Looking Ahead to 2005 Part I - Offense

Following a difficult 2003 campaign, many figured that the 2004 season would tell a lot about the ASU coaching staff, as well as the program they were building. What many didn't figure was that the Sun Devils would rebound in such fine fashion. Now, after a successful 2004 campaign capped off by an exciting Sun Bowl victory, many are already looking ahead to ASU's 2005 season.

In this two-part series DevilsDigest will analyze the losses at each position, project the current players to fill those spots, and discuss the impact some returning players will have. The following is our analysis of the Sun Devil offense.


Losing your senior signal caller who is the Pac-10's all-time touchdown leader is a tough pill to swallow. For Andrew Walter, knowing he won't be able to play in the bowl game that he led his team to can't make you feel but sorry for the kid. However, now that ASU has won the Sun Bowl, you have to wonder if the Walter injury wasn't a blessing in disguise. Sam Keller's extensive bowl practice, and game exposure are a great launching pad for his final two years as the team's offensive leader.

Keller has the mental makeup you love in a quarterback. He's fiery, driven to win, and exhibits great leadership. Thanks to his father's career, Sam grew up around the game and has been able to adopt a lot of things he's seen into his preparation and style of play. He may not have Walter's arm strength but then again who does? In addition, Keller has tremendous accuracy, and seems to play with a lot more attitude than Walter did.

It's only fair for ASU fans to expect Keller to struggle at points during the 2005 season. While the sophomore will be blessed with an arsenal of returning talent and an experienced line of blockers, he still will be playing with limited game experience. Nevertheless, his handling of Purdue's #16 ranked defense and their constant blitzing (especially in the second half) leaves the maroon and gold fans feeling very secure about this position.

In addition to Keller, Chad Christensen and Rudy Carpenter return. Carpenter is coming off of a redshirt year where he showcased a lot of talent and promise. Carpenter is very mobile and will look to make his case for the starting job in spring practice. Christensen is the model of a team player. He's filled in at running back, played some wide receiver, and has done the holding for the field goals. On top of that he is a tremendous student, and one who never complained while being passed up on the depth chart by younger players.

Running Back

This position appeared to be one of great depth at the conclusion of the 2003 season. Who would have imagined that ASU would lose both Loren Wade and Randy Hill during the same game for completely different reasons? R. Hill is rehabbing his ACL injury and can be expected back in 2005 although at what level remains to be seen. It has been widely reported that Wade can be back as soon as spring practice although no official ruling has been made on his off the field issues. Hakim Hill is officially removed from the squad and will always remain an enigma to ASU fans who had high hopes of him following in his father's footsteps. The fourth string ball carrier, Cornell Canidate, has undergone a very complex groin surgery, and it is completely unknown if he'll ever take another snap, let alone do so next season. All of these question marks leave the Sun Devils with questions and also hope for much better fortune in the future. As witnessed in the Purdue game, ASU's passing attack and young dominating offensive line can greatly aid in the development of a potent running game.

What ASU does have returning in this position is a bit of a mystery. Price Wilks redshirted this year and will get plenty of looks in spring ball. Another player to keep an eye on is Jarett Sayas, who returned to the hometown Devils and sat out last year due to the transfer rule. Both Wilks and Sayas bring an interesting combination to the Devil backfield. Wilks is taller and faster, while Sayas is shorter but also stockier. Given what's available to the team in spring ball, many of the unknown qualities of these two players will soon bear out.

The return of Wade would probably go the farthest in shoring up the running game immediately. Recruiting, position changes and the young players who haven't yet been given a chance will help, but until they've seen an action, this position remains a question mark heading into 2005. The positive outlook for ASU is that they finished 3rd in the conference, and took in nine wins, while having their running back situation completely unsettled. If the position would be shored up in time for the 2005 campaign the maroon and gold offense might just be unstoppable.

