2008 Season Preview

Coming off a 10-3 campaign and a share of the Pac-10 championship, expectations are high for the maroon and gold in 2008. Like every season question marks exist at various positions on the Sun Devil squad, and the degree of success in which they are ultimately resolved will dictate the fortunes of ASU this year. The following is an in-depth look at the 2008 version of ASU football.

OFFENSIVE LINE

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD

LT Jon Hargis, SO
LG Shawn Lauvao, JR
C Thomas Altieri, JR
RG Paul Fanaika, SR
RT Richard Tuitu'u, JR


LT Tom Njunge, JR
LT Mike Marcisz, RS-FR
RT Matt Hustad, RS-FR
LG Chris Scott, RS-FR
C Garth Gerhart, RS-FR
C Trent Marsh, RS-FR
LG Brent Good, JR
G Curtis Cole, RS-FR
RT Adam Tello, RS-FR
OG Zach Schlink, FR
OT Patrick Jamison, FR
OT Kyle Johnson, FR
OG Andrew Sampson, FR

There's little argument that this is a unit with a lot to prove this season. Granted, not all of the 55 quarterback sacks given up by the Sun Devils last season can be attributed to the offensive line. Yet, suffice to say, this group is on a quest for redemption. Three starters from last year's line have moved on, most notably center Mike Pollak. The hope is that a revamped and more athletic front five may eventually be better equipped to take on the zone blocking schemes, and benefit from a spread offense where the quarterback often takes three-step drops.

Starting things out at center will likely be Thomas Altieri, a junior who had a solid showing this spring while competing with redshirt freshman Garth Gerhart for the spot vacated by Pollak. Both players were among the top center prospects in the West coming out of high school. Gerhart isn't far behind, however, and the competition is sure to continue in the pre-season. Trent Marsh, a walk-on, is third on the depth chart.

Both tackle spots were also open for competition this past spring and two players emerged from the pack. Jon Hargis and Richard Tuitu'u, both Valley prep products, are the early favorites at left tackle and right tackle, respectively. Hargis was moved to the offensive side of the ball this past spring after spending the last two seasons on the defensive line. Protecting the quarterback's blind side is a huge challenge for a relative newcomer to the position, but the staff is confident that Hargis can turn into a very solid contributor at his new role. Tuitu'u has played in nineteen games, started one in his first two seasons, and brings a fair amount of experience with him.

Junior college transfer Tom Njunge arrived in time for spring drills to join the fold at left tackle. Njunge will compete with redshirt freshman Mike Marcisz to back up Hargis while Adam Tello is Tuitu'u's primary backup at right tackle. Tello is a versatile player who can also play guard. Njunge could possibly get in the mix at right tackle as well.

Paul Fanaika, a two-year starter, enters his senior year as the top choice at right guard. Fanaika earned Honorable Mention All Pac-10 honors last year and looks to be among the top guards in the conference again this season. At left guard, Shawn Lauvao's starting status remains fairly comfortable. The junior started nine games in 2007 and could possibly earn his first all- conference accolades this season.

The top reserve at guard is Matt Hustad, an intriguing prospect out of Montana. Hustad earned top honors in the state as a prep but was limited last year with an injury. A trio of walk-ons, Brent Good, Curtis Cole, and Chris Scott, round out the depth chart of returning players at guard.

Depth behind the starters is a legitimate concern as there is little experience along the two-deep. Four newcomers, each with solid prep credentials, will round out the front five positions and may have a shot at playing time. Joining the guards will be Andrew Sampson, Scout.com's #33 nationally-rated offensive guard, and former Peoria standout Zach Schlink. ASU inked Chandler Hamilton product, Patrick Jamison, who will join Kyle Johnson as the two newest additions at tackle. Johnson was a former teammate of fellow offensive linemen Garth Gerhart and Adam Tello in Norco, CA.

