Football Preview: Newcomer Expectations

Success on the field usually translates into success in recruiting, and ASU's efforts help assemble a signing class ranked No. 17 in the nation by Scout.com. With a great deal of talent returning from a 10-3 squad, speculation persists of which newcomers will be called upon to make instant contributions and which athletes will have to wait a year (or more) to see significant action.

Altogether, the Sun Devils signed 27 athletes in February on national letter of intent signing day, while adding another scholarship player as a late addition in mid-May. Additionally, a highly-touted local prep star is expected to join the football team after signing a letter of intent to compete in another athletic capacity at ASU.

The Sun Devils signed five four-star high school recruits; however many of the players most likely to create an immediate impact are ASU's junior college transfers.

Cornerback Terell Carr, a four-star product of Pasadena (Calif.) City College and one of three mid-year transfers to have enrolled in January, earned ample first-team repetitions during the spring and looks to maintain a lead to start opposite incumbent starter Omar Bolden. The 5-9, 180-pounder exhibited great athleticism but had occasional lapses in technique, however overall he is still expected to provide a reliable starting presence come August.

Offensive tackle Tom Njunge and safety Max Tabach also arrived for spring drills and solidified roles as key reserves. The 6-4, 280 Njunge looks to push predicted starter Jon Hargis for action at left tackle, while Tabach, a Scottsdale native, figures to serve as one of returning All-Pac-10 defensive back Troy Nolan's top backups. With Hargis having recently moved from defensive line to left tackle and ASU having no experienced reserves at tackle, Njunge could play an important role even if not called upon to start.

ASU has had great success recently with junior college transfers in the secondary, including players such as Zach Catanese, Brett Hudson, Chris McKenzie, Nolan and Justin Tryon among others. Conversely, not since 2002, when ASU signed Louis Areyan and Tim Fa'aita, have the Sun Devils called upon the junior college ranks for offensive line help.

In the fall, the Devils look to gain a major boost along the defensive line by way of junior college additions, a route often taken by ASU, as the Sun Devils signed 11 total junior college defensive linemen among the 2002-07 classes.

Defensive tackle Spencer Gasu, measuring 6-2, 295 pounds, has the potential to be a highly potent force in the middle of the Sun Devil defensive line. A four-star recruit rated as the No. 6 junior college defensive tackle prospect in the nation, Gasu notched first-team All-Mission Conference honors as a sophomore at Santa Ana College in 2007. With senior David Smith currently as the only defensive tackle with starting experience and after multiple players filled first-team duties in the spring, look for Gasu to immediately compete with Jonathan English and upstart walk-on Dave Bertrand, as well as Saia Falahola, for early action.

A veritable college football vagabond, Eugene Germany looks to spend the final two years of his collegiate career across the Sun Devil defensive line. An athlete with the ability to play either end or tackle, Germany gained significant notoriety as a high school star in Pomona, Calif., before initially committing to USC, then suiting up at Michigan before relocating to Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. At an athletic 6-4, 270 pounds, Germany has the talent to provide a quick surge. If eligible, expect for Germany to push for significant reps along the defensive line, initially at defensive end.

Recently brought into the fold for 2008 is junior college transfer Stanley Malamala, a 6-4, 254-pound tight end that chose the Sun Devils as a late addition over Oregon and Texas A&M and is expected to jump right into the mix of the ASU offense at a position which is as depleted as any because of ASU's senior departures from 2007.

The motley crew of Sun Devil tight ends would benefit from any improvement in talent, with projected starter Dane Guthrie's academic standing in question, while top reserves Andrew Pettes and Jovon Williams have combined for merely two career receptions. The remainder of the tight end depth currently includes former defensive line reserve Wes Evans; redshirt freshman Dan Knapp and sophomore Lance Evbuomwan, who spent his entire redshirt freshman year on ASU's scout team. Needless to say, Malamala will be given the opportunity to contribute early, possibly even start.

Sun Devil fans are likely to keep their fingers crossed for Malamala, because the last time ASU acquired a junior college tight end was in 2003, when, after failing to qualify in 2002, five-star prospect Aaron Austin came to Tempe, only to spend two infamous years at ASU without recording a single reception.

While many of the junior college additions provide practicality to the lineup by filling positions of necessity, several of the prep stars to sign with ASU have tremendous potential, which may be tapped as first-year freshmen.

