2003 Season Review

DevilsDigest analyzes the football team by position, and offers its thoughts on the 2004 season prospects.

Offense:

Quarterback: The quarterback Position is in solid hands with senior Andrew Walter returning. Walter should posses a much better balance between an accurate passer and a deep ball threat. There is some talk of the junior leaving early, but the likelihood is that he will stay put.

There will be another intense battle for backup signal caller next year with Mike Affleck coming on strong as a scout-teamer and Sam Keller using the minimum experience he gained this year to aid his case. The position also has Chad Christensen in its depth chart, but is in need of another top-notch quarterback recruit to bolster future depth.

Running Back: The biggest question of the off-season was answered often in 2003. Most importantly, it didn't matter who was running, because the ball carrier was getting significant yards. Redshirt freshman Loren Wade appears to be the best of the bunch as he runs recklessly and aggressively. He also took it to the house on three long runs. The main concern with Wade is his durability and his tendency to fumble. Hakim Hill remains the best pass catching threat ASU has, which compliments his breakaway speed. Randy Hill is an exciting prospect who figures to continue to improve and make his mark here.

Cornell Canidate provides valuable depth, but doesn't appear to have the style necessary to succeed in this offense. Recruiting a blue chip running back will be a priority this year. While there is young talent in the program, lack of depth could have been a problem at the Washington State game, for example, when Randy Hill and Hakim Hill were both injured.

Fullback: This will be a position of curiosity. Senior Mike Karney was obviously underused unless it was to road plow or pass protect. Mike Talbot is an experienced player on special teams, but doesn't have a lot of experience at the fullback position. He appears to be more fluid running the ball and is a better receiver than Karney. Then again, there are questions as to where he was in the Cal game when Karney was out sick.

Koetter appears to like running the multiple formations in the ace set. Walk on Kellen Mills impressed the coaches quite a bit in camp this fall and may vie for a starting position next year after red shirting this season. It is unlikely ASU will devote much recruiting attention to this position.

Wide Receiver: More than anything else this year, the wide receiver corps lacked a deep threat. Spoiled for the previous three years by Shaun MacDonald, the offense seemed to sputter without a home run hitter. Derek Hagan is more than efficient at making things happen as a wide out. He is a possession receiver with big play ability. Junior Daryl Lightfoot was MIA all year long. Thought to be the natural successor to Shaun MacDonald, D-Light spent more time on punt returns and in street clothes. It's hard to believe but he will be a senior next year, and unless he gets his head on straight, he will go down as one of the biggest disappointments in ASU history.

For one play against Arizona, Terry Richardson was the fastest player on the field. The reverse play showed his natural running ability, his explosive speed and his big play capability. Richardson is a player who makes you excited every time he touches the ball, but doesn't appear to have the coaches full confidence as of yet. Matt Miller appears like he can consistently contribute, but is still raw. Redshirt Rudy Burgess should be making plays early and often next season. Late addition Tyrice Thompson has incredible height, but will need a lot of development to become a part of the rotation.

Derek Hagan and Skyler Fulton dedicated themselves to working with Walter in the off-season. It would behoove the other members of this group to do the same, and improve the suspect depth in this group.

The team has already two verbal commits and is after another big receiver and a deep threat.

Tight End: This position started to show some life the last few weeks of the season. Redshirt freshman Jamaal Lewis emerged as the best receiving target and also has gained the trust of Andrew Walter. He should be a full time threat next year, and might be the answer to the red zone woes the offense has struggled with.

Sophomore Lee Burghgraef continues to be a devastating blocker and a vital contributor to the running game. JC transfer Aaron Austin pulled a disappearing act this season and one has to wonder what he can bring to the table next season. Redshirt Brent Miller will be recovering from knee surgery and may not be ready to go by spring ball. He should be in line by fall camp and his impact will be easier to measure at that time.

The main name heard around here when it comes to recruiting is Zach Miller the All American prospect, and younger brother of Brent. Arizona is home to another top prospect, and it appears ASU is intent on getting at least one player in this position.