RUNNING BACK

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD

Keegan Herring, SR
Dimitri Nance, JR
Shaun DeWitty, JR
Jarrell Woods, JR
Cole Ptacek, SO
Avory Battle, RS-FR
Ryan Bass, FR

Leading things off in the backfield are a tandem of rushers with a wealth of experience in Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance. Both will be counted on to carry a large load again this season while ASU still searches for a replacement in the power ground game. When Ryan Torain went down last fall, the Sun Devils struggled to move the pile with any consistency, particularly in the red zone, against the better teams on the schedule.

Herring paced the team in rushing with 815 yards last season while punching in five scores on the ground. The senior has speed to burn and is a dangerous runner when he turns the corner. He'll likely have to share some carries with Nance, a junior that notched 500 yards and seven touchdowns last fall. Nance adds a pair of quick feet and is a solid receiver out of the backfield.

Two wild-card candidates that have the potential for expanded roles this season are juniors Shaun DeWitty and Jarrell Woods. Injuries have limited DeWitty's development but the junior has a larger frame than his running back mates and features a north-south running style, something the Sun Devils are looking to add between the tackles to compliment Herring's speed. DeWitty garnered Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year honors last season while redshirting. Woods arrived in Tempe last fall from West Los Angeles College, and like DeWitty, injuries and a crowded depth chart also limited his contributions. Woods used a solid Holiday Bowl showing, where he scored a touchdown, as a springboard into March and April practices, where he continued to improve.

Highly decorated prep standout Ryan Bass will join the team this fall and figures to receive a serious look before the final decisions on redshirts are made. If Bass, who recorded an astounding 47 rushing touchdowns as a high school senior, is good enough to contribute immediately, he'll definitely move ahead of walk-ons Cole Ptacek and Avory Battle on the depth chart and forgo a redshirt season.

WIDE RECEIVER

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD

X Michael Jones, SR
Z Chris McGaha, JR
H Kerry Taylor, SO

H Kyle Williams, JR
X Brandon Smith, JR
Z Nate Kimbrough, SR
Z T.J. Simpson, RS-FR
WR Brian Matsumoto, JR
WR Bryant Piva, JR
H Dustin Driscoll, SO
WR Tony Simmons, SO
WR Gerrell Robinson, FR
WR A.J. Pickens, FR
WR Kemonte Bateman, FR
WR Allante Battle, FR

One single word may best describe this group of receivers: depth. ASU's talent at this position is as solid as it's been in quite some time. It's one reason why Head Coach Dennis Erickson plans on using more four- and five-wide receiver sets this upcoming season.

Chris McGaha had a coming out party of sorts in 2007. The junior was quarterback Rudy Carpenter's favorite target last year, catching 61 passes for 830 yards, with over 60 percent of his catches going for first downs. Despite his team-leading numbers, McGaha didn't get into the end zone all season until the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas. Senior Michael Jones did all season long, however. Last season, Jones paced the team in touchdowns with 10 scores while averaging 16.7 yards per reception. Impressive enough last fall to contribute right away, even fresh from the prep ranks, was Valley product Kerry Taylor. The sophomore has a smooth skill set that will continue to keep him very much in contention for a starting job. Taylor finished the season with eight receptions and one touchdown, a total that will likely jump this upcoming season.

Kyle Williams, an elusive receiver who showed great potential in his first full season of work a year ago. Williams caught 29 passes for six touchdowns in 2007 while sharing time with departed utility-man Rudy Burgess in the slot. This season he will battle Taylor for playing time.

Joining Williams are Brandon Smith, Nate Kimbrough, and T.J. Simpson, and all three will compete for game time snaps in the multiple receiver sets employed this year. Smith has the speed to be a dangerous deep threat for Carpenter but hasn't put it all together on the field yet. Kimbrough, a senior, can also contribute a solid set of hands if he remains healthy. Simpson, who possesses great track speed, is another intriguing prospect that drew some rave reviews while redshirting on the scout team last fall.

Walk-ons Dustin Driscoll, Tony Simmons, Brian Matsumoto, and Bryant Piva all round out the current three-deep list at wide receiver.

