2007 Spring Review

The Dennis Erickson era officially begun last month with the commencement of spring practice. Several positions were unsettled and many players were looking to impress the new staff in hopes of either climbing up the depth chart or holding on to their first-team status. At the end of the 15-practice session some questions have been answered and some still remain.


What We Learned: The veteran line is the glue of the offense but the back-ups need more polishing.

*Projected Starters

LT Brandon Rodd, Sr.
LG Robert Gustavis, Sr.
C Mike Pollak, Sr.
RG Paul Fanaika, Jr.
RT Zach Krula, Sr.

The return of Zach Krula was a pleasant sight this spring after the big tackle had to sit out for the better part of the last two seasons due to injury. If the sixth-year senior can stay healthy this fall, he would be a big piece of the puzzle up front in both pass protection and run blocking. Brandon Rodd adds his talents at left tackle and combines with Krula to give ASU two experienced bookend Hell Hogs this season.

Sophomore Richard Tuitu'u is slated to back up Rodd at left tackle while senior Julius Orieukwu is penciled as Krula's replacement on the right side. Paul Fanaika has continued to work hard and had a solid spring. Fanaika and senior Robert Gustavis are pegged in at the two guard spots but may share snaps with sophomore Shawn Lauvao. The Hawai'i native had an impressive spring and has emerged as the top reserve on the front five with his versatility in playing both guard positions.

Senior Mike Pollak does not garner a lot of attention but his consistent play continues to speak for himself as he is the anchor at center. With the shotgun formation officially implemented this spring, Pollak didn't skip too much of a beat in his snapping duties. His back-up, Thomas Altieri, had an occasional error snapping in the new formation but that's likely something that will be cleaned up with more repetitions.

The first team offensive line showed exactly why they're the starters this spring but the second unit does not seem to be quite as cohesive. Individually, the reserves can be plugged in with the first team and step in nicely but if injuries begin to take a toll on several of the starters again, the line may be in for another adventure. Under new offensive line coach Gregg Smith, the group seems to embrace more of a vocal leadership for the offense with Pollak and Lauvao not hesitant at all in lighting a fire under their teammates. The energy and passion from top to bottom was also noticeable over spring drills.


What We Learned: Three productive running backs have the potential to give ASU its deepest back field so far this decade.

*Projected Starter

RB Ryan Torain, Sr.

Senior Ryan Torain followed up an impressive junior campaign by showcasing his talents again this spring. Torain's running style seems to be a great fit into Erickson's offensive scheme and the running back figures to be a big part of what the new coaching staff plans to do this season--run the ball more. The senior capped off spring drills with a two-touchdown performance in the spring game on Saturday but coughed up the ball for one of the offense's seven turnovers on the night. Behind a veteran offensive line, sporting a good balance of brawn and speed Torain stands a great chance of eclipsing his 2006 mark of 1,229 yards.

Things may have gotten a little more interesting over the course of spring drills with reserves Dimitri Nance and Keegan Herring battling for carries behind Torain. Sophomore Dimitri Nance had a very strong spring and asserted himself to the point that he's most definitely not a forgotten man in the rotation. Nance drew positive reviews from Erickson on several levels including his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Keegan Herring also showed some flashes this spring when he wasn't injured but closed out spring drills on a rough note. The junior got caught reversing the field after the defense had him contained for a 28-yard loss in Saturday's spring game, further proof that he needs to settle for the smaller gains rather than the homerun play on each down Herring remains second on the depth chart as the team will head to Camp Tontozona in August. However, the arrival of junior college transfer Jarrell Woods means the back field competition should be even more heated than it is currently.


What We Learned: Sullivan has improved his play but Carpenter's starting job isn't in jeopardy.

*Projected Starter QB Rudy Carpenter, Jr.

As one of the more vocal Sun Devils in the media this spring, Rudy Carpenter expressed a renewed energy and fun in practices that he felt was lacking under the previous regime. By the looks of it, Carpenter seemed a little more loose and comfortable despite the competition to retain the starting nod. After second guessing himself last season, a boost to the signal-caller's confidence can only benefit him and the maroon and gold. Carpenter's supporting cast of running backs and receivers, and the introduction of the shotgun formation, also suggest that the junior has a nice chance to rebound this season after a rocky 2006 campaign.

Despite not coming away from spring drills with a starting spot, Sullivan should feel better about himself and where he stands heading into camp. The sophomore looked understandably shaky and unsure of himself last season after being forced into back-up duty fresh out of high school. With a bulked-up frame and a year of cutting his teeth, Sullivan is officially ready to take on a reserve role with a better frame of mind. The Northern California product threw the lone passing score in Saturday's spring game. Two Southern California freshmen will join the fold at Camp Tontozona, Samson Szakacsy and Chasen Stangel. Both are expected to compete with redshirt freshman Dax Crum in determining the third string signal caller.


