ShowMeMizzou.com and Arizona State's Scout.com site Devilsdigest.com decided to exchange spring football reports on each others teams spring performance to give fans an idea of what to expect regarding each teams biggest scheduled non-conference game for the coming 2011 season. Here is am in-depth look at the Arizona State Sun Devils spring .
ASU QB Brock Osweiler
Head coach: Dennis Erickson (5th Year)
ASU Record: 25-23
Overall record: 173-89-1
Returning Lettermen: 53
Off. 26, Def. 26, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 15
Returning Offensive Leaders
Passing: Junior Brock Osweiler 6-8 235
62-109, 797 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Cameron Marshall 5-11 223 Junior
150 carries, 787 yards, 9 TD
Receiving: Senior Mike Willie 6-4 215
36 catches, 442 yards, 6 TD
Last season marked the first year under offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's no-huddle spread offense. Therefore, it would not be a stretch to assume that this group had rid itself from most of the natural growing pains associated with a new system.
Starting quarterback Brock Osweiler started just one game last year (played in a total of six) but with last year's starting signal caller Steven Threet forced to retire due to post-concussion syndrome, and with no experienced players in this group Osweiler is now the undisputed starter. The junior certainly finished spring on a much stronger note than he started on and threw for five touchdowns in the spring game. Being relatively inexperienced himself this performance allows Osweiler to enter fall camp in August with much needed confidence.
With his 6-8 stature and the fact that he was once a Gonzaga basketball commit, arm strength and mobility are not an issue. Accuracy, touch on the ball and overall consistency are aspects that Osweiler must continue to work on in the off-season. His leadership has been impressive but to say that he hasn't been truly battle tested yet isn't a reach.
Spring ball featured a heated battle for Osweiler's backup between redshirt freshman 6-1 195 Taylor Kelly and true freshman 6-1 205 Mike Bercovici. This tandem of quarterbacks hasn't come close to pushing Osweiler for a starting position, but it is undoubtedly imperative that the backup signal caller come September will be a truly capable player rather than the lesser of two evils.
Osweiler will have a proven stable of running backs to balance the passing game headed by junior Cameron Marshall who is a top tier Pac-12 running back and a strong candidate for first team all-conference honors. The junior has a punishing downhill running style, but he showed that he just as adept as outrunning defenders and even leaping over them at times. He did have some difficulties converting third and short situations but new formations introduced this year can turn that deficiency into a competency.
While Marshall delivered as expected in the spring, fellow running back Kyle Middlebrooks was a significant surprise during the same time period. The 5-8 175 Middlebrooks naturally relies on his speed and quickness to eat up real estate and evade defenders, but much like Marshall is versatile enough to not label him a one-dimensional runner. Middlebrooks emerged from spring as the offense's MVP so he is another player that has positioned himself very well for fall camp. <P>
Averaging just under six yards a carry as a true freshman, collecting over 900 total yards and scoring six touchdowns, suffice to say that Deantre Lewis has lived up his to his billing as one of the top west coast running backs in the 2010 recruiting glass. Yet, the enthusiasm over his future has been dampen by an unfortunate accident. The sophomore was a victim of a random shooting which injured his leg and hamstring. He was held out of spring practice and you can bet that he will be under a watchful eye in fall camp to see if he has rebounded both mentally and physically from that event.
Significant injuries at wide receiver were one of the main storylines of spring practice. Nonetheless, this group really found its stride in the later part of spring and the five receiving touchdowns in the spring game recorded by five different wideouts is naturally an encouraging sign for a group that wasn't at full strength.
ASU's scheme doesn't necessarily call for one or two star wide receivers to carry the burden, since it's an offensive system that truly peppers the pigskin around various targets. Finishing the 2010 regular season 12th nationally in passing offense, and losing just one receiver in Kerry Taylor, speaks volumes as to the potential of this group.
