Preseason Camp Awards

With Arizona State’s fall semester already in-session and the 2014 season opener just under a week away, it is time for us to sum up the Sun Devils’ preseason camp. Here are the players that in our opinion made their mark in various categories.

Offensive MVP

Cameron Smith

I will admit that I had a hard time naming a player in this category because I never saw any one skill player on this side of the ball be an absolute stud from the first day of camp until it commenced.

So the selection of this wide receiver may be a surprise to some, but when you look closely Smith is very deserving. I truly feel that he is the legitimate no. 2 wide receiver the offense needed to develop alongside Jaelen Strong. Whether it’s his speed down the field, the capability to always make the tough catch, crisp route running and just overall reliability (an area he struggled quite a bit last year) Smith is a player poised for a huge 2014. We talked in recent weeks about the overall improvement of the wide receivers group and the sophomore is certainly one player leading that charge.

Defensive MVP

Lloyd Carrington

With the outstanding camp the cornerback has had, he could easily fall under other categories in this article. Todd Graham talked about this years’ secondary having the potential to be better than the 2013 group which did feature three All-Pac 12 players. If that prediction comes to fruition then Carrington is more than likely to be one significant reason for that outcome.

Carrington has a great frame at 5-11 189 pounds, and has a great combination of physicality and speed. Quite frankly, he’s one reason why Jaelen Strong has had a relatively quiet camp because he had his hands full with this emerging cornerback every practice. This upperclassman is also invaluable in terms of the vast experience he has compared to his defensive backfield teammates.

Most Improved Player

Laiu Moeakiola

The linebacker showed us some flashes in the spring, and following an Iron Devil award for his efforts in the team’s summer strength and conditioning program, the sophomore came blazing out of the gates in camp to solidify the Spur position which was easily the Achilles’ heel of the 2013 defense. While he came into the program as a safety he looks much more comfortable in this hybrid position and again fulfilling a great need on defense. He’s plenty quick in coverage and will be a de facto a third safety against spread offense teams, but this doesn’t undermine his physicality prowess and his blitzing abilities.

Best Newcomer

Tashon Smallwood

Throughout his recruitment, the now true freshman never hid his admiration to outgoing senior defensive lineman Will Sutton, which is why he wanted so badly to don that no. 90 jersey. It may hard for him to repeat Sutton’s feats as two-time Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year let alone Consensus All-American. However, there is not much doubt that the defensive lineman could have a better freshman year than Sutton had back in 2009.

Smallwood’s quickness at his Tiger/3-technique role has impressed the Arizona State offensive linemen he faces every day, let alone coaches and observers. His humility amid his instant success and virtually guaranteed starting position will only aid the defensive tackle who could be one reason why the Sun Devil defensive line may not have the mammoth drop-off from the 2013 that many are predicting.

Most Promising Player

Marcus Ball

You can debate whether this award should be given to a returning player or a newcomer, and in essence the redshirt freshman falls under both categories. In last year’s fall camp Ball’s prowess was plenty impressive but he was forced to redshirt due to a clavicle injury which not only sidelined him for the season but held him out of contact for spring. Back in the spring you could tell the safety was anxious to hit something or someone, but a medical condition that surfaced in the summer delayed those wishes until just a few days ago when he finally shed the non-contact jersey.

Despite being limited for all of spring and most of camp, the coaches didn’t hesitate to throw him into the fire and onto the first team, as he fends off tough competition from Jordan Simone and James Johnson. Yet, when Graham has repeatedly praised Ball for his leadership and communication skills, that complement his God given talent so this isn’t just a player that is simply gifted but one who could really be a difference maker on defense.

Most Surprising Player

Armand Perry

Coming from a powerhouse program such as Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman, it’s not like anyone had lowly expectations of the cornerback. Yet, the fact that Perry is genuinely challenging Solomon Means for a starting position surely classifies as one prediction no one made prior to camp. Furthermore, if you have to nominate a newcomer for the steal of the 2014 class he is very much in the conversation.

At 5-11 183 pounds not only does he have good size for a cornerback, but was hailed by Sports Performance Head Coach Shawn Griswold as one freshman who entered the summer ‘s strength and conditioning program in great shape. Suffice to say that his readiness off the field was prelude to his performance on the gridiron in camp. Much like Carrington, doesn’t shy away from contact and has plenty of speed and quickness for the position, as evident by his blitzes.

Most Disappointing Player

Kyle Middlebrooks

We often talk about seniors who had less than impressive first three years in the program, saving their best for last so to speak and leaving ASU on a high note following a solid senior campaign. Judging by Middlebrooks’ career thus far, as well as a great spring, it seemed as if the running back fit that mold. Truth be told, we were wondering if his spring performance would have no bearing on his fall camp display. Sure enough our skepticism in April turned into realism in August.

What makes this selection even more demoralizing, for lack of a better term, is the fact that an early camp injury to D.J. Foster, which sidelined the starting running back for a week, gave Middlebrooks an opportunity he failed to seize. Furthermore, he was expected to help an ailing punt return game and even against suspect competition he faltered in that aspect and could lose his spot in the two-deep there.

All In Award

De'Marieya Nelson

When you are tossed back and forth between tight end (3-back to be exact) and Devil backer, it would be easy to get frustrated and have your play suffer as a result. Nonetheless, in both roles Nelson has shown that he’s more than capable of playing both positions and was steady in camp. Furthermore, much will be expected from him on special teams so his time on the sidelines every week could be minimal at best. Nelson’s body language and comments have shown that he has taken everything in stride; he has even had to work through nagging injuries at camp, and for all of that he should be commended.

Left Lane Hammer Down Award

D.J. Calhoun

After being arguably the biggest surprise of spring practice seemingly having a firm grasp on the starting WILL linebacker position, this mid-year transfer freshman started camp entering a stiff battle with Antonio Longino and Carlos Mendoza to keep that status and for a while he seemed all but destined to be a reserve. Due to a position re-assignment (to Devil backer) by Longino and a knee injury to Mendoza, Calhoun is now once again in familiar territory. But those circumstances aside, Calhoun had a great camp.

His athleticism, explosiveness and relentless approach fit nicely with ASU’s aggressive defense, and Graham likes the linebacker’s pass rushing abilities from that role. Calhoun doesn’t let his 6-0 205 frame prevent him from shying away from physical battles because he’s anything but a finesse player, and again has the mindset that he will always win any battle he is faced with. The sky is the limit for this young player, and he could improve on the mental aspect of his game, but the present is exciting as well when it comes to Calhoun.

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