Four receivers were part of ASU's most recent recruiting class, including Chandler Hamilton star Gerrell Robinson. The incoming freshman was Scout.com's #14 nationally-ranked receiver coming out of high school and was arguably the state's most coveted prospect. Many observers feel Robinson is good enough to play this fall and can add a big and physical element to the position. Also coming in this year are California prep standouts A.J. Pickens and Kemonte Bateman, and the later still has to clear some academic hurdles before joining the team. Desert Vista product Allante Battle will join the football team but will come in on track and field scholarship.

TIGHT END

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD

Andrew Pettes, SR

Jovon Williams, JR
Dan Knapp, RS-FR
Stanley Malamala, JR
Corey Brown, JR
Wes Evans, SR
Toa Tuitea, FR
Steven Figueroa, FR

Aside from the question marks on the offensive line, it's also unclear how the tight end position will shape up with an unproven cast leading the way this fall. Andrew Pettes, the lone senior of the group, is listed as the starter heading into camp but the competition for time is still very much open. Dan Knapp is one to keep an eye on as the redshirt freshman has drawn praise from Erickson since his arrival last fall.

Tyrice Thompson closed out his Sun Devil career in solid fashion last fall by taking the reigns at the other hybrid tight end/receiver position. The favorite to replace Thompson at that spot is Jovon Williams, another athletic type of player who caught one pass last season but appeared in all thirteen games and a tremendous summer. Backing up Williams will be Wes Evans, a senior who was previously at defensive end.

Considering just how wide open things are here, the possibility of a newcomer contributing this season isn't far fetched at all. ASU inked junior college transfer Stanley Malamala in May to compensate for the loss of Dane Guthrie, and he's a virtual guarantee to see the filed in 2008. Toa Tuitea and Steven Figueroa are the other newcomers. Tuitea may also play defensive end for the Sun Devils. Figueroa, the #25 nationally-ranked tight end by Scout.com, was ASU's first commitment in the 2008 recruiting class.

QUARTERBACK

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD

Rudy Carpenter, SR

Danny Sullivan, JR
Chasen Stangel, RS-FR
Samson Szakacsy, RS-FR
Jack Elway, FR

Even with some pass protection issues in front of him and an ambitious schedule this fall, it's a credit to veteran quarterback Rudy Carpenter (and Dennis Erickson, of course) that many college football pundits are still expecting good things from the Sun Devils this season. The senior is the proverbial ace-in-the-hole that Erickson has on his side in what looks to be a down year at the position in the Pac-10.

Carpenter passed for 3,202 yards and twenty-five touchdowns a year ago and should put up similar numbers again this season. In order for that to happen though, ASU must do a better job of protecting the signal-caller. Carpenter enters the season with 31 consecutive starts under his belt, which is second-best in the nation. Helping out his cause to remain upright for another full season, Carpenter worked on some fundamentals this spring, including throwing the ball away more often, in order to cut down on sacks, and added 20 pounds to his frame

Backing up the prolific senior is Danny Sullivan, a player who saw noticeable improvement over his freshman campaign of 2006. Sporting a bigger frame as a sophomore, Sullivan had a better command of the offense, highlighted by a great showing in the Holiday Bowl last season. Should Carpenter be injured, Sullivan appears to be a serviceable replacement having considering that the last two years he was the top reserve.

Battling for the third spot on the depth chart are a trio of signal-callers looking to get a leg up for the big race to replace Carpenter in 2009. Chasen Stangel and Samson Szakacsy have already been in the program for a year while Jack Elway joins the fold as the newest participant behind center. Stangel showed flashes of brilliance in the spring, but if Szakacsy is truly healed from his elbow injury he could nail down the spot behind Sullivan. Elway in all likelihood will redshirt in 2008.

