sun Devils may not ultimately settle on a starting running back until the fall, but it appears Foster will certainly get the first look.

Who will replace Kevin Ozier at the X/Y wide receiver position?

The general consensus seems to be that junior college transfer Eric Lauderdale could be the player to step up into this role when he arrives in the fall but the Sun Devils also have a number of returning players who could play themselves into the mix with a strong spring camp, including Ellis Jefferson, Gary Chambers, and Cameron Smith.

Is De'Marieya Nelson ready to take over full-time at tight end?

Two year starter and last season's All-Pac 12 First Team tight end Chris Coyle is gone. So is his back-up, Darwin Rogers. The Sun Devils return four tight ends, including Kody Kohl, Grant Martinez, and Marcus Washington, but Nelson will be the one most relied upon to fill the void left by Coyle and Rogers. After spending time at H-back, defensive end, and even running back after the injury to Grice last season, Nelson figures to line up exclusively at tight end in 2014. Senior quarterback Taylor Kelly will have plenty of weapons at his disposal next year, but if Nelson can play up to the level of his predecessor (Coyle), then the Sun Devils could be an opposing defensive coordinator's worst nightmare.

In your opinion, what are the three most burning questions on defense?

Are Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry ready to become significant contributors on the defensive line?

For a Sun Devil defense that loses nine starters from last year's team, including the entire defensive line, the rebuilding starts up front. Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry were two highly rated junior college defensive linemen who struggled to adjust last season in their first year in Tempe. For Cherry, it was a matter of getting to the appropriate size to be able to compete at the Pac-12 level. For Hardison, it was an inability to learn the defensive schemes in time to play on a consistent basis. Fortunately, it sounds as though both players are progressing in their respective areas. Defensive Line Coach Jackie Shipp recently told DevilsDigest that Cherry now weighs 295, up more than 60 pounds from when he first arrived, while Hardison showed flashes of improved play late in the season and has continued to develop.

If both players can play up to the their potential, along with returning nose tackle Jaxon Hood, life after Will Sutton, Davon Coleman, and Gannon Conway, might not be as bad as some expect in 2014.

Who will replace Carl Bradford at the Devil backer?

Over the last two seasons, Bradford was the ideal Devil backer for Head Coach Todd Graham's defensive scheme, totaling 141 tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss, and 20 sacks.

ASU begins its spring camp with a pair of players, Viliami Latu and Chans Cox, who will try to fill that void but both have their own question marks. The sophomore Latu comes in at 6-2 and 260 pounds but it remains to be seen if he possesses the speed to attack off the edge with the same prowess that Bradford displayed. Cox on the other hand, at 6-3 and 245 pounds, is more of a natural fit at the Devil backer position but has struggled to remain healthy over the past couple of seasons, dating back to his senior year of high school.

Junior college transfer Darius Caldwell is another likely Devil backer candidate, but he won't arrive on campus until the summer.

Where will Marcus Ball line up?

As a true freshman Ball was slated to start at field safety before a shoulder injury in the team's final scrimmage at Camp Tontozona forced him to redshirt last fall. His injury paved the way for the emergence of Damarious Randall, who excelled at free safety while playing alongside Alden Darby in 2013. With Randall back in the fold, along with James Johnson and Jayme Otomewo, the question now is where does Ball fit in?

Obviously Ball can take over for the departed Darby, but Johnson, who Graham has raved about on a number of occasions, came on late last season and figures to be in the mix as well. At 6-3 and 205 pounds, Ball possesses the size, speed, and agility to line up at both at safety and linebacker. While the early signs point to Ball remaining in the Sun Devil secondary, Defensive Coordinator Paul Randolph told DevilsDigest, "(Ball)'s going to show us. Notice I didn't say tell us. He's going to show us. Marcus is talented. He can play back there at safety and be a roof guy and do it well. He can also move down and be a SPUR."

