Spring Practice Review

When the 2002 ASU spring practice culminated, it was like déjà vu all over again. The eerie similarities between this year's and last year's 15 practice session included uncertainty at quarterback along with an unlikely signal caller emerging #1 on the depth chart, and a defense, which seems light years ahead of the offense. Here's a breakdown by position on how the various units on this Football team faired this spring.


Fresh off his redshirt year Chad Christensen transpired as the number one quarterback on the depth chart. However, some could argue that his selection was the lesser of three evils. The Desert Mountain graduate is by far the quickest and the most agile of his group, but lacks the arm strength needed in coach Koetter's high-octane offense. Andrew Walter closed out the spring with somewhat of a strong performance, and the gap between him and Christensen may have narrowed. While blessed with impressive physical skills, Walter hasn't shown any kind of consistency or mental aptitude throughout the spring. JC transfer Andy Goodenough may have in comparison, the best mobility and arm strength combination. Learning a new scheme, while mostly playing behind a porous second team offensive line, have set him back in the position battle. The one certainty in this murky quarterback situation, is that it's far from being settled and all three players have an excellent chance of reshaping the depth chart come fall.

Running Backs and Fullbacks Coach Koetter isn't worried about this bunch, so we won't nit pick for issues to raise. This is one position that should give the Sun Devil faithful very little concerns, if any. This position battle, unlike the quarterbacks, will be a situation where the cream rises to the top. Mike Williams has edged out Hakim Hill for the starter position, but the ranking here would be closer to a #1 and #1A. Williams has been able to differentiate himself with his ability to catch the ball from the backfield and block effectively. On the other hand, he can't match the show stopping ability of Hill who can run effectively between the tackles, as well as on the outside. Koetter's offense doesn't usually feature a 30+ carries workhorse like running back, so determining a starter here may be somewhat insignificant. This dynamic duo, is complemented with solid running mates in Cornell Canidate and Jermaine McKinney who both had an impressive spring session as well. At fullback, the picture is crystal clear – Mike Karney in unchallenged as a starter, and didn't rest on his laurels as evident in his performance the last few weeks.

Wide Receivers

The question marks at the beginning of spring concerning who will surface as the #2 receiver, haven't been answered decisively. Shaun McDonald who's fresh off his All Pac-10 season, hasn't slowed down a bit. He still remains as the go-to-guy in the passing game. Justin Taplin may be the other starter by default due to his seniority, but truthfully Matt Miller has shown that his abilities should merit considerable playing time, if not a starting position. Daryl Lightfoot had somewhat of a quiet spring, but his elusiveness and speed is second to none on the team. Converted Safety Michael Holloway showed flashes of brilliances, which is hardly surprising since he originally came to ASU as a wide out.

Offensive Line and Tight Ends

For a unit that had to quickly gel and become a cohesive group, the mission hasn't been quite accomplished. This troop can definitely be classified as work in progress, and the pace in which they develop in the fall will go a long ways to define this offense. The starters right now would be: Regis Crawford at left tackle, Tim Fa'aita at left guard, Tony Aguliar at center, Drew Hodgdon at right guard, and Damien Niko at right tackle. The performance by the reserves hardly puts fear in any of the starters, which has more negative implications than positive ones. This group should be given kudos for shedding major pounds, while gaining quickness. However, the lack of consistency is the biggest hurdle for success facing these players.

The only reason why fans quit fretting about the tight end position, is the fact that they may have come to terms that this position won't be even a small factor in ASU's passing game. Mike Pinkard must have heard those voices of discontent, because his performance this spring was a sharp 180 degree turnaround from last year. His drops were kept to a minimum, and that attribute the missing (but significant) link to rounding up his game. Pinkard is imposing (6-5, 264) as he is lighting quick (runs a 4.5!). If he continues to progress in the fall, those who may have written him off, may have to consume heaping amounts of crow later this year. Matt Cooper has successfully made the conversion from quarterback, and right now would be Pinkard's only threat for playing time. Frank Maddox and Lee Burghgraef had an uneventful spring practice, and are a distant third and fourth on the depth chart.

