Juan-On-Juan
These are my thoughts and my opinions. Not affiliated with any university or media outlet.

Sep
21

Arizona State football is at crossroads in 2010.  They’re looking to find an identity and to re-establish the program after two years of losing and a decade of mediocrity save for 2007.  After cruising to two wins against Football Championship Subdivision schools Portland State and Northern Arizona the Sun Devils took a trip halfway across the country to face the #11 Wisconsin Badgers this past Saturday.  Wisconsin, looking to vie for the Big Ten Title in 2010 boasts a veteran team with several all conference players and a possible Heisman Candidate in tailback John Clay.  On a cool late September afternoon in Camp Randall the unranked Sun Devils, looking for retribution and legitimacy, had every chance to win yet came up short 19-20.

Wisconsin, a veteran team used to playing tightgames, did just enough to eek by ASU in the second half.  John Clay displayed his talents and ability to take a game over with a big second half TD run that was to be the winning score.  ASU, not to lay down quietly, marched down the field and scored a late TD that could’ve tied the game but the Badgers blocked the PAT.  The Badgers then went on to run out the clock and escaped with the win relying on Clay’s running to get a crucial first down as the clock ticked down.  This is a bitter pill game for the Sun Devils without question.  This was a game they should’ve won.  They should be 3-0 but unfortunately it just wasn’t in the stars for ASU.

Grading the Game

Quarterback

Steven Threet is slowly taking this team over as its leader.  Every week he is getting better and more confident and is now taking the reigns.  He was unfazed by the 80,000 plus loud, boisterous Badger faithful and played a hell of a game.  He ran the offense effeciently, made plays when he had to and put in a winning effort.  What I like the most is the kid has guts, is cool under pressure and is becoming adept at escaping the rush which was often on Saturday.  Threet threw for 211 yards but did not turn the ball over one time which was huge.  His percentage was good at 63.6%  One thing for sure; ASU has a warrior at QB. 

Grade: B

Running Backs

After an abysmal performance against NAU this group rebounded and had a better overall game.  Save for the missed block that led to a Threet sack Deantre Lewis showcased himself as a future star.  In a loss he was a bright spot for the ASU offense.  He showed flashes of greatness often against a solid Badger front seven.  Lewis does not play like he is one year removed from the prep ranks and is proving that he belongs in the big time.  Lewis had his first 100 yard game and was not far behind John Clay in production.  Lewis ran for 122 yards on 9 carries for a lofty 13.6 average.  He’ll only get better which is scary.  Cameron Marshall ran for a TD and Jamal Miles chipped in with 10 yards on 2 carries.  A semi-decent day at the office.

Grade: B-/C+

Receivers

I am still waiting for George Bell to show up.  With all the hooplah he came with he is off to a less than stellar start having zero catches in the first two games.  Saturday he had his chance to make something happen and it just didn’t happen.  He catches two balls in a row and then drops a sure TD then blows another scoring chance on the same drive by not being aware of his feet.  I am not object to learning curves but this is getting a bit ridiculous.  Dude, get it together, please!  The rest of the unit did okay albeit not great.  The drops were less, they blocked well downfield and ran good routes.  Kerry Taylor is quietly doing a great job this year.  He snagged 6 balls on Saturday for 71 yards.  Mike Willie is getting better catching 3 passes for 29 yards and TJ Simpson had 2 catches for 18 yards.  Too much talent here to not be scoring 28 points per game.  This unit needs to step it up.

Grade: C

Offensive Line

Dan Knapp had a tough time with JJ Watt as did Brice Schwab but they were able to keep him and other Badger rushers off of Threet and allow him to get rid of the ball.  However Threet was hit way too much and was running for his life on more than a few occasions.  This can’t go on like this because eventually it will get him hurt or worse.  Marcisz stabilized the left side at guard and had a good game.  He made some good blocks, was stout in pass pro and even made it downfield and knocked a Badger on his ass.  Gerhart had a muffed snap but otherwise he was driving his man back on several occasions and was solid in pass pro and did a great job identifyin Badger personnel.  Finkenberg looked good and held his own the whole game and had his share of decent blocks.  But….three false starts isn’t going to cut it and there were several no-calls on the tackles which could’ve resulted in ten yard losses.  The unit is improving and by season’s end should be quite formidable.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line

Worst game I have seen them play and overall a huge downer in this game.  They were driven off the ball way too many times and other than a cheap gimme sack by Guy in the second quarter there was no pass rush to speak of.  Wisconsin’s QB Tolzein found ways to pick apart the ASU zone and it was in part because this group was not getting it done in the pass rush phase.  John Clay ran for over 100 yards in a game where he needed to be stymied and was not.  Not acceptable of a group that was thought of as the strength of the defense.  They played too high, were not coming off the ball and allowed the Badger line to batter them and knock them into the linebackers.  The first play of the game the Badger line looked like they were doing blocking drills as all ASU’s linemen were blown off the ball.  This group needs to figure out quick who they are and what they are about.  Injuries are not an excuse because they were at almost full strength.  2.5 sacks in 3 games is not dominant, it’s stagnant.

Grade: D

Linebackers

They actually had their best outing so far as a group.  They had little to no help from their D-Line and still managed to make some big plays and deliver some hard shots.  Lyons, Magee and Burfict are just as good, if not better, than our 1996 group of Derek Smith, Scott Von Der Ahe and Pat Tilman.  The Centennial Three can attack the line, pursue laterally, cover the pass and can deliver a lethal second shot once a runner or receiver is wrapped up with another defender.  Missed tackles in the last drive dropped their grade a tad but right now this is the heart of the defense.

Grade: B

Defensive Backs

When they are man to man on the edges with safety support the Devil DBs just as good as anyone.  It’s the zone scheme that kills them. The Badgers were able to exploit those little holes as did NAU and PSU.  Once they clean up that up this unit is going to be tough to throw on.  Lack of pressure on the D-Line makes their jobs difficult but they managed to still do a good job.  Run support is awesome.  Keelan Johnson will knock your head off and Elder loves to mix it up too.  This unit is deep and fast.  The zone is the only weakness I see and that will only improve.  We need more turnovers!  Bolden’s Pass Interference helped keep alive a Badger drive that eventually ended in a TD.  He’s not going to do that again.

Grade: B-

Special Teams

Talk about an area of the  game where the fortunes were made and destroyed all in one afternoon.  A kickoff return for a TD, other huge returns for great field position and coverage teams which smother with the efficiency of a pissed off python.  That type of perfomance would indicate the kicking teams are dominant.  However, bonehead mistakes, missed assignments and lack of execution cost the team 11 points.  Weber is not going to miss many 25 yarders but that first quarter miss deflates the offense after it marches down the field, there should never be holding on a return because it’s worked on a ton during practice and when the game is on the line a blocked PAT is a sacrilege.  Specialt Teams were heroes and zeroes in one game.  I’ve never seen it in all my years around the sport.

Grade: C- (The TD saved them from a D)

Looking ahead to Oregon

It’s not going to get easier from here.  The Badgers game was a day at the park compared to what’s coming into Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday.  Many, including myself, wondered if the Ducks would stumble out of the gate due to losing their QB and the off the field issues the team had.  Talk about flipping a script!  The Ducks have not shown any indication they care about losing Jeremiah Masoli, in fact, they’re better without him, literally!

The Ducks come into Tempe ranked number 5 and eyeing a possible BCS Title.  ASU coach Dennis Erickson has already stated he feels they’re the best team in country.  Oregon has outscored their opponents 189-13 this season.  Their QB Darron Thomas has kept the Duck attack lethal with a 148.8 Efficiency rating and has thrown for 562 yards with 8 TDs and has gained 97 yards on the ground.

LeMichael James is averaging 12 yards a carry, has scored three times and has totalled 361 yards in two games after serving a one game suspension.  Kenjon Barber is also good on the ground avergaing 7.4 yards per carry.  Jeff Maehl, David Paulson and Lavasier Tuinei catch a lot of balls and gain a ton of yards per catch.  Maehl and Paulson average 17.2 yards per catch and Lavasier 11.3 yards.

Defensively the Ducks are as good as the famed Gang Green Defenses of the mid 1990’s.  Brandon Blair and Zac Clark are active defensive tackles each with two sacks and combined for 11 tackles for loss.  Casey Matthews and Michael Clay are their most active linebackers and Eddie Pleasant and John Boyett get it done in the backfield.

