Camp Storyline: Time for vets to deliver

A number of Arizona State players with two or more years of experience under their belts are entering what has to be considered a critical preseason camp for their chances at breaking through and proving their value. Alternatively, they could wind up getting passed on the depth chart by younger players. Here's a look at players who strongly meet this criteria.

Evan Goodman -- Spring football was expected to be a coming out party for Goodman following the departure of Jamil Douglas to the NFL. It didn't materialize, as the 6-foot-4, 314 pound junior spent most of the team's practices on the sideline with a hamstring injury. ASU offensive line coach Chris Thomsen has said Goodman is more athletic than Douglas, and he may have the most talent of all returning players in the unit. But that's been unrealized to this point. Goodman is going to need a strong camp to solidify his first-team status and show that he's capable of being a reliable performer at this level. It starts with daily habits for Goodman, a player whose sense of urgency has been legitimately in question early in his career. He's capable of playing beyond college football, but first has to show he's able to be a really good player at this level, and that starts immediately.

Ellis Jefferson -- If you happened to stumble into the ASU practice field on some of the days in which Jefferson really excelled, you'd think he was one of the team's star players. But other days are quite unremarkable. Jefferson looks the part but has to become a more consistent player in terms of his practice production in order to solidify his position with ASU coaches. Then he needs to transfer that capability to the practice field. We saw former ASU player Gerell Robinson go through a similar arc in his career. By his third year Robinson was transitioning from flashes of greatness to dominating practice. It wasn't until his senior year though that he made that type of impact on the field. Jefferson is trying to get there and this camp will be very telling as it relates to where he's at in that process.

Grant Martinez -- ASU seemed like a very good fit for the former local prep star given Martinez's impressive pass catching skills and the way the Sun Devils utilize the tight end/3-back positions. Martinez now has two years under his belt, so his mental adjustment to the demanding system should be much further along, even though he's coming off an injury that kept him off the field for the most part in spring ball. He should now be at a point where he's not having to think as much about alignments and assignments and can play for freely. Ultimately, the question is not whether Martinez can run a route and catch the ball, because he can. His playing time will likely depend on what he is also able to provide from a physicality standpoint. He's needed to add quite a bit of size, strength and potency as a blocker, and become more skilled in that regard. There will be equivalent or better athletes -- specifically Jay Jay Wilson and Jason Lewis -- on his heels now from the start of camp, so Martinez has to use the experience to his advantage and try to stay ahead of the competition.

Marcus Ball -- Ball's had some tough luck through two years at ASU. He was on his way to playing time as a true freshman in 2013 before breaking his clavicle at Camp Tontozona and then last year had to sit out for months due to a medical condition. In the spring he seemed to be healthy and there were glimpses of great potential at the Spur position. Ball has a very good combination of size and movement, but doesn't yet have the football instincts or advanced understanding of the game that can unlock a lot of his talent. He's not going to pass junior Laiu Moeakiola on the depth chart, but needs to solidify his status as the team's second best option there. Ball's intangibles are really impressive. He's a total buy in player who says and does the right things. Maybe this is the year that things start to really click for him from a football standpoint. If so, he's got enough athletically to play either safety position or Spur this year or in the future.

Carlos Mendoza -- Another player who has had a lot of bad breaks to this point in his college career, Mendoza is probably one of the smartest and most skilled players in the ASU front seven. The problem is he's had very little chance to show that with any degree of reliability because he's had shoulder, knee, hamstring and ankle injuries and been on the shelf as much or more than on the field through three years in Tempe. Now he's part of a linebacker group that has a lot of talent but also a lot of parity. He's versatile enough to play SAM, WILL or even Spur, and has worked at all three. Ideally he's probably a SAM or WILL, but playing time will be tough to come by this year with returning senior starters at both positions. The real challenge is probably overcoming sophomores Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun in a way that puts him in contention for a starting spot in 2016. The first order of business is staying healthy through August.

Ronald Lewis -- He was a bit reluctant to make the switch from wide receiver to cornerback initially, but it was clear Lewis had more potential on the defensive side of the ball. The whole thing has been very new to him in the last year and it's a very difficult position for even guys who have played it their whole careers. So understandably it's been a work in progress. Lewis has long arms and the right athletic type to play the position and Graham is an excellent skill development cornerbacks coach who has worked to take Lewis under his wing in that respect. ASU has three seniors atop the depth chart at cornerback, so this camp is a great opportunity for Lewis to show coaches he's moving closer toward being able to play effectively at this level in 2016.

A.J. Latu -- After last season it was expected Latu would move to defensive end as he continued to add size, but then the Davon Durant arrest derailed that. So Latu remained at Devil backer in spring practices and will continue to be there in camp. It's a very unsettled position, with Latu being a very different type of option than redshirt freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson, two-way sophomore Kalen Ballage or ASU's incoming freshmen who can play the position. The real test for Latu is to show he's as competent as junior Edmond Boateng, another player who is in between Devil and defensive end. If Latu can do that, it might lead ASU to consider moving Boateng back to end and senior Demetrius Cherry back to the 1-technique tackle position in the best overall front-four configuration. Even if that doesn't happen, Latu has to try to beat the younger players at the group so he's in the rotation. That's not a foregone conclusion.


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