Offense faring better with player changes?

With spring football drills under a week away, the 2010 roster is starting to take shape. Every season, a primary objective of both spring and fall practices is to evaluate what voids need to be filled and rate the strengths and weaknesses of those changes. In this feature, Devils Digest examines the offensive departures, their replacements and how the team will be affected by the change.

Departure: Danny Sullivan

Replacement: Steven Threet

Verdict: Upgrade

Sullivan maintained an admirable attitude, was a hard worker, was very diplomatic and kept a selfless mentality despite adversity and harsh treatment from fans.

That being said, the offense struggled mightily with Sullivan as the trigger man, and the most likely candidate to fill his void as ASU's primary passing option—junior Steven Threet—figures to be a substantial upgrade as the Devils look to utilize a new offensive scheme and new offensive personnel to help improve the team's overall landscape.

Threet's story is well documented—he began at Georgia Tech, and then transferred to Michigan where he started for a year before relocating once again to ASU.

A victim of change, Threet will be mentored by his fourth offensive coordinator in as many collegiate seasons as both of his previous two stops endured coaching changes and drastic schematic adjustments, but by most accounts the fit with Threet, ASU and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is a highly compatible one.

Officially, Threet is listed as a co-candidate to start with sophomore Brock Osweiler, but Threet has already reportedly displayed the work ethic, leadership skills and field acumen to take firm grasp of the role of ASU's starting quarterback.

A big (6-5, 228), strong-armed passer with experience from having started in the Big Ten Conference as a freshman in 2008, Threet could very well be the "x" factor in determining whether ASU suffers another mediocre season or rebounds back to the upper contenders of the Pac-10 Conference.

Departure: Dimitri Nance

Replacement: Cameron Marshall

Verdict: Even

Nance's junior season in 2008 was a considerable setback from the previous year in which he led the Sun Devils with seven rushing touchdowns, however his senior season provided a bit of vindication for his collegiate tenure as he posted career-highs of 795 rushing yards on 188 carries with six touchdowns, while also adding 28 receptions for 216 yards with a score.

A recipient of honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition as a senior, Nance didn't do many things to a phenomenal degree, but was a solid, persistent runner and seemingly maximized his skills during his final year at ASU.

Though Nance nearly entered ASU's 2,000-yard career rushing list, Marshall brings a complete arsenal of power, speed and running techniques that enable him to bring tremendous optimism to the offense as the forecasted starting running back for 2010.

As a true freshman, Marshall worked his way up the depth chart and accumulated 294 yards on 64 carries (4.6 avg.) with two touchdowns and with an increased role in the new Sun Devil offense, his contributions could mount to a high level this season. In his relatively limited role, the San Jose, Calif., native showed glimpses of his potentially deadly skill set and will use that experience to merge into a full-time starter in only his second season at ASU.

Making his role additionally integral is the marked inexperience among the reserve running backs below him on the depth chart, as the two primary backups (sophomore James Morrison and freshman Marcus Washington) have never recorded a carry at the college level.

Departure: Shaun DeWitty

Replacement: James Morrison

Verdict: Even

DeWitty was a serviceable backup during his career; he had effective moments but also had his limitations. Though he lacked explosiveness and speed, he found a niche in pass protection, in the receiving game and in spot carrying situations. At no point was he a legitimate starting threat, but he provided a valuable if unspectacular veteran presence to the offense.

Morrison will likely fill DeWitty's void in terms of depth chart ranking and has the straight-forward running style to plausibly become more of a factor in the offense than DeWitty was.

The main concern in evaluation is that Morrison saw no action at running back as a redshirt freshman, leaving open questions about his game day abilities, but the performance level figures to remain at an even level between what Morrison provides versus what is gone from DeWitty's graduation.

Departure: Ryan Bass

Replacement: Deantre Lewis

Verdict: Upgrade

Ryan Bass was supposed to be the ‘next big thing' at tailback for the Sun Devils. He had the ability to become an all-conference contender and arrived at ASU with amazing high school credentials and the potential to be a 1,000-yard caliber rusher at the collegiate level.

Unfortunately, the conditionality of all those expectations and superlatives turned to reactions of disdain and disappointment when Bass' poor attitude coupled with performance flaws ended in a suspension from the team at the end of last season and ultimately his exodus from the university and transfer to the University of Idaho this spring.

When he was in acceptable standing last season, Bass was one of the top reserves behind Dimitri Nance and provided an explosive, dynamic threat from the backfield. With the 2010 season on the horizon, incoming true freshman Deantre Lewis, a four-star fall-arrival and one of California's best offensive players last season, provides a very similar skill set and could very feasibly work his way toward the upper part of the depth chart by the season opener.

