The main challenges that this unit faces this spring all begins with finding a Quarterback that will lead the team game in and game out. Other vital objectives are to establish a cohesive Offense Line unit, ascertain a starting Tight End, and implement him in the offense, and decide which young Running Back will lead the ground attack.
Just like last year, the Quarterback group will be the most watched bunch in spring practice. Giving the group a nice compliment of depth is JC transfer Andy Goodenough. Goodenough is considered by many to be the best JC transfer in the country. The scouting report on him shows that he has a good arm, throws well on the run, and is overall very accurate. Determining just how mobile he is will be another area of evaluation. Many Sun Devil fans hope that his high accolades in the JC ranks and his availability in the spring will bring ASU its next great Quarterback.
Sophomore Andrew Walter will be very much in the hunt for a starting job. Everyone knows that Walter has an unreal cannon for an arm, as well as good size and decent mobility. Other areas of intrigue are his competitive nature, his toughness, and the fact he improved dramatically over the last year. Walter went from an awkward spring practice, to the coach's doghouse at Tontozona, to being the starter at the end of the year. Anyone at last season's Washington game will remember the devastating lead block he threw to spring Running Back Tom Pace. That moment seemed to transform the young phenom, and allowed him to finally get the game experience he needed. Having a full year of practice and knowledge under Koetter's system, should give the sophomore an early advantage at this position. The coaches will be looking to see if he can consistently throw the short to medium range timing pass, and how well he connects on the deep pass. He also needs to make better decisions, and work on getting rid of the ball sooner.
The other entry into the 2002 Quarterback race is redshirt freshman Chad Christensen. Chad looked good early on last year in Tontozona, and is said to have the intelligence and mobility that Koetter likes for his signal caller. The fans will be looking to see how many reps he gets and how well he will do with the opportunity presented to him. Last year Chad ran the scout team, simulating each week the various offenses of ASU's opponents, and seemed to excel in that role.
Despite appearing to be a quick strike passing team, ASU had equal distribution between the pass and the run, and even had a 1000-yard rusher last year in Delvon Flowers. Thus, the Running Back position should be one of the more exciting groups to follow in spring ball. This bunch is loaded with talent and potential, trait that don't always translate to success on the field. Look for the coaches to put a real premium on catching the ball, a part of the offense that was severely underused last season. Establishing the depth chart at Running Back this spring is a must. With a good mix of size, speed and intelligence, there's hope that the competition will bring out the best in all the backs vying for playing time. The early favorites to win the starting job are Hakim Hill and Mike Williams.
It's common knowledge that Hill has been dealing with off-the-field problems. Now that those issues are behind him, Hill can concentrate on his game and be a superstar in this offense. Hill brings track speed to the football field. He is a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches it, and has good hands to catch the ball out of the backfield. ASU fans haven't forgotten his explosive display at the Tontozona scrimmage. His blocking is currently a question mark as it is with most heralded Running Backs coming into college. Look for Hill to really dominate in spring in the fight for a starting position.
Mike Williams has been the Josh Amobi (ASU's Linebacker) of the offense. He is either everywhere or nowhere. Playing behind Tom Pace and Delvon Flowers last year, Williams often got lost in the shuffle. The junior blocks fairly well, and has good hands, which should make him a viable candidate this spring. The question is whether he can step up and consistently play the way he did against UCLA the last two years, as well as Oregon in the 2000 season.
This year is probably a make or break one for Derrick Arnold, who has had two seasons of eligibility wasted with very few carries. After playing early last year, he didn't even dress for a couple of home games. Arnold was one of the most heralded recruits in Bruce Snyder's tenure. If he doesn't get any reps in spring practice, one can probably count him out of the team.
Cornell Candidate seems the likely replacement for Tom Pace. He embodies the scat back type, who changes the pace, and catches the ball really well. Candidate may not be big enough to be the every down back, but certainly seems like a third-down back, and another home run threat in this offense. He may get some looks in the slot as well. Jermaine McKinney had some success last year late in games. He is a bigger punishing type of back, although he is not expected to get a lot of time on the field.
Mike Karney will handle the fullback duties. The junior is a dominating presence, and has never carried the ball for negative yardage. He is a wrecking ball as a lead blocker, and a stonewall for oncoming blitzers. Other Fullbacks fighting for playing time will be Darrell Turner, Ponch Drew, and Joseph Aboussie.
The Wide Receivers figure to be a very good group once the dust settles. The receiver position will have good speed and some size, but very little depth. Staying healthy is a must for this core of players. First team All Pac-10 player Shaun MacDonald was one of the biggest offensive threats on the team last year. He has track star speed, big play capability, and the attitude to go along with it. The one knock on Mac may be his height, but he compensates for that with his strength, and has a habit of beating the cornerback for almost every deep jump ball thrown his way. There is hope this spring that the junior will further progress, after virtually coming out of nowhere last season. He is the clear-cut #1 receiver going into the spring, and will be expected to provide many big plays and carry this unit.
