If you just attended the camp's scrimmage, you probably came away thinking that starting signal caller Rudy Carpenter was a repeat of his 2006 campaign. Truth be told that during the entire camp the junior was much closer to his 2005 form where he led the nation in pass efficiency. Carpenter is more confident, and is the beneficiary of improved coaching, a wide receiver unit that is night and day talent wise from last season, and most importantly a system tailored to highlight his abilities. All in all, there's much reason to be excited about the season Carpenter is poised to have.
The chatter that one of the incoming freshmen quarterbacks would unseat Danny Sullivan as the backup signal caller was quickly squashed in camp. Sullivan may have not been consistent in his play, but is definitely much improved in his abilities compared to his freshman year. He certainly has room for improvement, but when given the opportunity he succeeds more often than not.
First-year quarterbacks Chasen Stangel and Samson Szakacsy have shown some flashes, but overall are just like most freshmen on the team – trying to keep their head above water. Head Coach Dennis Erickson has recently stated that they're both neck-in-neck in the race for the third string duties, but added that both players could redshirt despite their status on the depth chart. Shortly after the scrimmage on the 24th of this month, we should all know who will secure that spot behind Sullivan.
The most veteran group on the team didn't disappoint in their run and pass blocking responsibilities in camp. Mike Pollak at center, Brandon Rodd at left tackle and Zach Krula at right tackle, were in the vast majority of first team snaps and are the unit's mainstays. The starting guards are Robert Gustavis (left) and Paul Fanaika (right), but at times they were switched with Shaun Lauvao (who had an excellent camp) and Julius Orieukwu (who was inconsistent). All in all Gustavis and Fanaika are pretty secure in their positions.
Richard Tuitu'u and Thomas Altieri didn't leave a lasting impression. On the other hand, walk-on Brent Good and incoming freshman Adam Tello has some good moments in camp, with the later perhaps having an outside shot not to redshirt if depth becomes a concern here.
ASU's ball carriers have been as advertised. Ryan Torain showed the running prowess that had him rush for 1,229 yards and 5.5 yards a carry, leaving little doubt that he can duplicate those numbers in 2007. The shifty Keegan Herring, and the prefect combo of speed and power of Dimitri Nance round up as good a trio of running backs you'll find anywhere in the Pac-10 and maybe even in all of college football.
An injury to Nance in the scrimmage opened the door for JC transfer Jarrell Woods, who was the proverbial late bloomer here at camp. Nonetheless, his playing time could still be scarce if the aforementioned top three players play at a high level. And if Woods will have a hard time finding playing time, Shaun DeWitty (who had a fairly good camp) and Preston Jones may be regulated for the most part to special team duties.
If you read Sparky's Huddle last month, you knew that Kerry Taylor was about to burst on the scene in a major way. Camp T (and frankly all of the pre-season practices thus far) has been the Chandler Hamilton's standout coming out party. The true freshman, and one of a few players guaranteed not to redshirt, is clearly the best newcomer on offense, if not on the entire team. Kyle Williams repeated his fine performance in the spring and is probably entrenched as a starter. Mike Jones battled nagging injuries, but when healthy he's by far one of the stars of this group.
Chris McGaha, just like Woods, ended camp on a much stronger note than he started it. Burgess is the reverse, as a scrimmage injury sidelined him for the later half of Camp T's practices. Injuries have slowed down even more Nate Kimbrough and Brandon Smith, who could quickly fall down the depth chart in light of the performance of their fellow wide receivers. True freshman T.J. Simpson is still trying to adjust to the next level, and Rodney Glass, who started fall pre-season practices late due to personal reasons, is also behind the curve. Jeff Gary had his moments. Walk-on Kevin Ballard has really impressed with his abilities in camp, but getting snaps at this position during the regular season may be a whole different story.
We said it once and we'll say it again, if there was supposed to be a noticeable drop-off from the departing Zach Miller to new starting tight end Brent Miller, we are hard-pressed to find it. Older brother Brent showed us in camp that he is as sure-handed as any receiver donning the maroon and gold these days, and his blocking skills are top-notch as well. Miller also displayed great leadership, which rounded out an outstanding performance in the last seven days.
Dane Guthrie has been able to hold off all contenders for the second tight end spot, although the versatile Tyrice Thompson will occasionally be inserted at that role, albeit in less of a blocking capacity and more as a receiver. Brady Conrad and Jovon Williams had their moments, but definitely not enough to improve their depth chart standing. Lance Evbuomwan and Andrew Pettes didn't show any signs in camp making a move at surpassing Conrad and Williams in the pecking order. True freshman Dan Knapp showed glimpses, but overall not enough to avoid a redshirt.