A product of Norco (Calif.) High School, a member of the same league as Bass' alma mater Corona Centennial, Lewis produced a sensational senior season in 2009, totaling 2,383 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns.

Listed as the No. 260 overall prospect in the 2010 Scout 300 and the No. 22 running back recruit by, Lewis was one of the most coveted members of ASU's signing class this February and is one of few true freshmen seemingly headed for sure playing time this year.

Slightly bigger than Bass, boasting sub-4.4 40-yard speed and following a solid line of Norco alumni to play for Dennis Erickson at ASU, Lewis has every tool needed to make the failed Ryan Bass experiment a distant memory in a very short period of time.

Departure: Jarrell Woods

Replacement: Marcus Washington

Verdict: Even

Woods arrived at ASU in 2007 as a three-to-play-three junior college transfer, but with the exception of late-game efforts versus Texas in the Holiday Bowl that year, his Sun Devil career expired without creating much of a blip on the proverbial radar.

Essentially the team's fifth running back year and a participant in only three games during the 2009 season; the stocky Woods mustered puny totals of only 81 yards on 16 carries in six games during his three years at ASU.

Washington initially signed with ASU in 2009 out of Phoenix (Ariz.) Desert Vista High School, but delayed enrollment until this spring and is currently on campus and will see action during spring drills.

With sophomores Cameron Marshall and James Morrison returning from last season and highly-touted true freshman Deantre Lewis arriving in the fall, it seems probable that Washington will fill the lower-end depth chart slot in place of Woods to begin the season, but could potentially be a redshirt candidate depending on how those ahead of him perform.

Washington may be a career reserve or possibly switch positions before his ASU days are done, but he has the time and ability to surpass the productivity provided by Woods over the past three seasons.

Departure: Chris McGaha

Replacement: Kerry Taylor

Verdict: Downgrade

McGaha's natural knack for catching everything near him is a skill that few receivers will be able to duplicate. With 168 career receptions for 2,242 yards, he ended his career third on ASU's all-time list in receptions and seventh in receiving yards, effectively placing him among the top players ever to catch passes for the Sun Devils.

Taylor has shown spurts of the ability to be a big-time playmaker both in practice and games, but has yet to string those talents into a complete season. The potential certainly is there for Taylor, who has thus far totaled 57 catches for 717 yards and four touchdowns, to be a primary option in the passing game but his work this spring and in the remaining months of the offseason will determine whether he exits his collegiate career in impressive fashion or remains a decent but unspectacular role player.

In terms of career statistics, Taylor clearly has no chance to equal McGaha's contributions, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility that the former Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton High School product could come close to the senior numbers put forth by McGaha (56 catches, 673 yards and four touchdowns), but even that total would essentially equal Taylor's three-year amounts and signify a marked improvement.

In ASU's new offense, a great deal of focus will be paid to the wide receivers, but with a bounty of bodies at the position—likely over a dozen scholarship receivers by the time fall camp begins—Taylor will have absolutely nothing promised to him and will need to bring his ‘A' game every day in practice to become and remain the main choice for Sun Devil quarterbacks.

Departure: Kyle Williams

Replacement: Aaron Pflugrad

Verdict: Downgrade

Some may carry a slight level of disdain for Williams due to how his final collegiate play transpired, as well as some issues with game day inconsistency, but during his four-year Sun Devil career he was a tremendous playmaker, dynamic deep receiving threat and exciting returns specialist, which creates a challenging void for any first-time starter to fill.

Pflugrad, who sat out last season after transferring from Oregon, is first in line to replace Williams as the top slot receiver. Speedy and reliable, he caught 23 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown in two years for the Ducks. The faithful in Eugene had high hopes for Pflugrad after an excellent showing last spring, however shortly thereafter he relocated to Tempe and the Devils are now in the position to benefit.

Make no mistake about it, Pflugrad has the potential to be a very solid receiver and create a quick impact this season, but it likely would be considered a lofty goal to expect that he duplicates Williams' 57 receptions for 815 yards and eight touchdowns from 2009.

Departure: Jovon Williams

Replacement: Christopher Coyle

Verdict: Upgrade

Williams' career was hallmarked by a great attitude and excellent work ethic which enabled him ultimately to be a starter, but unfortunately he did not have the tools to be a highly effective receiver from the tight end position.

Despite modest numbers of seven catches for 44 yards last year, Williams was ASU's leading tight end which signifies a drastic need for improvement in the playmaking capabilities among each member of the position group.

A former U.S. Army All-American while at Oaks Christian High School in California, Coyle has the ability to add a valid receiving option to the tight end spot. Though he battled injuries as a true freshman, ASU coaches nearly entertained the thought of pulling his redshirt late in the year to help spark the offense. At 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, Coyle is comparable in size to Williams (6-4, 225), but figures to add a more capable target as a receiver and contribute at higher level as a redshirt freshman than Williams did as a senior.