Then there's the matter of Ball's health. The redshirt freshman underwent another surgical procedure on his previously injured shoulder shortly following the conclusion of last season, which will limit his participation during spring.

Most intriguing position battle on offense?

Quarterback: For all intents and purposes, Taylor Kelly will be ASU's starting quarterback this fall, but with the transfer of Michael Eubank the Sun Devils have just two (viable) quarterbacks on the roster this spring in Kelly and Mike Bercovici.

Bercovici, who has always had the superior arm of the two QBs, showed improved footwork and speed last season. What's always held him back in the past has been his decision making. If Bercovici can continue to progress and make the necessary corrections, ASU could have an interesting quarterback "situation" heading into the fall. One thing is for sure though; both quarterbacks will get plenty of reps in the spring.

Most intriguing position battle on defense?

It may not be a specific position, but I'm curious to see how the linebackers perform in the spring.

We know that Salamo Fiso, a Freshman All-American in 2013, is a lock to be the starter at SAM but there are a number of intriguing players who will be competing for the other two positions. Laiu Moeakiola and Carlos Mendoza, two players who have endured their share of injuries over the past couple of seasons, will be battling to replace Anthony Jones at SPUR. Antonio Longino will assume the WILL position now that Chris Young has graduated.

And then there are two other returners in Eriquel Florence and A.J. Latu who will most likely see time at both WILL and SAM. The Sun Devils have a lot of talented, albeit mostly inexperienced, players returning at linebacker which should make for an interesting five weeks of practice.

The wildcard of the bunch could be freshman D.J. Calhoun

Which newcomer (including players that redshirted in 2013) are you looking forward to seeing the most in spring practice?

D.J. Calhoun. He's one of just two freshmen from this year's recruiting class who will be participating in spring camp (along with Edmond Boateng) and one who is already creating a buzz. A consensus four star linebacker out of El Cerrito, CA, Calhoun was rated as the 13th best outside linebacker in the 2014 recruiting class by Scout and was a team captain for the West squad in the Army All-American game. Despite being just 17 years old, Calhoun is listed at 6-1, 213 pounds and was recently described as "a cross between Chris Young and Brandon Magee" by Defensive Coordinator Paul Randolph in an interview with DevilsDigest.

Oh, and even Magee seems to be high on Calhoun's potential, recently tweeting, "I've been hearing great things about the young linebacker (DJ Calhoun) excited to see what he can do. Could be the next great LB at #ASU."

Which player is most likely to emerge as the spring practice surprise?

Ellis Jefferson. This may not be a total surprise since he had himself a solid fall camp last year before suffering a groin injury, but I think Jefferson will create quite a stir now that he's healthy again. At 6-4 and 200 pounds, Jefferson is the prototypical big target that has the potential to be a dangerous threat opposite of Strong in the Sun Devil passing game. And not only is he big, but he has soft hands and doesn't shy away from contact. Again, while Lauderdale may be the frontrunner for that starting WR spot, a strong spring by Jefferson could force his name into the discussion heading into the fall.

Which player's starting position could be in jeopardy coming out of spring practice?

There are only a few returning starters on either side of the ball for the Sun Devils heading into the spring - and even fewer in danger of losing their starting roles - but one player who should expect to have a battle on his hands keeping his spot is Vi Teofilo.

Of course, that's not to imply that the redshirt junior has done anything to warrant losing his starting position, but the offensive line will become a numbers game and for the first time in a while ASU has quite a few elite players it can use up front. The Sun Devils return three starters along the offensive line, including Jamil Douglas, Tyler Sulka and Teofilo. Nick Kelly figures to take over at center for the departed Kody Koebensky but Arizona State will still need to make room for Christian Westerman and Evan Goodman. Goodman could slide into the vacated left tackle position while Westerman could ultimately become the starting right guard heading into the fall.

What aspects on offense need to be addressed the most?

