August 5, 2008

8/4 Sights and Sounds

Here are sights and sounds from Arizona State's first practice of camp, a workout that included a visit from one of the top quarterbacks in NFL history, John Elway, and a seasoned NFL scout paying Sun Devil signal caller Rudy Carpenter a major compliment.

  • As we've reported extensively in recent weeks, quarterback Rudy Carpenter spent much of the off-season working on his mechanics, and specifically holding the ball tighter to his body and higher prior to release and then bringing the ball back more quickly to a more classic release point. That work has already paid dividends. We were having a conversation with one NFL scout in attendance Monday and without us mentioning anything, he brought up Carpenter's quicker delivery of the football and better and more consistent arm slot on his release. Two things happened when that scout said that: We immediately gained a lot of respect for the scout for noticing that considering this is someone who watches ASU practice only a handful of times each year and we realized that Carpenter's efforts were extremely successful. This is the type of thing that is a major development and very important to report. Carpenter should be applauded for his efforts. Between this and his improved size, gaining 20 pounds in the off-season, he's putting himself in a position to potentially be among the top quarterbacks in next year's NFL Draft.

  • This off-season ASU started its off-season informal workouts three weeks earlier than last year and there were noticeable signs of that work paying off on Monday. Most impressively, mental mistakes were extremely few and far between among the top returning players on both sides of the football. In that sense, this was more like a mid-camp practice, or even a mid-season practice, than a first-week practice. There was not disconnect between the quarterbacks and their receivers. It was crisp. Ball catching wasn't excellent, but that's less of a concern than the knowing where to be and when and why and how to get there.

  • Almost as impressive as the pace and crispness of practice was the physical conditioning of the group. Mid-practice, we told Ben Hilgart, the new head coach of Sports Performance, that his guys really looked good and were handling the first practice well. He simply responded, "The guys are the ones that put in the work." That's what you want to hear from a strength coach, but the fact of the matter is, to a man the players have a high amount of respect for Hilgart and his staff and that shows in the way they look coming into this camp. For the most part, the guys that you wanted to see lean out have done so and the guys you wanted to see add strength and weight have done so. There may be a couple of exceptions but there is no doubt that is simply a product of their own issues and not where the program is at overall in this regard, because it's more impressive than any time in recent memory. One of the scenes that was emblematic of this was watching how much more tired Mike Jones and Chris McGaha became during the so-called "team" segment of practice (11-on-11). Jones was playing baseball during the off-season and McGaha was rehabbing after off-season toe surgery. Both players were sucking air a lot more than the others on the field. We're sure Jones and McGaha will be fine, but it was a sign to us of how successful and productive this off-season was.

  • Omar Bolden is one of the biggest personalities on the team. He's just a magnetic guy. He's also extremely self-confident. But when you hear the back-story behind why he switched jerseys this year, you understand that he's a team-guy first, with great respect for those around him. Bolden wore #32 his first three years of high school ball as a running back primarily and he never rushed for more than 700 yards. When he switched to #3 as a senior, he estimated he had over 2000 yards rushing and 80 tackles on defense. Bolden said he had an opportunity to take the #3 jersey away from Rudy Burgess last year but refused. "That guy is like a legend," Bolden told us. "What had I done to deserve to do that to him." Burgess was willing to give up the jersey (which is the type of teammate he is) but Bolden refused and went back to #32. He earned second-team Freshman All-American honors with that number. But now that he's wearing his beloved #3 again, Bolden said look out.

  • Credit the defense with being active in passing lanes on Monday. Carpenter's first throw of "team" was tipped and picked by who-else but the league's returning pick leader, Troy Nolan and promptly taken to the house for what would have been a touchdown. Later, Travis Goethel tipped a pass near the line of scrimmage and Omar Bolden grabbed. Brandyn Magee nearly intercepted another tipped ball.

  • Legendary NFL quarterback John Elway arrived less than an hour into the workout to watch his son, freshman quarterback Jack Elway, and it seemed to have a positive impact on the youngster. Elway made some very good throws on a couple of out routes, in fact, much better than we saw from him on similar routes on several occasions during informal workouts this summer. One of the throws targeting fellow freshman Gerell Robinson landed right in Robinson's lap as he had fallen to the ground in agony while suffering from a calf cramp. Robinson made the catch, but didn't get off the field fast enough for some of the veterans, who were enjoying giving him a hard time -- as most vets like to do with freshmen, regardless of how acclaimed they might be.

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