Over the past five seasons, 19 true freshmen have seen action for the Sun Devils, including three (cornerback Omar Bolden, defensive tackle Jonathan English and wide receiver Kerry Taylor) in 2007.

Whether a rookie player is a bona fide superstar, such as Bolden, running back Keegan Herring or former ASU tight end Zach Miller, or he happens to fill a role due to necessity, similar to players like linebacker Chad Lindsey, linebacker/running back Antone Saulsberry or quarterback Danny Sullivan, each year there is a window – although often times a small one– for first-year freshmen to immediate playing time.

Chandler product Gerell Robinson comes to ASU as paraded and applauded as any Sun Devil signee this season, memorably spurning rival Arizona and later selecting to become a Sun Devil at a nationally televised event.

One of the nation's most versatile athletes that has largely embraced becoming a Sun Devil, ranked as the nation's No. 78 overall prospect by Scout.com, Robinson has excelled equally at multiple offensive positions as well as in the defensive secondary. He appeared at both wide receiver and quarterback as a senior at local power Hamilton High School, was featured mainly at safety as junior and took most of his snaps at quarterback while at Phoenix Desert Vista High School during his sophomore season. Slated to compete at wide receiver as a collegian, the 6-4, 210-pounder, rated as the No. 14 receiver recruit in the country by Scout.com, is physically gifted, if relatively inexperienced, to make a quick impact.

By and large, Robinson is expected to play as a true freshman; however the competition will be stiff, as ASU boasts seven scholarship receivers to return from 2007. The size of the learning curve as a freshman remains for Robinson remains to be seen; will his versatile high school career provide an athletic advantage or will the lack of specific experience hinder his immediate potential?

Largely considered the most exciting defensive prospect and one of the team's top overall additions, Lawrence Guy was simply dominant along the defensive line at Las Vegas Western High School. Despite his amazing potential, Guy is one of a small handful of this year's new Sun Devils for whom ASU fans continue to hold their breath and try not to get too excited about, as he still has work to do to gain full academic eligibility, however recent reports describe Guy's odds to be encouraging.

Listed as the nation's No. 7 defensive tackle and the country's No. 67 overall prospect by Scout.com, it would be far from shocking for the 6-5, 270-pounder to instantly compete to backup either Dexter Davis or Luis Vasquez at defensive end as a true freshman, while also carrying the ability to slide inside to defensive tackle if necessary.

If there's a nail biter among this class to make a Sun Devil fan chew down to his maroon and gold cuticles, it is running back Ryan Bass of Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School. One of the nation's most accomplished, explosive backs, Bass totaled 7,096 rushing yards and 117 touchdowns on the ground over the past three seasons, including 47 rushing scores as a senior, tied for second-most in the country.

Regarded as a four-star athlete by Scout.com, Bass brings game-breaking athletic ability to the Sun Devil backfield and ultimately chose ASU after a cup of coffee as an Arizona commit. Similar to Guy, Bass' academic standing has yet to solidify, however the current vibe for Bass making it to Tempe is a positive one, but is still uncertain. If Bass is able to gain the thumbs-up, he certainly has a chance to compete immediately, however he will have to prove that ability quickly, as he will be challenged to leapfrog returning backs Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance, while backups Shaun DeWitty and Jarrell Woods provide a different physical element to the running game than Bass and are likely to find a role in the Sun Devil offense this season.

The worst best-case scenario is that Bass qualifies and redshirts, allowing him to distance himself in terms of eligibility from ASU's four scholarship backs, which consists of one senior and three juniors for 2008.

After a near 180-degree turn, from ASU having perhaps the least consistent wide receiving corps in the Pac-10 in 2006 to arguably the conference's most talented lineup entering the 2008 season, the rich could get richer after focusing heavily on the position with the 2008 signing class. Aside from Gerell Robinson, fellow four-star prospect Kemonte Bateman is well-equipped for a standout career at ASU. A technically solid playmaker, Bateman must leap an academic hurdle before out-leaping Pac-10 defensive backs, as must slot receiver A.J. Pickens, favorably compared to recently departed Sun Devil Rudy Burgess, who has flashy potential on offense and special teams returns.

Allante Battle of Phoenix Desert Vista High School will practice with the football team in 2008 as a redshirt after signing a track and field letter of intent to attend ASU. Due to restrictions that occur because he signed a track, not a football letter of intent, Battle will be unable to see game action in 2008. Rated as the No. 85 wide receiver in the nation by Scout.com, Battle, whose father Greg starred at ASU as a linebacker in the 1980s, boasts elite speed and could be a thrilling offensive prospect starting in 2009.

