Devils Digest 2007 Season Preview

The long off-season is about to come to an end with ASU's first practice set for Thursday. Dennis Erickson was named the school's 22nd head coach last December and brings with him a resume rich on experience and success. The Sun Devils will play eight home games, including their first four in Tempe, and with 17 returning starters, another post-season appearance should be in the cards in 2007.

* denotes newcomer

WIDE RECEIVER

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

*Kerry Taylor, Fr.
*T.J. Simpson, For.

With everyone back at receiver, it's hard to believe this position won't see some sort of an improvement over a forgettable 2006 campaign. Injuries and youth left the position in flux for most of last season. Rudy Burgess enters his final season in Tempe at receiver, a position he is still relatively new at in comparison to a few others. Burgess was all set to catch passes from quarterback Rudy Carpenter last year but was plagued with an injury early on. The senior then moved to cornerback halfway through the season to help shore up depth at that position and then injured his foot. A healthy Burgess can offer much-needed leadership and experience, not to mention his innate ability to make things happen on the field.

Two of the stars in spring practice were sophomores Brandon Smith and Kyle Williams. Their consistency drew praise from Erickson and has them positioned nicely in the competition for snaps when camp starts. Juniors Mike Jones and Nate Kimbrough were limited over spring drills with injuries, but should provide even more competition this fall. Chris McGaha shouldn't be discounted in this crowded group either. The sophomore quietly had a solid audition this past spring for the new staff and is also in the mix for playing time.

It's always a possibility that a player previously lost in the depth chart can emerge with the arrival of a new staff. Tyrice Thompson proved that this past spring with his play at receiver. The senior has had stops at defensive end and tight end before finding a niche at wide receiver. Erickson has already said he plans on utilizing Thompson this fall also in the slot and H-Back. Jeff Gray and Rodney Glass will round out the depth. Local high school products Kerry Taylor and T.J. Simpson will join the fold this fall, and reports are Taylor has look spectacular in the summer workouts.

RUNNING BACK

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

*Jarrell Woods, So.

The running back group is arguably the deepest it's been in nearly a decade for the Sun Devils. Ryan Torain is back as the team's rushing leader with 1,229 yards gained on the ground a season ago. The senior had the best single-season rushing mark in school history since 1975. Junior Keegan Herring and sophomore Dimitri Nance will get some snaps behind Torain with each offering their own unique running styles. Herring has the lateral quickness to gain chunks of yards and is a great change-of-pace and breakaway back behind Torain. Nance may be the most complete back with the ability to catch well out of the backfield and the patience for his blocks to set up.

In an already crowded backfield, newcomer Jarrell Woods joins the others intent on cracking the rotation this fall. Like a handful of others in the Valley, Woods frequented the ASU spring practices and has been studying the playbook in hopes of earning early playing time. Preston Jones and Shaun DeWitty will also aid depth at the position.

TIGHT END

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

*Dan Knapp, Fr.

Zach Miller's loss to the NFL Draft will likely put a premium on the need for more receivers to step up this season as Carpenter loses a sure-handed target. Brent Miller's receiving role will likely increase this year as he's the steady veteran of the group. The senior is penciled in at one starting spot while the competition remains open at the other. Erickson will use a two-tight end set when he's not spreading out the field so it's a position battle of interest as practices get underway. Florida transfer Dane Guthrie is likely to get snaps this fall after some flashes in spring while senior Tyrice Thompson will share duties here at H-Back. Outside of these three, the depth is still a concern considering the lack of consistency from the rest of the group. Brady Conrad, Andrew Pettes, Jovon Williams, and Lance Evbuomwan all have a chance to fill out the two-deep if they can gain some separation from the rest of the pack.

QUARTERBACK

Rudy Carpenter, Jr.
Danny Sullivan, So.

*Chasen Stangel, Fr.
*Samson Szakacsy, Fr.

Rudy Carpenter enters his junior season ready to rebound from a very average season a year ago. Carpenter has already thrown for nearly 5,000 yards in his first two seasons and tossed 40 touchdown passes. The junior's confidence appears to be improved with the support of Erickson, all of his receivers back, and a ground game poised to be one of the school's best this decade. The signal caller will be taking some of his snaps out of the shotgun this season, a formation he's already familiar with from his high school days.

Sophomore Danny Sullivan used the off-season to add muscle and learn the playbook. The hard work paid off and it was already evident in the spring as he was noticeably more composed in the pocket in practices. Should something happen to Carpenter, Sullivan should at least be capable of running more than the skeleton offense he ran in mop-up duty as a true freshman. Two freshmen from California will also enter the race this fall. Samson Szakacsy and Chasen Stangel will compete for a back-up spot in camp. One will probably redshirt while the other will round out the playable depth.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT Brandon Rodd, Sr.
LT Richard Tuitu'u, So.
OG Robert Gustavis, Sr.
OG Shawn Lauvao, So.
OG Paul Fanaika, Jr.
C Mike Pollak, Sr.
C Thomas Altieri, So.
RT Zach Krula, Sr.
RT Julius Orieukwu, Sr.
RT Ian Scheuring, RS-Fr.