Offensive line. ASU started the same five linemen in all fourteen games last season but graduated two starters in left tackle Evan Finkenberg and center Kody Koebensky. The good news for the Sun Devils is that they have enough quality depth to fill those holes. In fact, the biggest challenge for Mike Norvell and Offensive Line Coach Chris Thomsen may be mixing and matching until they find the right combination of starters.

ASU returns Jamil Douglas (left guard), Vi Teofilo (right guard), and Tyler Sulka (right tackle) and we can expect to see Evan Goodman, Stephon McCray, Christian Westerman, and Nick Kelly compete for a starting position as well.

Goodman was regarded as one of the nation's top offensive tackles coming out of high, while Westerman was considered the top guard and second highest rated tackle as a senior at Chandler Hamilton High School in 2011. Kelly saw limited action last season backing up Koebensky at center and McCray, at 6-3 and 308 pounds, impressed the coaches last season as a reserve at left guard.

Of all the offensive positions, we can probably expect to see some of the most intense position battles this spring taking place in the trenches between these seven linemen.

What aspects on defense need to be addressed the most?

Defensive line, While more help is on the way this summer with the additions of junior college transfers Dalvon Stuckey and Darrius Caldwell, it's important for the Sun Devils to know what they have in Hardison, Hood, Cherry, and Boateng, and to a lesser extent (since he is still trying to work his way back into playing shape), Mo Latu before they arrive.

ASU fans learned last year that you can't just expect junior college players to transfer and make an immediate impact in year one, although the impression from the coaching staff in recent interviews is that both Stuckey and Caldwell can be counted on to contribute next season.

Joe Healey

In your opinion, what are the three most burning questions on offense?

What will D.J. Foster's role be in the spring?

There is tremendous intrigue surrounding the potential impact that the 2014 running back signees can provide in the fall, however depth at the position is thin for the spring as ASU looks to replace sensational starter Marion Grice as well as tenured backup R.J. Robinson.

Foster more than held his own in the backfield over the final three games of the 2013 season after being used in an all-purpose role before Grice's injury, but it remains to be seen whether Foster will exclusively be used at tailback this spring or in a multi-dimensional role to utilize his dynamic skill set.

Who replaces Evan Finkenberg at left tackle?

Finkenberg, a four-year starter and First-Team All-Pac-12 member in 2013, leaves a large void at left tackle as ASU lacks substantial depth at offensive tackle. With Tyler Sulka figuring to return to his position starting at right tackle, it is likely that Second-Team All-Pac-12 left guard Jamil Douglas will scoot over to tackle to use his experience and athleticism to fill Finkenberg's void. If Douglas is not the answer, the coaching staff could look to former blue chip tackle recruit Evan Goodman, a redshirt last season after seeing limited action as a true freshman in 2012.

How will De'Marieya Nelson progress from role player to starter?

Nelson became a major fan favorite for his (literally) do-it-all presence in 2013 as a contributor as a runner, receiver, blocker and on defense and special teams. Entering his senior season, he's tasked with the challenge of replacing First-Team All-Pac-12 member Chris Coyle at the three-back position. From the point he first came into the fold with ASU, Nelson was applauded as the prototypical player for the position and he will be counted on to replace the dependable receiving presence of Coyle this season.

In your opinion, what are the three most burning questions on defense?

Who steps up in leadership roles?

The names that are now absent from the Sun Devils' starting defense not only represent a "Who's Who" of all-conference recipients, but also the stalwart leaders of ASU's defense. Absent from this year's lineup is an Alden Darby or a Brandon Magee before him, creating a substantial need for leaders to surface this spring.

With the mass exodus of experienced talent, players such as Salamo Fiso, Jaxon Hood and Damarious Randall now are the elder statesmen in terms of playing tenure and quickly must shift out of complementary type of playing roles to the forefront of the defensive leadership.

Who provides the pass rush?

No Carl Bradford. No Will Sutton. No Davon Coleman. No Chris Young. Heck, no Gannon Conway.