Wide Receiver

Where the running back position has its concerns and revolving doors, the wide receiver position was a definitive strength for ASU in 2004 and stands the chance to improve next year. Every scholarship player is expected back, and some of those players haven't even had the chance to completely show what they can do. It was comforting to hear that All Pac-10 receiver Derek Hagan will be returning. The numbers he has put up are simply staggering – 1248 yards on 83 catches and ten touchdowns. One can almost bookmark him for 100+ yards receiving every game he plays.

His fellow starter Terry Richardson returns as well and looks to build on a promising 2004 season in which he found the end zone six times and nearly eclipsed 700 receiving yards. In addition to those starters, Matt Miller and Moey Mutz will come back in their important roles. Mutz is a trusted possession receiver and vital 3rd down target. While Mutz is more of a workman type of receiver, Miller remains a big play specialist as his four touchdowns and game winning heroics suggest as much. Knowing ASU has three seniors and one junior at the top of its receiving corps would make most wonder how others could crack this rotation. For starters, ASU is always building depth for the future so it will be important for the young players to get their looks and opportunities to shine. Additionally, with three seniors next season, ASU will want to have their younger players prepared to take over the reigns of the offense.

Who exactly are these young players waiting in the wings? First on the list is Rudy Burgess, the star of the Sun Bowl. Burgess filled in admirably at running back this year when it was in need of warm bodies to present any kind of a running game to the opposition. Burgess has also figured out that his body isn't meant to carry the ball 30 or more times a game. While it would be a great addition to see Burgess line up in the backfield a few plays a game, Koetter has already alluded to using him the very same way USC uses Reggie Bush. In other words, Burgess will line up all over the field, with the primary goal being to get him into the open field.

Outside of Burgess, three young freshmen were brought in to ideally take over when the 2005 seniors graduate. Nathan Kimbrough, Mike Jones and Jeremy Payton are all high on the coaches' and the fans' watch lists. All three have impressed and produced this year on the scout team. Another great aspect they possess is their height. All stand 6-1 or taller. Each of these players has playmaking abilities and will look to be part of the vaunted ASU passing attack. Looking at the Sun Devils' passing statistics from 2004, it's not hard to imagine each of these guys getting in the mix and pushing the veteran players for their opportunity.

Tight End

Many fans complained about the use of the tight end in the 2003 season. At letter of intent day this past February, Koetter mentioned the team would be removing the fullback position from the offense and would be replacing it with a single back, two tight end base set. That news accompanied the Devils' signing of Zach Miller, the most celebrated Arizona high school player in recent memory. Zach Miller started contributing significantly in the Iowa game and never looked back, picking up Pac-10 freshman of the year honors, Freshman All-American honors, and also being voted second team All-American on other lists. Zach's abilities are bound to improve over the off-season, which is a scary thought to other conference coaches.

Miller also has a great deal of help returning. As a matter of fact, the position only stands to lose one player, Aaron Austin who failed to crack the two-deep throughout the 2004 season. One other player who might not be counted as a TE/HB going into spring ball is Kellen Mills. Mills was the defensive scout team player of the year for 04, and given the shortage of lineman on the defensive side one can assume he'll be making his move over there.

The players coming back who already made an impact include Brent Miller, Jamaal Lewis and Lee Burghgraef. Bergie, as he is affectionately called, is in line to be a four- year starter for the Devils. His blocking continues to be a quiet yet vital part of the ASU offense. Having his ability, along with a strong offensive line is going to make life just a little bit easier for the running backs and Keller's pass protection in his first full season as a starter.

Brent Miller played great in his first year, especially considering he was only 12 months removed from major knee surgery. Most operations take a full two years to recover from, meaning Brent Miller may have a break out year next season. Jamaal Lewis certainly saw his playing time limited due to the emergence of Zach Miller. However, Lewis was counted on to make the clutch catches and also be available in the Devils multi-tight end set used in goal line situations. Lewis is still a young player with a lot of upside, and the only issue for him is getting more reps and improving on his blocking.

