2002 ASU Football Preview - Offense

Heading into fall practice, there is a cloud of doubt surrounding ASU's 2002 football season. There is much apprehension over ASU's prospects this year, following a 2001 season where it defeated only one Pac-10 team. The uncertainty at the quarterback position, and a young inexperienced offensive line, have forced prognosticators to pick ASU to finish no higher than 7th or 8th in the Pac Ten.

There is however, reason for optimism. Coach Dirk Koetter has now had a full year to recruit his type of players, implement his system, and has seen many of the players who didn't see eye to eye with him either graduate, or leave the program. There are some superstar players on the team as well. Shaun MacDonald is a consensus All-Pac Ten player, and has gained notable All-American preseason hype. Even though he hasn't taken a snap at the D1 level, and he has had off-field troubles in the past, most fans and experts feel that Hakim Hill is ready to be an impact player this year.

Here is a breakdown by position of the ASU offense:


Coach Koetter had hoped that this position would produce a clear-cut starter following spring practices. Instead, it was a repeat scenario of the 2001 season where no signal caller has significantly distinguished himself over the competition. Current starter Chad Christensen may have had the best spring, which isn't saying much. Christensen is a heady player, with good athleticism and nice mobility. He is an accurate passer, but doesn't have the strongest of arms, which is a necessity in Koetter's high-octane offense. Some view the redshirt freshman as a clone of last year's starting quarterback Jeff Krohn. Nevertheless, Chad is bigger and more importantly has a better relationship with the coaching staff. Heading to camp Tontozona it is Christensen's job to lose, and that may well happen.

Sophomore Andrew Walter is beginning to turn into somewhat of an enigma. After starting the last two games of the season, many thought he would step up in spring ball and emerge as the sorely needed established starter. For whatever reason, that has not yet materialized. The physical attributes (6-5, 219) have always been there, but the mental lapses have unfortunately been there too. Walter struggles in practice situations, but seems to excel on game day. An encouraging sign in the end of spring scrimmage was his two late touchdowns to rally his team to victory. Walter's arm strength is his biggest asset, and rivals that of many NFL players. He is tough as nails, and has been known to throw solid blocks when not having the ball. His mobility is a question mark, although some may interpret it as uncertainty kicking in when a play breaks down. Like Christensen, the once heralded recruit will be heavily scrutinized in the pre-season.

The Sun Devils landed the number one Junior College quarterback last year, when Andy Goodenough committed to ASU. Goodenough ran a wide-open offense at Palomar JC and was thought by many to be Koetter's guy for the next two years. However, he struggled mightily in spring practice. Whether it was the new and complicated offense, or the transition to D-1 football remains to be seen. One encouraging part of his game was his accuracy on the run. Goodenough's arm is better than Christensen's and has good precision on the deep ball. Some anticipate that he will step up this fall after a rough spring, and could possibly be the starter down the road. In all likelihood, newcomers Kellen Bradley and Jon Stoner redshirt their first year.

The quarterback position is as unsolved as any position on the team. Nonetheless, the team can't afford to leave training camp with the starter winning the job by default, and facing a daunting Nebraska defense ten days later. Coach Koetter's track record suggests that he should be able to develop one of his quarterbacks into a solid Pac-Ten player.

Wide Receivers:

As mentioned, junior Shaun MacDonald will be the leader of the offense. He busted on the scene last year with career numbers, while featuring one highlight catch after another. As the fastest player on the team, he was also the Devils' premiere deep threat. Justin Taplin had a quiet year for an offense this explosive. He needs to have a huge senior year to help out the offense, and make good on all of the potential he posses. Sophomore Darryl Lightfoot had an up and down true freshman season. He had more than his share of distractions with tragic deaths in the family, and battling various injuries. One would only hope that the law of averages would guarantee him from now on a trouble-free career. One thing is for certain; he is explosive with the ball in his hands, and can pose many different threats to opposing defenses. Redshirt freshman Matt Miller gives the team a tall possession receiver, who also happens to have blinding speed and a great array of moves. The return of junior Skyler Fulton to the team should add quality depth. True freshman Derrick Hagan is poised to play right away and give the team another deep threat with great height and speed. His fellow first year player Terry Richardson is a much-heralded recruit that will surely see plenty of action this season. He has amazing polish for a player his age, and could easily capture the starting spot opposite McDonald.

Finding a steady #2 and #3 receiver behind McDonald is one of the top priorities in Camp Tontozona. Koetter's offense virtually guarantees every receiver to get involved. Thus, developing quality depth at this position is vital for a successful offensive season.

