March 25, 2008

Spring Preview: Offense

Rudy Carpenter returns for his senior year as one of the most decorated ASU signal callers in history. He is fourth in career touchdown passes with 63, behind only Andrew Walter, Jake Plummer and Danny White. With 7,811 career passing yards, Carpenter is behind only Walter and Plummer.

As a junior, Carpenter started all 13 games and threw for 3,389 yards and 27 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He was a semi-finalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, given annually to the nation's top quarterback.

Carpenter needs just 2,807 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior to pass Walter as ASU's career leading in both categories.

It does not appear any of the program's other scholarship quarterbacks will seriously challenge Carpenter for the starting nod, but the senior-to-be does have a list of things to work on if he is to take his game to the next level.

Most prominently, Carpenter much work on moving around better in the pocket and going through his progressions more quickly, scanning for open receivers beyond his primary target on a given play. Too often he held the ball longer than was desirable last season, and actually missed open secondary receivers in the process, which contributed to the team's abysmal sacks allowed total. Carpenter has worked on adding weight and strength in the off-season, and told us he is now in the 215-220 pound range.

Behind Carpenter, a cluster of quarterback will be jockeying for position on the depth chart. Danny Sullivan will enter the spring as the No. 2 player at the position, after a very solid stint late in the Holiday Bowl game versus Texas. But redshirt freshmen Chasen Stangel and Sampson Szakacsy will no doubt be in the mix as well.

Stangel may have the most pure mechanics of any quarterback on the roster and he also has very good ball velocity. Szakacsy is coming off surgery to relieve pressure on a nerve in his elbow which limited him through much of the practice season, though in fall camp he played with poise and was extremely mobile and accurate.

At running back, ASU suffered a devastating loss in 2007 when Ryan Torain, who in 2006 became the first Sun Devil to rush for over 1,200 yards since 1974, was lost in the sixth game of the season to a foot injury, ending his career.

Even without Torain, the Sun Devils held up reasonably well at the position due to the solid play of junior Keegan Herring and sophomore Dimitri Nance, who rushed for 814 yards and 548 yards respectively. Now, Torain has moved on to professional aspirations and Herring, Nance and several others will battle for playing time.

Herring is ideally best suited to be a speedy, change of pace runner as a partner to a bigger, more physical back, which Torain was. Nance has better size, but he's more of a nimble inside runner than a punishing, physical running back.

Both Herring and Nance will undoubtedly see the field substantially in 2008, but the coaching staff is looking for at least one more player to jump into the mix for the starting job. That player could be stout 5-foot-10, 210 pound Jarrell Woods, who played in just one game, the Holiday Bowl, last season after transferring from the junior college level; or it could be Shaun DeWitty, a 225-pounder who redshirted last year as a member of the scout team; or it could be true freshman Ryan Bass, a Top-100 national recruit from Corona, Calif., Centennial, who rushed for 2,608 yards and 47 touchdowns as a senior.

Woods and DeWitty will need to attempt to establish themselves prior to the arrival of Bass in the summer.

The wide receiver position group may also have quite a bit of competition for its three starting spots but that will be due more to the ample talent on hand than to personnel loss. Rudy Burgess, a part-time starter at slot receiver has departed but starters Chris McGaha and Mike Jones return, as does Kyle Williams, who also started multiple games in the slot.

McGaha was arguably the most improved player on the offense last season as a sophomore, when he hauled in 61 catches for 830 yards. Though he had just one touchdown catch, nearly 80 percent of McGaha's receptions were first downs, and he has to be considered among the top returning pass catchers in the Pac-10.

The lanky 6-4 Jones was second on the team with 46 catches and 769 receiving yards and he was a potent red zone target of Carpenter, with 10 touchdown grabs on the season. Williams had 29 catches for 260 yards and six touchdowns.

Those three players will be challenged by returning reserves Kerry Taylor, Nate Kimbrough, Brandon Smith and redshirt freshman T.J. Simpson, who will all need to step up their play if they are told hold off several elite level recruits set to join the program in the summer.

While there will be a lot of familiar faces at the offensive skills positions, the tight end and offensive line position groups may feature a number of redshirt freshmen and incoming newcomers.

At tight end, Brent Miller, Tyrice Thompson and Brady Conrad have exhausted eligibility.

Reserves Jovon Williams and Andrew Pettes return, but they combined for just two catches in the 2007 season. Sophomore-to-be Lance Evbuomwan was a member of the scout team last year and true freshmen Dan Knapp practiced very little due to a concussion, and later, a partially torn triceps that required surgery.

Senior-to-be Dane Guthrie, who was moved to defensive end last season, will likely wind up back at tight end in the coming year and he is the favorite to start at the position if that move sticks. Guthrie may well have been the most well rounded player at the position last year other than Miller, but his services were needed at defensive end due to a rash of injuries and when he played well there it stuck.

Along the offensive line, five seniors will depart. The perception is, that isn't entirely a bad thing, as the group was much maligned throughout the season due in large part to the high number of sacks it allowed.

The biggest loss will likely be that of Mike Pollak, an elite level college center who will undoubtedly play in the NFL. Others will certainly be missed as well, including Brandon Rodd, who leaves vacant a left tackle position where there is little in the way of proven depth.

How this group shapes up in the spring and beyond will go a long way in determining how good ASU's offense can be in 2008.

Starters Shawn Lauvao and Paul Fanaika return at left guard and right guard, respectively but it's not set in stone that either will remain at the top of the depth chart.

Redshirt freshman Adam Tello could compete for a spot, but he's also worked at tackle with the scout team and may factor at right tackle, where he's second on the depth chart. Matt Hustad is looking to showcase his athleticism on the inside after recovering from a torn ACL last summer and may factor at guard.

At center, there will be a battle between sophomore Thomas Altieri and redshirt freshman Garth Gerhart for the starting nod.

The real area of concern is at both tackle spots, where the only player with any experience who returns is Richard Tuitu'u. Tello will get a look on the right side, fellow redshirt freshman Michael Marcisz will have a shot to earn playing time on the left side.

The two key players though in how the position shakes out are probably mid-year junior college transfer Tom Njunge, a 6-5, 290-pounder out of Pasadena City College, and 6-4 300 pound sophomore Jon Hargis who will move to the spot from defensive tackle, where he played last season. One of those players will likely man the left tackle spot with Tuitu'u on the right side.

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