2007 Spring Preview

Since December 11th, fan anticipation has slowly been building up in Tempe with the arrival of newly appointed head coach Dennis Erickson. Wetting the Sun Devil football appetite was a recruiting class that was well-received considering Erickson and his staff only had weeks to sign that group. As spring practices commence next week, let's take a look at what to watch for at each position.


Position Coach: Dan Cozzetto

Brent Miller, Sr.
Dane Guthrie, Jr.
Brady Conrad, Sr.
Andrew Pettes, Jr.
Jovon Williams, So.
Lance Evbuomwan, RS-Fr.

Dan Cozzetto, the Sun Devils' Offensive Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach during the 1996 Rose Bowl season, makes his return to Tempe and will likely be his vocal self coaching the tight ends this time around. The early departure of All-American Zach Miller leaves some big shoes to fill for a group that is relatively short on experience. ASU is still expected to show two tight end sets under Erickson, so this spring should provide a great opportunity for some of the less utilized players to emerge. Zach's older brother, Brent Miller, is hands down the favorite to see the most snaps, as he is certainly the most talented in this group in terms of catching and blocking and the most battle tested among his peers.

Dane Guthrie had a fairly strong spring a year ago but failed to parlay that over in the fall. The transfer from University of Florida possesses all the athletic skills in the world, but clearly needs to improve the mental aspect of his game. Brady Conrad drew raves from former skipper Dirk Koetter and earned some early season playing time. Nonetheless, he remained on the sidelines for much of the conference slate. Both will be competing with Andrew Pettes and Jovon Williams for playing time this spring. Lance Evbuomwan, probably the most intriguing prospect of the group, is coming off of a redshirt year and already showed in last year's fall camp his impressive athleticism in the passing game. With a new staff to impress, this position appears to be wide open for competition behind Miller.


Position Coach: Jamie Christian

Ryan Torain, Sr.
Keegan Herring, Jr.
Dimitri Nance, So.
Shaun DeWitty, Jr.
Preston Jones, Sr.

With everyone returning from last season's highly productive ground game, this unit enters the spring as the strongest offensive cog for Erickson. After rushing for over 1,200 yards last season, to say that Ryan Torain has a stronghold on the starting spot would be an understatement. Junior Keegan Herring may be the clear-cut backup to Torain and with his play-making abilities he gives Erickson some diverse backfield options. Dimitri Nance had a very respectable freshman debut but must continue to fend off Shaun DeWitty, the best pass-blocking back of the bunch, and sparkplug Preston Jones for playing time. Juco transfer Jarrell Woods will join the troops in the fall.


Position Coach: Gregg Smith

Brandon Rodd, Sr.
Zach Krula, Sr.
Mike Pollak, Sr.
Julius Orieukwu, Sr.
Paul Fanaika, Jr.
Robert Gustavis, Sr.
Thomas Altieri, So.
Beau Bandura, Sr.
Shawn Lauvao, So.
Richard Tuitu'u, So.
Djadji Daffe, Sr.
Saia Falahola, RS-Fr.
Jon Hargis, RS-Fr.

The group that started the last month of the 2006 season consisted of left tackle Brandon Rodd, left guard Robert Gustavis, center Mike Pollak, right guard Paul Fanaika, and right tackle Julius Orieukwu. All five are back and provide a strong nucleus. Rodd, closely followed by Pollak has the most experience and will be asked once again to protect the signal caller's blindside. Gustavis started all 13 games, and filled several roles along the front five. Pollak has blossomed into the leader every team needs its center to be, and seeing a lot of action in his first year is clearly paying off these days. Fanaika is the proverbial feel-good story who went from walk-on to a scholarship player and a very capable lineman. Orieukwu may be the less accomplished of the starting five, but should be able to play well enough to hold off any potential suitors for his position.

If healthy this year, senior Zach Krula will compete for time at right guard after being granted a sixth year of eligibility. Three juniors with some limited experience solidify the two-deep. Thomas Altieri can back up Pollak at center while Shawn Lauvao can play either guard position. Richard Tuitu'u has one start at left tackle on his resume and will benefit with more time with the group this spring, and perhaps make a push for Orieukwu's spot . Saia Falahola was the only lineman to redshirt last season and will begin his quest for increased snaps as a back-up both at center and guard. Redshirt freshman Jon Hargis has been moved from defensive tackle over to the offensive line to help, and will need a strong spring to gain a favorable position on the depth chart. Djadji Daffe, a native of France, along with Beau Bandura round out the OL group. The overall depth along the offensive line is a concern only because there isn't an abundance of numbers right now, but that will all change in the fall with the arrival of five freshmen. If this group remains intact, that would mean the Hell Hogs would consist of four senior starters for the Sun Devils this fall.


