Devils' Dozen

The old football cliché says that a team is as good as its weakest link. Yet, every squad has its key players, usually the leaders in their respective positions, whose contributions or lack of will define their teammates' season. Devils Digest identified what it believes to be the top-12 key players on the 2007 Sun Devil team, and some names may be less obvious than others.

Rudy Carpenter – OK, so we're definitely not going on a limb stating that the starting quarterback is a key player this year. Nonetheless, Carpenter is naturally the biggest leader on offense and is tasked with reviving an anemic passing game while putting a below average 2006 season behind him. We think he can successfully accomplish that, and it goes without saying that no one will be more responsible for any offensive turnaround than number 12 himself.

Ryan Torain – not since Derrick Rodgers has a junior college transfer made so much impact in his first year donning the maroon and gold. Just like a rookie pitcher, he may have caught those facing him by surprise the first time around, but his greatness will be tested when defenses are more familiar with his skills and tendencies in his second year. It has been well documented how deep and talented ASU's running back group is, but it would be hard to imagine duplicating nearly 170 yards rushing each contest without Torain being the proverbial workhorse who rumbles over defenders and constantly moves the chains.

Rudy Burgess – the Sun Devils' "do-it-all" player will likely end his ASU career in the position where he started it – wide receiver. Ironically enough, he never played a whole season exclusively at this position, but 2007 just may be the season where the elusive Burgess he will find himself in a stationary role. The senior's upcoming contributions this year, will be key in a relatively inexperienced wide receiver group looking for a leader and proven talent. Burgess can be an offensive headache for opposing defenses, which would in turn provide relief and opportunity for his fellow receivers to make their own mark.

Michael Marquardt – another ASU football topic discussed ad nauseam in the off-season is the concern over the defensive tackle position. So naturally we look to the veteran at this position to lead the way. While a steady in-game rotation at defensive tackle is a must to keep heavy legs fresh, Marquardt may end up logging in extra snaps if the fears over the play at this position materialize. Much like Burgess, his leadership will be key for his less experienced comrades.

Luis Vasquez – the situation at defensive end isn't that much rosier. Pass rushing wasn't a bright spot in 2006, and the junior college transfer sack machine has been brought in to rectify that situation. More often than not junior college transfers struggle in their first year at the Division I level. Nonetheless, with thin depth at the position it's imperative that Vasquez come out of the gates blazing and make offenses think twice about double- teaming ASU's 2006 sack leader Dexter Davis.

Morris Wooten – Along with Vasquez may be the most important defensive signing in the 2007 recruiting class. In spring practice, the Phoenix native proved rather quickly that he will be a mainstay at the MIKE (middle linebacker) position. Much like Vasquez, Wooten was a JC star that now has to demonstrate that he can be the same impact player on the next level. The depth chart behind Wooten is even more suspect, thus he too may be logging a lot of minutes for his hometown college.

Travis Goethel – Speed at linebacker has been an emphasis of this new coaching staff, and the sophomore, who had a solid freshman campaign, manifests that approach in a very strong way. With a mostly uncanny resemblance to another Sun Devil linebacker, the late Pat Tillman, Goethel plays with reckless abandon and at full speed every time he takes to the field. The SAM (strong side) linebacker will certainly will be counted on to make plays in a scheme that suits his skills probably more than most linebackers on the team.

Ryan McFoy – His re-assignment to linebacker from safety in the spring was intriguing to say the least. While he may be backing up Goethel right now, it isn't out of the question that he could lineup at the starting WILL (weak spot) position in the future. His physical tools and quickness will more than likely prove quite valuable for the ASU defense this season.

Troy Nolan – Probably one the biggest reasons for McFoy's position move. The JC transfer, who redshirted last season due an injury, was one of the best performers in spring practice. Playing along side All-Pac 10 Josh Barrett, a strong season by Nolan will create an imposing safety tandem which could materialize as the defense's biggest asset.

Chris Baloney – His injury last year may have been rarely mentioned, but was very significant nonetheless. He showed much promise starting at the cornerback position opposite All-Pac 10 player Justin Tryon. Following his injury that role became a revolving door and a growing concern to this day. Much like defensive tackle, this position is undoubtedly weighing heavy on the minds of the ASU coaches. Baloney definitely has the potential to put those fears to rest.

Thomas Weber – We told you some of the names on this list will be less obvious, so yes we're going to list a kicker as a key player. Weber may have the biggest shoes to fill out of the all newcomers, as he replaces touchback machine Jesse Ainsworth. Weber started spring practice on fire (in terms of his field goal kicking), but cooled down considerably as the 15-practice session continued. Life has been very easy for the Sun Devils kickoff coverage team the last couple of years, and Weber will have a huge part in determining if this unit will have a pleasant Déjà vu in 2007. Not many games in recent Sun Devil history have been determined by a field goal, and it's anybody's guess how this first-year kicker will perform when a game's outcome is on the line.

The list above is by no means a comprehensive one. We purposely shied away from naming true freshmen to this list. We believe that players such as Jonathan English, Kerry Taylor, and assuming he qualifies Omar Bolden, will not redshirt this season. However, to put the burden title of a key player on those young shoulders may be a bit too presumptuous. At the end of the day, it's up to the veteran players to carry the load and lead the way.

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