2009 Evaluations & Expectations: Offense

In part one of our two-part 2009 signing day evaluations and expectations article, we talk about the offensive players in the 2009 recruiting class who signed letters of intent with the Sun Devils.

Quarterback

Brock Osweiler (Kalispell, Mont./Flathead HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: The only quarterback signee of the 2009 class was a big one – literally – as the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Osweiler decided against pursuing a college basketball career at Gonzaga and signed with ASU to compete to replace departed Sun Devil starting quarterback Rudy Carpenter.

Osweiler gave his verbal pledge to ASU way back on April 30, 2008 and never wavered, despite increasing intrigue expressed by schools such as Florida State and Stanford. Ranked by Scout.com as a three-star prospect and the No. 49 quarterback in the nation, Osweiler was also named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Montana after leading the state in passing with over 2,700 yards and 29 touchdowns while also leading the team in rushing with 700 yards and 13 touchdowns.

After enrolling early at ASU in January, the savvy freshman is likely to find himself deep in the mix for starting quarterback honors. Osweiler has been tremendously impressive with his maturity and dedication in barely a month on campus. Perhaps if Osweiler had attended high school in a more prominent media outlet, he would have garnered a higher ranking but make no mistake about it, Osweiler has the ability to make a significant impact on the future of the quarterback position at ASU.

Coach Erickson on Osweiler: "Brock Osweiler has got huge potential. We've seen him in the weight room and running, and he's very athletic. You would not know he was 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8. He's got a lot of talent."

Early Expectations for 2009: His size, athleticism and intelligence – coupled with his early enrollment to ASU – will allow him to have a strong voice regarding who replaces Carpenter. Initially, it seems as though the main competitor would be sophomore Samson Szakacsy, as the most experienced passer, senior Danny Sullivan, certainly hasn't established himself as the unquestioned incumbent, despite being the only quarterback on the roster with game experience.

If Osweiler were to decisively be beaten for the job, it would be wise for him to redshirt, as there are currently four other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster; Szakacsy, Sullivan, sophomore Chasen Stangel and redshirt freshman Jack Elway. However at this early juncture the former seems more likely than the latter.

Running Back

Cameron Marshall (San Jose, Calif./Valley Christian HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: One of the top players in Northern California, Marshall (pictured)received a bounty of accolades following an excellent senior season at Valley Christian High School, in which he rushed for over 1,900 and collected approximately 30 total touchdowns. Respectably rated as a three-star player and Scout.com's No. 42 running back in the nation, the No. 5 running back in California and the state's No. 50 overall player, Marshall is widely considered to be the most underrated signee in ASU's class, as despite suffering a hamstring injury prior to his senior season, Marshall had the statistics, accomplishments and the measurables (reported 4.32 40-yard dash, 355-pound bench press, 525-pound squat and 275-pound power clean) to be regarded among the nation's better backs.

The Sun Devil coaching staff has prioritized the 5-11, 210-pounder as a top target from day one, and on Jan. 27, 2009, Marshall made his commitment known to ASU and chose the Sun Devils over Northwestern, Oregon and Utah. Regarded as a well-rounded back with bruising strength to complement breakaway speed, Marshall has many Sun Devil fans eagerly awaiting his fall arrival to ASU. Hopes persist that Marshall can fill the void of a powerful presence in the backfield that has existed since current Denver Bronco Ryan Torain's Sun Devil career was cut short midway through the 2007 season.

Coach Erickson on Marshall: "(He was the) Northern California player of the year. He's 210 pounds, and I would guess he'll probably end up running 10.5 100 meters, around that. We had him in (preseason) camp, so we saw what he could do, catch the ball and do the different things that are necessary. A year from now, we lose three backs (seniors Shaun DeWitty, Dimitri Nance and Jarrell Woods), so obviously that was a key area for us."

Early Expectations for 2009: The running back situation for ASU seems to be organized chaos at this point. With speedster Keegan Herring having graduated, five scholarship backs (sophomore Ryan Bass, DeWitty, redshirt freshman James Morrison, Nance and Woods) return, in addition to ASU's 2009 signees, however there isn't a great deal to be excited about – especially regarding the three seniors.

Bass, one of the nation's premier backs in the Class of 2008 earned limited action as a true freshman in 2008 – too limited to really gauge his college abilities, while Morrison walked on out of Phoenix's St. Mary's High School and showed a powerful running style before suffering a leg injury and redshirting on the scout team.