Offensive Line: ASU was pleased to see its run game turn around. Much of that credit should be given to the front five. ASU started a sophomore and a redshirt freshman at the tackle positions. Andrew Carnahan appears set to man the left tackle position for the next three years. He is a mountain of a man and is quickly learning the tricks of the trade. Right Tackle Grayling Love did a great job on his end. He was originally recruited to play center or guard, and may end up moving back to the interior to fill one of the spots left open by the departing seniors. Center Drew Hodgdon will return and continue to be the anchor of the o-line. His steady play goes unsung, but is the key for the Sun Devils running up the middle.

Chaz White spent the season as a backup, but is a good candidate to find his way back into the starting lineup next season. There is a chance he could move back to right tackle if Love moves inside, or, he might even be given a chance to play one of guard spots. Another player expected to compete is mammoth Julius Orieukwu. Similar in build to Carnahan, Orieukwu has the size, wingspan and athleticism to push his way into the lineup. He could be another player that allows Love to move inside.

There are some young players who are hoping to fight for a chance at starting. Stephen Berg had a solid camp and is only going to be a sophomore next year, and is one of the strongest players on the team. Guard Zach Krula will also be a sophomore in 2004, and will be in the hunt for a starting guard position after being the primary backup this season. Redshirts Robert Gustavis, Brandon Rodd and Mike Pollak will all be given every chance to compete this spring, as the coaching staff has never been shy about playing young players.

The recruiting focus will be aimed at replacing the three players who graduated this year. If a stud JC player is available to step in like Tim Fa'aita did, the coaches will probably jump at the chance to sign him. Expect three high school players to get tabbed as well.

Defensive Line: This is the position that concerns the coaching staff, the team, and every Sun Devil fan around. The depth, or lack there of, is a pressing issue to say the least. The top four players at defensive end are pretty well set. Jimmy Verdon was solid this season, but didn't make as many spectacular plays as was anticipated. He will be a senior next season with three years of starts under his belt. Ishmael Thrower started to make his impact in the second half of the season. He brings a lot of speed to the position and should be a strong contributor next season.

True freshman Kyle Caldwell is the most talented player of the bunch. Regrettably, he was slowed by an injury in fall camp and wasn't able to get to full speed until the last part of the season. What the coaches and fans saw was tantalizing. Caldwell is able to beat tackles with speed or strength, which is something hard to find in a freshman player. He will fight his way to a starting position in 2004. Connor Banks adds solid depth and continues to improve as his career spans on. Beyond these four players, the only depth comes from walk-ons.

At the defensive tackle spot, the position looks even bleaker. JC transfer Gabe Reininger will man one spot next season. Reininger is a solid player against the run, and got many valuable snaps this season. The other position is expected to go to Ali Likio. Likio has been devastated by off the field issues out of his control. His spring camp was wiped out by the death of his mother, and this season he was attending to the premature birth of his daughter. Likio has the body and skill that the coaches love, and is a determined player who could really shine when given a chance to concentrate on football.

Brett Palmer redshirted this year and is another big strong body to plug in the middle of the line. Since he is the only other scholarship player at the position, he will be greatly counted on to provide valuable depth.

It is expected that there will be one JC player added at each position to provide immediate depth. Beyond that, a minimum of two high school players will be needed at both tackle and end to shore up future depth to a unit who will lose four seniors next year.

Linebacker: With the announcement that the defensive unit is going to try to switch to a 4-3 scheme to toughen up against the run, several players in the current linebacker corps will be affected. The three players who ran the 4-3 last year return in 2004. Middle linebacker was manned by freshman Jordan Hill. Hill definitely brings a physical element to the group, and is faster than appeared. He will probably get the initial nod to fill that position.

The outside linebackers will be handled by capable starters Jamar Williams and Justin Burks. The Devil nation should see improvement from an unspectacular performance this past season. Both starters were learning on the fly and were unable to play the position without reckless abandon. While they both made many plays, their newness to the position was obvious.