DEFENSIVE LINE

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD

DE Dexter Davis, JR
DE Luis Vasquez, SR

DE James Brooks, RS-FR
DE Jamarr Robinson, SO
DE Eric Tanner, JR
DE Leo Montt, JR
DE Zach Brown, SO
DE Lawrence Guy, FR
DE Jamaar Jarrett, FR

DT David Smith, SR
DT Jonathan English, SO

DT David Bertrand, JR
DT Saia Falahola, SO
DT Paul 'Unga, SR
DT Bo Moos, RS-FR
DT Spencer Gasu, JR
DT Otis Jones, FR
DT Zeb Togiai, FR

Lacking both talent and depth, defensive line has previously been a sore spot for the Sun Devils over the years. Fast forward to 2008 and there is a renewed optimism for the future of the Sun Devils' front four thanks to an infusion of talent mixed with the tutelage of position coach Grady Stretz, the lone holdover from Dirk Koetter's staff.

Both Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez return at defensive end, giving ASU one of the top tandems in the conference. Perhaps 2008 is the year that Dexter Davis' name will be routinely brought up when the discussion hits the Pac-10's top pass rushers. The junior has quietly been building a solid resume in Tempe over the last two seasons, including a 10.5 sack total last year. Opposite him a year ago, Vasquez notched forty-three stops and 4.5 sacks while starting all thirteen games. Vasquez looks poised to improve on those totals this coming season and join Davis as an All Pac-10 honors candidate.

Behind the two starters, the competition figures to be intense among those back for another season as well as an influx of youth. A pair of returning players turned up the competitive heat this past spring in James Brooks and Jamarr Robinson. Brooks is a physical specimen that appears to have a bright future ahead of him as he's coming off of a redshirt year. A former linebacker, Robinson has also showed some flashes as he showcases his speed off the edge. Both are good bets to see some snaps this season. Eric Tanner, a junior college transfer that joined the program last year, must remain healthy in order to keep from falling any further on the depth chart. Injuries forced Tanner to redshirt last fall, which means he still has two years left in the program.

Scout.com's #7 nationally-ranked defensive tackle Lawrence Guy will join Jamaar Jarrett this season as two intriguing additions at defensive end. Jarrett, a late addition to the 2008 recruiting class, is another physically gifted prep star the Sun Devils gladly welcome to the fold. Adding more depth at end are walk-ons Leo Montt and Zach Brown.

Chandler Hamilton graduate David Smith is back to close out his solid career in the Maroon and Gold at defensive tackle. Notching twenty-two tackles last season, including 3.5 sacks, the senior has an outstanding motor and brings a valuable leadership presence to the line. Penciled in next to him may be sophomore Jonathan English. Dedication has played a large role in the big defensive tackle's development. Look for a noticeably slimmer English to push for more minutes this season after cutting his teeth as a true freshman in the trenches last year. Sophomore Saia Falahola also made things a bit more interesting with his play in the spring. Injuries limited his development last year after Falahola made the switch to defense but as long as he stays healthy, he'll be in the rotation with English.

During the off-season, former Arizona Wildcat David Bertrand made the trip up the I-10 to join the Sun Devil program as a walk-on. The decision proved to be a successful one as the junior impressed Erickson during spring drills. Bertrand leads a handful of others also vying for time on the interior. Senior Paul 'Unga gained some limited experience as a reserve last year while Bo Moos gets his first shot at cracking the rotation after serving on the scout team in 2007.

Spencer Gasu, a Santa Ana junior college transfer, is one of three newcomers to the fold in August. Gasu is expected to compete for playing time this fall while prep stars Zeb Togiai and Otis Jones may be redshirt candidates if they can't crack the crowded rotation early on in camp.

LINEBACKER

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD

SAM Travis Goethel, JR
MIKE Gerald Munns, JR
WILL Ryan McFoy, JR

MIKE Mike Nixon, JR
SAM Jeff Bereuter, SO
SAM Derrall Anderson, RS-FR
SAM Ryan Skorupka, JR
MIKE Morris Wooten, SR
MIKE Chad Lindsey, JR
WILL Oliver Aaron, RS-FR
WILL Colin Parker, RS-FR
WILL Anthony Reyes, SR
WILL Tom DeMichele, FR
LB Shelly Lyons, FR
LB Brandon Magee, FR

With a great deal of experience returning it's hard not to like the potential at linebacker. The last few snapshots of the group late last season against teams like USC and Texas left an impression that while the group has improved, there's still another corner to turn, particularly as it relates to speed at the position. The loss of First-Team All Pac-10 honoree Robert James leaves a hole to fill on the weak-side as well.

