Hot-11: Standouts relative to expectations

Which Arizona State players are making the biggest impression on us at SunDevilSource relative to the expectations we had of them entering camp through the first five days of practices? Here's our take.

1. Corey Smith -- In his first two years at Arizona State, Smith wasn't at all able to show what he was capable as a football player when fully healthy. Bone spurs in his hip prevented Smith from being able to flex the joint enough to sink into a proper stance. It kept him from playing with any power in his base or proper pad level coming off the football. Those things are essential for defensive linemen at the college level. A decision was made for Smith to have surgery to hopefully remedy the issue and it forced him to miss last season. But that move is proving to be a smart one because Smith's shown substantially improved flexibility and leverage this preseason camp, and has been the surprise of the first week. ASU moved Smith back inside to the nose tackle position and he's held his own. It's still going to take more time for Smith to get the muscles around the joint stronger and to adjust to his new posture, but he's got some natural toughness and likes to use his hands very aggressively. At 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds, those are good things. Smith has gone from an afterthought to someone who is at least in the competition, as evidenced by the first-team reps he's received the last several days.

2. Steve Miller -- ASU signed a very impressive 2015 recruiting class and even though he was only a three-star prospect who didn't get national attention, Miller doesn't take a backseat to any of his peers in terms of his college potential. A mid-year high school graduate, the Gilbert High product looked very promising in spring practices and has only built upon that in the summer conditioning program. He's dropped from 320-plus pounds and 22 percent body fat to an extremely lean -- for an offensive lineman at his size -- 308 pounds and 15 percent body fat on his 6-foot-5 frame. But this isn't someone who just looks good filling out a uniform. Miller is extremely flexible and runs very well for an offensive lineman. He has great balance and quite a bit of skill. A swing prospect who can play tackle or guard, fans should think of Miller as being an even bigger-framed version of former ASU offensive lineman Jamil Douglas, who was a first-team all-conference selection in 2014 and a fourth-round NFL pick by Miami earlier this year. Only thing is, Miller is about two or three years ahead of where Douglas was when he got to ASU from a physical and skill set standpoint. This is a player who is a legitimate candidate to play this year, and someone who will likely be at least a three-year starter for ASU and an NFL prospect.

3. D.J. Calhoun -- A four-star Scout300 recruit out of high school, Calhoun played quite a bit as a true freshman in 2014 for the Sun Devils, including six starts. But he was underweight for an inside linebacker position and struggled with some of the coverage responsibility and key reads at the hybrid Spur position. Calhoun made his mark as an attack player in the box, parlaying fearlessness and quick twitch explosiveness to tally 35 tackles and earn Scout Freshman All-American honors. Even so, he's returned for camp this year looking much improved. Calhoun has gained 20-plus pounds since arriving at ASU and now looks the part of a linebacker. He doesn't have a big skeletal structure on his 6-foot-0 frame, so we weren't sure if he would be able to carry the weight effectively without losing some athleticism. But he seems to have answered any questions about. As importantly, Calhoun is showing better patience and understanding on the defensive end, thinking the game at a higher level, including in some coverage assignments at Spur. He may have a tough time starting ahead of senior Antonio Longino this year at WILL, but will very likely be a starter at that position in his final two years in Tempe.

4. Vi Teofilo -- As a player, Teofilo is a known entity. He's started 30 games, more than any other Sun Devil, including 27 in a row. But he suffered an ACL tear in the team's Sun Bowl win over Duke, which put the streak in jeopardy. During the off-season we heard Teofilo was progressing well ahead of schedule though, and after watching him in camp the last week we can say that's unequivocally true. In fact, you wouldn't know that Teofilo had such a serious injury less than eight months ago. Even though the Sun Devils have a lot of talent along the offensive front, it doesn't look as though Teofilo is in danger of being passed on the depth chart. He doesn't seem to have a loss of strength or flexibility in the knee and hasn't even been limited in practices since the team went to pads. That is clear proof that Teofilo had a great effort with his rehab. To go from an ACL tear in the final game of a season to fully cleared by the start of camp, and to look at or very near 100 percent, is a really hard thing to do.