Senior Gerell Robinson was the only top returning wide receiver that participated in all of spring's 15 sessions and he certainly seemed poised to build on his 2010 performance (13.3 yards a catch and five TD's). At 6-4 222 Robinson is your proverbial big target down field who has decent speed to go along with an imposing physical frame that serves him well against smaller defenders. Fellow senior Mike Willie is literally a carbon copy of Robinson but he missed the entire spring due to injury and is scheduled to join the team in fall camp and will look to build on a fairly successful 2010 campaign.
Two other seniors to keep an eye on are Aaron Pflugrad, the Sun Devils' main slot receiver, who missed the first few of spring but came back strong in the later part, as well as George Bell another tall receiver who has battled inconsistency issues last year and even part of spring.
Senior T.J. Simpson tore his ACL in the second week of spring and took out ASU's best legitimate speedy downfield threat. Sophomore J.J. Holliday and redshirt freshman Kevin Anderson had their moments in the spring showing they could possibly replace Simpson with no noticeable drop-off.
There is no substitute for experience and ASU should have a plethora of that element on its offensive line, with four if its five starters being seniors. ASU's offensive system is a quick release passing scheme, where the quarterback is in shotgun formation. It doesn't require the linemen to hold their pass protection blocks for a long time which has naturally helped this group in that area. With a very capable group of running backs behind them, it has been easy for the Sun Devils' front five to look formidable in their run blocking.
All-Pac 12 candidate and senior Garth Gerhart is one the leading centers in the league and brought a calming effect to a group that had some serious question marks around it last season, but one that was ultimately not a team weakness. The other mainstay of this group who started every game in 2010 is left tackle Evan Finkenberg. As a redshirt freshman last season he played well beyond his years and his spring performance proved that he is headed for another solid campaign.
The return of sophomore Will Sutton, who sat out 2010 due to academics and the continued improved of senior Bo Moos have created a solid defensive tackle tandem in the spring who was delight for the defensive coaches and a menace to the Sun Devils' ground attack. At 6-2 285 Sutton is extremely athletic and was a one-man highlight reel for most of spring. The 6-0 286 Bo Moos, who had 17 tackles in 2010, is your classic low center of gravity run-stopper specialist. All in all, the defensive tackle group has proven to be unaffected by the departure of Lawrence Guy to the NFL, and their ability to overcome that loss was far from certain at the beginning of spring.
Pac-10 defensive freshman of the year Junior Onyeali had to miss spring due to injury, and replacing a defensive end who recorded 11.5 tackles for loss last season hasn't been an easy task. The 5-11 233 Onyeali is expected to return in the fall, and bring his blinding speed off the edge which has proven to more than make up for his relative diminutive stature.
During the spring his backup Greg Smith did a solid job relieving him. The 6-3 255 junior, who last season suffered the dreaded sophomore slump, reminded coaches and teammates alike with his pass rushing skills why he played as a true freshman. Granted, he probably won't put Onyeali in danger of losing his starting position, but the fact that he provides much needed depth is a huge advantage.
Led by All-American candidate Vontaze Burfict, the linebackers unit is clearly the strength of this defense, if not the entire team. The junior All-American Pac-10 selection paced the Sun Devils last year with 90 tackles, 8.5 of them for a loss. It may be odd to call a 6-3 252 middle linebacker lighting quick, but just watching a few minutes of film on Burfict, who calls an opponent's backfield his second home, validates that description to its full extent. His speed is equally matched by his punishing hits, and granted some of that aggression had led the junior to commit numerous penalties and even caused him to miss a start in 2010.
Furthermore, Burfict's performance in the first six games was mostly average at best. Nonetheless, the star linebacker has gone through a rapid maturing process the last half of the season and in the off-season he is emerging as a true leader not only to his group but also to the entire defense.
