August 12, 2008

Offensive line performs well in first scrimmage

Quite a bit happened in Arizona State's first full scrimmage, but it was what didn't happen that told the biggest story according to head coach Dennis Erickson.

ASU's quarterbacks, for the most part, went untouched.

"I [liked] the enthusiasm. I thought we tackled very well and I thought the first offensive front played extremely well," Erickson said. "I thought they pass protected as well as we've pass protected here."

The starting offensive line gave up just one sack on the day, and quarterbacks Rudy Carpenter and Danny Sullivan -- both played behind the first unit at times -- generally had a lot of time to operate in the pocket on 40-plus combined snaps.

"I thought those guys did an awesome job today," Carpenter said of his offensive line. "I think they've really been doing an awesome job all camp to be honest with you. Those guys really work hard, they play extremely hard. They want to be good. I'm happy with how they've been playing so far. I don't think they're a weak part of our offense like people think."

With Thomas Altieri on the sidelines due to a concussion, Garth Gerhart played with the first group and the interior of the line held up throughout the scrimmage, not just pass protecting well, but springing holes for a group of running backs that also had an impressive performance, particularly Dimitri Nance, Ryan Bass and freshman walk-on James Morrison.

Nance had carries of 26 and 34 yards, and totaled 78 yards on just five carries, while Morrison had 10 carries for 87 yards, including runs of 38 and 30 yards. Bass had 44 yards on 11 carries and two catches for 11 yards.

"James Morrison is not a surprise to me," Erickson said. "I'm shocked that he wasn't recruited by somebody. It's amazing to me but thank god it didn't happen. Because he's a big back, he's 225 pounds. It's a little different than what we have. But yeah, those are both pleasant surprises for me."

ASU held out Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams and Mike Jones suffered what was described as a mild concussion early in the practice, which led to many of the team's deep reserves and walk-ons getting an opportunity.

T.J. Simpson capitalized more than anyone else, with three catches for 92 yards including a 70-yard touchdown reception from Sullivan on a play where Grant Crunkleton bit on a fake screen pass only to see the ball sail over his head to a wide open Simpson.

"That was a good play," Simpson said. "We knew it was going to work because the corners were going to jump on the bubble (screen) so all I had to do was catch the ball and run."

The touchdown reception by Simpson was one of two on the day for the Sun Devils, the other coming on a corner fade route run by Gerell Robinson where the freshman receiver made a beautiful catch of a perfect throw by Carpenter on a well-defended play by Pierre Singfield.

"I thought it was good overall," Carpenter said, when asked to assess the scrimmage. "Guys are playing hard. Obviously it's our first scrimmage of camp so I think we've got a long way to go offensively and defensively but I really do think it was good. We ran the ball good, we threw it pretty well and we played some good defense. I thought it was good. We'll get better too."

His coach agreed.

"It was a big day for us," Erickson said. "We've scrimmaged but this is the first full scrimmage we've had. The great thing about something like this -- I don't know, I'd say we went 80, 90 plays at least -- it's a good evaluation for us. We can go in as a coaching staff here in a few minutes, evaluate where we're at both as far as our schemes are concerned and as far as our personnel is concerned. I'll know more about the scrimmage tomorrow morning when we practice"

The highlights didn't all come on the offensive side, as the Sun Devil secondary more than held its own. Troy Nolan picked off Carpenter on the quarterback's one bad decision of the day, as he attempted to force a throw in a bad spot in the flat. Nolan returned the interception for a touchdown.

Max Tabach also played well at safety, seemingly solidifying his role as the team's third safety, and starter at the position when ASU is in its nickel formation.

It was the other component of the secondary that impressed Erickson most, however.

"We're playing pretty good at corner," he said. "Four or five of them. Which was kind of a question mark going in, who was going to be the second or third. Hopefully as I look at that we'll see who has emerged."

Singfield and Terell Carr are locked in a serious battle for the starting nod opposite Bolden, with Travis Smith an extremely solid backup to Bolden, and freshman Josh Jordan also earning praise from Erickson.

Former walk-on shines

Senior linebacker Anthony Reyes may not get an opportunity to crack the two-deep this season at the MIKE position, but his strong play made an impact on Tuesday, as has frequently been the case throughout his career in these types of settings. Reyes had a handful of tackles, including two of the biggest hits of the day.

"I put him on scholarship this summer, not because of what he did today because he deserves it," Erickson said. "He's been in this program for a couple three years as a walk on and has busted his rear end and sacrificed and so we had one available and he deserved it so we put him on for this year. But yeah he did play very well."

McGaha status

"He's just sore," Erickson said of McGaha. "That thing is bothering him. I'm going to be very careful with him. He could have [played]. If we were playing a game he could have played. But why would I take a chance with him now?"

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