No position has been hit more by injuries than the Sun Devils' front four. Ironically, while all the concern prior to camp seemed to be over depth at defensive tackle, it's now the defensive end position that resembles a M.A.S.H unit and is aching (no pun intended) for healthy bodies. Sophomore starter Dexter Davis is far and beyond the most experienced player at this position and turned in a fine camp performance to boot. Up until his now two-day old injury, other starter Luis Vasquez was having a strong showing in the pristine pines as well. Eric Tanner was injured fairly early in camp and hadn't made any significant contributions prior to that injury. Tranell Morant was having a nice camp until he was sidelined during the scrimmage and has been out since.
Wes Evans and Kellen Mills were injured for a period of time, and had an average camp at best when they were healthy. Paul ‘Unga and James Brooks took advantage of the injuries and received a large number of opportunities on the first and second teams, respectively. JC transfer ‘Unga, who arrived in the middle of the summer, may turn out to be the most valuable signing of the 2007 recruiting class, as he fills a pressing need. The saying that James Brooks is athletic, but raw has been repeated many times during camp. Yet, the true freshman stands a great chance not to redshirt not only because of the injuries, but also because of his play.
At defensive tackle Michael Marquardt and David Smith were the uncontested starters, and both played well at camp. The most significant injury to all of the line is that of Saia Falahola, whose torn tricept muscle will have him missing roughly four games. Jon Hargis is emerging as a solid second string tackle, and the question remains who will line up next to him on that group. True freshman Jonathan English stands a chance, as does Tashaka Merriweather and Alex Asi. Zach Niusulu hasn't been able to elevate himself from the third team, and first-year player Bo Moos is heading towards a redshirt year.
Erickson singled out this group as being the biggest surprise in camp, which would obviously indicate that this unit turned in a solid performance in camp. Travis Goethel at SAM, Morris Wooten at MIKE, and Robert James at WILL are all etched in granite as starters. Gerald Munns proved to be a formidable backup to Wooten, while Mike Nixon is groomed to be a backup at the two outside positions. Ryan McFoy was expected to make a run at the starting SAM role but was hampered by an injury.
The rest of the group, players such as Chad Lindsey, Garrett Judah, Antone Saulsberry, and Jeff Bereuter are likely to see more action on special teams, than this unit. True freshman Oliver Aaron showed some flashes of brilliance, but along with fellow first-year player and Florida resident Derrall Anderson, is destined for the redshirt tag.
No surprises here with Josh Barrett having an impressive showing, and Troy Nolan, like other players, proved that his strong spring performance wasn't a fluke. However, an injury to Nolan held him out a handful or so of practices, and allowed others such as Jeremy Payton (who was shuttling at times to cornerback), Angelo Fobbs-Valentino, and Rodney Cox to take turns at the starting position vacated by Nolan. Jarrell Holman was moved here from corner, and is still adjusting to the position. A pleasant surprise was senior walk-on Brett Nenebaer who finished the one-week session on a very strong note. True freshman Jonathan Clark naturally has a long ways to go.
The burning question of who will start opposite Justin Tryon (who had a good camp) is very close to being answered. The two candidates appear to be senior Chris Baloney and blue chip recruit true freshman Omar Bolden. The duo rotated quite regularly, and an injury to Bolden may have put him a bit behind Baloney at this point. Nevertheless, one should expect an extremely stiff competition between both in the next two weeks.
Payton just may find himself playing here more, rather than at safety. Grant Crunkleton has had a pretty good camp, and fellow sophomore Travis Smith has been making some noise since last Saturday's scrimmage. Littrele Jones delivered the biggest hit in all of camp, a shot to the chin of Rodney Glass, but hasn't done a whole lot more than that in the woods outside of Payson.
Among all the positions where the competition for a starting role figured to be fierce, no one could have guessed that the kicker position would rank high on that list, if not the highest. Thomas Weber is getting the nod form Erickson as the starter, but walk-on Zach Richards is currently inching closer and closer to unseating Weber. Both have displayed a strong leg, but Richards is leading the accuracy battle. Snapper Jason Perkins has done a good job with his duties.
Matters are much less dramatic at punter. Jonathan Johnson showed that he's poised to be one of the Pac-10's best in his position, and is also performing his holding duties for the kicker in well-done manner. Weber looks pretty good at punter and if needed could probably do more than an adequate job here.
Justin Tryon is the leader at kick-off returns, while Kyle Williams is ahead of the field at punt return. One can expect Chris McGaha, Brandon Smith, Rudy Burgess, Kerry Taylor, and Rodney Glass to be in the mix for returning duties as well.
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