Camp T Crucial in Addressing Team Objectives

PAYSON, Ariz. - Team bonding and camaraderie aside, Arizona State’s stay in Camp Tontozona needs to be true to its 2014 motto and leave no doubt, as the Sun Devils put the finishing touches on their depth chart and ready themselves in all facets for the regular season. Here are the five aspects we feel will need successful closure when ASU departs back to Tempe on Saturday.

Reserve running backs need to show true depth of position

We all know the old football saying: “you can never have enough running backs” and in ASU’s case these days, that adage is all too valid. Kalen Ballage nursing a back injury will be held out of contact this week and currently D.J. Foster’s status is unknown as he has missed practice the last six days.

When that tandem, which some would argue represent the top two running backs on the squad (with Foster naturally atop the group’s list) expected to be held out, the onus is now on seniors Kyle Middlebrooks and Deantre Lewis to make an impact, along with emerging freshman Demario Richard, as all three attempt to exhibit to the coaches that they will be deserving of game day repetitions even when the aforementioned duo is fully healthy. No better time and place than this week in the pines outside of Payson to make that statement, especially in an offense that predicates itself on a strong rushing game.

Will a wide receiver not named Jaelen Strong please stand up?

It’s no secret than even amid Strong’s sensational debut season in 2013, that the wide receiver group “left a lot meat on the bone” as their position coach, DelVaughn Alexander told us in a previous interview. This year with seemingly more talent among the newcomers, as well as some receivers coming off a strong spring practice, it is time for this group to take the pressure off of their pre-season All-American, let alone the tight end and running backs groups who more than shouldered the load in the passing game the last two seasons.

In today’s morning scrimmage, Gary Chambers and Ellis Jefferson, players who both turned a lot of heads in spring practice, had a very strong (no pun intended) showing. This week will truly be a test as to whether they can build on their success, let alone separate themselves from their fellow wideouts. Cameron Smith is now healthy and back into action, and the coaches are expecting him to be one the more significant contributors here. Fred Gammage is more seasoned and needs to show more than a couple occasional flashes. Freshman Jalen Harvey’s physical demeanor is an asset here, as well as on special teams and he’s one newcomer that is all but guaranteed not to redshirt.

The X-factor is Eric Lauderdale, a very highly touted recruiting prospect who during camp has been going through the normal junior college transfer learning curve and as yet to impress. But once he has a firmer grasp on the system and let’s his talent do the talking, could considerably elevate the collective prowess of this unit.

All in all, the potential is there for this to be one the best wide receiver groups ASU has had this century, but with the season opener looming just 12 days away once Camp T commences, it is time for this talent to materialize.

Figuring out De'Marieya Nelson’s best position

We first reported in the summer that once ASU signee Darrius Caldwell was deemed to be ineligible academically, that the staff approached the tight end to assume the ever important Devil backer role on defense. Consequently, for nearly the entire preseason camp Nelson has been lining up at the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker role. The early returns were positive to say the least, as Todd Graham labeled Nelson as “unblockable.”

Yet, something happened in the last few days which could be attributed the Antonio Longino’s development as a competent Devil backer in his own right, along with the coaches’ apparent sentiments that Nelson’s absence does make the tight ends weaker. Therefore, Nelson is now seeing more time at his original position.

It’s a given that the senior will play both sides of the ball, as well as see a good dose of special teams’ duties. What the allocation will be between offense and defense is far from being etched in stone right now. He’s one player that will be tracked closely in that regard and the impact of his split time between offense and defense is something that can naturally be substantial for the team in many regards.

Interior defensive line needs inexperienced players to step up

With veterans Mo Latu being passed by on the depth chart, and Jaxon Hood yet to join back with the Sun Devils due to personal matters, ASU’s two-deep at Nose Tackle with Demetrius Cherry and Connor Humphreys, as well as at Tiger with Tashon Smallwood and Corey Smith, shows four players which have each yet to play a down at Arizona State. Perhaps not a shocker for a defensive line group that had to not only replace all of his starters, but one that never showed to have capable reserves in 2013, let alone show any promise in spring practice four months ago.

However, predictable as this situation may be, it is one that needs first-year players to grow up in a hurry and grasp the scheme and the position nuances in a New York minute. For good or for bad, they will be challenged by a very capable running backs group every day in practice, so their sessions have been and will continue to be baptism by fire, even if the ground attack is missing some of its major weapons. Additionally, they face an improved offensive line from a physical and athletic standpoint.

Preseason camp hasn’t been abysmal for the interior defensive linemen by any means, but Camp T for this group has to demonstrate some measure of growth.

Special teams need to continue the turnaround

We all know by now how much frustration this unit has provided coaches and fans alike, even during some of ASU’s victories last year. During spring as well as preseason camp we are seeing a more structured system with more attention to detail, and one that won’t be shy of playing its best athletes in the roles that help this group the most, regardless if they are a proven starter or a newcomer that will ultimately not redshirt due to their special teams role.

The thin air at Tonto National Forrest will be kind for punter Matt Haack, field goal kicker Zane Gonzalez and kickoff specialist Alex Garoutte. Nonetheless, stability from all three of them, a factor that hasn’t been there all throughout preseason camp, will be a welcomed sight for a group that wishes to escape the critical microscope it has been under in 2013.

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