Wide receiver Jarrell Barbour of Peoria (Ariz.) Centennial was also a member of ASU's 2008 signing class, however it has been reported that he is unable to gain academic clearance and will attend local Scottsdale Community College.

While Ryan Bass may be the nail biter of the 2008 class, perhaps the player who has gained the greatest variety of expectations is quarterback Jack Elway. What stands out most is his pedigree, of course as son of NFL legend John Elway. What has been concerning is his less-than-stellar statistics and evaluations while at Cherry Creek High School in Denver, Colo.

The Sun Devil coaching staff assures critics that Elway has the ever-popular "upside" and "intangibles" which may turn Elway into a star someday. Although neither you nor I can rightfully question the player evaluation skills of head coach Dennis Erickson and staff, it can be challenging to remain patient with the development of the only quarterback signee in the 2008 class, especially when ASU will look to replace four-year starter Rudy Carpenter in 2009.

Erickson and offensive coordinator Rich Olson have seen and tutored their fair share of tremendously talented quarterbacks both at the college and professional levels, so if there is a staff that can take Elway's physical talents and mold him into a well-rounded, Pac-10 caliber starting quarterback, it is the Sun Devil coaching staff.

Regarding the outlook for Elway in 2008, it is very highly likely for him to redshirt, as since Jake Plummer started his ASU career as a true freshman in 1993, only Sam Keller in 2003 and Danny Sullivan in 2006 have seen game action under center as true freshmen, with Sullivan being unexpectedly promoted into duty, ironically, due to Keller's transfer to Nebraska shortly before the start of the 2006 season.

Entering 2008, Sullivan now is a reliable backup to Carpenter, while redshirt freshmen Chasen Stangel and Samson Szakacsy round out the depth chart. Despite the unlikelihood to see game action that Elway faces this season, it will be imperative for him to still develop quickly, as he will have the opportunity to compete with Stangel, Sullivan and Szakacsy, as well as current verbal commit Brock Osweiler, to replace Carpenter in 2009, and perhaps compete to start again in 2010 if Sullivan is to win the starting job as a senior next season.

Steven Figueroa will make the short trip from Desert Vista High School to ASU in the fall to compete for time at tight end, perhaps the team's least talented position. Figueroa, rated last season as the No. 25 tight end prospect in the country by Scout.com, has the ability to be a reliable target in the Sun Devil offense, however two key factors – his size and the recent signing of junior college tight end Stanley Malamala – likely will prevent him from playing in 2008.

At 6-5, 225-pounds, Figueroa has the frame to be an imposing athlete and has an impressive track and field portfolio, being regarded as one of the top high school throwers in the state of Arizona, which advertises his athleticism. However, a year on ASU's scout team would allow him to continue to develop athletically and perhaps add 15-20 pounds of muscle which would make a tremendous difference. With Malamala in the fold, ASU may have found the stop-gap tight end to help spur the competition among a largely inexperienced unit. In 2009, Dan Knapp and Jovon Williams will be the only returning tight ends that have been on the roster prior to the start of the 2008 season, so there are likely to be job openings at the position.

ASU gained four high school offensive linemen in February, led by local standout Zach Schlink, a four-star prospect rated as the No. 25 offensive tackle in the nation. Likely to appear at guard for the Devils, the 6-4, 300-pounder helped lead Peoria Centennial High, one of the state's top programs over the past two seasons.

Fellow Arizonan Patrick Jamison of Chandler Hamilton High School has a bright future at tackle for ASU, rated as the No. 40 offensive tackle in the nation. Powerful and nasty, guard Andrew Sampson of Overland High School in Aurora, Colo., could potentially form an excellent future guards tandem with Schlink, while Kyle Johnson, a former teammate of current Sun Devil redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Garth Gerhart and Adam Tello at Norco (Calif.) High, brings his 6-7 frame to the tackle position for ASU.

Despite the incoming talent and a lack of returning experience on the Sun Devil offensive line, it would be surprising for any of the true freshmen to see action in 2008, as Chaz White in 2002 is the only true freshman since 1990 to have seen action on the offensive line at ASU. However, if there is a situation that warrants this unlikely situation, it may be when only four players on the active roster have seen game action on the offensive line, combining for merely 76 total game appearances, as is the case with ASU's line entering 2008.