In all, ASU loses an astounding 34 of its 40 sacks from 2013 – an overall total that tied for the fifth-highest team amount in the FBS last season – with Salamo Fiso (3.0 sacks) as the returning leader.

With that massive gap, more questions than answers exist at this point as ASU will have to overhaul its defensive line depth this season and also find an answer to the fill the punishing presence Carl Bradford provided at the Devil position.

ASU will undoubtedly look for Jaxon Hood to rebound from a down year in 2013 and also will hope for former big time JUCO prospect Marcus Hardison to help fortify the defensive line. At Devil, Viliami Latu and Chans Cox will get the first crack at replacing Bradford while it'll be intriguing to see how highly touted freshman midyear enrollee D.J. Calhoun helps to fill the large shoes of Chris Young at linebacker.

What improvements will be seen from the returning starters?

Linebacker Salamo Fiso and defensive back Damarious Randall had noteworthy debut seasons as Devils but with a mass exodus of veteran defensive standouts from the 2013 squad, the pair now jumps to the head of the line in terms of the most game-tested defenders.

ASU can ill-afford a second-year slump from this pair as it generally saw from Jaxon Hood last year, also a returner with substantial experience, as he went from a Freshman All-American in 2012 to much less of an impact player his sophomore season.

Though he wasn't a starter last season while playing behind All-Pac-12 corners Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson, Lloyd Carrington enters 2014 as ASU's third-leading tackler from last season behind Fiso and Randall and will need to provide a stable presence in the Sun Devil secondary.

Most intriguing position battle on offense?

All wide receivers other than Jaelen Strong

With the exception of ASU's incredible 1,000-yard Second-Team All-Pac-12 member, the wide receiver stable collectively provides both questions and answers that likely will create more than a few competitions this spring.

The departure of last year's starter Richard Smith will open up even more opportunities for his now former teammates. Cameron Smith and Ellis Jefferson emerged immediately as true freshmen in fall camp but both struggled through injuries during the season – though Cameron Smith avoided redshirting unlike Jefferson, he wasn't used extensively due to nagging health issues.

Frederick Gammage was one of the surprise stories of the Sun Devils last season as the Phoenix native saw ample playing time despite his walk-on status.

Ronald Lewis, a classmate of Jefferson and Cameron Smith, came to ASU as a high-caliber all-purpose threat and could be a playmaker to watch in the spring.

Most intriguing position battle on defense?

Viliami Latu vs. Chans Cox

The intrigue in this battle transcends a few levels as not only will the two players from the 2013 class rival replace early NFL entry Carl Bradford, but both came to ASU with high expectations and will need to use this opportunity to bring those credentials to life.

Latu, one of California's better high school linebackers during his prep career, gained some playing experience in 2013 while Cox, a small school legend from Blue Ridge High School, redshirted.

Which newcomer (including players that redshirted in 2013) are you looking forward to seeing the most in spring practice?

Tie – WR Ellis Jefferson and LB D.J. Calhoun

Jefferson exploded in fall camp and ran with the ones for a great deal of time; however a nagging injury forced him to redshirt in 2013. The spring will be huge for E.J. to get back on track as in the fall the wide receiver depth figures to ignite with the addition of the likes of JUCO transfer Eric Lauderdale, four-star Tyler Whiley and others.

Recently Calhoun was described as a blend between Brandon Magee and Chris Young. If expectations weren't already sky high for the hard-hitting U.S. Army All-American, they're now in another universe. Calhoun is generally expected to contribute early and often as a true freshman and the spring could be a chance for him to stand as a potential starter when fall camp rolls around.

Which player is most likely to emerge as the spring practice surprise?

WR Ellis Jefferson

Jefferson was on his way to a significant role as a true freshman before suffering an injury and that year on the sideline generally took him out of the limelight. Many fans' attention at wide receiver fast-forwards to the excellent crop of catchers coming for the fall, but Jefferson has the opportunity this spring to claim a high depth chart role.