*Matt Hustad, Fr.
*Garth Gerhart, Fr.
*Adam Tello, Fr.
*Mike Marcisz, Fr.

One of the team strengths this year is up front on the line. It's a unit heavy on experience, much to the delight of new skipper Dennis Erickson. Barring any injuries, the starting five will likely be Brandon Rodd and Zach Krula at the two tackle spots, Robert Gustavis at left guard, Mike Pollak snapping the ball at center, and Paul Fanaika manning things at right guard. Fanaika is the lone non-senior of the five.

While these five may be poised to have a strong season, the reserves still have some work to do overall as a group. One thing evident in spring practice was the noticeable drop-off from the first unit to the second. That said, individually, they've shown they can step in for a first teamer and perform just fine. Right tackle Julius Orieukwu started the last 7 games a year ago while Richard Tuitu'u also has experience as he started for Rodd at left tackle against Arizona. Sophomore Shawn Lauvao drew praise this past spring with his play and vocal leadership on the practice field, and will be a valuable piece to the puzzle considering his versatility at both guard spots.

ASU inked five high school offensive linemen earlier this year. Four of them will join the team this fall while Po'u Palelei plans on greyshirting at MCC. If Palelei's academics are in order at the end of the semester, he plans on joining the program in the spring. Montana's Gatorade Player of the Year, Matt Hustad, will redshirt after knee surgery. With five linemen set to move on after this season, it's not out of the question that one of the other three freshmen could play this season to aid depth.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DT Michael Marquardt, Sr.
DT David Smith, Jr.
DT Jon Hargis, RS-Fr.
DT Saia Falahola, RS-Fr.
DT Tashaka Merriweather, Sr.
DT Tranell Morant, Sr.
DT Zach Niusulu, RS-Fr.
DT Alex Asi, Jr.

*DT Jonathan English, Fr.
*DT Bo Moos, Fr.

DE Dexter Davis, So.
DE Kellen Mills, Sr.
DE Wes Evans, Jr.
DE Zach Brown, RS-Fr.

*DE Luis Vasquez, Jr.
*DE Eric Tanner, Jr.
*DE Paul ‘Unga, Jr.
*DE James Brooks, Fr

Among the top priorities in camp will be establishing depth along the defensive line, particularly at defensive tackle. Michael Marquardt and David Smith are safe bets to start the season at tackle. Marquardt reprises his starting role from last season while Smith has served in a reserve capacity the last two years. Two redshirt freshmen climbed up the depth chart in the spring. Saia Falahola's switch to defense adds depth and size in the middle with his 301 lb. frame. Jon Hargis joins Falahola on the second unit.

The depth chart at tackle appears to be a work in progress with more bodies being added to the mix in camp. Zach Niusulu and Alex Asi should be able to practice after redshirting last fall and missing spring drills with injuries. Tranell Morant's move from defensive end to tackle could best described as incomplete. The senior also missed spring drills with an injury and his return to the field in camp is still up in the air. Two high school tackles, Jonathan English and Bo Moos, will also join the group in camp with the chance to play this season.

Although he's not the flashiest of players, Dexter Davis' play at defensive end was quietly effective last season. Davis started all 13 games and led the team with six sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss. The starting spot opposite Davis remains up for grabs as camp begins. However, Luis Vasquez is the early favorite to take the spot. Vasquez arrived in the spring, along with fellow junior college transfer Eric Tanner, and came on strong in the later stages of spring to make a solid claim as a starter. Senior Kellen Mills has several years of experience but his size could keep him coming off the bench if the newcomers pan out. Junior Wes Evans put on some muscle in the off season and rounds out the depth with redshirt freshman Zach Brown. Junior college transfer Paul ‘Unga and true freshman James Brooks are the two newcomers this fall, with the former standing a very good chance to be heavy in the rotation.

LINEBACKER

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

*Morris Wooten, Jr.
*Derrall Anderson, Fr.

Morris Wooten arrived in the spring from Glendale Community College and will likely start the season opener against San Jose State. Wooten brings in some size at middle linebacker without sacrificing a great deal of speed. The depth behind Wooten took a small hit when Jamarr Robinson injured his knee in the spring game but good news came last month when it was announced that Robinson is expected back in late September or early October. Robinson had joined the second unit on the depth chart, passing Gerald Munns, at the conclusion of spring drills. Munns played as a true freshman a year ago, however, and will contribute some valuable experience off the bench.