The # 2 spot is up in the air. One of the first candidates for consideration is sophomore Darryl Lightfoot. Lightfoot is more exciting of a player than MacDonald is. The speed he displays when he gets the ball is jaw dropping. The main knock on Lightfoot last year was his durability and health. He's been reported to gain weight and strength in the off-season (through ASU's rigorous conditioning program), which is key due to the thin numbers at the Wide Receiver spot. D-Light should have an awesome spring camp, establishing his place on the team as one of the main slot Wide Receivers.
Redshirt freshman Matt Miller, has a good combination of size and speed, and maybe the most likely to play Donnie O'neal's possession receiver role from last year. With most of ASU's receivers being small, it is important for Miller to excel in the routes, which call for a physical receiver. Miller, like the other receivers has game breaking speed, with a nice array of moves. With the wafer thin depth, much will be expected out of Miller this spring and next season.
Senior Justin Taplin has a lot to prove before his time at ASU is over. The much-heralded Tempe High School prospect has really only shown infrequent flashes of his ability. Tap appeared to get in the doghouse last year with a couple of key drops. This year he must step up and be a difference maker for the Devils. The senior doesn't have the game breaking speed that his fellow receivers posses, but he does have great game speed, and seems to step up at the right times. He is also a tough nosed kid, who isn't afraid to mix it up over the middle.
Skyler Fulton's future is unknown as he is attempting to improve his stock with major league baseball by playing at a Community College up in Washington. If he does come back to the team in the fall, he will be a good combination of size and speed for the Devils to work with. Other receivers on the roster are Joey Blaymaier and Loron James.
If ASU can get a Tight End incorporated into the offense, the receivers should have an even better chance to make plays. Last year, this position was a non-factor to say the least. Senior Mike Pinkard has everything you want in a Tight End. He has great height and size, good athleticism, and the speed to get open in the flat. The main flaw with Pink are his hands. The guy has been accused of not catching a cold, let alone a pigskin. It has been frustrating for fans to see a kid with all of the tools, with a brutal knack to drop passes. In the spring many will be closely following the senior, to see if he can earn the trust of his coaches and the Quarterbacks. If he does improve, he becomes a great weapon for ASU.
Frank Maddox, is more of a blocking end. It is hard to tell if he is going to become a good receiving threat, since he was hampered by injuries most of last season. He isn't the fastest, or most mobile player, but he is a gritty kid who shields the defender real well. A clean bill of health this spring should provide more insight into his contributions.
Redshirt freshman Lee Burghgraef provides some interesting options. He has roughly the same frame as All-American Todd Heap was during his tenure at ASU. Burghgraef was a top recruit a year ago, and he figures to embody the size and speed Koetter likes in his Tight Ends. If he can get into the rotation early, he will allow Koetter to add another viable receiving threat to the offense. Converted quarterback Matt Cooper will try to be a factor at this position, after volunteering to step down from his Quarterback duties. The other Tight End on the roster is Grant Brittain a walk-on from last year. All of these players will be under pressure to show what they can do this spring, before JC All- American Aaron Austin arrives in the fall.
For the fist time in years, the Offensive line is heavily inexperienced. Most fans are concerned about how quickly this position can be resolved this spring. There are many talented players to choose from, and players stepping to the forefront will make the decision easier. G/C Regis Crawford is the most experienced player returning. He can play all five positions on the line. Depending on the development of other players at center, he will probably either play LG or RG. Crawford is a solid individual, perfectly built for the interior of the line. He will undoubtley be the leader of this young group of players. The other guy expected to have a starting job is JC All-American transfer Tim Fa'aita. Like Crawford, Fa'aita can play any of the interior positions. His experience and talent will be counted on heavily to hold the interior of the line together. The team has high hopes for Redshirt freshman Grayling Love at center. He looked as if he might be the backup at center last season coming out of Tontozona until he was injured during camp. Love has the intelligence to handle the blocking calls and assignments, and really only needs to be battle tested. His emergence at this position will allow Crawford and Fa'aita to man the guard positions. The other center candidate is Tony Aguilar. Aguilar was moved from Defensive Tackle a year ago to provide depth. Aguilar was a great athlete in high school, and would do well on pulling plays. His physique is a little questionable, as is his attitude that is necessary for a lineman.
Another player the coaches really like is Drew Hodgdon. He played a lot last year as a backup. He is built like an interior lineman, and has a nasty streak. His ability to burst into the starting lineup could dictate where other players are used. Chad Rosson, Brandon Macias, Damien Niko, Ricardo Carlos and Adrian Ayala will also be players who compete for tackle positions. With two starters gone from last year, the tackle positions are wide open, and will be highly contested come spring.
While it's the Sun Devils defense that keeps coaches and fans up at night, it will be the offense that has to answer many questions and establish new starters at the vast majority of its positions. As it was in the 2001 season, the Sun Devils' offense will be asked to carry the load for the team. With so many uncertainties and new faces, the learning curve will have to be at a minimum in order for this unit to repeat its highly efficient play from last year. With Dirk Koetter's expertise lying on this side of the ball, there's strong belief that all the question marks will be answered decisively and to the satisfaction of the maroon and gold faithful during spring practice.
Spring Practice Preview - Offensive
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