1. Surprise Performers
-David Bertrand, DT: A junior defensive tackle, who previously cut his teeth at in-state rival Arizona, was one of the spring's biggest surprises. Arizona State's front four will be getting significant help in the fall, and Bertrand can add even more depth at tackle this season, a luxury that the Sun Devils haven't enjoyed in a while.
-Colin Parker, LB: Despite losing a starter from last year's team, you can still make a great case for the linebacker group as being one of the strongest and deepest units this season. With that in mind, it's understandable why this redshirt freshman, who was making the transition from safety, may haven't been a serious contributor to consider once spring drills began. Parker didn't need much time to shake off any rust from not playing the last two plus seasons, to become a contender for time being at weak-side linebacker.
-Thomas Ohmart, SN: The freshman out of Scottsdale Horizon High is a safe bet to take over for Jason Perkins at the underrated role of long snapper. Ohmart had an outstanding spring showing great consistency to earn the starting job over Clay Davie and linebackers Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon. He eliminated what could have been a great special teams concern going into fall camp.
2. Battle at Cornerback Is Ongoing
Terrell Carr, a junior college transfer, has the early edge on the open starting position opposite sophomore Omar Bolden. Carr's learning curve out of the JC ranks wasn't quite as steep as some anticipated but he'll still have to fend off the competition when fall camp resumes.
Two players trying to unseat him are junior Travis Smith, and JC transfer walk-on Pierre Singfield. Smith had a few bright moments last season before injuries stalled his progress. He began the spring as a starter, before seeing Carr leaping over him. Even if he doesn't win the starting job, Smith is likely to log minutes in the fall considering the thin depth here.
Singfield is another spring surprise, and at 5-11 210 he brings more of a physical presence compared to some of his peers. Grant Crunkleton will need a strong fall to improve his depth chart position. Erickson has hinted that incoming freshman Josh Jordan could have a chance to play this season.
3. Depth Along the Defensive Line is Improving
While the depth chart is very much a work in progress, Erickson is somewhat pleased with how things are beginning to take shape in the defensive trenches. The depth chart at tackle is likely to change in the fall but a solid rotation is beginning to develop at defensive end.
For the first time in several years, ASU stands to have a deeper rotation at defensive end without sacrificing a lot of size. James Brooks and Jamarr Robinson both made strides this spring behind starters Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez. Brooks has an impressive athletic frame suited for the position while Robinson is in the process of learning the nuances of the position after making the move from linebacker. Robinson paced the linemen with three sacks in the spring finale this past weekend.
Sophomore Jonathan English saw an opening at defensive tackle and was determined to take advantage of a big opportunity this spring. "Tank" dropped about 30 pounds this winter and used his increased athleticism to his advantage by getting more work in with the first team. English is listed as the starter alongside steady senior David Smith. Top reserves include Saia Falahola, David Bertrand, and Paul Unga.
As mentioned, the arrival of seven newcomers along the defensive line, including two junior college transfers, Spencer Gasu and Eugene Germany, will only bolster the formidable talent of the Devils' front four. The position battles at defensive tackle in August stand to be the fiercest ones between the incumbents and newcomers.
4. Linebackers Are a Talented and Deep Group
Gerald Munns was one of the top defensive performers over the last four weeks and capped off his spring with an impressive eleven tackle performance in the spring game. Munns is listed as the starter in the middle (MIKE) but the junior has some competition behind him. Mike Nixon, also a junior, is a versatile option that the coaches like to see on the field but can also play on the weak-side (WILL), and for the last week or so of spring was starting at that role.
Senior Morris Wooten also has some starting experience at MIKE and faired very well in the last two spring scrimmages. A pair of redshirt freshmen and a junior are competing along with Nixon for time at weak-side linebacker. Currently, junior Ryan McFoy leads Oliver Aaron and Colin Parker for the starting job but the race seems to be far from over. Each player has shown some flashes this spring but lack of consistency has kept the race fairly tight, and again this trio may ultimately yield to Nixon in the race for the starting role.
Junior Travis Goethel returns as the starter on the strong-side for another season. Goethel is the top returning tackler from a year ago, when he collected seventy-one stops and his spring performance showed no drop-off. Derrall Anderson and Jeff Bereuter will back-up Goethel, and while they're in no position to overtake the junior, they showed some promise thee past four weeks.
5. Offensive Line Still Working Out the Kinks
The process of putting the pass protection woes of 2007 behind them has begun and it starts with a few new faces along the line. ASU is replacing both tackles, as well as its starting center, from last year's squad. The staff is also hoping that simplifying the protection schemes, along with an emphasis a screen passes and spread formations, will help as the unit gain more experience.