For ASU to have a shot to win this game they need to corral the explosive Ducks.  They need to keep James and Co. in a low scoring affair.  ASU does not yet have the experience to go head to head with Oregon in a shootout.  The key to victory here is to find ways to three and out the Ducks, keep their offense off the field and move the ball on offense and get points every chance they get.  Turnovers are going to be critical.  The Devil D needs to manufacture points by causing fumbles and intercepting Thomas.  Special Teams are going to have to keep the momentum but eliminate the crucial errors at the worst times.  Only a 100% team effort in every phase will give the Devils a shot at an upset, if not, the upset will be the fans, team and coaches when the Devils get annhiliated.

On Blast

This is a new section that will indicate which player, group or coach is on blast for the next game.  It will point out who needs to do up their game, make a statement or call a better game.  This week the D-Line is on blast.  To stop the Ducks this group needs to not only be good, they need to be great.  They’re off to a slow start and this is the week they need to come to the party.  We need some big hits on the QB as well as disruption of the run game by penetrating the line of scrimmage.  Enough’s enough!  It’s time this group prove they were not an aberration in spring and camp.

Prediction. 

I hate the Ducks, I hate their million uniforms but I love the fact we get them here at home.  I believe that the Devils will rise to this challenge.  At some point they have to make a decision to stop beating themselves and make someone pay for two years of futility and it may as well be Oregon.  They have to be pissed off they’re not undefeated, they have to be pissed off they’re underdogs at home and they have to be pissed off that many of their own fans give them no chance Saturday.  I like pissed off, pissed off can be advantageous.  Remember Nebraska 1996?  Pass the tequila and Kool-Aid please!

ASU 24  Oregon 21

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Sep
14

On what was supposed to be a cake walk Saturday night the crowd that came to Sun Devil Stadium and those who tuned into Fox Sports Arizona Plus were treated to a football game.  It was game that was hard fought and close in the first half.  The only problem is the game was against NAU, a second consecutive Big Sky Conference opponent.  The Lumberjacks, looking to challenge for the Big Sky title in 2010, came to Tempe and hung in there with the Sun Devils for two and a half quarters before the game was finally iced with a strong performance by ASU’s passing game and some critical defensive stops.  ASU, in its final game before the trek to Madison Wisconsin, had everything go wrong that could go wrong in a game.  They couldn’t get the running game going, dropped balls, an anemic pass rush, became a one dimensional passing team and penalties plagued the Sun Devils.  NAU had a chance to get into the the game but in the end the Sun Devils got their act together in the knick of time winning 41-20.

What’s problematic is this; were they looking ahead?   If they were than Dennis Erickson cannot be pleased by this.  As a football coach you focus on the task at hand.  You take it one day at a time, one game at a time.  For ASU to be looking ahead to the Badgers it sends a message of not being focused.  Anytime you take the field you have to be ready to play regardless of who is on the other sideline.  You have to put your best foot forward.  To say the Sun Devils were flat is an understatement.  That can come back and sting a team and cause an upset which had already happened twice that day when South Dakota beat Minnestoa and Virginia Tech got beat by James Madison; both were FCS schools.  Unfortunately playing flat and not being focused whould be the good news.  The bad news would be that we witnessed a weak sister get beat down in week one and little brother came in week two and smacked big brother on the chin and big brother took forever to hit back.  NAU was not in awe of ASU and it showed in everything they did.  Hats off to Jerome Souers.  He brought in a group of young men that played their guts out.  They stood toe to toe with a Pac-10 school and played valiantly.  For ASU they were fortunate they had Threet’s arm to get them through the penalties and poor play.  They should be grateful that they put the Lumberjacks away by the middle of the fourth quarter.  They have to make up a lot of ground in a hurry if they are to have any shot in Madison.

Grading the game

Quarterbacks
Steven Threet continues to improve.  He had to take charge and win the game with his arm which he did throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns.  Ball security became an issue after more than a month with Threet tossing two picks.  However he played smart, protected the football and avoided the NAU rush.  You can see his confidence building on the field now he needs to take command of the troops.  Brock Osweiler didn’t do much with only three attempts for three yards.  There is reason for optimism because this is the first time in quite awhile that the quarterback is not to blame.

Grade: B

Running Backs
Holy smokes!  What the hell happened?  After a strong first game in which they looked super-human the Sun Devil runners were a non-factor.  The ground game, for a lack of a better term, averaged a paltry 2.55 yards per carry and all backs totalling a meager 60 yards in total rushing.  They were hit at the line constantly and were not breaking tackles like in week one.  There were dropped balls out of the backfield and other than Cameron Marshall’s TD run in the 4th Quarter they just didn’t do much on the ground.  Let’s pray this was an anomaly.  Jamal Miles scored on a pass play which saved the group from a worse grade.

Grade: D

Receivers
Not much better this week with dropped balls but the production was much improved.  Aaron Pflugrad, usually dependable, had the drop virus on Saturday as he was unable to bring in some easy throws but he still had a decent night catching 8 balls for 77 yards.  Mike Willie showed up and played well shatching 8 balls for 114 yards and a TD after being invisible in week one.  T.J. Simpson had 79 yards receiving and Kerry Taylor had a decent night too snagging 6 balls for 72 yards and a TD.  Where the hell is George Bell?  Is he still on the team?

Grade: B

Offensive Line
They can pass block.  No doubt about it.  They protected Threet well even though there was some pressure but nothing major.  Threet did take a couple of shots in the blitz but that was more running backs than the line. The issue is their run blocking.  Where was it?  ASU backs were getting nailed at the line of scrimmage, couldn’t get in synch and much of it was due to this unit not driving NAU off the ball.  NAU was able to stand them up at the line and make life difficult for the ASU backs.  Not acceptable.  As big as these guys are they should’ve been mauling the Lumberjacks and they did not.  Penalties were an issue as well.  False starts and holding calls kill drives and throw the offense out of whack.  In a stadium with only 40,000 or so fans and being the home team there’s no way it’s that loud to not hear the snap count.  They do this in Madison, where there will be 80,000+ screaming fans, and it’s game freakin’ over! 

Grade: D

Defensive Line
One sack in the 4th quarter is not going to cut it.  This unit is far too talented to not get pressure and 1.5 sacks against two teams that throw the ball a lot is not what we were expecting.  Zach Bauman was running around them and getting into the second level far too many times and Mike Herrick found ways to get rid of the ball.  The strength of the defense needs to be stronger.  Period.  Hopefully with the return of Corey Adams and Toa Tuitea this unit will settle down and play like they’re capable of.  So far not a good start.

Grade: C-

Linebackers
Played well over all.  Burfict was all over the field making plays but he committed a stupid penalty towards the end of the game.  Taunting is not football!  Shut up and play.  Hopefully Erickson and Trent Bray address this and tone that down.  Burfict is the real deal talent-wise but he needs to clean up the extra curriculars because he’ll be nit picked by the refs.  Lyons and Maggee played well.  Both were active and made some plays when they had to.  This group just needs to gel and get into rhythm.

Grade: B-

Defensive Backs
Omar Bolden is getting better and better.  He is a lock down corner and Deveron Carr is a play maker too.  These guys can play man to man which gives Craig Bray so much flexibility in his defensive play-calling.  Safety play was much better.  Eddie Elder is an ass kicker and Keelan Johnson will bust out your teeth if you get in his way.  Both have improved and play with an attitude.  There were a couple of breakdowns here and there but without question these guys are players and are getting better. 

Grade: B

Special Teams
Coverage units were awesome.  They get downfield and swarm to the ball.  Return units are good as well and one return almost broke for a TD. This is a pleasant surprise from years past when Special Teams play has been sporadic and inconsistent.  Thomas Weber was 2 for 2.

Grade: A

Looking ahead to Wisconsin
Wisconsin is prone to sloppy at-home play.  The problem is that game was last week.  They made some dumb mistakes against San Jose State which kept the Spartans in the game.  They won’t do this two weeks in a row.  Look for Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to have his group ready to play a tough game.  This is not going to be the same Wisconsin team that played San Jose this past Saturday.  The Badgers are big, fast and could unseat Ohio State if they play to their ability.  They have struggled on the offensive line and there may be some changes.  This past Saturday Josh Oglesby, the right tackle, was helped off the field.  This could work to the Sun Devils’ favor. 

On offense Scott Tolzien shows flashes of being a good player.  He has a good arm, is smart and can also run with the ball.  He needs to be hit, blitzed, harassed and needs to be made a non-factor if the Sun Devils hope to compete in this game and have a shot at an upset.  John Clay is a horse!  He is big, physical and can take a game over.  There is Ron Dayne talk, it’s not overstated.  He ran for 137 yards on 23 carries last week.