Vying for the vacancy at role are Ryan McFoy, Oliver Aaron, and Colin Parker. McFoy, a junior, has the most game-experience but is still somewhat new to the position after switching over from safety in the spring of last year. McFoy did appear in 11 games last season as a reserve. He and Oliver Aaron, the Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year Award recipient last fall, add some much needed speed to the position. Parker, another redshirt freshman, turned heads in the spring by making it a three-man race for first team reps as fall camp commences.

Firmly entrenched on the strong side is junior Travis Goethel, who made the start in all 13 games last season. Goethel is the top returning tackler for the defense from last season, when he collected seventy-one stops. The California native's reliable ball instincts will continue to keep him on the field for long spells so there aren't a wealth of snaps to be shared behind him. Jeff Bereuter and Derrall Anderson round out the depth after Goethel.

Defensive coordinator and position coach Craig Bray has another trio of players to divvy out snaps to at middle linebacker. Juniors Gerald Munns and Mike Nixon have both shown the instincts and play-making abilities desired in the middle and thus it will be tough for senior Morris Wooten to beat them out. If Munns can stay healthy, he should be the undisputed starter after a fantastic showing this spring. While Munns may look the part, Nixon remains a tough one to beat due to the intangibles he brings to the table such as intelligence and leadership. The 24-year old junior can also play any of the three linebacker spots. Wooten was a new addition last spring by way of Glendale Community College and earned eight starts in his first season as a Sun Devil. The senior notched forty-seven tackles last fall as he aided in the run defense.

Chad Lindsey is the fourth option in the middle and has previous experience on the outside under his belt. Former walk-on Anthony Reyes was recently awarded a scholarship after previously competing at middle linebacker. The senior is slated to move to the weak-side this fall. Other walk-ons filling the depth chart are Tom DeMichele and Ryan Skorupka.

Two of Bass' teammates from Corona Centennial High School were inked in the 2008 recruiting class and both appear to have some intriguing upside for the future. Brandon Magee, listed as Scout.com's #22 weak side linebacker in the nation, was a dual-sport star in both football and baseball while Shelly Lyons also wrapped up an impressive prep career by recording 101 tackles as a senior. Lyons was also highly touted as the #24 strong side linebacker nationally by Scout.com. Having one of those players contribute this year isn't out of the question.

SAFETY

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD

FS Troy Nolan, SR
SS Rodney Cox, SR

SS Jarrell Holman, JR FS Max Tabach, SO FS Angelo Fobbs-Valentino, SR FS Jonathan Clark, RS-FR S Mike Callaghan, SO S Greg Cole, JR S Keelan Johnson, FR

One of the biggest surprises of the 2007 season was the emergence of Troy Nolan at free safety. The senior earned Second Team All Pac-10 honors after tallying sixty-four tackles and six interceptions. Nolan, a junior college transfer that originally joined the program in 2006 but was forced to redshirt with injuries his first year here, appears ready to take on a leadership role in a secondary that will be relying on some new faces this season.

The loss of veteran Josh Barrett at strong safety opened up an intriguing competition this spring. Rodney Cox, a senior, will likely get the starting nod next to Nolan when the season starts. Cox followed up a second-half surge last season with an outstanding spring. Cox has two starts under his belt while reserve Jarrell Holman will be getting his first game experience as a Sun Devil. Holman redshirted as a cornerback last season after coming over from Phoenix College. Since his move to safety, Holman has continued to develop, likely spelling a spot in the rotation this fall for the junior.

Other notable reserves include Max Tabach and Angelo Fobbs-Valentino. Tabach is a junior college transfer with four years to play three after his arrival in the spring. The sophomore figures to play a more prominent role after this season when Nolan moves on. In the meantime, Tabach will join Fobbs-Valentino as back-ups to Nolan at free safety. Jonathan Clark will also continue his development at safety this fall after redshirting last season at cornerback.

