Premium Podcast: Spring football mailbag

In this week's edition of the 'Sun Devil Source Premium Report,' hosts Kerry Crowley and Chris Karpman answer questions about how Arizona State has looked this spring and what changes are taking place inside the program.

Editor's Note: To download this week's edition of the 'Sun Devil Source Premium Report,' click here.

Mailbag

Question: Understanding that you haven't seen much practice so far, from what you have seen, does Billy Napier's offense fit Arizona State's existing personnel well and is Napier's scheme a better fit than Chip Lindsey's scheme? 

Answer: Until the regular season begins and Napier's offense takes shape in games, it's going to be challenging to discern whether it's the proper fit for ASU's existing personnel. Napier has an advantage compared to defensive coordinator Phil Bennett because the Sun Devils are more talented on the offensive side of the ball, and they have talent at the skill positions that can fit various styles of play. Additionally, the Sun Devils are building in the right direction along the offensive line because it's likely going to be a more physically mature group with more athleticism than ASU's line had in 2016. The biggest question for Napier is whether he can find a quarterback capable of successfully running the type of scheme he's designed, because if he's able to do so, that will alleviate many concerns about how Napier's approach will fit the Sun Devils' personnel. Aside from finding a quarterback, though, if Napier does introduce more pro-style concepts into ASU's scheme, he's going to need offensive linemen capable of holding up and blocking for an extended period on long-developing passing plays that will allows the Sun Devils to take down the field shots. If Napier has a quarterback and skill position talent, but doesn't have the personnel along the offensive line needed to successfully execute his concepts, the Sun Devils will run into trouble.

Question: Which players have made the biggest improvements on the hoof over the offseason? 

Answer: If you're looking at changes to physique that will effect how a player is able to execute, one of the best examples is Deion Guignard who entered ASU as a hybrid defensive back and now looks very much like an inside linebacker physically. Guignard looks 15 pounds heavier and his body type is starting to match the type of athlete that he is. Guignard isn't the only inside linebacker who looks improved though, as junior Christian Sam is carrying his weight well and may look the best he has during his ASU career, while senior D.J. Calhoun looks a bit leaner which suggests the Sun Devils are going to rely on him to become a more versatile linebacker and a more capable coverage asset. On the offensive side of the ball, walk-on Ryan Jenkins appears to have more quickness and he's running better, more precise routes in skill development periods. Fellow receiver, sophomore Terrell Chatman, is another player who has stood out physically as he has put on healthy weight and looks much more like an SEC receiver at this point compared to when he arrived at ASU. Along the offensive line, after many players trimmed down last offseason to fit Lindsey's scheme, ASU doesn't appear as concerned with that this offseason and both sophomore Steve Miller and sophomore Zach Robertson appear more physically mature. 

Question: Billy Napier has talked about more involvement with the tight ends, but should we believe him?

Answer: Absolutely, every indication the Sun Devils have provided this spring suggests tight ends will have much more significant involvement both as blockers and as pass catchers in Napier's scheme this season. Since Napier's arrival, ASU's tight ends have been watching film of O.J. Howard at Alabama, the top tight end prospect in this year's NFL Draft, to demonstrate the types of ways ASU will deploy its tight ends in Napier's scheme and to showcase the types of assignments they'll have each play. 

Question: Does the offensive line appear to be meshing and are there any differences between new offensive line coach Rob Sale and ASU's former offensive line coach Chris Thomsen?

Answer: First off, Sale is much more of a barker as a coach, and likely intimidates his players more than Thomsen did during his tenure at ASU. The Sun Devils' linemen know that Sale will respect them, but they also know that they're going to get yelled at frequently and coached up hard throughout the drills, which probably isn't a bad change coming from Thomsen, who was a bit more forgiving during skill development periods. From an execution standpoint, though, it's hard to gauge how the line is meshing because we haven't seen any offensive linemen block defensive linemen, we haven't seen one-on-one drills at full speed, and we don't know how ASU's line is holding up against the defensive line in team periods. Nevertheless, this should be an improved group because juniors Sam Jones and Quinn Bailey are both capable of anchoring the offensive line as juniors, while some of the younger, less experienced linemen like sophomore left tackle Cohl Cabral have high ceilings as athletes.

Question: Is Cohl Cabral winning the left tackle job or is he continuing to run with the first team due to a lack of other options?

Answer: Both of those statements can be true and probably are true at this point in the spring. Right now, Cabral is winning the left tackle job and likely will be the left tackle for the Sun Devils, but the program doesn't have many capable options who can seriously challenge Cabral for the starting role. The other players ASU has worked at tackle in practice settings this spring include junior college transfer Tyson Rising, sophomore Mason Walter and Robertson and it's unlikely the Sun Devils would feel comfortable enough inserting one of those players onto the first-team offensive line in Cabral's place even if he was struggling right now.

Question: How concerning is ASU's linebacker depth?

Answer: With Sam and Calhoun holding down the fort as returning starters, ASU is at least in decent shape at inside linebacker and has the potential to groom Guignard, a junior, as well as sophomores Malik Lawal and Khaylan Thomas, to take over in the future. However, the Sun Devils' linebacker depth is concerning because none of the players behind Sam and Calhoun have received extensive playing time before or proven they could hold up over the course of a season, and one or two injuries could wind up devastating the group. The team's depth at this position isn't dire yet, but should an injury take place, ASU would more than likely have to move a player from a different position group to inside linebacker just to ensure the Sun Devils have the proper number of scholarship players manning these positions. Over the long haul, ASU's depth at inside linebacker is especially concerning, because ASU has not recruited the position well during the last two cycles. 

Question: Will ASU's defense be able to field 11 Pac-12-caliber players?

Answer: At this point in the spring, the Sun Devils don't have 11 Pac-12 caliber players running on the field with the first-team defense, and Graham has hinted as much. In his post-practice comments, Graham has said the Sun Devils are awaiting four or five 2017 signees who he anticipates will make a significant impact, but ASU won't receive that potential infusion of talent until the fall. Right now, the Sun Devils have walk-ons who have taken first-team reps on defense, a true freshman, Ty Thomas, who is running with the first team at safety, and a pair of the program's most important defensive backs, Kareem Orr and Marcus Ball, wearing green non-contact jerseys. Can the Sun Devils build up their depth to field 11 Pac-12-caliber players? Yes. But at this point, the Sun Devils need to make serious progress and remain healthy to ensure they have enough defensive players they can depend upon.

Editor's Note: To download this week's edition of the 'Sun Devil Source Premium Report,' click here.


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