Position Coach: Eric Yarber

Rudy Burgess, Sr.
Mike Jones, Jr.
Nate Kimbrough, Jr.
Brandon Smith, So.
Chris McGaha, So.
Kyle Williams, So.
Rodney Glass, RS-Fr.
Tyrice Thompson, Sr.
Jeff Gray, Sr.

Perhaps the unit that fans yearn for the most improvement over last season. A healthy Rudy Burgess would go a long way in accomplishing that. Yet, the senior recently had arthroscopic surgery on his ankle and will miss the first few weeks of spring drills. Erickson is well aware of Burgess' talents and intends to use him as a slot receiver this season, and not play him at corner as his predecessor did. Burgess' absence this spring should allow for ample opportunities for some of the younger receivers to get reps which can aid them in their development. Erickson's offense is predicated on timing so any extra snaps will prove to be beneficial for the underclassmen.

Juniors Nate Kimbrough and Mike Jones are the most experienced, and probably the most talented wideouts behind Burgess. Unfortunately, Kimbrough will sit out spring rehabbing his ACL (he should be ready for fall camp), while Jones who also doubles as an outfielder for the baseball team will miss some of the practices due to his baseball commitments.

That leaves three sophomores, who all saw playing time last year as the focal point of this group in the spring. Brandon Smith is a speedy receiver who showed some encouraging signs the later part of the season and right now would probably be considered the best deep threat of the group. At times, Chris McGaha proved himself as a reliable receiver who had success in the shorter routes. Midway through 2006, Kyle Williams' redshirt designation was removed so he could assist as a returner on special teams. He probably didn't play on offense as much as some expected him to, but with a relatively small group of his peers practicing for the next few weeks, he will get invaluable long looks. After redshirting this past season at running back, speedster Rodney Glass will get his first chance to strut his athleticism at this position and it will be interesting to see how he fairs in his new assignment. At 6-5 Tyrice Thompson is the tallest wide receiver on the squad. This seldom used wideout could perhaps find success in the new offense.


Position Coach: Rich Olson

Rudy Carpenter, Jr.
Danny Sullivan, So.
Dax Crum, So.
Brett Boon, So.

With the same cast of characters as last season, the quarterback position will offer virtually no competition for a starting position, nor are any depth chart shakeups expected. The competition is bound to get more intense in fall camp when two accomplished high school quarterbacks, Chasen Stangel and Samson Szakacsy, join the fold. Until then, junior Rudy Carpenter will use this spring to learn Erickson's offense and improve his timing with his receivers firmly entrenched as the starter.

Danny Sullivan has added some weight to his frame this off-season, and could benefit from a strong showing this spring in the new offense with the expected logjam looming for this unit come August. On the other hand, expect one of the aforementioned high school signal-callers to get a strong look at the #2 spot if the staff does not feel comfortable with Sullivan's progress. Dax Crum was an outstanding scout team player in 2006 and time will tell if can threaten Sullivan's role or just remain third in the depth chart.


Position Coach: Grady Stretz

Michael Marquardt, Sr.
Tranell Morant, Sr.
Dexter Davis, So.
David Smith, Jr.
Alex Fa'agai. Jr.
Loren Howard, Sr.
Brett Palmer, Sr.
Wes Evans, Jr.
Kellen Mills, Sr.
Leo Mont, So.
Tashaka Merriweather, Sr.
Zach Niusulu, RS-Fr.

Newcomer(s): Eric Tanner and Luis Vasquez

In what seems to be an ongoing theme every season, the defensive line is another position to closely watch this season. Experience may be lacking a bit with the graduation of starters Jordan Hill and Kyle Caldwell, and often used backup Will Kofe. On the other hand, the depth has slowly been improving over the last few recruiting cycles. Senior Michael Marquardt, the undisputed leader of this group, will start at one interior spot while David Smith is the very early favorite at the other tackle spot. Erickson has stated that he likes defensive linemen that can run and Smith's never-ending motor clearly puts him into that category.

Senior Tranell Morant has moved inside to tackle and will compete with redshirt freshman Zach Niusulu and Alex Fa'agai who redshirted due to injury, for the primary backup roles. All three have the physical tools to succeed and their ability to grasp the mental aspect of the game will affect their contributions. With Martin Tevaseu's departure from the program and Jon Hargis' move to the offensive line, there's no excuse for senior tackle Brett Palmer to remain lost in the mix anymore if he wants to be a factor.

There figures to be quite the battle at defensive end, starting this spring with the arrival of two Juco transfers, Luis Vasquez and Eric Tanner. Dexter Davis was a pleasant surprise as a redshirt freshman in 2006. He led the defensive line in tackles and sacks last season but won't have the luxury of resting on any laurels this spring.