Normally Burfict would be flanked by his Corona (Calif.) Centennial teammates Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee. However, the 5-11 230 Magee, who collected 73 tackles in 2010, missed spring practice due to his ASU baseball duties and as inconceivable as it may sound the team's best linebacker last year will be fighting to capture his starting position back due a incredibly depth in this group. Magee is one the fastest linebackers on the squad who uses speed and superior instincts to make plays. He isn't known as one the more physical linebackers on the team, but that is not the case with Lyons. A 6-2 230 Lyons delivers punishing hits but is also fast enough to track down running backs if needed. The injury bug has caused him to be inconsistent at times and he will certainly want to improve on his 22 tackles he registered last year.
The torn ACL injury to cornerback Omar Bolden has been one of the main, if not the primary, storyline of spring practice. The All-Pac 10 selection who led the ASU corners with 52 tackles and three interceptions contemplated forgoing his senior year in favor of the NFL draft, and now ironically his position group will still have to learn how to deal with his absence in 2011.
The natural nominee to fill his role is Deveron Carr. Even though the junior did miss his second consecutive spring practice due to injury and played in just five games last year, the 5-11 193 Carr has already proven to be an accomplished corner with a desirable combination of speed and physical play, and just as important is a proven leader who can fill that void left by Bolden.
Nonetheless, even with Carr's return and some promising underclassmen who showed some flashes in the spring, the ASU corners are a depleted unit. Clearly the weak link of the ASU defense they will be severely tested in all of 2011 starting with the Missouri contest. <P>
At safety, Alden Darby, a classic utility man in the defensive backfield last year, settled in this role during spring and was impressive with his play. While lack of depth at corner makes it tempting to move the 5-10 185 sophomore to that slot, his fine display of speed and savvy at safety will likely prevent that. For most of spring Darby was joined by senior Clint Floyd. The 5-10 198 Floyd has had a roller coaster of a career for the Sun Devils, but in the spring he showed that he just may conclude his ASU tenure on a high note. <P>
In fall camp this group will welcome back two players who sat out spring with an injury. 5-10 186 senior Eddie Elder was third in team tackles with 64 stops and figures to reclaim his starting role in the fall, most likely from Floyd, and be the anchor of the defensive backs. Junior Keelan Johnson will also return to fall camp after missing spring with an injury but the 6-0 201 safety faces an uphill battle to establish himself in the two-deep.
In the spring ASU had to break in a new punter and kicker and as it stands now the results of that inauguration are mixed. Leg strength never seemed to be an issue for JC transfer punter Josh Hubner or redshirt freshman placekicker Alex Garoutte. Consistency however has been an entire different manner.
The 6-4 230 Hubner was an All-American at Scottsdale Community College and based on his booming leg and superior hang time he stands to ensure a smooth transition between him and outgoing senior and All-American Trevor Hankins. Hubner did have some issues with consistency and directional punting during the spring, but overall it's hard not to feel encouraged by this new addition to the Sun Devils.
On the other hand, the 6-1 190 Garoutte has bigger inconsistency troubles. At times during spring practice he was erratic at best, and in other instances, like the spring game, he was picture perfect converting 50-plus yard kicks with much room to spare. Needless to say that rate of the mental maturity by Garoutte in 2011 will either propel him to a solid debut in the Pac-12 or foster a rough baptism.
The return game is nearly impossible to evaluate during spring practice. But we can tell you that ASU's kickoff return unit was nothing short of spectacular in 2010, as the Sun Devils ranked second in the nation in kickoff return average (27.54 yards per return) with three separate athletes each notching a touchdown return last year. In 2011 Kyle Middlebrooks (26.4 yards per return) and Jamal Miles (39.3 yards per return) will assume most of the duties with Alden Darby and Deantre Lewis figuring in the mix as well.
On punt returns, Jamal Miles earned ample experience in 2010 as
ASU's primary specialist in that area and figures to remain atop the
depth chart as he enters his junior season. A threat at multiple offensive
spots and on both kickoff and punt returns, Miles averaged 8.6 yards
on 29 returns in his first year as the Sun Devils' primary option here.
Middlebrooks, as well as Kevin Anderson and Aaron Pflugrad
are also candidates to fill in at punt returner.