Andrew Pettes saw some early playing time at tight end, and was also used on special teams. The fact he saw the field as a true freshman only proves that the coaches love his ability and expect big things from him in the future. Tyrice Thompson doesn't appear big enough yet to push any of the five players in front of him for playing time. He has found a home on special teams and is routinely seen blasting the wedge on kick-off coverage. Thompson has shown sure hands in practice, and even makes the most difficult catch from time to time.

Overall, ASU is in very good shape at this position. Despite the fact they use two tight ends on every down, they have good players just fighting to get reps due to a quality of depth.

Offensive Line

No position better exemplifies the type of quality depth Coach Koetter and staff is building at ASU, than the offensive line. The departure of center Drew Hodgdon is a definite loss, but due to an unfortunate injury in fall camp, the team already found out it could still produce without him. The initial candidates to take over for the fifth-year senior are Grayling Love and Mike Pollak. Love has stated a desire to play the position in the past, but he also has great value being able to play all five positions on the line. Meanwhile, Pollak played the position as a redshirt frosh, and played it admirably as ASU won each game he started. The good news is that the Sun Devils has returning depth at the position where they lose a senior. How that position shakes out will likely determine the other slots along the line.

The only position likely set in stone is at right tackle. Andrew Carnahan has made a home for himself here, and is looking like a future four-year starter in addition to a legitimate pro prospect. His ability to pass block and run block equally as well make him a great cornerstone for this group in 2005. Just because Carnahan is the only sure spot along the offensive line, doesn't mean there isn't a wealth of talent waiting in the wings. There are many young players who will get their deserved look, but in addition to that, ASU returns seven players who have started at least a game in their Sun Devil career.

The remaining starters from the Sun Bowl are Stephen Berg and Zach Krula. Both of these giants played the guard positions all year long. While they have done a very good job, especially considering their relative youth, they can be sure there are many players on the roster looking to push them for playing time. Among those players will be Brandon Rodd, who injured a knee in the Iowa game but was becoming another versatile offensive lineman who just punished people on the field. Chaz White is another player who has seen starting action over his three years and will be looking to win back his starting job in 2005. His ability to come back and play the left tackle spot might open up the line for other players to play in their more natural positions.

Once you get past the group of returning starters, ASU has a wealth of underclassmen who are here to be bigger and better than the players who played before them. Headlining the group are a pair of freshmen who redshirted this year. Leo Talavou and Bradis McGriff were literally and figuratively two of the Sun Devils biggest recruits from the 2004 class. Talavou pushed his way on to the two-deep despite the fact he had been redshirting all year. He is a brute at the guard position and a guy that many future running backs will be gladly running behind. McGriff was the other lineman who dominated at the 2004 CaliFlorida bowl and delighted ASU fans with his decision to come aboard. He got injured fairly early during fall practice and was never able to show all that he can do. Despite that fact, he has an incredible build already and has Devil fans wondering how long it will take him to crack the lineup.

Other players a little under the radar are Brent Russum and Jonathan Lehman. Both of these players were nice additions in the latest recruiting class, and while their impact might not be felt right away, it would be foolish to count them out. Both of them are still growing and putting on college weight and muscle, and have been complimented for their strong athletic ability. Two individuals who saw some playing time this season were redshirt freshmen Robert Gustavis and Julius Orieukwu. Gustavis is an interior player who played center in several of the early games in which the team jumped out to big leads. Orieukwu has been bothered by a couple of injuries and hasn't really been able to be at 100% yet. He has a massive wingspan and a gigantic frame. He appears to be a natural tackle prospect, but is still looking to prove his abilities in serious game situations.

The Sun Devils have really beefed up this position in the last couple of years. The amount of young players who have already seen significant minutes is staggering and bodes well for ASU's success in 2005 and beyond. The players are certainly in place if not the positions they will likely play in. In addition to the depth talked about above, the Sun Devils appear to be doing very well in regards to offensive line recruiting for the 2005 class, so you're likely to read similar comments about the offensive line for years to come.

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