A rash of injuries suffered by Arizona State against Cal Poly presents both a challenge and opportunity.
Given the Sun Devils next opponent is overmatched New Mexico, the program's coaches can perhaps use Friday's game at Sun Devil Stadium to do some experimentation in order to get a better sense of their personnel.
Nowhere is this more logical than at the field safety position, where sophomore starter Armand Perry is very likely out with a left ankle injury that may linger into conference play.
In Kareem Orr, the Sun Devils have a very talented true freshman defensive back they'd like to get onto the field more to see what he's capable of, and yet with two senior starters at cornerback, that isn't going to happen at the position.
But Orr played safety extensively in high school, and is a physical and well put together defensive back for a freshman, and give that ASU likes to use its field safety in a lot of coverage, the experiment makes sense. After all, Damarious Randall was a cornerback before arriving at ASU and now again as a rookie first-round pick with the Green Bay Packers, and Perry moved from cornerback to safety just this year.
Of ASU's other two most realistic options to play field safety with Perry on the shelf, sophomore James Johnson is less of a corner-type player than a box-type strong/boundary safety, and sophomore Chad Adams hasn't yet established that he's ready to assume the position without a drop off.
Therefore, looking at Orr in the lineup against a New Mexico team ASU should easily beat either way is just another opportunity to evaluate its overall personnel and get a better idea of how to best use its players with the start of conference play a week from Saturday against USC in a high profile game.
With starting Bandit Jordan Simone and corners Kweishi Brown and Lloyd Carrington all seniors who will depart after this season, Orr is going to be starting somewhere in the ASU secondary in 2016 barring something very unusual happening. Perry will as well. But that's just two of four positions and the other two will need to be filled.
Knowing whether or not Perry and Orr can be plugged into a various corner and safety roles helps to make the task of replacing three senior starters a bit more palatable in the year ahead. And who knows, it may prove to be the best option for the Sun Devils this year? New Mexico will help determine that.
Up front, the Sun Devils probably won't have the services of junior tackle Viliami Latu against New Mexico, as he's been a non-participant in front of reporters in practices this week with a left ankle injury. Latu was ruthlessly chop blocked in the first quarterback by Cal Poly last Saturday, often by two different offensive linemen on the same play.
The remaining three quarters of action ASU played just two defensive tackles, senior Demetrius Cherry and Tashon Smallwood. What was a three-tackle rotation turned into two guys playing every snap, and that's not very sustainable over the long term, even though Smallwood was excellent against the Mustangs due to how quick is he off the football and his ability to shoot the gaps ahead of linemen reaching him with their blocks.
Again, New Mexico is a great opportunity to for ASU coaches to see what they have to work with. True freshman Joseph Wicker has rotated in at the 5-technique end spot in support of junior starter Edmond Boateng, but Wicker is ideally suited to play the 3-technique tackle. He was inside on nickel downs for the Sun Devils in practice Tuesday, so perhaps they'll look to get him reps at both end and tackle so that he's on the field more. Wicker, like Smallwood, has the quickness to make some plays others can't along the defensive front.
Then there's also the possibility ASU elects to give redshirt freshman Renell Wren his first real action of his career as a rotational player at nose tackle. ASU coach Todd Graham said Monday he believes Wren is close to being capable of such a role, and defensive line coach Jackie Shipp told us he would ideally like to have a four-tackle rotation. Perhaps Wren could show he's ready for that as well in this game.
On offense, this is the week we'll see definitively whether junior Tim White is ready to play a major role for the Sun Devils heading into conference play. In preseason camp, White appeared to assimilate better than a lot of newcomers at the position, but he was subsequently sidelined for a few weeks with a broken hand suffered at the team's Camp Tontozona scrimmage.
White was cleared a day before ASU played Texas A&M but only saw action on one play according to ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. Saturday against Cal Poly he flashed late with a big punt return and 59 yard reception.
Sophomore running back Kalen Ballage (mono) and junior running back De'Chavon Hayes (hamstring) are very likely not going to play against New Mexico. Senior running back-turned-wide-receiver D.J. Foster shifted back to the backfield in support of starter sophomore Demario Richard against Cal Poly and may now be in line for even more carries against New Mexico, a team he torched for 200-plus yards on the ground last year in Albuquerque.
That means ASU's going to get a lot more reps for White at the 2-receiver spot at which Foster is a typical starter. We also may get our first look at junior wide receiver Eric Lauderdale in his career at the position, because reserve 2-receiver Fred Gammage has a arm injury that will likely keep him out of action Saturday.
The other possibility would seem to be taking the redshirt off freshman 245 pound running back Jason Lewis, but ASU offensive coordinator MIke Norvell was non-committal about that following Tuesday's practice, which we took as an indication it probably won't happen.
ASU may instead decided to get through this week, see what White and perhaps even Lauderdale provide, how Ballage and Hayes progress with another week of recovery, and then make a decision on Lewis, who is still getting up to speed after being a late arrival for camp due to NCAA Clearinghouse issues.
Along the offensive front, senior William McGehee appears healthy enough to play after leaving Cal Poly with an apparent knee issue, but redshirt freshman Sam Jones moved from the left tackle spot where he started ahead of junior Evan Goodman to play right tackle, and handled the assignment well enough that ASU make stick with that lineup Friday.It seems close enough with those three players that ASU will continue to evaluate it on a week-to-week basis for the foreseeable future.