Helping Jefferson's cause is the fact that with the graduation of Kevin Ozier, beside Jaelen Strong, ASU's returning wide receivers combined for only 14 receptions in 2013 – eight by Cameron Smith, six by Frederick Gammage.

Which player's starting position could be in jeopardy coming out of spring practice?

DL Sean O'Grady

There's no debating the drastically thin nature of the spring depth along the defensive line, though O'Grady figures to be a beneficiary of the team's lack of bodies as he may very well get the most substantial first-team practice time of his Sun Devil career.

However, with fall arrivals of the likes of JUCO stud Dalvon Stuckey and highly-touted freshmen such as Tashon Smallwood and Connor Humphreys, it seems logical to believe that the O'Grady will have a steep climb to remain in the running for a starting role in 2014.

What aspects on offense need to be addressed the most?

Offensive Line Continuity

ASU has numerous skill position weapons that should enable the 2014 offense to not falter dramatically despite losses such as Marion Grice, Chris Coyle and Kevin Ozier. However, that consistency begins with the Devils' ability to replace to two departed senior starters up front and form a formidable offensive line.

Running Back Roles

Will D.J. Foster primarily operate out of the backfield or float around as is probably more accommodating to his skill set? What will be seen from Deantre Lewis?

Expectations are high for the likes of Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and DeChavon Hayes to contribute quickly this fall, but their individual and collective impact cannot be viewed as a certainty.

The spring will be crucial to determine the identity of ASU's current running backs as to gain a greater sense of exactly what will be needed from the fall arrivals.

What aspects on defense need to be addressed the most?

Establishing Viable Depth

Simply put, when Alex Garoutte is your seventh-leading returning tackler, there has to be at least some measure of concern regarding defensive depth.

Only five full-time defenders returning from last season's squad collected over seven tackles on the year, creating holes not just at the top of the depth chart but also throughout the lower rungs.

Despite proof at the college level, however, talent exists as some talented players that either redshirted or saw limited roles in 2013 have the skills to improve considerably this season – but the spring will be a major barometer for that objective.

Bird Gang and Hybrid Attack

The nomenclature used recently around ASU has come to fruition in Todd Graham's first two seasons in Tempe as the Devils have become one of the nation's best squads both at quarterback pressure and interceptions on defense.

However, different from years before the personnel turnover on defense leaves more hope than substance in terms of maintaining the high playmaking abilities.

Kyle Caldwell

In your opinion, what are the three most burning questions on offense?

So much has to be said about the great job that Offensive Coordinator Mike Novell has done in his two years in Tempe. The Sun Devils are coming off record setting seasons in so many offensive stat columns. Fireworks and excitement no doubt, yet for some reason, it feels like this group can still accomplish so much more. With that said, I have some questions going into spring football that I can't wait to see answered.

The first one is how will the offensive line going to come together? Losing two Seniors this last year in Center Kody Koebensky and Offensive Tackle Evan Finkenberg, it will be very fun to watch who is going to step in and take over in spring. I've always found that the offensive line battles in spring football are among some of the most competitive.

Second question is the development of the back field. This includes the Quarterback play and I can't wait to see if the playbook evolves as much as it did from year one to year two in terms of offensive sets and how Taylor Kelly's role increases.

My third question with the offensive group would be how does the tight end play continue to be productive following the loss of Chris Coyle? It will be very interesting to see if some of the youngsters in this group can step up and find a role.

In your opinion, what are the three most burning questions on defense?

The Defensive group could not have more questions and the list could go on and on with how this group is going to play out. Fact of the matter is many of these answers are not going to come in spring football as so many of the new comers won't be on campus until summer. I do however have some questions that I can't wait to see answered.

