August 14, 2008

Numerous freshmen in mix for playing time

Arizona State passed the halfway point of fall camp Wednesday with practices No. 12 and No. 13. There are eight more official camp workouts remaining, including Saturday's Camp Tontozona scrimmage and next Thursday's camp-ending scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium. Following that practice, the Sun Devils will begin preparations for the first game of the season, versus NAU on Aug. 30.

In the next week, decisions will be made by the coaching staff about which freshmen will have played their way off the redshirt list, and it's one of the things that has been a prime topic of discussion around the program and certainly by media.

The two scrimmages coming in the next week will no doubt play a major role in these coaching deliberations on the issue, but as of now it appears likely that at least a handful of freshmen are likely to see playing time from the first game of the season.

On offense, wide receiver Gerell Robinson is almost a given. He's received first-team reps almost exclusively with Mike Jones, Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams limited in recent practices.

Even when all three have participated, Robinson has consistently played with the second-team and demonstrated he's among the top reserves, at the very least. He would currently by among the top six receivers on the team in our view, with Jones, McGaha, Williams, Kerry Taylor and T.J. Simpson also making the list.

At running back, Ryan Bass has received an awful lot of reps with the first and second team units as Keegan Herring and Shaun DeWitty have been out for most of the practices in pads.

Bass provides an element that is unique and he's also a potential return specialist behind Williams. As of now, it appears likely to us he is being groomed to play, though we reserve the right to change that opinion if fumbling continues to be an issue.

Along the offensive line, Patrick Jamison and Zach Schlink have been consistently with the second team at the guard positions for the last week. Though their play has been spotty at best, there just aren't a lot of options behind these guys right now, other than perhaps moving Matt Hustad, Adam Tello or perhaps Michael Marcisz inside, or playing one of several walk-ons. So we're assuming as second-team players, they will both be called upon at some point.

At center, Andrew Sampson has worked with the second-group with Thomas Altieri out with a concussion, but when Altieri returns, which is expected to be soon, it would appear Sampson would be slotted to redshirt.

No other scholarship offensive players are likely to play at this point, though injuries and improvement could always lead to change. Walk-on running back James Morrison has a modest chance to play depending on how others hold up in front of him and how he plays in the two upcoming scrimmages.

Defensively, we can reasonably assume that both freshmen linebackers, Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee will play, not only because they have been receiving second-team reps, but because they are working with the first-team on one or more special teams units and are ideal special teams players with their size and athleticism, particularly on kick coverage.

Safety Clint Floyd appears to have a pretty solid hold on the fourth safety spot in the rotation at this point and assuming he maintains that role in the next week, he too will likely play and also possibly get work on special teams.

Also in the secondary, Josh Jordan has worked at second-team corner in the last day and he appears to be the leading candidate to be second-team nickel back. He could also be a special teams player on punt and punt coverage teams.
Those four (Lyons, Magee, Floyd and Jordan) are the likely guys who play at this point from the freshmen class. Two other possibilities, though we're not sure of their chances just yet, are ends Lawrence Guy and Jamaar Jarrett. Both have primarily been third-team members, though Guy split reps for a portion of practice Wednesday with the second unit.

In total, our best guess as of right now is that 8-10 true freshmen will play (not to mention a dozen or more redshirt freshmen), including at least four each on offense and defense.

Of course, all of this is subject to change. We still don't know how these players will perform in real game-like situations. What is undisputable, however, is that the team has a lot of true freshmen who are physically and athletically gifted, more than in recent years, it would appear.

Following practice Wednesday, ASU coach Dennis Erickson said it is possible this class has a chance to be very impressive based primarily on their physical attributes.

"Right now it's pretty good (but) you don't judge classes until they play," Erickson said. "You don't judge them in practices. You don't judge them until they start playing. Athletically and speed (wise) and the things we're looking for it's one of the better ones we've been around. But they've got to take it out on the football field too. But athletically they're awfully good in a lot of areas and some of them, as we get into it we'll talk about it but there's going to be some (who will be) playing."

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