Mark Washington saw the field plenty in his first year and will undoubtedly fight his way into the lineup. He is a physically capable player who appears to grasp the style of play quickly. De'Andre Johnson should be up to full speed by this spring and will be given every chance to see how he can help this group.

Koetter has made it publicly known that he will be looking to add JC linebackers who can contribute immediately. It is expected that a couple more high school players will be added as well.

Safety: This was a disappointing group all season. Many expected Brett Hudson to have a breakout year, which he didn't. He was noticeably invisible and didn't bring the play making ability he had the year before. Juniors Jason Shivers and Riccardo Stewart were solid but often unspectacular. Riccardo Stewart is a warrior on the field, but has a frame that far too often gets easily injured. Beyond that he is exposed in the passing game unless he is covering a tight end or a running back. Stewart continues to be the emotional leader of the team and might be better suited in the traditional 4-3 alignment.

Jason Shivers is currently exploring his prospects with the NFL. Shivers didn't quite live up to his expectations this season, but continued to be the last line of defense and the tackling machine devil fans expected. If Shivers departs there are several players waiting in the wings to replace him. First in line would be Matt Fawley. Fawley is a sure tackler, a blitzing specialist and a heady player. He also packs the physicality the coaches seem to be looking for out of this position.

Freshmen Daniel Varvel and Josh Barrett are players who figure to get long looks at the safety spot as well. They are both bigger and more athletic players who will be impossible to keep off the field next season. Lamar Baker, Robert James, Joey Smith, JW Lucas and Darnell Henderson will all be in the mix, and while they may not crack the two-deep, they will add quality depth and competition, as well as play vital roles on special teams.

Safety has added a couple of players already in verbal commits and may not seek to find too many more given the current depth at the position.

Cornerback: RJ Oliver and Chris McKenzie will be the starters next year. McKenzie should be more of an athlete and less of a thinker and will be better prepared to allow his speed to take over. Oliver will hopefully be healthy and back to the lock down corner he was his sophomore season. Emmanuel Franklin adds good depth as does Josh Golden and Mike Davis Jr. It is hoped that these individuals would be able to step up and become better players who can be counted on consistently.

Redshirt Chad Green was the defensive scout team player of the year and will contend for the nickel back spot. Josh Barrett may get some looks at this position as well.

Recruiting has added one player, and will look to add a couple of more. There are three seniors next year so accumulating depth is an important factor.

It appears the first answer to the defensive problems will be to change the scheme. Many devil followers believe it is more of a coach being incapable than the scheme being played. The problems can probably be closely tied to inexperienced players, poor coaching adjustments, lack of depth and a loss of physical and speedy play. Coach Koetter's coaching career will hang on the balance of his decision to keep an ineffective coordinator when it is apparent there are better and more qualified coaches available.

Special Teams

This unit was solid this year, but not spectacular which is what Sun Devil fans expect out of a coach with the salary and reputation of Tom Osborne. The kicking game was inconsistent as expected with true freshman kicker Jesse Ainsworth. Ainsworth has the leg strength and the toughness few kickers can claim. This year's experience will make him a valuable weapon next year.

The kickoff coverage may also get a reprieve if Ainsworth is allowed to boot the ball out of the end zone with regularity. Punter Tim Parker turned in a solid performance this year and was as reliable as the team needed. His departure signals the immediate need for a punter. Walk on Chris MacDonald was impressive in the fall and will get a fair chance to replace Parker. It is obvious the coaching staff will look to fill the position with a scholarship player who will battle MacDonald for the starting role.

On paper, 2004 should see an improved offense, and to a lesser extend an enhanced special teams group. On the other hand, the much-maligned Sun Devil defense will be under a tremendous microscope next year. Some will contend that a successful 2004 campaign heavily hinges on the play of the ASU defenders. Nevertheless, Walter's NFL decision stands to have a great impact on the fortunes of next year. The season just ended was full of injuries, inconsistencies, and other attributes which plague an underachieving squad. The 2004 football year will ultimately prove if the team and its coaches were able to turn painful lessons into valuable learning tools for future success.

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