Defensive Line

This core of players was in need for a major upgrade from last year, and if spring practice was any indication the defensive line should be significantly improved for the 2002 season. All Pac-10 Terrell Suggs shined in the practices, which comes as very little surprise. What was unexpected was the play of fellow defensive ends Brian Montesanto (the probable starter at other end) and Jimmy Verdon. Time will tell if their play was a flash in the pan, but the emergence of a quality defensive end opposite Suggs will be vital for a more effective pass rush. JC transfer Shane Jones is a definite upgrade at defensive tackle, while the other starter at tackle is somewhat up for grabs. Chad Howell may have a slight edge over James Beal and Phil Howard is this wide open position battle.


Leading up to spring, very few players on the team have conditioned themselves as the much malignedSolomon Bates. Unfortunately for him, he lost his starting position to the late blooming Josh Amobi. Nevertheless, this is an addition by subtraction, as evident by the reckless abandon that Amobi displayed alongside returning starter Mason Unck. Other linebackers who made some noise were Bart Hammit and converted defensive end Ishmael Thrower. Overall this group retained its quality depth, and is as talented as any other unit on this ASU team.


Leading tackler Jason Shivers kept his hold on the starting free safety spot. His tackling (along with the defense's as a whole) is vastly enhanced, and is a compliment to his deadly closing speed. Shivers may be constantly looking over his back, because Riccardo Stewart did nothing during the spring to hurt his chances of playing. Stewart's versatility in playing both the free and strong safety positions assures him considerable amount of playing time this season. Al Williams continued to assert himself as a leader, as well as a starter. Joey Smith was the third starter at safety until he got injured two weeks into spring practice. Newcomer Brett Hudson didn't waster anytime seizing the opportunity, and laying the ground work to a fierce position battle in the fall. The safeties as a group seems to better grasp the 4-2-5 defensive scheme, and fans can expect this group to become more of a factor this season.


Does a year older translate into being a year wiser? After a rough 2001 campaign, the jury is still out on. The general ineptitude in the offensive passing game, hasn't adequately tested the Sun Devil corners to measure any kind of progress. Nevertheless, Lamar Baker and R.J. Oliver have rightfully guarded their positions as starters. The often injured Emmanuel Franklin spent a few practices on the sidelines, and his durability may prevent this talented player from ever being a factor in the defensive backfield. O.J. Hackett and Adrian Thomas had nice showings in the spring, and have asserted themselves as quality backups who make the most of their playing opportunities. This is another core of players who should erase the painful memories of last season.

Special Teams

Returning place-kicker Mike Barth had a good spring, and the fact that his backup Greg Pieratt struggled puts Barth's starting position in even less jeopardy. With the culmination of spring practice, replacing punter Nick Murphy still remains a daunting task. Brian Biang is the starter, but his performance is average at best. Having a sub par backup in Tim Parker doesn't help matters to say the least. The punting situation could turn out to be an ugly one, if one of the punters doesn't significantly improve in the fall. The return game is much less of a concern. There's a plethora of speedy and athletic players who should constantly give ASU favorable field position. Currently, Taplin would be the #1 punt returner, with McDonald and Hill as the starting tandem at kickoff return. All of the backups here are potential game breakers. The talent here along with the expertise of Tom Osborne, could take ASU's special teams to new heights.


If the lone goal of spring practice was to vastly improve the defense, than ASU has made considerable strides to achieve that goal. However, the Sun Devil offense which did a commendable job last year, is still trying to answer key questions which can clarify what can be expected from them in the 2002 season. Camp Tontozona in August, which will feature 25 newcomers, has to successfully answer those questions and lay any doubts concerning other areas of the team to rest. The evaluation and teaching of the current players has to now yield way to effectively implementing the offensive and defensive schemes devised by the Sun Devil coaches. A wise man said once: "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." After a 4-7 record in 2001, a déjà vu is the last sight that this Football team wants to witness. Correcting the shortcomings from spring, will be an important step in improving the faith of the maroon and gold this year.

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