5. Raymond Epps -- Epps has improves his physical profile as a football player as much as anyone on the ASU offense from the conclusion of spring ball to the start of preseason camp. In about 100 days he's managed to add no less than 15 pounds of good weight. In the spring, the junior college transfer and sophomore out of Arizona Western Community College by way of Indianapolis looked very much like a big wide receiver and that's what most people would have guessed he played. He wasn't much different looking than any of a handful of wide receivers to have played at ASU recently, or in the case of Gary Chambers, are currently on the team. Now, Epps is clearly a tight end, at 235 pounds. He's not lost any explosiveness or speed. Epps can run well for a tight end but that was never in debate. The questions were whether he'd be able to block, and if he could learn the offense well enough to see the field this year. Those questions haven't been resolved but he's now at least starting to look like he could possibly be in the two-deep this year.

6. Zach Robertson -- The main reason Robertson made his way onto this list is because he arrived at ASU this summer weighing about 350 pounds and we expected he'd look somewhat out of shape when we first saw him at practices. But that's simply not been the case. Robertson said he's lost 25 pounds since he arrived, now in the 325-330 pounds, and he has a big frame and carries it very well. He told us Sunday he'd like to lose a bit more weight and eventually play in the 315 pound range, but he doesn't look out of shape at all and has handled the conditioning component quite well. When watching Miller and Robertson on the field together as book ends at left and right tackle respectively, and in skill development, it's plainly evident that this is a tremendous pair of offensive line prospects, as good as any duo we've seen in a recruiting class at ASU since we've been doing this job. Put those two with Sam Jones, who redshirted last year, and ASU has three players capable of achieving all-conference honors in years to come.

7. Kweishi Brown -- It was tough to know what to expect from Brown coming into his senior year at cornerback because of the meniscus issue that severely limited him in the spring. That doesn't appear to be an issue at all right now, though. Through the first week of preseason camp, Brown has looked like he's trending toward securing the field side starting cornerback spot opposite fellow senior Lloyd Carrington. Even with a heavy workload of five practices in five days, Brown hasn't shown any signs in the portion of practices observed by media to have any lingering problems with the knee. He's a physical corner who is relatively stout and in skill development he's made strides from last season with his technique and awareness in coverage. If he's able to continue to play this way, he's got a chance to have a very solid senior campaign.

8. Matt Haack -- One of the most improved ASU players on the roster in the spring -- perhaps the single most -- has continued his high level play to start spring ball. Haack's consistency is night and day different from practices last year, before the arrival of special teams coach Shawn Slocum. Haack has re-tooled his drop, and further tightened his footwork, which has led to dramatically better results in a practice setting. If Haack is able to transfer what we've seen from him in the last week into the season, it'll give ASU a much better capability with its punt team.

9. De'Chavon Hayes -- We didn't see a whole lot from Hayes in ASU's first couple practices but then on Friday when we observed a full practice for the first time in camp, Hayes was arguably the most electric player on the field. With ASU perhaps being less potent in the dual-threat component this year due to the transition at quarterback from Taylor Kelly to Mike Bercovici, it will need to ensure that it can stretch the field laterally in other ways. Hayes' elite level speed and quickness on sweeps out of the backfield helps to accomplish this, and he's a very hard player to defend from a leverage standpoint as a route runner out of ASU's two-back forward which utilize Hayes as tight slot receiver. Sunday, ASU looked at Hayes at a true wide receiver position for the first time, no doubt a result of his strong play to start camp and its desire to have packages that get all of its best athletes on the field together.

10. Grant Martinez -- Like Epps, Martinez is another tight end who improved his physical shape substantially in recent months. He was in the 215 pound range last year, more of a big wide receiver type weight on his lanky and broad 6-foot-5 frame. Now Martinez weighs 235 pounds and looks the part of a tight end. He's still got room to add more size and should eventually be closer to 250 pounds, but Martinez has the added heft that should give him a boost as a blocker, and that's really going to be his pathway to broadening out his skill set in a way that leads to unlocking playing time alongside of junior tight end/3-back Kody Kohl in two-tight end sets. Right now it looks like Martinez is going to be battling Epps and true freshmen Tommy Hudson and Jay Jay Wilson for reps.

11. Bryce Perkins -- What stands out most about Perkins isn't how he's doing on the football field but rather what we saw from him in the classroom Friday when we were allowed to observe the pre-practice film session quarterbacks meeting at ASU. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Norvell went through a number of offensive install concepts and peppered his players with questions. For a quarterback who is brand new to that environment at this level, Perkins handled it extremely well. He was further along than we anticipated with knowing the playbook and having a well developed idea of what he is supposed to be doing on the field. Transferring it over with so many moving parts is a lot harder, and Perkins has had the normal ups and downs you'd anticipate, but overall has done extremely well with his initial assimilation phase, even receiving some second-team reps Sunday.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories