Hot-11: Arizona State top camp performers relative to expectations

Which Arizona State players have impressed us the most through the first full week of preseason camp when measured against what we anticipated to see from them on the gridiron? Here's our Hot-11 performers.

1. Tim White -- It would have been easy to assume White would need to re-acclimate to football after spending his off-season on the ASU track team and trying to earn a U.S. Olympic Trials invite in the triple jump. But after finishing fourth in the NCAAs in the event, White seamlessly transitioned to football and at times looked like the best overall player on the roster in the first week of practice. His ability to transition routes at full speed has seemingly improved, a technical development that was unexpected seeing as how he spent parts of spring working at cornerback and much of the spring and summer on the track. At the beginning of ASU's camp practices the Sun Devils were working on zone coverages and nobody could handle White's explosiveness and ability to maximize leverage from the slot. Too much cushion is required because of his vertical capability and yet he can carve out laterally and give himself a wide gap between himself and the defender breaking to the play. He looks poised to have an electric season. 

2. Joseph Wicker -- ASU coach Todd Graham has used the term "unblockable" a bit too generously in Tempe over the years but it is starting to seem like it's going to become an appropriate term for Wicker at some point in his time at the school. Even though he's only going to be a true sophomore, Wicker is the team's best edge pass rusher right now among players north of 225 pounds. It's one thing for the lighter quicker guys like Koron Crump and Malik Lawal to be difficult for offensive tackles to handle from a speed standpoint but Wicker is similarly explosive and 40 pounds heavier. He's quite a bit leaner this season, dropping 15 pounds from his freshman season and the result is a guy who not only looks the part of a defensive end, but someone who can easily play the Devil backer position and even operate from a 2-point stance. His pass rush skills are increasingly getting more advanced, and he bends the edge so well for his size and converts speed to power. 

3. Jalen Harvey -- After showing hints of a potential breakout season in the spring, Harvey has only accelerated his development at the outset of fall camp. He's extremely tough-minded and physical for a wideout and has increasingly consistent practice habits. That's really been the key thing keeping Harvey from being ready to excel at this level and we think that he knows it as well as evidenced by his tweets about focus and staying on track during the off-season. People around the program have told us anecdotal stories about Harvey's maturity developing as much in the last year as anyone in his class. He runs good routes, including getting behind Kareem Orr twice in the first week of practice only to have the ball overthrown. He's a willing blocker who sells out for teammates, and makes plays on the football in traffic. 

4. Cohl Cabral -- The Sun Devils needed to get some more competition going at center and figured it would come from junior college transfer A.J. McCollum but he's had some hamstring issues and not practiced. Cabral, however, a true freshman from Southern California, has immediately jumped out due to his great combination of size and mobility. A big-framed youngster, Cabral is 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds and still looks like he'll easily be able to add a fair amount more weight without having it sap any athleticism whatsoever. In some of the drills and team period work, he's shown a impressive two step relase off the line of scrimmage with a healthy amount of range for a center in ASU's zone blocking get offs. Cabral can really coil into a stance economically for how big he is, and has deservingly been given some second-team reps to see whether he's ready to play this season or not. That's an uncommon thing for a freshman lineman, particularly at center. 

5. Kody Kohl -- One of ASU's Dirty Dozen members for outstanding effort and development in the program's off-season strength and conditioning, Kohl looks significantly different than he did entering camp a year ago. In August of 2015 it really felt as though Kohl was too light to be the full service tight end and excel as a blocker as well as a receiving threat. This year that's certainly not the case. He's gained 25 pounds to get up to 245 and it is all good weight. The difference in the weight room was among the most significant of any veteran player on the roster according to ASU strength coach Shawn Griswold. We're now seeing that carry out to the football field, where Kohl was impressive Monday in the team's physical W-drill going up against senior Salamo Fiso and other linebackers. He's the leading returning receiver among tight ends in the Pac-12 and Kohl looks as though he'll have a more versatile capability at the position as a senior. 

6. Tashon Smallwood -- When ASU strapped on shoulder pads for the first time Friday, Smallwood immediately let it be known that he wasn't playing around. Known for his foot quickness and ability to exploit a gap as a 3-technique defensive tackle, Smallwood put on a surprising display of physicality at Rumsey Field in Payson. On one rep he exploded off the line of scrimmage in a mid-line bull rush attack against starting sophomore left guard Sam Jones that quickly pushed Jones backwards into the quarterback area. It wasn't a fluke. Smallwood has used great leverage and increased core and leg strength to move bodies around in a way he just didn't do previously. He's overhauled his body to a large degree since arriving at ASU, has made impressive strides in the weight room, and is starting to show a more well rounded capability on the practice field in a way that's going to really help elevate him in the Pac-12. 

7. De'Chavon Hayes -- There has to be an abundance of caution by ASU coaches when it comes to making sure Hayes is able to handle a major role given what happen at the outset of 2015 when he was expected to be a huge part of the team's offense but wasn't ready for it. That said, there can be no denying that Hayes has handled man coverage situations very well in the first full week of preseason camp. He's plenty athletic and instinctual to cover wide receivers at the Pac-12 level and when he's freed up mentally to just defend in Cover 0 and Cover 1 situations he's shown a lot of promise. The questions really come down to whether he'll be able to fluidly move between coverages and make adjustments on the fly pre and post-snap without breakdowns. That's very uncertain still, but has anyone on the ASU roster been a better man cover corner than Hayes in the last week? Probably not. 

8. Sam Jones -- A big impression was made on us by Jones even before the start of ASU's preseason camp. In the team's final summer workout observed by the media on July 29, Jones showed remarkable improvements in his quickness and flexibility versus what we remembered of him from a year ago. He was bending and moving extremely smoothly and with a lot of agility for a 300-pounder. Then as team started to get into its actual practices, at the lone Camp Tontozona practice last Thursday, as the offensive line worked on some man blocking plays that require the left guard to aggressively pull around others, Jones was covering groud quite quickly and fluidly coming out of his stance. He was composed and the improvement in his range was clear-cut. Jones is still going to have to continue to develop broadly, be better at holding ground against bull attacks and not be as reachy against speed in his gap, but for a sophomore he's poised to be a pretty good player. 

9. Alani Latu -- He was kind of in 'tweener status limbo between Devil backer and defensive end last year after the spring departure of Davon Durant forced ASU to re-purpose Latu. This year though, there's no question that Latu looks and plays like a full functioning Devil backer. He's in the best shape we've seen in his four years at a well put together 250 pounds, and we're seeing that manifest in terms of how well he's moving when attacking off the snap of the football. There is more quickness that Latu is accessing and it's forcing the offensive tackles to quick set him more aggressively which in turn opens up opportunities working across the tackle's face. He's improved his skill set as well, using his hands better and dipping his shoulder with better timing to enhance his added explosiveness. Sure, Latu probably won't play a lot if Wicker remains at Devil backer, but he's a backup whom ASU can feel pretty good about right now in such a role. 

10. Bryce Perkins -- It's important to say at the outset that Perkins' inclusion as the only ASU quarterback on this list does not mean that he's the passed either of the other two returners in the race to become the starter. At the outset of preseason camp we felt like Perkins was third in the pecking order due to a shaky spring and need to make more technical improvement than the other two. But while he's still running behind sophomore Manny Wilkins and redshirt freshman Brady White, Perkins may be closing a little bit of ground because of how he's overhauled his throwing mechanic in the off-season. Working with Scottsdale quarterback coach Dennis Gile has led to better range of motion in Perkins' delivery and that's enabled more velocity and better throwing range. He's still slipping a bit back into old habits and pushing the football under duress in team periods, but the progress is very noticeable on a good trend line for Perkins to be on. 

11. Kareem Orr -- Last season Orr led the Pac-12 in interceptions when playing safety but truth be told he benefited from some good fortune on a few of those plays in which his coverage wasn't great but the ball was misplaced by the quarterback. Moving to cornerback this year in camp, it wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Orr but he's played better than could have reasonably be expected. His anticipation and ability to mange space in zone coverage on the first day of camp really stood out and showed a level of versatility that was no doubt enhanced by his experience as a safety last year. There were some man coverage reps in which he's lost, most notably to Harvey as aforementioned, but Orr has again shown he has a nose for showing up at the football. If you count 1-on-1s, 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s, he's probably had as many interceptions in the last week as all the other defensive backs combined. 


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