Running Backs:

There are plenty of talented players in this group, although no definite starter yet. Mike Williams is the incumbent, and was #1 in the depth chart following the spring. The junior's blocking technique is solid and he is very adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. His speed has allowed him to break off some spectacular touchdown runs in his career. Last year, he got buried in the depth chart behind Delvon Flowers and Tom Pace. This year, he stands an excellent chance to establish himself as the number one ball carrier. Redshirt freshman Hakim Hill is a star in the waiting. He has an amazing physique, track star speed, and the bloodlines (father J.D. is an ASU Football hall of famer) to be one of the greatest ASU players of all times. He and Mike Williams should give the Devils a spectacular 1-2 punch. Fellow redshirt freshman Cornell Canidate has impressed the coaches, and stands to see significant playing time. Canidate's great footwork and blazing speed contribute to his keen sense of elusiveness.

Junior Jermaine McKinney turned in a nice showing in the spring, and will probably not hurt the team when given a chance. Local McClintock high school star Randy Hill will probably be red shirted, but it won't be for a lack of talent. He is an extraordinary athlete who has a promising future with the Sun Devils. Loren Wade is another newcomer that may redshirt for the same reasons. Leading the way for all of ASU's running backs will be junior fullback Mike Karney. Karney, arguably one of the best in his position in the nation, is a physical specimen who consistently delivers punishing blocks to opposing linebackers. He rarely loses yards when he carries the ball, and is a proven reliable receiver for catching the ball out of the backfield. Senior Darrel Turner will spell Karney on the rare occasions where he isn't the game.

Overall, the Sun Devils are stacked in the backfield, but their success heavily hinges upon the efficiency of the passing game and the development of the Offensive line. The abundance of talent here suggests that just like last year the pass-run distribution should be equal.

Offensive Line:

This unit could make or break ASU's 2002 season. The talent is there, but so is the lack of experience, as well as having the misfortune of never playing as a cohesive unit. Junior Regis Crawford will be leaving the interior of the line (where he is best suited), to anchor this group from the critical left tackle position, where he will protect the quarterback's blind side. Crawford is a model player, and gives everything he has each and every game. JC All-American transfer Tim Fa'aita will play along side Crawford at guard. His strong performance in spring ball demonstrated his skills as a solid run blocker and a steady pass blocker. Tony Aguilar and Grayling Love will battle out for the center position. Aguilar right now is the starter, and possesses great athleticism. The redshirt freshman Love will continuously push for a starting job, and his efforts may pay off sooner rather than later. He is a heady player who can handle the center's job of making the blitz reads.

Sophomore Drew Hodgdon is the second most experienced player on the line, seeing valuable minutes last year as a backup. He is a tenacious competitor who should grow into a solid right guard. Currently, junior Damien Niko is the starter at right tackle. No player has done more to get himself into shape to play than Niko. Whether that translates into success at this position remains to be seen. He will surely get a challenge from JC transfer Louis Areyan. Other players who complete the depth chart are redshirt freshmen Chad Rosson and Ricardo Carlos, as well as sophomore Adrian Ayala.

Tight Ends:

After Todd Heap turned pro, Sun Devil fans knew there would be a drop off in productivity. However, they didn't realize that the position would become virtually a non-factor in the passing game. Nevertheless, this trend should come to a screeching halt this year. ASU signed arguably the best tight end in the JC ranks in Aaron Austin. Austin is on pace to complete his studies and earn his AA degree a few days into camp Tontozona. Even with his late arrival he has as great of a chance as any newcomer on the team to become the starter for the season opener. The junior is a good mixture of speed and strength, and most importantly catches the ball extremely well. Senior Mike Pinkard is an athletic wonder standing at 6-6, 265 pounds, and possessing unbelievable speed for his size. Unfortunately, that has never translated into a successful career. He has never won the confidence of the quarterback or the coaches with his constant dropped balls, but in the spring he showed signs that his bad habits may be the only things he will drop these days. Pinkard has one last chance to cash in on his potential (and emerge as an NFL prospect) as his ASU career comes to an end. If he or Austin (or both) can step up, the Devils offense will become even more dynamic and dangerously diverse than it already is. Junior Frank Maddox is more of the blocking physical tight end who hasn't shined, but does have an upside. Redshirt freshman Lee Burhgraef has a chance to put his potential on display this year. Freshman Jamal Lewis will probably red shirt because of the older talent, and the need to bulk up.

The consensus among ASU observers is that the Sun Devils struggles in 2001 mainly lied with its defense. The solid numbers put up by the offensive unit do very little to dispel this theory. Nevertheless, this year it may be the offense that will constantly battle through its shortcomings. The ability to successfully solve the numerous questions on this side of the ball will have the most profound effect on ASU's chances to drastically improve its record from last year.

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