Defensively, ASU gained a pair of versatile linebackers in prep teammates Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee (pictured) of Corona (Calif.) Centennial High. Lyons, a 6-2, 225-pound strong side linebacker nationally ranked No. 24 at his position and Magee, a 6-0, 230-pound weak side ‘back rated as the No. 22 prospect in the country at that spot, were stalwarts of the defense of one of California's top high school teams last season. Magee has the ability to play either outside linebacker spot and has been likened to ASU's Defensive Most Valuable Player of the Year in 2007 and current Atlanta Falcon Robert James, while Lyons has little difficulty sliding inside to the middle linebacker spot. Both players remain in the process of sprucing up their respective academic resumes, but if enrolled the two will strengthen up the athleticism of the Sun Devil linebacking corps.

If on campus in 2008, both players will face stiff competition to see the field in 2008, although there may be a window of opportunity. On the weak side, the post-spring depth reads Ryan McFoy as the starter, with redshirt freshmen Oliver Aaron and Colin Parker as reserves, none of whom have started a game at linebacker at ASU, which may allow room for another candidate. The top reserves behind Travis Goethel at strong side linebacker are redshirt freshman Derrall Anderson and sophomore Jeff Bereuter, who have yet to establish concrete spots in the defensive rotation.

ASU made significant strides in beefing up the defensive line, and in addition to Spencer Gasu, Eugene Germany and Lawrence Guy, prep standouts Jamaar Jarrett, Otis Jones and Zeb Togiai (pictured) will be thrown into the mix. Jarrett, a signing day steal from Oregon, has an excellent frame at 6-5, 250-pounds and was rated as the No. 35 defensive end prospect in the nation by Scout.com last season. Jones, who has exciting athletic potential at defensive tackle, could be one of the sleepers of ASU's 2008 class, while Arizona native Togiai, from Phoenix Desert Vista High School, is a ‘tweener defensive end/tackle prospect that will begin his career inside the line at tackle.

All three players will likely redshirt in 2008 and compete for time in 2009.



Josh Jordan and Deveron Carr (pictured) were ASU's two main prep cornerback signees and each player adds the necessary tools to excel in the Sun Devil secondary. Jordan, the top defensive back in the state of Nevada last year, is a physical and crafty defender, while Carr, a Scottsdale Chaparral High School product that measures 6-0, 185-pounds with a sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash time certainly passes the eye test.

After spring drills, ASU's two-deep at cornerback seemed to be established with Omar Bolden and Terell Carr as starters, with junior Travis Smith and walk-on junior college transfer Pierre Singfield as reserves. Outside of those four, few cornerbacks were applauded in the spring, so the possibility may arise for a true freshman to earn times, if mainly on special teams.

Three players – Clint Floyd, Keelan Johnson (pictured) and Toa Tuitea - were recruited to ASU labeled as "athletes" with the ability to participate at multiple positions. In all likelihood, each of the three will redshirt in 2008 and prepare to reload ASU's depth in 2009.

Floyd, a prep teammate of Kemonte Bateman, played mainly quarterback on offense as well as defensive back at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles and may appear at either wide receiver or cornerback at ASU. One would assume that the cluster of talent at wide receiver and a lack thereof at cornerback would push Floyd to defense, but only time will tell. Floyd has excellent ability to thrive in the secondary, having been ranked as the nation's No. 28 cornerback by Scout.com last season.

Johnson, from nearby Mesa High School, can fill the role of an all-purpose offensive threat, able to line up in the backfield or split wide, while also being able to appear in the defensive secondary at safety. Similar factors may determine the fate of Johnson's position as will make the call with Floyd, as there are simply more needs in the secondary than at offensive skill positions, especially at safety where ASU's top three athletes – free safety Troy Nolan and strong safeties Rodney Cox and Jeremy Payton – will be seniors in 2008.

Tuitea is a candidate to appear at either tight end or defensive end. The 6-4, 250-pounder has much greater experience on defense, however ASU's lack of quality depth at tight end provides a tug-of-war as to where he'll begin his college career.

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and a guest contributor to Devils Digest. He is also a feature writer each month in Maroon and Gold Illustrated and has contributed to ASU media guides, press releases and other official athletic publications. He can be contacted by email at josephwhealey@hotmail.com.

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