What We Learned: Last year's much maligned group will enter camp with higher expectations and improved depth after a productive spring.

*Projected Starters (when a two-TE alignment isn't employed)

SL Rudy Burgess, Sr.
FL Chris McGaha, So.
SE Mike Jones, Jr.

Two of the offensive standouts this spring were sophomores Brandon Smith and Kyle Williams. In both practices and scrimmages, the pair was consistent all spring in their play. Williams figures to share some time in the slot with senior Rudy Burgess as both are legitimate play makers. Redshirt freshman Rodney Glass, also a speedster, got his first real taste at receiver this spring and struggled a bit in catching the football. Glass may still be a year away from seeing time with two playmakers well ahead of him and an occasional sprinkling of Tyrice Thompson in the mix as well.

The Mike Jones/Brandon Smith battle will carry over to Camp Tontozona. Smith developed nice timing with quarterback Rudy Carpenter while Jones was partially held out with back problems. A healthy Jones in the fall will only make things more interesting but one can only wonder if he still has a firm grip on his starting spot with the success Smith has had so far. Nate Kimbrough, out in the spring rehabbing last season's torn ACL, also has a battle on his hands for the starting flanker spot or just a good spot in the rotation. Sophomore Chris McGaha showcased enough this spring that he's penciled in as the new starter. Senior Jeff Gray quietly had an impressive spring and hopes to continue his quest for playing time well into the fall. The successful spring has given Erickson and receivers coach Eric Yarber a nice group of options to choose from when they begin to refine matters in camp. Just like the running backs, this group could be one of the best Sun Devil fans have witnessed in recent memory.


What We Learned: The loss of one Miller is noticeable but, thankfully, another Miller is still here to lead this unit.

*Projected Starters (when a three-WR alignment isn't employed)

TE Brent Miller, Sr.
HB Tyrice Thompson, Sr.

The loss of Zach Miller leaves some big shoes to fill here as Erickson will continue to often feature two tight end sets in his offense. As expected, senior Brent Miller emerged as the leader of the unit this spring. Miller showcased his consistent receiving abilities and has a firm grip on one of the starting spots. One of the biggest stars of the spring was Tyrice Thompson. The senior garnered raves from Erickson and plans to be in the mix more than ever this fall. Thompson, considered the proverbial "X-Factor" by his coaches, will line up at H-Back and play in the slot on occasion as well.

The reserves here include Dane Guthrie, Lance Evbuomwan, Andrew Pettes, Jovon Williams, and Brady Conrad. Guthrie, a junior, figures to be one of the first options off the bench while senior Brady Conrad and the redshirt freshmen Evbuomwan should also be in the rotation going into camp. Overall, it was not a very strong spring from anybody outside of Miller and Thompson as no one really emerged as threats to that starting tandem. Inconsistent hands plagued the rest of the group and prevented any separation from the pack.


What We Learned: Depth issues on the interior of the line remain a concern.

*Projected Starters

DE Luis Vasquez, Jr.
DT Michael Marquardt, Sr.
DT David Smith, Jr.
DE Dexter Davis, So.

Depth uneasiness prompted Erickson to move redshirt freshman Saia Falahola from offensive line to defensive tackle. The experiment was a success as Falahola is already slated in as Michael Marquardt's back-up, and has actually played along side the senior for extended periods of time. Marquardt and junior David Smith should be the safe bets to be the two starters at tackle this season while Jon Hargis, also a redshirt freshman, joins Falahola on the second team. Tashaka Merriweather isn't that far off from getting more snaps and Zach Niusulu appears to need more seasoning before moving up the depth chart.

Junior Alex Asi was moved inside to tackle but hasn't emerged as a solid option yet either. Florida transfer Tranell Morant was also moved inside but was injured for the better part of spring drills. Both have an uphill battle if they wish to overtake Hargis and/or Falahola in the rotation. With that being said, the rotation is not set in stone by any means, which is why some feel that incoming freshman Jonathan English has a strong chance not to redshirt

Developing a pass rush this season is also on Erickson's to-do list, which was why he signed two junior college defensive ends over the winter break. Luis Vasquez and Eric Tanner participated in spring drills and a late push by Vasquez may have helped him leapfrog senior Kellen Mills for the starting left end job. Dexter Davis will start at right end and Tanner is listed as his back up. Junior Wes Evans and Zach Brown, a redshirt freshman, are third-teamers as it stands right now. Evans put on weight in the off-season, which helped fill out his frame, but is still coming along technique-wise.