Walk-ons Mike Callaghan and Greg Cole round out the depth along with local prep newcomer Keelan Johnson from Mesa High. Johnson is a gifted athlete that could make his presence known in 2009.

CORNERBACK

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD

Omar Bolden, SO
Terrell Carr, JR

Grant Crunkleton, JR
Travis Smith, JR
Pierre Singfield, JR
Cameron Harkey, JR
Corey Henderson, SR
Kamron Brown, SO
Clint Floyd, FR
Deveron Carr, FR
Josh Jordan, FR

Greg Burns, a 10-year veteran assistant in the collegiate ranks, was a new addition to Erickson's staff in the off-season and will oversee the cornerbacks. Burns inherits a lot of youth at the position and has a tough call ahead of him in finding a replacement for departed All Pac-10 corner Justin Tryon.

The loss of Tryon is softened a bit, however, by the return of Omar Bolden. It didn't take long for the talented defensive back to make his presence felt as early as ASU's first road game last season. Bolden made his first start when the Sun Devils traveled to the Bay Area to take on Stanford and has been a fixture in the starting lineup ever since. The sophomore finished the year with thirty-three stops, six pass break ups, and one interception. Bolden's emergence can't be understated when you consider that ASU has had to rely on numerous junior college transfers at this position over the years.

A small handful of players continue to compete for the vacant spot opposite Bolden. Junior college transfer Terrell Carr was an early signee and joined the team this past spring. He'll continue to battle with juniors Travis Smith and Grant Crunkleton for playing time when fall camp begins, and will have to fully recover from his knee injury to hold off the tandem vying for his spot. Smith had some bright spots last season as a reserve before an injury the Oregon State game limited his advancement. Crunkleton still hasn't realized his potential, but once he does he'll be at the very least a valuable backup.

Three newcomers from the prep ranks will be added to the mix in August, with one of them standing a good chance not to redshirt. Josh Jordan was an early target by the staff and is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High school, one of the top programs in Nevada. Clint Floyd also emerged as a coveted prospect at the position by earning a #28 national ranking by Scout.com as a corner. Valley prep standout Deveron Carr brings some blazing speed to the defensive backfield with his sub 4.40 speed. Four walk-ons, Cameron Harkey, Pierre Singfield, Corey Henderson, and Kamron Brown complete the rest of the depth chart. Singfield had an outstanding spring and could see the field in the 2008.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PROJECTED STARTERS IN BOLD IN BOLD

K/P Thomas Weber, SO

K/P Zach Richards, RS-FR
P Kevin Ivkovich, SO

LS Thomas Ohmart, FR
LS Clay Davie, RS-FR

KR Chris McGaha, JR

KR Kyle Williams, JR

PR Kyle Williams, JR

PR Chris McGaha, JR

2007 was quite the memorable season for kicker Thomas Weber. The former walk-on came out of nowhere to win the Lou Groza Award in his first season after nailing 24 of his 25 field goal attempts on the year. Weber's longest connection came from 53 yards out at UCLA. In addition to his kicking duties, Weber took over punting responsibilities mid-season. The sophomore averaged 39.3 yards on 47 punts and looks to improve on last year's modest numbers this fall. Weber will be backed up by redshirt freshman Zach Richards and sophomore punter Kevin Ivkovich.

At the often forgotten but crucial position known as long snapper, the Sun Devils are in the market for a new face as 2007 specialist Jason Perkins graduated. Freshman Thomas Ohmart, a walk-on from Horizon High, is already penciled in with the first team after a solid spring. Backing him up will be Clay Davie, a redshirt freshman.

As a punt returner last year, Kyle Williams was a First Team All Pac-10 selection. The speedy receiver averaged 9.7 yards on 23 punt returns a year ago. Williams has yet to break one for a touchdown but that is likely to change before his career is over in Tempe.

The familiar face of Rudy Burgess, often seen on kickoff returns over the last few seasons, will no longer be around due to graduation. Replacing the versatile Burgess will be receivers Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams. McGaha has prior experience on kickoffs, averaging 17.4 yards on 14 kickoffs.


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