Of course the first is going to be the defensive line. Does Jaxon Hood come in and prove he is going to be able to hold down an interior line spot with so many big bodies moving into the group? Is Edmond Boateng as good as his junior college film looks and can he take over a starting role by the end of spring football? It will be very fun to watch how spring football plays out for this group because of how many seniors left the group.

My next question concerns newcomer DJ Calhoun who looks to be one heck of a special freshman. He reminds me of the kind of player that comes in and immediately earns a spot and never looks back. It will be fun to watch him compete.

Where does Mo Latu fit in the scheme of things? Does he have a role this season or is football a second priority with so many off the field things going on in his life. He has always seemed to work hard yet his struggles to find a position on either side of the ball has been a mystery. I am really looking forward to how this story plays out in spring football.

Most intriguing position battle on offense?

The offensive line. As I spoke about above, there several big position battles that will be taking place and a shuffle up front is going to spark some great competition.

Most intriguing position battle on defense?

The secondary looks to be one of the biggest position battle groups come spring football. The defensive line will have those honors come fall camp, yet the secondary is looking for a near whole makeover so it will be very interesting to see how all of that plays out.

Which newcomer (including players that redshirted in 2013) are you looking forward to seeing the most in spring practice?

Christian Westerman is my guy to watch. The local star who got away only to come home and have the opportunity to take over a big role in 2014. How does he compete and does he dominate like we all think he can.

Which player is most likely to emerge as the spring practice surprise?

James Johnson is a player I think has all the upside in the world. He plays long and has a safety spot that is wide open for the taking. I personally think he is going to have a very productive spring and will leave us all thinking he is the guy going into fall camp.

Which player's starting position could be in jeopardy coming out of spring practice?

Everyone on the defensive line. Coming out of spring football every one up front will feel like they have their role and they see where they fit in the scheme. Well, that is all going to change come fall camp and every position is going to get shuffled up front and it will be very competitive all the way through this off season leading into fall camp with who can out gain their teammates.

What aspects on offense need to be addressed the most?

Personally I think the Offensive Pass game/Pass Blocking aspects need to be a high priority. Far too many games this last season were decided because of ASU's lack of pass protection and ability to push the ball deep down field. Taylor Kelly struggled in certain games to find any kind of arm with his 20+ yard throws and of course a lot of this was because of the pressure he was under up front.

The Notre Dame game was a great example of this as well as both Stanford games. The big defenses really bottled up the offense and it will be very interesting to see if any different schemes here in this area are altered for success.

What aspects on defense need to be addressed the most?

How the run game defense is addressed. ASU really struggled to defend the run this last game especially the perimeter run game. So the question will be: does ASU alter their front box for all the big bodies that will be coming in fall camp and get some reps in spring with these sets? The front seven have a chance to be much bigger come fall camp and it will be very interesting to see if because of this the play book is changed up some.

Hod Rabino

In your opinion, what are the three most burning questions on offense?

Offensive line leadership.

Replacing the sheer talent of veterans such as Evan Finkenberg and center Kody Kobensky is only half the battle. Additionally, whichever player is plugged in, let alone the current upperclassmen on the squad, will have to provide some kind of guidance for their teammates. I think players such as Jamil Douglas and Christian Westerman are up to the task, but the burden of proof remains. After all, chemistry and camaraderie are crucial for any front five's success, and without those ingredients the increased playmaking abilities of this Sun Devil offense will have hard time displaying their prowess.

Tight end depth.

We know the cavalry is coming in the summer for both running backs and wide receivers, but not so much for the tight ends. De'Marieya Nelson is a proven player that I truly see taking the next step and is really the least of the ASU's offense's worries going into spring. Grant Martinez who redshirted last year will now have to show how much he can contribute to this unit. Kody Kohl will be extremely limited in the spring due to his recovery from shoulder injury so that his future impact is very much a question mark. Marcus Washington returns to this group from the running back one, so he too is an unknown in some respects. Newcomer Brendan Landman is projected to have an excellent chance of not redshirting his freshman year, but that is far from a guarantee.

All in all, this position has a lot to figure out over the next five weeks and the team hopes that the answers presented are ones that instill confidence moving forward.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly's development.

OK. Maybe not a burning question per se, but can't blame me for trying to be different with my response, right? In all seriousness, I'm curious to see how quarterback guru George Whitfield, whom the ASU signal caller trained with this past week, has improved Kelly's throwing technique and more importantly his progressions which I believe is Kelly's biggest weakness. The stable of playmakers on this offense should be quite improved, but if it isn't accompanied by any sort of development from Kelly, I doubt we will see the increased production we are expecting to witness from this side of the ball.

In your opinion, what are the three most burning questions on defense?

Can Jaxon Hood step up both in play and leadership?

As stated earlier Jaxon Hood went from a Freshman All-American in 2012, to a player who lost his starting position a season later. Granted, 2013 was a year riddled in injuries for the defensive tackle, but even when he was healthier he wasn't able to reclaim his starting role from Davon Coleman, a player that in last year's fall camp appeared anything but a threat to unseat Hood.

Hood's importance becomes that much more considerable because he is by far the most seasoned player on a group that will be defined by inexperience to say the least. It's hard to be a leader when you're not a starter and/or your contributions pale in comparison to your teammates. Realistically, Hood can shine much easier in March/April than he will in August and beyond with an influx of talent about to descend on Tempe. Yet, a strong spring practice can go a long way to allow Hood to rebuild his confidence and give him at the very least a fighting chance to rise over the competition and be the season opener starter, just like he was as a true freshman.

Who will step up at Spur?

It's been well documented how much this position was the Achilles heel of the ASU defense last year. I'm not necessarily projecting more of the same this season, but the fact that both players vying for a starting role here, Laiu Moeakiola and Carlos Mendoza, have played just a total of 13 games between them in the last two years and their career has so far been known more for their injuries (which forced them to each redshirt a season) than their play on the field, is hardly a comforting thought.

Todd Graham has said on many occasions that the Spur role is one of the most important ones on his defense, and again this theory has manifested itself time and time again in 2013. Thus, the uncertainty surrounding this role not only in the spring, but perhaps in fall camp too, could arguably be one the most burning questions period on the team.

Is cornerback Rashad Wadood ready to get over the hump?

With Lloyd Carrington seemingly having a firm hold on the field corner position, the attention now shifts to the boundary corner role and whether Rashad Wadood, who actually had a solid spring last year but was never able to follow that up with an equally strong fall camp, can be the mainstay here for the upcoming season.

Wadood is one of the more physical corners in the group, and certainly has a lot of the desired physical tools one would seek in this position. Yet, technique and executing assignments on a consistent basis have been factors that the redshirt junior has often fell short at.

Wadood is one more player on this team that has chance to really give himself a solid head start for a starting position battle before the summer arrival of a talented newcomer, namely junior college transfer Kweishi Brown. Much is expected from Wadood and maybe there is a strong element of pressure here for a player that has never been shy declaring his talents. However, if he is truly ready to finally flourish in a position that is already extremely demanding in this Sun Devil scheme, then Wadood will have to step up his performance more than ever before.

Most intriguing position battle on offense?

Evan Goodman/Jamil Douglas/Stephon McCray.

You could have a domino effect of sorts here at the offensive line. Fact of the matter is that Graham and his staff have been raving about the prospects of McCray at guard, and he well could be the breakout player of spring. Now, since he will probably not unseat Westerman at right guard, a strong spring performance could cause coaches to plug him at left guard and move Douglas to left tackle. Now, this move won't materialize if Evan Goodman, another lineman entering spring with lofty expectations, is able to take his play to another level at left tackle coming off a redshirt year.

So as you can see they are a lot of dynamics in place here that could give coaches the proverbial "healthy headache" when trying to sort out the depth chart.

Most intriguing position battle on defense?

Boundary safety.

Yes, Ezekiel Bishop is poised to at least start spring on the first team, and with a less than healthy Marcus Ball, who will be held out of contact in the spring as he recovers from clavicle surgery, there will not as much drama to sort out this position over the next several weeks. Yet, the wild card in this role is redshirt freshman, James Johnson, a player that came close to actually not redshirting last season because of his performance in practice, as well as due to depth chart concerns. Johnson could very well be not only the starter by the end of spring but perhaps have the coaches decide to let Ball battle at the Spur position which naturally not only depends on Johnson's production at boundary safety, but also on the aforementioned fragile situation at Spur.

Which newcomer (including players that redshirted in 2013) are you looking forward to seeing the most in spring practice?

D.J. Calhoun.

OK, not very different than the other answers here, but the linebacker is someone that has a legitimate shot to be at worst on the two-deep at WILL linebacker and I personally wouldn't be shocked if he did unseat the expected starter in Antonio Longino. The true freshman has good size and athleticism, but more than anything a relentless motor and an explosive player that has been labeled a cross between Brandon Magee and Chris Young, both former ASU WILL linebackers that have excelled in the Sun Devils' scheme. With such high praise it's hard not to have great anticipation seeing this player in action over the next 15 practices.

Which player is most likely to emerge as the spring practice surprise?

Punter Matt Haack.

Someone has to go with the punter, so might as well be me. OK, here's the deal. When myself and few of the other beat writers were about to enter Todd Graham's office for a media session, Haack was standing outside the office and he exchanged a few words with his coach. After he left, Graham told us that he should have let the then true freshman play through his mistakes and not make the switch at punter last season.

So whether it is the faith that the ASU staff has in him with a new special teams approach to boot, or just the fact that Haack is no longer a newcomer and perhaps has ultimately benefited from a rocky 2013 season, I believe that by the end of spring he will put any doubts regarding ASU's punting game to rest. And if that were to happen that would be one of the more significant aspects of the team's improvement over last season, let a long a very pleasant surprise.

Which player's starting position could be in jeopardy coming out of spring practice?

Wide receivers Ellis Jefferson/Cameron Smith.

Both the Y and Z receivers are undoubtedly the front runners to be the starters at those positions when the Spring Game is wrapped up. However, the summer arrival of junior college transfers Eric Lauderdale and De'Chavon Hayes could unseat this duo respectively in those roles. Lauderdale and Hayes will both be expected to hit the ground running and should be given ample opportunity to capture their niche on the first team. It will be up to incumbents Jefferson and Smith to decrease the chances of that happening which will be a tall order and then some.

What aspects on offense need to be addressed the most?

The wide receiver and running backs units are scheduled to look much different in August, than they will in April. This is why I don't see them needing to be addressed more than other position on offense.

Therefore, I will once again point to the leadership and cohesiveness on offensive line, as well as the depth at tight end, as the most important aspects that need attention in the spring. The font five is clearly vital to anything the offense is trying to accomplish, and for an offense that is very tight end friendly and one that has been very successful in its two-tight end sets, this position is one that has to have a formidable spring showing in order to achieve that feat.

What aspects on defense need to be addressed the most?

Easy answer when you are losing nine starters on this side of the ball would be to reply: everything. Nonetheless, when you look deeper into this, the defensive line much like wide receiver and running backs will have an entirely different look come August, so as far as an aspect that needs to be addressed the most not sure if it fits the bill and is actually the answer to this question. I also don't feel as if linebacker is the adequate answer here.

In my opinion, Spur and boundary safety should be at the top of the list here, just because that coming out of spring you are likely to have two starters in these roles who have either redshirted (James Johnson) or seldom played due to injuries and are largely still an unknown (Laiu Moeakiola/Carlos Mendoza). All in all, It's imperative that these two positions give less for the staff to be concerned about on April 19th than they will on March 18th.


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