Entering spring drills, Coyle is listed third on the depth chart at tight end but has the ability to rejuvenate the tight end productivity which has progressively decreased in each of the past three seasons.

Departure: Stanley Malamala

Replacement: Max Smith

Verdict: Upgrade

A two-year player at ASU after starting at the junior college level, Malamala played in all 12 games as a junior in 2008 but only four during his senior season prior to an injury that concluded his college career.

Though he showed promise during spring practice between his two seasons as a Sun Devil, Malamala registered only one career reception.

Likely the third tight end this spring, Smith's primary use likely will be as a line blocker and occasional short yardage receiver, similar to the role Malamala was brought to campus to provide.

The main advantage that the former Scottsdale Saguaro High School standout carries is that he has four years to contribute, while Malamala's two-year term created an urgency that injuries and depth issues prevented him from overcoming.

Departure: Shawn Lauvao

Replacement: Brice Schwab

Verdict: Even

It seems preposterous to think that the loss of Lauvao—one of ASU's top overall student athletes, a physical powerhouse that started at three different positions during his career and likely NFL Draft selection next month—may not prove to be that big of a loss.

A genuine overachiever, Lauvao earned All-Pac-10 recognition his final two years at ASU, generally playing out of position as he saw time at both tackle spots, away from his natural role as a guard.

If any other lineman were poised to fill Lauvao's role, an obvious downgrade would be the outcome, but the Sun Devils scored big—literally and figuratively—when Schwab rescinded his pledge to USC and headed back on the open market.

Athletic, aggressive and most importantly, absolutely massive, the 6-foot-8, 320-pound four-star prospect was put on this planet to play offensive tackle and has the quickness to thrive in protection of the quarterback's blind side, not just play there out of necessity, which some critics have proposed since Schwab spent his JUCO days primarily at right tackle.

In the initial spring depth chart, Schwab is listed as the first-string left tackle, further cementing the expectation for him to become an immediate force.

A junior college transfer with three years to play two, Schwab will need to hit the ground running to make a mark as noticeable as Lauvao's, but it is far from unreasonable to think that he could feasibly garner all-conference esteem in quick fashion and be a prime NFL prospect when his Sun Devil career concludes.

Departure: Thomas Altieri

Replacement: Garth Gerhart

Verdict: Even

After starting all 22 games he played over the past two seasons at center, Altieri moves on and in his place will be Gerhart, who has notched 10 career starts from multiple spots along the line, including two at center in 2009.

Both players are of similar size, and Gerhart has the ability to provide a talent upgrade over Altieri now that Gerhart returns to his natural position. A great deal of ASU's offensive line consistency will likely hinge on Gerhart's performance and health, as no other true scholarship center is listed on the roster with natural guards Andrew Sampson and Chris DeArmas as the probable reserves.

Departure: Brent Good

Replacement: Zach Schlink

Verdict: Even

A local product from Mesa's Dobson High School, Good was one of the surprise contributors in 2009, working his way from duties only on special teams to starting four games at right guard, while also earning a scholarship for his performances.

Good appeared in all 24 games of his two seasons at ASU and the stout, 6-foot-2, 342-pounder filled in admirably when called into duty on the offensive line, but the main reason Good earned snaps on the line was because Schlink was unable to perform in 2009 due to injury.

The top high school offensive lineman in the state of Arizona during his career at Peoria Centennial High School, Schlink saw action as a true freshman in 2008 before injuries that would not only cut that year short but also force him to redshirt last season.

At worst, the tradeoff between the two is an even switch because of Schlink's injury history and uncertainty how the extended time off will affect his ability to contribute. If healthy, Schlink has the making of an All-Pac-10 caliber guard and is expected to run with the first team during the spring—and word is that he is as healthy and lean as he has been in years—as he works back into football form.

Departure: Tom Njunge

Replacement: Aderious Simmons

Verdict: Upgrade

There are some similarities between the two players, as both became Sun Devils after successful junior college careers. While Njunge started at right tackle in nine of 19 career games played, there was quite a bit to be desired about his talent level.

Though Simmons is inexperienced, having only begun his football career at the junior college level, his 6-foot-7, 300-pound frame coupled with his athletic history as a standout high school basketball player in the state of Louisiana provides ASU with a bigger, more athletic presence from what 6-foot-5, 272-pound Njunge provided.

In all likelihood, when Simmons arrives in the fall he will compete with junior Matt Hustad for time at right tackle. Other competitors could enter the mix as Hustad likely will not participate in spring drills, creating an opening at first-team right tackle. To begin spring drills, sophomore Patrick Jamison is listed as the top right tackle with classmate Kyle Johnson, who moves from left to right tackle, as the main backup for the spring.

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