Kellen Mills, will probably be the starter opposing Davis in the beginning of the spring, but the question is will he retain that status come spring game. Loren Howard received another year of eligibility after medical hardships have sidelined him for the better part of the last three seasons. Yet, due to his health he isn't scheduled to be ready to practice in the beginning of spring's 15-practice session, and his availability beyond that is very much in doubt.


Position Coach: Craig Bray

Gerald Munns, So.
Mike Nixon, So.
Travis Goethel, So.
Robert James, Sr.
Chad Lindsey, So.
Garrett Judah, Sr.
Antone Saulsberry, Jr.
Jamarr Robinson, RS-Fr.
Jeff Bereuter, RS-Fr.

Newcomer(s): Morris Wooten

What a difference a year makes for this group. With healthy bodies and an abundance of players competing for new defensive coordinator Craig Bray, linebacker is arguably the position to feature the fiercest competition the next four weeks. The signing of heralded Juco transfer Morris Wooten will help in replacing middle linebacker Beau Manutai. Wooten is expected to contribute early on after having a stellar sophomore campaign at local Glendale Community College, the same school that produced co-PAC 10 defensive player of the year Dale Robinson.

Sophomores Mike Nixon, Travis Goethel, and Gerald Munns all return with experience that should only help in their development at this level. All three are expected to be in the mix again along with senior Robert James. In the spring, we'll also have a better idea where outside linebacker Chad Lindsey fits into the depth chart after redshirting in 2006. Two redshirt freshmen, Jamarr Robinson and Jeff Bereuter, will compete with senior Garrett Judah for the remaining snaps. SAFETY

Position Coach: Matt Lubick

Josh Barrett, Sr.
Ryan McFoy, So.
Jeremy Payton, Jr.
Troy Nolan, Jr.
Rodney Cox, Jr.
Angelo Fobbs-Valentino, Jr.

Senior Josh Barrett has all but nailed down one starting spot. As one of the fastest players on the team, along with being one of the more accomplished tacklers for the maroon and gold, this team leader should probably end his ASU career with a blaze of glory. The other spot, vacated by Zach Catanese, will be up for grabs this spring. Ryan McFoy played well as a true freshman in 2006 and will be in the hunt along with Jeremy Payton, a junior whom McFoy supplanted on the depth chart last fall. Payton will probably get the nod initially as the first-teamer, but will have to be at the top of his game to end the spring at the same spot. The wild card of this unit is undoubtedly Troy Nolan. He came from the junior college ranks last spring and immediately drew positive reviews but was eventually redshirted in the fall with an injury that actually took place around this time last year. Two juniors, Rodney Cox and Angelo Fobbs-Valentino, will fill out the depth at safety.


Position Coach: Al Simmons

Justin Tryon, Sr.
Chris Baloney, Sr.
Littrele Jones, Sr.
Chad Green, Sr.
Grant Crunkleton, So.
Travis Smith, So.

Newcomer(s): Jarrell Holman

Position coach Al Simmons was retained by Erickson, which should only continue the development of this group. Justin Tryon is a sure bet to start as is probably a healthy Chris Baloney, who before his early season injury played very well. The concern here is the depth with relatively low numbers and inexperience behind those two.

Juco transfer Jarrell Holman will definitely be a player worth following over the next month. At worst he would be the first one off the bench, but could seriously push Baloney as well. Ultimately, it would be a big positive in terms of the future of this position to see either Grant Crunkleton or Travis Smith emerge from the pack and get into the playing rotation early and often this spring/fall. Littrele Jones is a speedster and figures to be in the mix off the bench. If Chad Green can step up and apply himself in his senior season then he could possibly see the field. That's no guarantee, however, with injuries, among other things, keeping the corner buried on the depth chart.


Coordinator(s): Jamie Christian/Al Simmons

P Jonathan Johnson, Sr.
PK Thomas Weber, So.

Finding suitable replacements for long snapper Jason Burke and kicker Jesse Ainsworth will be two of the more important storylines this spring. Sophomore kicker Thomas Weber, who got favorable reviews from his mentor Ainsworth, will get every opportunity to be team's place-kicker. Jonathan Johnson should be once again a formidable punter for the Sun Devils this fall. Finding a new long snapper will be one of the most pressing duties for this unit, with Jason Perkins and Brent Miller probably getting some long looks. Johnson may end up being the holder again, as he was late last season.

Gone are the services of Terry Richardson in the return game so keep a close eye on who emerges on punt and kick return units to fill in this sizeable void. Normally, you could pencil in the versatile Burgess, but with his injury others will be called upon for this duty. Tryon had some success returning kicks late last season and in all likelihood will be the first choice at that role. Punt return duties could be given to one of several candidates, including Kyle Williams, Chris McGaha, and Rodney Glass. Williams is the most experienced of the bunch, so expect him to get the call the first few practices, if not for the duration of spring practice.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories