2004 Spring Practice Preview Part I

Going into Spring Practice, there are many issues that need to be addressed by the ASU football team. While several questions are likely to bring out intense position battles, some will perhaps produce pleasant surprises in players stepping up to the challenge. DevilsDigest previews the returning depth at each position as well as the individuals expected to fill in for their departing ex-teammates. In the first installment of our preview we examine the ASU offense.


For the second straight year, the Sun Devils enter spring practice with Andrew Walter firmly entrenched as the starter. The senior is expected to be challenged more by the coaching staff, and will also work to build relationships with his mostly inexperienced receiving targets. Unlike last year, ASU has two young players with a world of talent looking to compete for the backup position. Sam Keller, last year's second stringer as a true freshman, comes in with a slight lead. However, redshirt freshman Mike Affleck is very mobile, has a rocket for an arm, and has the first year learning curve behind him. This will prove to be one of the more intense battles in spring ball.

Running Back:

This is an area where depth isn't a problem. The Devils have three returning starters at running back, in addition to a talented sophomore who showed enough flashes to contend for a starting role. Last year's leading rusher Loren Wade (pictured) returns as the slight favorite in the running back sweepstakes. After setting ASU's freshman rushing record, Wade will look to stay healthier than before and improve his pass blocking and pass receiving skills. Hakim Hill remains the unit's most talented player. With impressive rushing performances against Oregon State and USC, Hill also had a difficult time staying off the mend in 2003. Hill should benefit from the increased one-back sets, where he is a serious threat catching the ball out of the backfield.

Sophomore Randy Hill was another back slowed by ailments last year, but his style of running is a welcomed sight to the coaching staff. In addition to being a stalwart on special teams, Hill would like to prove is worth rushing the ball this spring. Some ASU followers were surprised that Cornell Canidate remained with the team after seeing his playing time considerably diminish last year. Canidate has shown he can be a competent rusher for the Devils, but his style isn't as effective as his peers. Nevertheless, he provides invaluable depth for a unit that hasn't had much luck staying healthy overall.


With Mike Karney leaving for the NFL, the Devils' coaching staff has decided to scratch this position in favor of the double tight end set. Mike Talbot will return to the defensive side of the ball, playing defensive end, where he was a dominant player in high school. Last fall's walk-on star Kellen Mills, will make the transition to the tight end position, while Joseph Aboussie will be lining up next year at defensive tackle.

Wide Receiver:

Last year's leading receiver, Derek Hagan (pictured), returns with big expectations ahead of him. As a true sophomore, he amassed over 1,000 yards receiving despite the possession receiver label that some have tagged him with. Consequently, with Skyler Fulton exhausting his eligibility, the Devils need a new possession receiver to step up and become a favorite target of signal caller Andrew Walter. Devil fans are still waiting for highly regarded Terry Richardson to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight as a consistent playmaker. Tyrice Thompson, a late addition to the Sun Devil team last fall, is coming off of a redshirt year. While he is very raw as a D-1 player, he has enticing size (6-4, 203) and speed that gives the maroon and gold faithful hope he will be a menace to opposing corners and an effective red zone threat. The more heralded redshirt out of this group is Rudy Burgess. Burgess was so impressive in fall camp and on the scout team; that it took all of the coaches' will power to not play him as a true freshman. As the offensive scout team player of the year, Burgess is expected to instantly raise the talent level of the wide receiver core, and act as a the proverbial deep threat.

Matt Miller is yearning for a healthy off-season and the chance to make big plays like he has done sporadically during his first two years. Moey Mutz had a stellar 2003 opening game, but didn't see the field much as conference play wore on. All of the Sun Devil receivers need to make their presence felt in spring ball, or they'll be destined to constantly looking over their shoulders in the fall with the arrival of a trio of talented freshmen.

Tight End:

This group will see the most dramatic change in positioning as well as young talent in 2004. The Sun Devil coaching staff finally feels like they have the players and depth in place to run a two-tight end offense. Lee Burghgraef remains the hardest name to spell and the team's most reliable blocker. He figures to be a relatively constant fixture at the H-Back position. While catching the ball hasn't been one of Bergie's primary responsibilities or strengths, he has successfully answered the call on most passes thrown to him. Jamaal Lewis (pictured) came on stronger than any other player on the team in the last handful of games. With great size, speed and hands Lewis makes a difficult mark for opposing defenses, and appears to have the trust of fellow Coloradoan Andrew Walter.

Aaron Austin was expected to make immediate contributions last year. However, his performance in 2003 was in sharp contrast to the hype that surrounded him. It appeared that the combination of having a year without football, as well as never playing at the Division-I level made for an impossible hurdle to overcome. There is little doubt that the senior has all of the physical features necessary to be a dominant player at his position. He is every bit of 6-5 253 and can move well for his size. What remains to be seen is if he can take what he has learned off the field and put it in place between the lines. Brent Miller is still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery and is uncertain how involved he will be in spring practice. Just like the wide receivers, thus unit will be significantly improved in the summer, when Brent's much-heralded brother Zach and fellow local product Andrew Pettes join the ranks of the maroon and gold.

Offensive Line:

This year's offensive line will be missing long time staple Regis Crawford. Crawford is the lone crossover from the Snyder and Koetter days. The other starting guard from last year, Tim Fa'aita has since graduated. Additionally, their primary backup, Tony Aguilar has also exhausted his playing eligibility as well. Nonetheless, the ASU coaches know they have three excellent starters returning. The anchor of the line is center Drew Hodgdon (pictured). The senior is a future NFL player who will be a first stringer for his third consecutive year. Hodgdon will be looked upon to help the two new starters at the guard positions. Andrew Carnahan returns at the left tackle spot, where he enjoyed a solid year as a true freshman in 2003. The freshman All American should be much more comfortable in his role and will likely be needed to lend a hand to whomever wins out the spot near him at left guard. Last year's right tackle Grayling Love, is likely to return to that side of the line. However, there is some question as to whether the most versatile lineman on the squad will stay outside or move to the guard spot. Furthermore, ASU's depth at tackle is another reason for speculation over Love's possible move.

Junior Chaz White seems a viable choice to start at that right tackle spot. White was the top backup on the line last year following a great freshman season as a starter at the other tackle. He could however also have a chance to play at one of the guard spots. The offensive line has four talented players coming off redshirt years. Given the way the other young Devil linemen have come in and performed in their first year, most Sun Devil fans are naturally anxious to see what the young hogs have in store. Julius "Big Julie" Orieukwu is an extremely intriguing prospect. He appears to be Carnahan's twin in terms of body build - a massive mountain of a man (6-6 303), with the wingspan of a basketball player. The Texan is a dark horse to force his way into the starting lineup. Another player making big strides on the scout team was Mike Pollak. The local product drew great praise for his work during his redshirt season, and will be looking to assert himself in the two-deep. Robert Gustavis and Brandon Rodd are two physical linemen expected to prove their mettle this spring. Not to be forgotten are last year's backups Zach Krula and Stephen Berg. Berg was a great competitor in fall camp last year. This noted workout warrior, isn't out of the realm of possibility as a viable candidate for the right tackle position. Krula is another behemoth of a football player who is keeping the Sun Devil followers intrigued. Overall, Few positions will be watched closer than the impending offensive line battle.

Part II of our Spring Preview will focus on the Arizona State defense and special teams.

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