The competition on the strong side began to heat up in the spring and is still a little unsettled as camp opens. Travis Goethel is penciled in as the starter after a fine debut as a true freshman last fall. Goethel notched 29 tackles and 1 sack last fall and has a good nose for the ball. The sophomore will have to fend off a newcomer to the position though. Ryan McFoy transitioned to linebacker from safety midway through spring practice. The move not only adds more speed but some experience as well. McFoy started eight games at safety as a true freshman last season. Chad Lindsey and Garrett Judah will try to make the most of redshirt years last fall and challenge for playing time as well.

23-year old sophomore Mike Nixon could start on the weak side for the Sun Devil defense. Nixon got his feet wet last season in all 13 games by collecting 32 tackles and three quarterback sacks. Look for Robert James to be back in the mix this season after returning from a bout with migraine headaches. James has the speed to compete on the outside and has past experience as a starter. Jeff Bereuter comes off of a redshirt season and will compliment the depth on the outside. Derrall Anderson is the lone signee at linebacker out of high school and is a redshirt candidate this year due in large part to the number of veterans in front of him.

SAFETY

Josh Barrett, Sr.
Troy Nolan, Jr.
Jeremy Payton, Jr.
Rodney Cox, Jr.
Angelo Fobbs-Valentino, Jr.
Brett Nenaber, Sr.
Mike Callaghan, RS-Fr.

*Oliver Aaron, Fr.
*Colin Parker, Fr.

The safety position is perhaps the spot Erickson is least concerned about on defense this year. The coach had high praise for junior Troy Nolan throughout the spring. Nolan redshirted last fall after transferring from the junior college ranks. The extra year seems to have paid off for the safety, so much so that it prompted the new staff to do some reshuffling of sorts on defense with two other safeties. Ryan McFoy moved to linebacker while Jeremy Payton practiced at times with the cornerbacks. These moves speak volumes about the staff's confidence in the starting duo of Josh Barrett and Troy Nolan. While Nolan may be new to the starting fold, Barrett is certainly no stranger to the role. The speedy senior is a pre-season honors candidate, both nationally and within the conference, after collecting 82 tackles and three interceptions last year.

Should injuries set in, Payton can be called upon after being a regular contributor for the defense the last two years. Following Payton, experience is thin as juniors Rodney Cox and Angelo Fobbs-Valentino don't have much game experience. Brett Nenaber and Mike Callaghan are both walk-ons that will most likely be scout team contributors. Oliver Aaron and Colin Parker are joining the group this fall out of high school.

CORNERBACK

Justin Tryon, Sr.
Chris Baloney, Sr.
Jeremy Payton, Jr.
Littrele Jones, Sr.
Grant Crunkleton, So.
Travis Smith, So.

*Jarrell Holman, Jr.
*Omar Bolden, Fr.

Spring practice looked like a great opportunity for someone to step up and nail down the starting spot opposite Justin Tryon. Unfortunately, this battle carries over to camp due to consistency issues. Senior Chad Green was involved in a car accident shortly after the spring game and the team will be without his services this fall as he continues to recover. Green appeared to be a viable candidate for the starting role when spring drills came to a close.

Chris Baloney will get a long look in camp and may have the early inside track at the aforementioned open spot, but his play must improve. Junior safety Jeremy Payton experimented some at corner over the course of spring practice and it appears that he will continue to play some here. Littrele Jones is a veteran in the program but short on big game experience. Two sophomores, Grant Crunkleton and Travis Smith, both got reps in the spring but likely need a little more seasoning before being in serious contention for a starting role. Crunkleton appears to be slightly further along than Smith and may get a large number of reps this fall depending on how things shake out.

With the uncertainty at one cornerback spot, two newcomers may earn playing time immediately. Phoenix College transfer Jarrell Holman already joined the team for spring drills and will continue to battle for snaps in camp. Holman shook off a slow start in the spring by coming alive in the later portion of practices, which included a solid showing in the spring game. Heralded freshman Omar Bolden was cleared by ASU but is still awaiting the official green light from the NCAA Clearinghouse. If Bolden looks like he can be a contributor in camp then the staff won't be afraid to play him as a true freshman.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK Thomas Weber, RS-Fr.
P Jonathan Johnson, Sr.
SN Jason Perkins, Jr.
SN Clay Davie, Fr.

Specialist Jonathan Johnson helped to engineer a big turnaround in ASU's punting game last season. There was an increase of 6.9 yards in net punting from the previous season, tops in the Pac-10 last season. The senior is back and should be one of the conference's best punters this fall. Jason Perkins is slated to take over at long snapper for departed veteran Jason Burke. The kicking duties will be handed to redshirt freshman Thomas Weber, whose accuracy came under some scrutiny in spring drills. Weber has shown a strong leg, much like his predecessor Jesse Ainsworth, but needs to work on his accuracy.

Cornerback Justin Tryon and wide receiver Kyle Williams figure to see significant time in the return game according to Erickson. Williams' playmaking ability makes him an attractive candidate as does the reliable Rudy Burgess who has the most experience on the team as a return specialist.

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