Oddly, the most talented backs at ASU appear to be the least experience, as neither Nance nor DeWitty has proven to be a game-changing starting running back, while Woods seems to be always buried in the depth chart. If Marshall proves to be what he is expected to be, a strong a speedy ball carrier, he could very feasibly earn early time. Worst case scenario, he gets lost in the shuffle and tries again in 2010 when the scholarship count at running back cuts in half with the three graduations.

Jamal Miles (Peoria, Ariz./Peoria HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: One of the most productive backs in the state of Arizona, Miles (pictured) led the Grand Canyon State with an average of 197.1 rushing yards per game in 2008, while totaling 2,168 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior. A product of the same prep program as recently departed fan favorite Keegan Herring, Miles' game is similarly explosive. What the 5-10, 180-pounder lacks in size he compensates with tremendous speed and burst. Also a standout defensive back and returns specialist, Miles may not be nailed to the running back position at ASU, but that is where he will start. Rated the No. 98 running back in the country by Scout.com, Miles committed to ASU on Dec. 13, 2008 after also taking an official visit to Arizona.

Coach Erickson on Miles: "Jamal is the kind of guy that can make big plays for you, whether it's in the running game or whether it's in the passing game. He's just a great athlete. We're going to start him at running back, but he could play a lot of places for us. He's really a good football player."

Early Expectations for 2009: It seems unlikely that Miles will see the field as a true freshman, especially with the fact that his collegiate position is not 100-percent solidified. There is always room at running back for a gamebreaking speedster, but assumption is that Miles may inevitably end up in the defensive secondary and potentially be a threatening special teams contributor.

Marcus Washington (Phoenix, Ariz./Desert Vista HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: Washington (pictured) has never lacked athleticism, however due to a loaded Desert Vista roster the past two years and multiple injuries, he has never been able to truly prove himself on the gridiron, earning him only two stars and a No. 117 position ranking by Scout.com. After missing time due to a leg injury, the 6-2, 195-pounder carried only 63 times for 245 yards and three touchdowns as a senior, while carrying only 53 times for 415 yards with seven touchdowns the previous year.

Never a feature back for Desert Vista, Washington spent his career splitting carries with the likes of ASU's Allante Battle, USC's Devon Kennard and Utah's Luke Matthews. However, the Sun Devil coaching staff is intrigued by his versatility and speed and believes that once fully healthy he can be a contributor. Washington also received scholarship offers from Arizona, UNLV and UTEP, but gave his verbal pledge to his hometown team on Nov. 12, 2008. Similar to Miles, Washington may try out for a variety of positions during his collegiate career but will take his first crack at running back.

Coach Erickson on Washington: "Marcus has been hurt off and on through his career, so people don't know a lot about him. We do know a lot about him. We've investigated him. He can run. He was a great hurdler. I think you'll see what kind of speed he has. He's 200 pounds now, and he's going to continue to get bigger. He's a guy that's got a great future."

Early Expectations for 2009: Washington will need a year to get acclimated to the college football game, and perhaps even settle on a position. The most important thing for him is to remain healthy in 2009 and prepare to compete for time in 2010 either at running back, where ASU will lose three lettermen, or elsewhere in the lineup.

Wide Receiver

J.J. Holliday (Tucson, Ariz./Santa Rita HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: The first football player from enemy territory to sign with ASU since offensive lineman Stephen Berg in 2002 and arguably the most productive wide receiver in Arizona, Holliday (pictured) first gained interest from the Sun Devils after running a 4.41 40-yard dash at the 2008 Under Armour/Scout.com Phoenix Combine last May. That effort was backed up by a stellar senior season, in which he tallied 55 receptions for 1,100 yards (20.0 avg.) with 13 touchdowns after catching 54 passes for 1,251 yards (23.2 avg.) and 17 scores the previous year.

A recipient of 4A-2 All-State honors by 24-7football.com, Holliday flew way under the recruiting radar, being rated by Scout.com as the No. 186 wide receiver in the nation and earning no BCS conference offers beside ASU's and attracting scholarship attention from Air Force, Colorado State, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

Despite a lack of widespread attention, those who have seen Holliday play attest that he is technically sound and explosive, as well as an excellent student and personable human being. The 6-0, 165-pounder was one of the most decorated athletes in southern Arizona this year and committed to the Devils while officially visiting ASU on Dec. 21, 2008.

Coach Erickson on Holliday: "On the field, he was as good as I've seen. If you watched any of the playoff games that went on around here, you saw that. The thing about J.J. is that he's growing all the time. I talk about what he's going to be like down the road. He's a great route runner, he's got great hands and he's a track guy. He's going to get bigger. Those are things that you've got to look at as you recruit. You're not going to get ready-made players. Nobody does. It's going to take some time. He's a guy that's going to get bigger and stronger. He loves playing the game."

Early Expectations for 2009: Holliday seems destined to spend the year carb-loading and sucking down Muscle Milk shakes, as he will need to prepare himself physically to adjust to Pac-10 football. Perhaps no signee among the 2009 class was more controversial than Holliday, as many critics have doubted his ability to play at the Pac-10 level. However, many supporters believe that he has the attitude and skill set to succeed. After a likely redshirt year in 2009, those questions can begin to be answered.

(Note: additions may be made to ASU's 2009 signing class after signing day, specifically at wide receiver. Stay tuned to DevilsDigest.com for updates.)

Tight End

Christopher Coyle (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: One of the top tight ends in the West, Coyle (pictured) was recognized for his play by being invited to play in the 2009 U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio, Texas. A product of Oaks Christian High School, a true college football breeding ground, Coyle is expected to boost the passing game from his tight end spot.

Rated the No. 19 tight end by Scout.com, Coyle excelled on both sides of the ball in high school, leading his team with 25 catches for 461 yards (18.4 avg.) and six touchdowns while collecting 57 tackles and two sacks as a senior, after leading the team with 10 quarterback sacks as a junior.

Oaks Christian's Most Valuable Offensive Player of the Year in 2008, Coyle pledged early to ASU, on July 12, 2008, and was not swayed by schools such as UCLA that tried to keep the 6-3, 235-pounder in the Golden State. In addition to gaining one of the nation's top tight ends, perhaps signing Coyle will enable ASU to establish an "in" at Oaks Christian High School, which annually promotes several top-notch athletes to the collegiate ranks.

Coach Erickson on Coyle: " Out of Oaks Christian, a great football school. The school has had a lot of players over the years. [Chris] is the first that we have had out of that school. He's a guy that has huge potential at tight end and is a very good route runner. We're excited about having Chris. He committed pretty early and was very heavily recruited. Some of these guys committed early, so people stopped recruiting them. Chris is going to help us at tight end."

Early Expectations for 2009: Starting tight end Andrew Pettes departs from 2008's lineup, and the depth behind him is far from solid. Senior Jovon Williams hasn't proven to be a reliable target, and classmate Stanley Malamala is more of a situational contributor. Perhaps the most intriguing tight end is sophomore Dan Knapp, who exhibited major potential and made some contributions prior to suffering a season-ending injury, while redshirt freshman Steven Figueroa missed a great deal of action on the scout team in 2008 due to injury but came to ASU with high expectations. With widespread uncertainty at tight end for the Devils, the door could be open for Coyle to contribute early, however he would still need refinement to be more than a receiving option at tight end.

Max Smith (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: The top tight end in Arizona and a key contributor on offense and defense for the three-time 4A-I state champion Saguaro Sabercats, Smith (pictured) is one of the more underrated prospects in ASU's class. A powerful and capable two-way tight end and the No. 71 prospect at the position by Scout.com, the 6-2, 258-pounder reports a 365-pound bench press and a 525-pound squat, and on the field he caught 14 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns as a senior.

Smith has the makings of a fan favorite in Tempe, as his enthusiasm and pride in becoming a Sun Devil is well documented. Smith is evaluated as a solid prospect for the H-back position, although not employed full-time in ASU's offense as it was under previous coach Dirk Koetter, Smith could work his way into situational – yet significant – duties during his career. Smith wasted no time in becoming a Sun Devil, pledging on Oct. 19, 2008, immediately after receiving the scholarship offer.

Coach Erickson on Smith: "You talk about a guy that wants to be here. I've watched him. This guy is just a football player. It's hard to describe. He's just a football player. He's tough. He played middle linebacker. He played tight end. He's a lot of different things. In our offense, he could be a tight end, he could be a move fullback type guy. He's a guy that could play a lot of places for us."

Early Expectations for 2009: A likely redshirt candidate, however at 258 pounds Smith will arrive at ASU physically prepared for action. With two seniors at tight end in 2009, Smith will compete for time in 2010.

Offensive Line

Evan Finkenberg (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Tesoro HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: One of the more intriguing members of the 2009 class, Finkenberg (pictured) was slated to play tight end for Tesoro High School reportedly until a matter of days before his senior season when he was asked to try offensive tackle. With a body that is still growing and the frame to add 40 to 50 pounds, the 6-6, 265-pounder could help provide answers to the current offensive tackle woes.

The No. 7 offensive tackle in the state of California and the state's No. 96 overall player, Finkenberg earned late recruiting attention, and picked ASU on Jan. 26, 2009 after also taking trips to Colorado and Washington State.

Coach Erickson on Finkenberg: "Here's a guy that is a great story. About three days before he started his senior year he was a tight end, but he was 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, so they decided, just before they started practice, to move him to tackle. He is what you need at tackle. He's athletic. Their season lasted a long time, because they were in the playoffs. They were coached really well.

"You get him on tape later in the year after he's played that position for a while, and he's good. Will he play next year? Most offensive linemen don't. If you think a freshman offensive lineman will come in and play, you're kidding yourself. It doesn't happen. But down the road, he's the kind of guy that we want. He's big. He's the kind of guy, athletically, that you need at tackle."

Early Expectations for 2009: Naturally, Finkenberg has some growing to do, but when his career does begin on the field for the Sun Devils, he could be a monster. With ASU's offensive tackles stable being largely unreliable, Finkenberg may be thrown right into the mix in 2010 as a redshirt freshman.

Kody Koebensky (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: Widely considered the top interior offensive line prospect in Arizona, Koebensky (pictured) has – and could – play either guard or tackle, but seems a better fit at guard. One of three Saguaro products to sign with ASU in 2009, Koebensky earned All-Arizona honors as a senior and was rated as the No. 89 offensive tackle in the nation by Scout.com. Similar to his prep teammate Max Smith, Koebensky ended his recruitment early, committing to ASU over Arizona, Utah, Washington State and others on July 12, 2008.

Coach Erickson on Koebensky: "He's a guy that we had in camp. One thing about having guys in camp is you know them. You see them. He played tackle in high school, and he could play tackle. He could very easily play tackle. He may end going down inside. A tough guy, football is important to him, and he will be a heck of an offensive lineman for us."

Early Expectations for 2009: Koebensky figures to have a bright future ahead, but unless an emergency situation occurs, he will likely redshirt in 2009. With senior Shawn Lauvao – who may play either guard or tackle in 2009 – departing after this season, in addition to an overall need for improvement along the Sun Devil offensive line, Koebensky may have an opportunity to contribute as a redshirt freshman in 2010.

Fred Thornton (Phoenix, Ariz./South Mountain HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: A powerful, tough, bully of a player, Thornton earned MVP honors of Arizona's 5A-II Metro Region as a senior in 2008. A 6-4, 310-pounder that benches 350 pounds and squats 580, Thornton was a standout on both sides of the line for South Mountain High School. Very much a developmental, work-in-progress type of athlete, Thornton was not nationally rated by Scout.com and was designated a two-star ranking, and committed to ASU on Nov. 14, 2008 with no additional scholarship offers that were reported. Despite a tremendous lack of recruiting attention, ASU's staff believes he has the physical makeup to succeed and generally possesses an excellent upside.

Coach Erickson on Thornton: "He is a guy with huge upside. Dan Cozzetto recruited (former Sun Devil offensive lineman and NFL player) Marvel Smith, and we started talking about Fred, and I said tell me what he's like, and he said he's just like Marvel coming out of high school. That was good enough for me. Like I said with the offensive front, he's a guy that it's going to take a year or two to get him going, but that's what we're doing in the offensive front here. You just don't get offensive linemen off the street, and all of a sudden they start playing. It just doesn't happen. It takes time.

"The guys that played last year are going to be a whole lot better this year. That's how we've got to build our offensive front, take some young guys, and they'll get better all the time. Eventually, you'll get to that point where freshmen come in and redshirt, and then you've got juniors that are playing. That's how you build a solid program for a long period of time."

Early Expectations for 2009: Thornton will benefit from at least a year under ASU's coaching staff to refine his game and develop into a quality Pac-10 lineman. However, the physical attributes are in place and Thornton has the tenacity to excel if he dedicates himself to developing the technical side of the game.

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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