Sophomore Jon Hargis made the transition to left tackle this spring after coming into the program as a defensive lineman. Although he had some struggles in the early stages, Hargis turned the corner midway through spring drills and drew praises from Erickson and staff. The Mesa Red Mountain product is listed atop the depth chart and is a slight favorite to win the starting job over junior college transfer Tom Njunge. Njunge also started out slow but eventually worked his way up to challenge Hargis.
As expected, Richard Tuitu'u's experience was a little too much for redshirt freshman Adam Tello to overcome in the battle at right tackle. Tuitu'u will join returning guards Paul Fanaika and Shawn Lauvao, who be relied on the draw from their experience and lead the young group.
The battle for the starting job at center will likely carry over into fall camp between Thomas Altieri and Garth Gerhart. Altieri, a junior, has seen limited action over his first two seasons as a reserve and some thought he was not expected to win the job. Yet, so far, he's managed to hold off the redshirt freshman. Currently, both players are listed as co-starters but the hope is obviously to name a starter at some point in August.
6. Is Rudy Carpenter In Store For A Big Senior Year?
The state of affairs at quarterback became a popular topic this off-season after some late game heroics by back-up Danny Sullivan in the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas. However, Sullivan couldn't really parlay that success into a solid spring performance but remains a viable option should injuries become an issue this fall.
Despite his starting job on safe ground, Carpenter had a small laundry list of areas for improvement. In addition to learning new formations, the staff wants to see him make better decisions as to checking off his reads and when to throw the ball away. The signal-caller also worked on a different throwing motion this spring, something he is hoping will help him get the ball off a little quicker.
Between his wealth of experience and a talented supporting cast around him, some figure Carpenter may be due for a big senior year, barring any complications from his thumb surgery that he will undergo this week. The progress along a retooled offensive line will naturally play a significant part in Carpenter's success, as the team tries to improve in the pass protection department.
7. Guthrie Becoming Leader at Tight End
With the reliable Brent Miller gone, the tight ends were without an established leader heading into spring drills last month. As expected, former Florida transfer Dane Guthrie solidified his spot atop the depth chart and is expected to have a large role at the position as he closes out his collegiate career. He did miss the second half of spring with a shoulder injury, but did show enough in limited time to be optimistic about his prospects for 2008.
8. The Post-Barrett Era at Safety Has Begun
Troy Nolan earned his starting spot at free safety last season with a breakout year but the Sun Devils need to find a replacement for strong safety Josh Barrett. The favorite to earn the starting nod is senior Rodney Cox. The former walk-on's strong work ethic has helped him fight off contenders Jeremy Payton and Jarrell Holman for the coveted pole position. Payton and Holman are also competing for the nickel back role in addition to the duel at strong safety.
Glendale Community College transfer Max Tabach made his spring debut in Maroon and Gold with mixed reviews. The sophomore is penciled in as Nolan's back-up for the time being but will likely have a bigger role in 2009 when Nolan and Cox both move on following the upcoming season.
9. No Fireworks at Running Back...Yet
There weren't any notable shake ups in the depth chart over the course of spring drills. The starting job still belongs to Keegan Herring although the senior will likely to once again share snaps with junior Dimitri Nance. Herring can burn defenders with his blazing speed while Nance can grind out yards with his feet or pass-catching abilities out of the backfield.
ASU still hasn't found the answer in the power ground game, however. Shaun DeWitty may have the frame to take on such a role but a few intricacies, including a lower pad level to prevent fumbles, need some improvement. DeWitty was the leading rusher in the spring game with 71 yards and one touchdown. He's still progressing, as is junior Jarrell Woods. Both players will continue to get looks in fall camp but may have to fend newcomer Ryan Bass to prevent from getting buried on the depth chart. Somehow, the Sun Devils have to come up with a viable option in short yardage situations to avoid stalled drives.
10. Options Galore at Wide Receiver
Erickson still managed to challenge what is presumed to be the deepest unit on the team by adding more formations and plays this spring. The extra four and five wide receiver sets are expected to create more favorable matchups for ASU, who can use their vast pool of talent to exploit opposing defenses.
Michael Jones and Chris McGaha are already proven commodities and are safe bets to see a lot of action as is Kyle Williams. While Jones was fulfilling his duties with the baseball team this spring, Kerry Taylor and Brandon Smith took advantage of the senior's absence by getting more reps with the first and second teams. Taylor, who played last year as a true freshman, seems poised for success with great hands while Smith continues to impress with his speed. Redshirt freshman T.J. Simpson also had some highlight moments this spring and will continue to push for playing time along with Nate Kimbrough.
With the logjam at receiver, you'd think the new arrivals this fall would have a lot of work to do to crack the two and three-deeps but that may not be the case. With the expanded formations, Erickson won't rule out playing someone if he feels they can contribute. Some feel Gerrell Robinson is a virtual lock not to redshirt and add a much needed physical presence to this core.
Ten Points to Ponder: Post-Spring Edition
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