What We Learned: Asserted themselves as arguably the deepest unit for the defense.

*Projected Starters

SAM Travis Goethel, So.
MIKE Morris Wooten, Jr.
WILL Mike Nixon, So.

Junior college transfer Morris Wooten was expected to come in and wrap up the middle linebacker job and that's just what he did. He showed that he's capable of stuffing the run along with several others in the group. There was some experimenting going on throughout the spring but the starting three appear to be Travis Goethel, Wooten, and Mike Nixon. Goethel has the unenviable task of fending off Ryan McFoy, a new addition to linebacker. The sophomore made the switch from safety and will remain at the position this fall. Both Goethel and Nixon continued to progress nicely this spring and figure to get many snaps in the fall.

Behind McFoy, Chad Lindsey and Garrett Judah will battle for time in camp. Redshirt freshman Jamarr Robinson suffered an ACL injury in the spring game which will undoubtedly keep him out of action this season. Robinson was slated to back up Wooten in the middle so perhaps that opens a door for sophomore Gerald Munns to get on the field more often. Jeff Bereuter also suffered a sprain but is expected to be back in the fold this fall. Bereuter was pegged in behind Nixon on the weak side and will likely see more competition in camp if senior Robert James is healthy.


What We Learned: A trio of talented safeties will be counted on to help bolster a questionable pass defense.

*Projected Starters

SS Jeremy Payton, Jr.
FS Josh Barrett, Sr.

Troy Nolan and Jeremy Payton, both juniors, took advantage of senior Josh Barrett's absence and played well from the first whistle of the spring. So much so that it prompted Erickson to experiment with Ryan McFoy at linebacker, feeling that the safety position would still be in capable hands in spite of losing the versatile McFoy. Junior Rodney Cox will be Barrett's back up while Nolan is penciled in behind Payton. However, you can expect to see Nolan get his fair share of snaps. Angelo Fobbs-Valentino is playing his best football these days since arriving in Tempe, and will challenge Cox for a higher position on the depth chart. Although he sat out spring drills due to injury, Josh Barrett was named to the 2007 Lott Trophy watch list as the senior is expected to be one of the conference's top safeties.


What We Learned: Does anyone want the second starting spot opposite Tryon?

*Projected Starters

CB Justin Tryon, Sr.
CB Chris Baloney, Sr.

Justin Tryon will be a starter on one side but the question is who will start opposite him? Senior Chris Baloney is listed as a starter on the depth chart, but hasn't been consistent enough to lock down that role. Prior to his horrific traffic accident, which took place just a few hours after the spring game, Chad Green was getting many reps with Tryon. Needless to say that currently Green's football future is murky at best.

Junior college transfer Jarrell Holman will continue to get a strong look after overcoming a slow start to spring drills. Holman was a star for the secondary in the spring game displaying good pass defense for most of his time on the field. The uncertainty certainly opens the door for incoming freshman Omar Bolden to get heavy into the mix if the coaching staff feels he can contribute early on.

A pair of sophomores will likely see their roles expand after this season as players will have exhausted their eligibility. Grant Crunkleton and Travis Smith did not overtake the upperclassmen on the depth chart; however, Crunkleton is still involved in the rotation and appears to be further along than Smith at this time.


What We Learned: Two talented specialists have soothed some fears but the kicking game needs to find solid ground this fall.

P Jonathan Johnson, Sr.
K Thomas Weber, RS-Fr.

PR Kyle Williams, So.
KR Rudy Burgess, Sr.

The first order of business for the group was to find a replacement at place kicker for four-year starter Jesse Ainsworth. Thomas Weber, a redshirt freshman, will likely fill his role this season. Yet the process may resemble a roller coaster ride if accuracy is still an issue in the fall. Weber has a strong leg and showcased his skills early on by converting on 4 of 5 attempts in the first scrimmage, including a 52-yarder. However, the kicker struggled with his accuracy in the two subsequent scrimmages.

Senior punter Jonathan Johnson should be more than a serviceable punter this season. The senior has enough leg to punt the ball a good distance but hang time continues to be his trademark. Jason Perkins is a new face at long snapper and had a successful spring in taking over for Jason Burke. Miller saw some action too at snapper.

The returners didn't see a wealth of practice time over the course of spring drills but that figures to change in the fall. Kyle Williams is the first team punt returner while Rudy Burgess will return kicks. Tryon and McGaha are also expected to field kicks and/or punts this season.

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