On defense JJ Watt is their stud on the D-Line.  He was in the backfield often against San Jose State and made 2 1/2 tackles for loss in the first half.  He is a great pass rusher, has a double move that can be very difficult to read.  He will give ASU’s tackles everything they can handle and will provide a true test.  Overall the Badger defense has speed and when they don’t make mistakes they’re tough to move the ball on.  However, they made some mistakes and allowed San Jose State to move the ball and score.

The Devils will win if…….

They play mistake-free football.  They need to get it together on offense and defense.  Defense needs to get some takeaways and put the offense on the field with good field position.  They need to be more aggressive on the D-Line and get to Tolzien and force him to make mistakes.  Burfict and company will need to punish John Clay every play he has the ball.  They need to get off to a fast start on offense and get the crowd out of the game.  If they can find a way to run the ball effectively against that defense and air it out and get “chunk” plays of 30 or more yards they have a chance.

The Devils will lose if…..

They play like they did Saturday.

Prediction: This is a game that is going to show us what the Sun Devils are all about.  It’s a statement game.  What are they gonna do?  Are they gonna show up and play these guys without fear?  Or are they going to cave in?  I doubt Erickson will allow the latter; let’s pray for the former.

Wisconsin 28   ASU 21

Sep
11

Nine years ago on Tuesday September 11th I woke up around 8:40 a.m. to the sound of my little four month old son playing in his crib.  I leaned over and told my wife that I would take care of the little guy that morning as I had just come home the night before from a road game.  We were living in Mississauga Ontario Canada at the time as I was playing football for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.  I remember getting my son and changing his diaper, bringing him downstairs and making him his bottle.  I then settled onto the couch to watch the news.  Being I lived in Canada I had cable with all the American channels and always watched CNN to keep tabs on what was happening in the U.S.  When I plugged in the channel for CNN I will never forget what I saw.  The North Tower of the World Trade Center was on fire, so it appeared.  I remember the analysts were speculating that it may have been a plane but it was unconfirmed at the time.  As they were discussing how a plane could’ve possibly veered off course and hit the building on the right side of the screen a sudden shadow whizzed by and then an explosion that looked like something out of a Schwarzenegger movie.  Oh my God!  I thought, that was an airplane and right then the news people were in near hysterics as they explained that a plane deliberately flew into the South Tower.  Never in my life had I felt so helpless, upset, sad, angry and offended as I realized my beloved country was under attack.  Glued to the television I watched and then learned that the Pentagon was hit and then another plane crashed in Pennsylvania.  Then, as I held my son and sat with my wife whom I’d woken up, we watched in horror as the towers fell.  It was a day I will never forget for the rest of my life.

America changed after that.  For a short while we united as a people.  Even in Canada the people there rallied around us American players and voices their support and sympathies.  I remember my teammate Jimmy Kemp, son of the late Senator Jack Kemp, and the rest of us American players being so upset about what happened.  I remember seeing our government officials united and singing “God Bless America” as they stood together in unity.  People bought flags and placed them outside their homes and placed them in their vehicles.  People wore “United We Stand” shirts and hats.  America was one.  America was united.  People said hello to each other, people hugged, cried and shared their anger at what these cowards did to out great country.  We mourned the victims.  We identified with them.  They were people who’d done nothing wrong other than go to work as normal.  We all felt a sense of loss.  We all felt the sting of shame.  How did this happen?  But then we shared our courage.  We shared our resolve.  People became inspired by their new-found patriotism and joined the military.  People like my dear friends Pat Tillman and Jeremy Staat whom I played football with at Arizona State joined the Army and Marines, respectively.  When it was discovered that Afghanistan was a possible culprit due to their training and harboring of terrorists we supported the invasion to get rid of the Taliban; the thugs who ran the country and six months earlier destroyed priceless Buddha carvings in the name of religion.  We united against oppression and were ready to fight the good fight.  To hunt down that scumbag Osama bin Laden and his band of criminals and either kill them or bring them to justice.  We supported out troops.  We were one people.  We were Americans and we were not going to be screwed with!

As time went on though and the pain of that day ebbed we fell back into old habits.  We divided again.  We let petty issues divide us.  As the economy fell apart people began losing their jobs, their homes and for some, their families.  Tension began to mount.  Racial lines were drawn again.  Banks failed, mortgages foreclosed, companies went belly up and politics became a nasty game.  Laws have been passed that have divided us even more pitting neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend and even relative against relative.  Taxes have increased while income has dropped and people are struggling to get to tomorrow as today is tough to deal with.  We have become a nation divided again.  We have an African-American President who is loved by many and hated by others.  He is mocked in cartoons, disrespected in certain circles and even his birth is questioned by some.  We have new political parties popping up preaching a platform that promises to the get America back on track.  Extremism is on the rise.  There’s a mosque that is to be built near where the towers fell causing a deeper division among people.  There’s a preacher who wants to burn Q’urans in Florida.  We have SB1070 in Arizona which has divided people on the issue of illegal immigration.  There’s Proposition 8 in California that would allow same sex marriages which has caused major debate about freedom and rights.  So many issues in our country and people have taken sides and have vilified the other.  There’s demonstrations, lawsuits and even riots.  We are a different America; we are a house divided.

So today I offer a challenge.  Many will spend today watching football or going to a stadium to root for their favorite teams.  Many will be home or out and about working or running their errands.  For today only let’s have that spirit we had after the Towers fell.  Let’s share that unity that we did when we were attacked.  This day is called Patriot Day.  It is a fitting title.  Nine years ago this country became a nation united.  We emerged from a horrible tragedy as one people.  Let’s be united again today.  Say hello to a stranger today.  Smile and acknowledge them.  Thank a soldier.  Hug a child.  Wave a flag.  Be proud to be an American and be thankful that we live in the greatest country on earth.  As you’re watching football or going to a stadium be thankful that you are able to do this today.  Be proud to live in a country where our freedom has allowed us to have this available to us.  Cheer hard for your teams and rejoice that even in rivalry we are still one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

GOD BLESS AMERICA!

Sep
07

Discussion is ok, If you want to argue, I'll win.

A scheduling snafu led the Arizona State Sun Devils to play FCS Big Sky Conference member Portland State University Saturday night.  Portland State, birthplace of the Run n’ Shoot Offense under Mouse Davis, has a proud football history but has struggled the past two season under Jerry Glanville going to 2-9 in 2009.  With a new coach, Nigel Burton who is a Pac-10 veteran, and a new attitude the Vikings came to Tempe on a hot Saturday evening to face an Arizona State team that is looking to find an identity after two losing seasons in a row.  In a game everyone expected them to win the Devils did just that.  Even though Portland State forced a Sun Devil three and out and scored first after driving the ball in their opening drive against the much heralded Sun Devil defense to take a 3-0 lead it was all ASU after that.  When the clock ticked down to 00:00 the Sun Devils held a 54-9 advantage.  The modest crowd in attendance of 43,238 was treated to some electrifying plays on offense, atypical of the past two seasons, and saw a defense that can stifle an opponent.

Arizona State, on a 6 game losing streak dating back to last season, is a team that is in transition.  Coming off of two losing season not many are giving the Sun Devils a chance to compete.  The national media and even the local media have picked the Sun Devils to finish in the bottom third of the conference.  You can never assume you’re going to show up and win in college football.  Upsets happen all the time as Florida learned earlier in the day against Miami(Ohio).  The Gators turned the ball over and gave the Redhawks many opportunities to win but in the end they pulled it off and won at home but the game could’ve easily gotten away from them.  Arizona State did the opposite.  ASU played with confidence and focus.  They took care of the football with the only turnover coming from a tipped pass.  The running game showed flashes of brilliance as Cameron Marshall topped 100 yards in rushing for the first time since D’Mitri Nance accomplished it in 2007.  Defensively there were some breakdowns in the passing game.  Portland State’s Connor Kavanaugh was able to make a couple of huge plays against the Sun Devil secondary but the defense persevered.  They bent but they didn’t break and every time it appeared Portland State was catching fire they would shut them down.  The kicking game showed up as coverage teams smothered the Viking returners and forced them into bad field position often.

GRADING THE GAME

Quarterbacks

Steven Threet, in his first college start in almost two years, looked impressive.  He was in control of the offense from the second series on after going three and out in the first series.  He has good accuracy, he sees the field well and had a sure TD dropped in the end zone.  Threet also showed courage under fire and took a hit on a blitz while he threw for a TD.  Threet went 14-21 for 239 yards and a TD and his completion percentage was 66.7%.  He had the most yards passing in his first start since Jeff Krohn passed for 160 yards in 2000 against San Diego State.  Threet’s only interception was a tipped ball.  The backup but good enough to be the starter Brock Osweiler did well completing 6-10 for 72 yards in his limited action off the bench.  Osweiler also had a sure TD dropped in the end zone.  All in all a good start for the ASU signal callers.

GRADE: A

Running Backs

This group came to play.  They hit the holes, played physical when they had to, evaded tackles and sometimes flat out ran over people.  Deantre Lewis doesn’t play like a True Freshman and is a future star.  He scored twice and averaged 4.8 yards per carry in his Sun Devil debut.  Cameron Marshall is a bruiser who also has the ability to break a big run.  Marshall was the star Saturday running for 104 yards with a 26 yard per carry average with three TDs in the bank.  Marshall had the most TDs in a single game since D’Mitri Nance did it in 2007 against Cal.  James Morrison, thought of more as a blocker, had a good game running the ball averaging 4.6 yards per carry.  Jamal Miles got in the action as well and did a great job averaging 4.6 yards per carry and scoring a TD.  They also caught the ball well out of the backfield accounting for 183 yards and two scores.  This group scored all 7 ASU touchdowns.  Excellent start!

GRADE: A

Receivers

Aaron Pflugrad is a player.  He has passion and talent even though undersized.  He plays 6’04” at 5’10.”  I am sure Noel Mazzone and Steve Broussard will find ways to get the ball in his hands much more as the season progresses.  Pflugrad was the top receiver  Saturday night snaring 4 balls for 57 yards.  Overall this group didn’t have a great game.  There were some good catches made but two TD drops on catchable balls will not cut it when league play begins.  130 yards total receiving for this group is not to the standards of Broussard and Mazzone and belies the talent this unit has.  Expect this group to get worked hard this week and come out next week with a sense of urgency.  There’s too much talent here to not have success.  They will get better though, Broussard will make sure of that.

GRADE: C-

Offensive Line

Not bad!  The Achilles Heel of the offense the past two years came to play on Saturday and showed that they’re a different lot.  ASU had 553 yards of total offense and this unit was a huge reason why.  They played well together, opened up holes for backs and protected Threet well not allowing him to be sacked.  Osweiler was sacked in the second half but it was not against the starting unit and was a cornerback blitz from the edge.  Dan Knapp had a bone head penalty that killed a big play but you can’t deny the kid loves to play and mix it up.  He has great balance just needs to refine his technique.  Adam Tello needs to get better finishing blocks and has to work his hands better but he’s much improved and his confidence is much better than in the past.  Garth Gerhart is a do-it-all player.  He can run block, pass block, snaps the ball well and has the athleticism to pull and be a lead blocker.  Mike Marcisz is steady just needs to play lower and Evan Finkenberg has a nasty edge to him.  Finkenberg looked comfortable at guard after playing tackle all spring and the first part of camp.  Brice Schwab looked good at RT and is moving his feet better and stuffs the defender in the run game.  This was a good test for him because the PSU Ends were smaller and tested him on the edge and he was able to hold his own against the smaller speed guys.  Aderious Simmons is a natural.  He is the most athletically gifted of the ASU Linemen and should be starting within the month once he learns the playbook.  So long as they keep getting better each week this is a group that will do some damage.

GRADE: B+

Defensive Line

This unit, considered the strength of the defense through camp, has been decimated by injuries.  They went in with only three actual tackles and played decent against the pass heavy PSU offense.  The Vikings had a hard time getting their ground game going only netting 54 yards which was due to the D-Line bunching up the middle of the formation and forcing backs to re-direct and go outside.  Although only one player was in on a sack, Junior Onyeali, this group harassed PSU QB Connor Kavanaugh often and made him leave the pocket on several occasions.  Their numbers weren’t impressive as the unit totaled 15 tackles, 3 for loss and 0.5 sacks but they will get better. The one improvement they need to make is to corral the quarterback better and finish their rushes in the passing game.  Kavanaugh was able to break a few would be sacks and complete passes which cannot happen during conference play.  The injured players are expected back this week which will help this unit’s depth.  Lawrence Guy was chop blocked during a play which should’ve been a 15 yard penalty and left the game but looks to be okay.  Whew!

GRADE: B

Linebackers

With the talent that the unit has you would expect more production but given Portland State runs a variation of the Spread that uses multiple receiver sets the unit played well even though the numbers are not eye popping.  Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons get it done.  The Centennial three made plays on the ball and delivered some bone crushing hits.  They can cover laterally, stuff the run or drop back and cover the pass.  Even though they weren’t in on a lot of tackles, the unit totaled 13 tackles among 6 players who saw action, they made life difficult for the PSU Offense which totaled 263 yards and scored only 9 points.  Anticipate this unit to come into the NAU game looking to make a statement.

GRADE: B

Secondary

Lots of talent here but there needs to be improvement on assignments.  No one on this unit is going to get beat physically but there were some mental breakdowns which allowed PSU to get into scoring position three times.  Colin Parker had a monster game with 7 tackles.  Omar Bolden shut down his receivers as did Deveron Carr.  You know when your corners had a good game when they only had three total tackles.  That means their receivers were not getting the ball thrown to them which is good; it means they were covering.  Safeties need to improve on their reads and position in zone but for the most part they played well.  Eddie Elder had a circus interception.  Keelan Johnson likes to hit and Max Tabach showed some fire.  Osahon Irabor had a few eye-opening hits at the end of the game.  There’s much to build on but this group needs to grow up fast.  Edler, Tabach and Irabor picked off passes which stopped potential scoring drives.  While they have much to improve they played decent enough to hold the opposition to 209 passing yards of which 93 yards were caught by Ray Fry and two of those catches appeared to be broken coverages over the middle of the field.

GRADE: B-

Special Teams

Weber kicked a 52 yarder that could’ve been good at 60 but then missed one from 37 yards.  The Lou Groza candidate will not allow that to happen again.  Kickoffs were great as PSU found itself with a long field often averaging the 17 yard line to start compared to ASU starting on the 27 .  Coverage teams were physical and tackled well.  Punter Trevor Hankins booted a 55 yarder in his only punt of the night.  Nice job all around.

GRADE: B

Overall

The Sun Devils were supposed to come into this game and finish better than when they began and they did that.  Once they settled down they showed flashes of being a good team.  Naturally the games get harder each week.  There are no glaring weaknesses on this team other than the mental breakdowns that led to big plays.  Those breakdowns and bad plays are mental issues not lack of talent issues so bet that they will be addressed this week in film and on the field with the staff.  Penalties are a concern.  ASU was flagged 11 times for 93 yards but since it’s the first game and they won by 45 points I’ll cut them a little slack……..just a little though.

Looking forward to NAU

The Lumberjacks opened the season with a whipping of Western New Mexico 48-0.  Jerome Souers and his Lumberjacks come into Tempe boasting one of the best teams of their conference led by Payton Award Candidate QB Michael Herrick.  The ‘Jacks attack with a run-pass balance that features Running Back Zach Bauman who ran for 167 yards last week.  Herrick passed for 178 yards, 2 TDs and had two balls intercepted.  Austin Shanks and Sam Unger were their best receivers in the rout of the Mustangs.  Shanks caught 7 passes for 67 yards and Unger snagged four balls for 84 yards.  Devieun Curry-Chapman is the leader of the receiver corps.  The senior caught 4 passes for 62 yards and a TD.  Tight End Brian Riley is also a good football player being named Pre-Season All Big Sky. On the O-Line the ‘Jacks average 293 pounds and are anchored by All Big Sky Right Guard Kris Poindexter.  Poindexter may get a look for the NFL depending on how his season goes.  The ‘Jacks will present a more formidable opponent for the Sun Devil defense this Saturday.  They run the ball well and can air it out with their star QB.  The ASU Defense will be tested at all three levels and will need to come into this game ready for the ‘Jacks’ best shot. 

On defense the ‘Jacks forced the Mustangs into a goose egg which does wonders for a defense’s confidence.  The ‘Jacks come into Tempe with a defense that has six returning starters from 2009.  Linebacker Reid Washington, Cody Dowd and Scott McKeever are seasoned veterans who are competitive and physical.  Free Safety Matt Estrada is one of the Big Sky’s best at his position and on the D-Line Brandon Vance, while undersized, had four tackles last week and is very active from his Right Defensive End spot.  This is a better unit than the Devils faced last week in that they have more experience and boast more All-Conference type players.  This defense will challenge the ASU offense.  They will need to be efficient in all facets of the game in order to keep the momentum they established on Saturday.  They will need to be physical on the O-Line, hit the holes hard in the running game and be more disciplined in route running and catching passes.

While still an FBS team the ‘Jacks have the talent to compete with ASU.  This game, on paper, looks to be much more competitive than last week.  The ‘Jacks are going to come into Tempe fired up as 21 players hail from the Valley of the Sun.  They will be looking to upset the Devils at home.  ASU will need to simply do what they did last week and this should be another victory.  However, if the Devils allow the ‘Jacks to get on a roll it could spell disaster.  This is the last game the Devils play before hitting the road against Wisconsin so it is vital that they get the kinks worked out and take care of business once again.

PREDICTION: ASU 49 NAU 17

Aug
21

With two weeks before the 2010 season opener against Portland State the 2010 ASU Sun Devils took the field today, August 21, in their final intra-squad scrimmage of the Pre-Season.  It was a warm humid morning in Sun Devil Stadium and a small crowd gathered in the east stands, in the shade, to watch the ninety minute practice.  After an hour and a half of hits, whistles, flags and curses it’s safe to say that the Sun Devils are a different lot than the 2009 edition.  The first five days they showed a different attitude and approach.  They had a different aura to them, a quiet confidence and maybe even a chip on their shoulders from all the lack of faith in them.  Now after three weeks beating on each other much has changed; but for the better.

While all the questions are not yet answered, like who the starting QB is or how good will the O-Line be, there are fewer issues than before and that has to give Dennis Erickson and his staff a reason to be cautiously optimistic.  Was the scrimmage perfect?  No, far from it, there were missed assignments, miscommunications and reads but nothing went wrong that cannot be fixed through repetition and coaching.  That right there is the reason that ASU is going to be much improved in 2010 and can overcome today’s setbacks.  This is a talented, yet untested and unproven, football team.  There are upgrades everywhere and even though many players will start for the first time September 4th against Portland State that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

In grading this scrimmage I eliminated my passion for ASU and focused on the performance of the specific positions.  I was much more critical and observed with a detached state of mind as if I was watching a team I never seen prior to today.  I no longer gave anyone the benefit of the doubt.  It’s been three weeks and this scrimmage is, in essence, a dress rehearsal.  Sure, it’s not the final product yet but next week’s Mock Game is more of a situational run through where the starters typically play against scout teams and they run a scripted practice.  So today was a huge indicator of what we’re to expect in 2010 and the consensus from those who were watching was pretty much the same; this is a better team than the previous two seasons.

OFFENSIVE GRADES

Quarterbacks

The pivots had a decent day, not great but they were the bright spot of a difficult outing.  Steven Threet got off to a slow start thanks to a feisty ASU D-Line that was in the backfield when play began but once he settled in he showed great poise in the pocket and managed the offense well completing 9 of 15 for 97 yards.  Threet has good vision and when he was able to delivered the ball and there were times when he made the right call and, rather than make a risky throw, ran with the ball.  Brock Osweiler was also decent going 9 of 14 for 79 yards and a TD.  Osweiler has improved tremendously.  His ability to read the defense is better and he is smart with the football.  On one play, although an incompletion, he read his receivers and saw there was nothing there and threw the ball away rather than force something that may have led to a turnover.  Szakacsy played well but it looks like there’s more to the arm issue than we think.  He didn’t sling the ball down the field and was throwing medium and short range passes going 6 for 9 for 53 yards.  True Freshman Taylor Kelly, from Idaho where another well known ASU QB is from, really impressed.  In his limited action he showed signs of sound decision making and play making ability.  Some compared him to Jake Plummer but I am not going to go that far yet but the youngster is a heck of an athlete and I am looking forward to seeing him develop.  One glaring statistic today: NO INTERCEPTIONS!  All Quarterbacks were smart with the football.  At this stage of the Pre-Season it appears that Steven Threet has slightly edged Brock Osweiler as the starter but not by a huge margin.  This may still be too close to call.

Grade: B

Running Backs

They didn’t have a great showing today.  A large part is because they were brought down at the line of scrimmage on several plays by a fired up ASU D.  However, looking at this group as far as talent and playmaking ability there is reason to believe they have improved.  Cameron Marshall was hit by Vontaze Burfict early and left the action but came back and gained 23 yards on 7 carries.  He made the most of every opportunity and showed his ability to mix it up.  He is a physical back who can churn out the tough yards.  He also has the ability to stretch the perimeter and turn up quickly but was usually met at the line by Devil defenders.  He is the starter and the workhorse for this team.  James Morrison is a cat-quick runner who can get into the secondary quickly if given the chance but again a tough day for him netting 17 yards on 7 carries.  Noel Mazzone had several plays where he and Marshall were in the backfield at the same time.  This will pose a problem for defenses because either runner can hurt you.  Deantre Lewis can be a demon.  He shows instincts beyond his youth but a tough day for him because the Devil D was in his face before he can get going.  Overall this group is talented but they had a rough go today.

Grade: C…..but…..they had little help and had to make it happen on their own.

Wide Receivers

Not a good day at all for this group in terms of overall production but this is more due to the Devils’ secondary playing great than their lack of effort.  T.J. Simpson had the best outing catching 4 balls for 33 yards.  Aaron Pflugrad has wheels and great after the catch ability but caught only 3 balls.  True Freshman Kyle Middlebrooks made tow great catches in traffic.  Ryan Skorupka, listed as a Tight End but lined up at slot several times, had a great catch in traffic.  Mike Willie and George Bell were non-existent today with Willie making one catch for 20 yards.  Kerry Taylor had a TD grab and missed a possible TD in the South Endzone where it looked like there was a miscommunication with the QB.  Overall this group didn’t play horrible but they can also play much better.  Anticipate Receivers Coach Steve Broussard to challenge these guys the next two weeks.  Broussard is a passionate coach and I doubt he is going to let this happen again.

Grade: C-

Offensive Line

The group of LT Dan Knapp, LG Adam Tello, C Garth Gerhart, RG Brice Schwab and RT Evan Finkenburg is plugging away and slowly improving but has a long way to go.  Andrew Sampson alternated with Tello at LG which indicates that the position may not be settled yet.  This is a bit problematic because continuity is the key to O-Line play and this new line has only been playing together for 10 days.  Knapp is a scrapper who has improved his footwork and Finkenburg has good feet and uses his hands very well.  Schwab is a monster inside but he appears to still be in transition from tackle.  He had a few missed blocks but it was more assignment than him being physically beat.  Tello and Sampson were adequate and will improve at LG and it will be interesting to see who eventually starts because they’re close in talent.  Gerhart is still the premier lineman and gets better each day.  He is the leader out there.  Aderious Simmons is a natural Left Tackle.  Not even a week in this offense and he shows flashes of potential to be very good.  With Simmons it’s just a matter of learning the playbook and getting used to the speed of the game at this level.  Mark my words if this young man develops the way I think he can he will be starting by week 5, he’s that good.  One area of concern is run blocking.  ASU runners netted 68 yards today on 25 carries today for a 2.72 average.  Too many times the Backs were hit in the backfield or at the Line of Scrimmage.  Pass Protection was decent today although there were times D-Lineman got to the QB.  There were also times the line didn’t communicate and allowed defenders to come free at the QB or stuff runners at the line.  The one positive is that these are no longer talent issues but rather assignment and communication breakdowns.  The more a line plays together the better they become and rest assured that this is inconsistency is not going to be tolerated by Erickson, Mazzone or Gregg Smith.  Anticipate a physical two weeks of practice and an emphasis on the run game and polishing the communication in the pass game.  This group is the key to the success of this offense.  They took their lumps today for sure but expect them to re-group and improve.

Run Blocking Grade: D

Pass Blocking Grade: B-

Overall

This unit may not have lit it up today and they may have had their difficulties but there’s no question it’s going to be better than 2009.  Keep in mind that the ASU Defense had an incredible day today.  They were hitting on all cylinders which made it tough for the offense to get in sync.  There’s much to do but they’re going in the right direction.  Ball security was excellent as no ASU Back, Receiver or QB lost a ball.  If they can keep this trend of not giving up the ball it will pay huge dividends this season.  Today’s grades are not indicative of the potential they have.  They got their butts handed to them but keep in mind that going against ASU’s Defense is going to make a difference once the season begins.

DEFENSIVE GRADES

Defensive Line

Can a unit perform much better than these guys today?  I doubt it.  They were in the backfield constantly, they pressured the Quarterback and recorded a few sacks officially and unofficially could’ve had more.  Jamarr Robinson, Lawrence Guy, Sai Falahola and Jamar Jarrett were the starters but it’s safe to say that there are no set starters as players off the bench come in and nothing changes as far as tempo and play-making.  Guy is going to have a banner season.  He gets off the ball extremely fast and has a nose for the football.  Falahola is a rock inside and is going to draw two blockers and stuffs the run with a nasty attitude.  Robinson and Jarrett anchor the ends well and are relentless pass rushers.  Junior Onyeali is a scary fast Defensive End who will play this season and will give Tackles fits with his rocket speed off the edge.  In the first series he got to Steven Threet twice.  Will Sutton is a force inside and holds his position well and has a great second and third pass rush move making him tough to block.  What’s most impressive about this group is they do not get driven backwards.  They change the line of scrimmage nearly every play and boggle the middle of the line down making it miserable for runners.  Corey Adams, Bo Moos, Greg Smith and Dean DeLeone also come in and play hard and well.  They had a great day today.

Grade: A

Linebackers

Munns is still starting and does a great job manning the middle.  Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee come from no where and deliver hits in the backfield or at the Line of Scrimmage on opposing backs and receivers.  They have excellent pursuit to the ball and are nimble in avoiding blockers.  Several times it looked like there was a running lane and either Magee or Lyons stuffed the runner for no gain.  Vontaze Burfict is a natural but still not starting and made some bone crushing tackles.  Anthony Jones is fast and Carl Bradford shows promise.  This group is the heart of the defense and will make life miserable for coordinators.  They had a great day as well making life hell for Sun Devil runners.

Grade: A

Secondary

There’s a new Sheriff at Free Safety by the name of Keelan Johnson.  Ask George Bell.   Bell took a smack to the chops while trying to catch a pass from the new ASU center fielder.  Several times Johnson was around the football.  He reads his keys well and provides support when needed and a shot when necessary.  Omar Bolden locked down his side of the field.  He had one play that, in the old days he may have been flagged for Pass Interference, where he came from behind the ASU receiver and slapped the ball away clean.  He is physical and will not quit on routes and his finish is tremendous.  No one caught a ball on him today.  Deveron Carr is another lockdown player.  He is physical and has improved his sight adjusts and gets to the ball in a hurry on runs and swing passes from the backfield.  Eddie Elder is a bruiser at Strong Safety.  He smiled at an ASU receiver at the start of the scrimmage and said “Don’t come to this side of the field or you’ll get ‘effed’ up!”  They ran the roost today and made the ASU receiving corps. a non-factor.  The TD catch was not against this group.

Grade: A

Overall

Craig Bray has been building this unit from the ground up.  They took their lumps, gained valuable experience and have come back in a fury.  Bank on the Devils being one of the best, if not the best, defenses in the league.  They have speed at all positions and have the depth to re-load during games and not skip a beat.

Kicking Game

Thomas Weber looked great in his kickoffs and nailed all of his field goal attempts.  Trevor Hankins is a bit inconsistent with his punts.  Don’t be surprised if Weber ends up punting if this doesn’t change.  Deantre Lewis has breakaway speed on kickoff returns and Kyle Middlebrooks looks good returning punts.  The coverage teams looked fast and were getting to the point of attack quickly.  On returns they showed good form and Vontaze Burfict blocked a punt.  This unit has been maligned dating back to the debacle against UNLV in 2008 where a Field Goal was blocked in Overtime dealing the Devils a huge loss they never quite recovered from and Kyle Williams muffing a punt last year costing ASU a win against U of A.  Jamie Christian has worked these teams hard since spring.  It’s tough to gauge how well they will do because they were performing in controlled environments today.  But based on Weber’s performance, the blocked punt and upgraded speed in the returns it was a good day for them.

Grade: A

So what is my outlook for ASU in 2010?  They have the ability to win 8 games.  That’s right!  8 games.  However, ability doesn’t win games performance does.  Last season there were times the team had every chance to win and couldn’t make it go because of missed assignments, a dropped punt, penalties and lack of production on offense when it counted.  They were their own worst enemies in that aspect.  If they’ve overcome that, which it appears they have, they’ll surprise everyone who doubts them this season.  It’s all going to come down to how they come together in the next few weeks.  If they get off to a fast start and pull off the upset in Wisconsin and manage to beat Oregon at home it can make for a wild ride in 2010.  On the flip side if they stumble out of the gate and struggle it can make for a long year.  Today the defense won but we all figured that would happen because the unit is seasoned, battle tested and ready to make their move.  I am not down on ASU’s offense in any way even though today they were shown up by the Devil D.  I feel Noel Mazzone knows what he wants and is bleeding it into his players.  But, as the saying goes, it’s a “show me” sport.

GO DEVILS!

Aug
08

  

Discussion is ok, If you want to argue, I'll win.

  

The beginning of a new college football season always brings with it excitement and anticipation.  Fans become excited at the possibilities as their teams embark on a new campaign.  They start to discuss the upcoming schedule and debate who the best players and coaches are.  Media gets excited too and begins their preparation in outlining possible stories and topics that are relevant to the program, its players and staff.  For players it’s a new opportunity, a renewal, a resurrection of a dormant passion that has brewed since the last time they wore the pads and cleats.  Through winter and spring the focus was on weight lifting and conditioning.  Spring Football was the chance to draw the blueprints but pre-season camp is the time to lay the foundation and build the house.  It’s a time when everything a player does matters.  The vacation is over and it’s time to go to work.  

For the 2010 Arizona State Sun Devils this has been the case since Wednesday August 3rd.  The team has now practiced for five days in Tempe.  In that time they’ve worked their butts off and have done everything that has been asked of them.  While the Cardinals have had a much publicized camp in Flagstaff, where 12,000 people showed up for a Friday night practice, the Sun Devils have quietly been working in the Verde Dickey Dome without much fanfare, hoopla or publicity.  They have been busy; like an army of ants quietly going about their business building their fort working as one.  There’s a lot to do in preparation for this season for ASU.  There is an unsettled quarterback situation and there’s a new offensive system being installed.  While four weeks may seem like a long time in the football world it’s a blink of an eye.  It’s not a long time at all.  In a very short time this group must unite, become one and be ready to kickoff September 4th and play as a team.  

This group of Devils already is different in 2010.  There’s a tension in the air at ASU right now.  There’s an edge to this team, a quiet intensity that is obvious when you see them in person.  Emotions have been high in these first five days.  The players are all business; you see it in their eyes.  They’re on a mission.  At ASU’s Media Day yesterday Tom Leander, my partner in the broadcast booth, and I had an opportunity to speak with Garth Gerhart, Thomas Weber and Omar Bolden.  What impressed me the most was how laid back they are off the field.  These are great young men who carry themselves with a quiet dignity much like the old Samurai of Japan.  They’re warriors who, at the drop of the hat, can turn it on and play at a high level then be humble off the field and open to chat about their season as if they were sitting in their living rooms with their buddies.  But underneath the chill demeanor you can sense a fire burning.  You see it in Garth Gerhart’s eyes, in Bolden’s eyes and in Weber’s eyes.  I said hello to Adam Tello and I can clearly see it in his eyes.  These young men want to succeed.  They want to prove the so-called experts wrong.  Even Coach Erickson had an edge to him when addressing the media. While always classy in his answers to questions you can feel the tension there.  Coach made a few jokes which made us laugh but his face told me he wasn’t in a joking mood.  You can see the fire in his eyes as well.  

Breaking down the team to this point is tricky.  Today was their first practice in full gear and it was a dandy.  There were fights, hard hits and some great plays made on both sides of the ball.  There was high energy and tempo today.  

Here is my impression of where the team is after five days:  

Quarterbacks  

Brock Osweiler, Steven Threet and Samson Szakacsy are all vying for the starting nod.  At the end of spring I had Osweiler slightly ahead of Threet.  Szakacsy did not partake in spring due to surgery in his throwing arm.  Through the first five days all three have had their moments.  They’re all legitimate contenders.  After five practices I would say that the race is even with Szakacsy quickly making up lost ground.  Osweiler has a cannon, Threet delivers the ball well but Szakacsy’s ball is really pretty.  In individuals he stood out to me.  He plants his feet well and has a sound throwing motion.  It’s too close to call as to who is the best of the three.  Coach Erickson wants to have a starter named within the next two weeks.  I cannot imagine it’s going to be an easy decision unless someone starts to emerge.  Any of these three guys can play and play well.  It’s going to be a very interesting two weeks.  

Grade after five days: A-/B+  

Skill Positions  

One word to describe the backs and receivers: FAST!  There is no lack of talent here.  This group is deep and they can hit you in so many ways.  Kerry Taylor and Mike Willie are going to catch a lot of balls this season.  Moving Jamal Miles to running back is paying off as he has made some electrifying plays on reverses and in the running game.  Cameron Marshall will be the starter at Running Back.  He’s fast and can run you over without breaking stride.  He looks healthy and has been doing a stellar job hitting the hole and getting positive yards.  Deantre Lewis will play this season.  The true freshman from Norco has shown great skills and the kid has breakaway home run speed.  George Bell has been impressive as well.  He’s bigger than he was in spring and runs great routes and has great second effort after the catch.  Aaron Pflugrad has been injured (hamstring) but look for him to be a factor once healthy.  They’ve had a tough go in the first five days.  They face perhaps the best defensive secondary in the Pac-10 every day yet still make plays.  

Grade after five days: B+  

Offensive Line  

A group that has taken its lumps the past two years is now giving the lumps.  They’re deep and they have improved tremendously since spring.  Brice Schwab has the talent to be an All Pac-10 tackle before he’s done.  He lost weight, looks great at Right Tackle and is emerging as a leader up front.  Garth Gerhart is going to be All-Pac 10 this season.  He is a sound football player.  He has great strength and feet.  Adam Tello and Matt Hustad find themselves in the starting lineup with the injury to Jon Hargis and Zach Schlink no longer playing and they have capitalized on the opportunity.  They have stepped it up and are entrenching themselves as the starters.  Both look healthy and have been doing a great job against the ASU D-Tackles who are arguably two of the best in the league.  Evan Finkenburg is the starter at Left Tackle and shows tremendous upside.  Only a Redshirt Freshman he is light years ahead of where he was in spring.  He has the potential to be special.  Dan Knapp also has been impressive in his transition from Tight End.  He has great athleticism and once he gets his technique down at Left Tackle he’s going to be a good player.  His frame reminds me of Grey Ruegamer’s.  He has a slender build, long arms and is very light on his feet.  He can easily gain another twenty pounds without losing quickness.  Andrew Sampson, Mike Marcisz and Kyle Johnson all have improved as well.  This group has been intense and focused during the first five days.  “These guys have been kicked and knocked down (due to injuries) and now they’re hitting back” was said during practice today by an observer.  I agree 100%  This group, once it gels, is going to be formidable.  If Jon Hargis is able to return for game 7 it’s just going to make this group even better.  

Grade after five days: B  

Overall  

Noel Mazzone has brought a new system to Tempe.  It’s taking time to develop but the concepts are very clear.  This offense is designed to get the ball upfield in a hurry.  They’ve had a tall order lining up against the best defense in the Pac-10 but in the end it’s going to pay dividends.  The system is coming around and Mazzone is an intense coach who brings high energy and attitude to ASU.  The offense is definitely moving in the right direction.  The players are getting it and once they take the field September 4th they’ll be ready.  

Defensive Line  

This group can be summed up in one word: AWESOME.  There is no shortage of talent here.  Lawrence Guy is going to be an All-American at Defensive Tackle.  He has grown into his body.  He looks slender at 300 pounds and has a great burst off the ball.  He is tough to block because he’s big yet agile and does everything a D-Tackle should.  Saia Falahola is underrated big time.  He is an explosive player who will draw two blockers.  He plays very low and has great upfield push.  One player who is also going to be getting his due is Will Sutton.  He is a co-starter not a backup.  He has fast hands, great strength and pursues well sideline to sideline.  Jamarr Robinson is a special player.  He has improved immensely and can easily make his way into All Pac-10 consideration.  Jamar Jarrett hasn’t skipped a beat since spring.  He just gets better and better every practice.  One player who has jumped out is Freshman Junior Onyeali.  He is fast and is strong enough to earn playing time this season.  He’s going to be a pass rushing monster.  Corey Adams and Toa Tuitea have also shown flashes.  Bo Moos has also had a solid first few days.  He is quietly making his way up the depth chart.  This is a deep, talented and nasty group.  

Grade after five days: A  

Linebackers  

Scary.  This group is going to do some damage this season.  Even with Vontaze Burfict out with the ankle sprain this group is making plays.  Gerald Munns has been a man on a mission.  After sitting out a season for personal reasons he is a new man.  He is a smart player who rarely gets caught in bad position.  Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee are two solid players on the edges.  They get to the ball quickly and deliver rib crunching shots when given the chance.  Anthony Jones has really good speed and can cover a lot of real estate in a hurry.  Once Burfict comes back they’re going to be even better.  Mike Callaghan and Derall Anderson are also making plays.  What makes this group so good is they have the speed to cover receivers and the bulk to deliver a knockout shot to a runner.  

Grade after five days: A  

Secondary  

Shutdown.  Lockdown.  These are the two best words to best describe what this group has done during the first five days.  They have not allowed too many big plays in the passing game.  Omar Bolden is an All-American waiting to happen and Deveron Carr has had a great camp to date.  With these two guys covering it makes life easy for Clint Floyd and Keelan Johnson.  This is a group that looks bigger and yet they still have the speed to shut down receivers and get to the ball in a hurry.  With former ASU All-American and NFL Pro-Bowler Adam Archuletta now helping out as a student coach this group is poised to have a phenomenal season.  Bolden may get Thorpe Award consideration once gets on a roll.  There’s not much to be desired from this group.  They have made life difficult for Noel Mazzone and the ASU Offense without question.  

Grade after five days: A+  

Overall  

The best defense in the league isn’t going to skip a beat this season.  There’s talent everywhere.  They will be counted on to keep it close as the offense gets rolling.  If this unit can stay healthy they’ll shut out a few opponents and may become one of the best in the country.  They’re that good.  

Coach Dennis Erickson  was asked about the so-called “Hot Seat” yesterday at ASU’s Media Day.  Coach Erickson, in his typical no none sense style said “I don’t pay any attention to that….I’m here to build a program.”  Given what has taken place in Tempe the past few days the program appears to be on the upswing.  The players are bought in and dialed in.  The staff is energetic and enthusiastic and things are looking up in Tempe.  After five days Coach Erickson has to be pleased with what he’s seen.  There’s a lot of work to do and the team has a long road ahead of them but they’ve taken major steps in the right direction.  

GO DEVILS!

Aug
03

Urgency.  Webster’s dictionary defines this word as “an earnest and insistent necessity; pressing importance requiring speedy action and a situation calling for prompt action.”  When a Junior College (JuCo) player transfers to a four year program this word defines the situation they’re in.  They have to, in a very short time, adjust to a new environment,  impress the coaches, establish themselves on the field, make new friends with their teammates and put themselves in a position to contribute to their teams.  It’s a tall order for these young men who are not even two full years removed from high school.  Typically the JuCo player’s scenario is he transfers mid-year of his sophomore year and attends the university he signed with for the winter semester.  JuCo signing day begins in mid-December so in less than a month these young men have to be ready.  This is where the urgency exists for these players as they have less than three months to prepare for spring football where they have to make their presence felt.  It’s a lot of pressure on a young man to do this.  It’s even more difficult when the player comes in during the late summer.  Whereas other JuCo players spend the winter with their teams late summer transfers do not.  They literally come in and get a crash course in the program and the pressure is immense for them to come in and make their mark.  It’s an uphill battle that tests the young man’s resolve and commitment.  This type of atmosphere is not for the weak minded and it’s exactly what Jeremy Staat walked into in 1996 when he joined the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Staat, a native of Bakersfield California, had been a competitor his whole life.  He attended Bakersfield High School where he lettered in football and track earning seven total letters in both sports during his career for the Drillers.  In football he was one of the best players in the region earning All-Area, All-South Yosemite First Team, named Best Lineman in the South Yosemite League, was named Lineman of the Year by The Bakersfield Californian, was All-State Honorable Mention and started at left offensive tackle in the Shrine All-Star Game for the South squad.  Staat was named captain his senior year in 1993.  In Track he was also outstanding.  He was named Most Improved Player, Most Valuable Player in the South Yosemite League and was the South Yosemite League Champion in the Discus for 1992 and 1993.  Always a leader Staat also captained the Track team in 1993 and 1994.  It was no secret that the young man had a gift on the field.

After graduating he enrolled at Bakersfield Junior College which is considered one of the elite JuCo programs on the West Coast.  Bakersfield JC has developed numerous division one players and an NFL Hall of Famer in Frank Gifford.  The Renegades consistently win their conference and boast a 20,000 seat stadium.  In this part of California there’s not much going on sports-wise other than Renegade Football.  Staat immediately established himself as a starter along the Offensive Line and also played Tight End in 1994.  In his second year Staat was a beast along the Offensive Line and was named to the 1995 Western States All-Conference Team and was an Honorable Mention All-American by JC Gridwire.  His two years in Bakersfield the team was 20-2 and won the Potato Bowl both years; 1994 and 1995.  Arizona State took notice and sent Lyle Stencich to woo Staat to ASU.  Staat chose ASU over several other schools who recruited him.  He arrived in Tempe in August 1996 as the Sun Devils were getting ready to head to Camp Tontozona and put the finishing touches on the team that would eventually go undefeated in the regular season. 

Staat arrived in Tempe with the intent to earn playing time.  It was no easy task given the Sun Devils boasted a defensive line that featured Vince Amey, and Shawn Swayda at defensive tackle and Derrick Rodgers and Brent Burnstein at defensive end.  ASU Defensive Line Coach Kevin Wolthausen took notice of his new player’s passion for the game.  Staat established himself right away as an intense, physical defensive tackle.  He was not afraid to mix it up and his enthusiasm was contagious.  Staat moved up the depth chart quickly and by the time the Sun Devils opened the season against the University of Washington he was entrenched as the number three tackle for the Sun Devils.  Staat played well in his appearances but his most memorable play in 1996 was against UCLA.  With the Sun Devils fighting for their lives and clawing their way back from a 28-7 deficit Staat made possibly the play of the game.  Many recall Jake Plummer’s heroics on offense that day in that he threw, ran and caught a touchdown but Staat’s play came at one of the crucial moments in the game.  In the 3rd quarter with the game much still in the air Staat tackled UCLA running back Skip Hicks in the backfield.  He penetrated the Bruins’ line and nailed the runner before he was even set and caused a huge fumble the Sun Devils recovered.  That turnover led to an ASU touchdown.  Staat’s contribution during that 11-0 season was significant and it laid the foundation for his senior year.

In 1997 Staat returned as one of the top defensive players in the Pacific Ten Conference.  ASU had lost several key players after the 1996 season that went on to play in the NFL such as Shawn Swayda, Derek Smith and Derrick Rodgers.  ASU in 1997 though was not left with the cupboard bare.  Playing on a defense that boasted returning starters Amey, Pat Tillman, Mitchell Freedman, Jason Simmons and Damien Richardson, Staat had a dominating senior year.  He established himself as the best defensive lineman in the conference by winning the Morris Trophy which is voted on by players and coaches of the Pacific Ten Conference.  He was also named defensive MVP in the bowl victory against Iowa in the 1997 Sun Bowl.  ASU’s second consecutive bowl game and first bowl victory since the 1987 Rose Bowl.  Staat was drafted into the NFL that spring by the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He played for the Steelers and for the Seattle Seahawks during his stint.

In December 2005 Staat joined the United States Marine Corps.  His sense of duty to his country and his personal feelings in the loss of Pat Tillman made his decision easy.  Tillman was a close friend of Staat’s and they kept in close contact after their playing days at ASU.  Staat actually considered joining the military after 9/11 but Tillman told him to wait.  Tillman explained to Staat that he should focus on getting vested in the NFL and ensuring his pension before joining the military.  Staat agreed and waited.  When Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 Staat felt the loss greatly.  While in the Marine Corps. Staat served 9 months in Iraq.  He was part of a convoy in 2007 that was hit by an IED.  Staat was in the lead turret gunners seat of the lead Seven Ton. (A Seven Ton is an up armored troop transporter)  The third Humvee in his convey was hit and destroyed.  The three ocupants in the Humvee escaped with minimal injuries.  Staat was discharged in Oct. 2009 and served honorably in the Corps.   That same October, Staat married Janelle Hamilton in Bakersfield CA.  He met Janelle through a mutual friend in Hawai’i while he was stationed there and the two fell in love quickly.  Typical Jeremy Staat; he approached his relationship with a sense of urgency.

 In this final 2010 Blast from the Sun Devil Past we catch up with Jeremy Staat.

 What are you up to these days?
These days I am married to my wife Janelle, and we live in Bakersfield, Ca. where I grew up. I have been out of the Marine Corps and married for the past ten months and I am just trying to figure out my way once again. I am studying to be a better Christian man and learning multiple forms of Martial Arts such as Jiu jitsu under my coach Dan Camarillio and also Muay Thai kick boxing under Brandon Armour.  I am also trying to find a career that is fulfilling and that I won’t get bored within six months, but after everything that I have been through in my short thirty three years on this rock that is proving to be a little harder than I than I thought.  I am currently in the Solar Energy Business I work for a company that specializes in financing renewable energy.  Its a great career and am adapting to civilian life pretty well.
 
What made you choose ASU?
When I was in the process of choosing a school I knew I didn’t want to stay in California but I wanted to be close enough for my family so that my mom was able to come to my games. I didn’t come from money and I just wanted to make sure my family had access to me during the season, and to be honest, ASU was the last school recruiting me at the end of my Junior College career. I had a counselor at Bakersfield Junior College that was telling all the schools that I wasn’t going to graduate, and so all of the schools, except ASU, stopped calling me. Since I never took the SAT or ACT I had to gain an Associates Degree to move on to the next level in my college career. So my track Coach Don Crow made a call to his alma mater, Fresno State, and asked the track coaches there why they were not recruiting me. They responded by saying I wasn’t going to graduate and that this particular counselor was telling everybody that, so Coach Crow sent them my transcripts and found out I only needed one class to graduate and I could get into Fresno State with no problems. I then called Coach Setencich and told him that I was going to graduate and that I would be a Sun Devil. After gaining my Associates Degree in Criminal Justice I went to that counselor’s office and basically told him in a few choice words to “never underestimate a student-athlete and that I was going to be a Sun Devil!”
 
What is your most memorable Sun Devil moment?
Besides beating down Juan Roque in practice? There are so many memorable moments at ASU that it would be wrong just to pick one. I remember all the good times in practice fighting and bonding with my teammates. I remember Mike Barnes and myself battling on a daily basis. Kyle Murphy and I beating the crap out of each other during one on one blue bag drills (one on one pass rush drill). Kenny Mitchell singing “tainted love” before every practice. Making that long walk to the practice field in 120 degree weather and just getting angrier and angrier with each step closer to the practice field.  Eating training table every night after practice with the guys and talking about the upcoming season and wondering if and when we were going to get a chance to lay the hat on some poor bastard. Being at ASU at that time was an extremely exciting time. From being Pac-10 Champs and Rose Bowl bound, to playing in the Sun Bowl to even wrecking on my bicycle on a daily basis riding around campus and even getting hit by a car on that bike.  These were all great memories and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
 
What is one thing Bruce Snyder taught that influenced your life the most?
Nothing good happens after midnight and take one play at a time. I try and apply this to everyday situations like one day at a time. I can’t control what happens tomorrow and I can’t change what happened yesterday, and I am in bed by 9pm every night and up at 0400 most mornings.
 
Describe your experience playing defense with Pat Tillman in 1997.
Playing with Pat was quite an experience; I never knew what Pat was going to do. I mean one play he would run a guy down from behind and the very next play he was running through a referee. He was always up-tempo and in high spirits.  Pat was never one to back down from anything, and I think that is what made us good friends. We didn’t back down from each other, which always made for some good conversation in the huddle or in the locker room. 
 
What was it like playing in the NFL?
The NFL was a whole different world. I was a guy that had lost less than six games my whole football career from high school, junior college and Division I leading up to the NFL and it was difficult to understand the business and the true passion of the guys in the locker room. Up until the point of the NFL I had played with passion and honor, and then all of the sudden it wasn’t about winning anymore it was about collecting a pay check, and for me that was a tough pill to swallow. My career in the NFL was cut short because I didn’t understand the political aspects of the business side of the sport and I was too prideful to swallow my pride and just go with the flow. I was immersed into a political struggle between the head coach and the general manager and due to my lack of experience in dealing with these struggles I shot myself in the foot and was basically black balled out of the league.  But I managed to receive my retirement and pension from the NFL so it wasn’t all for nothing. Once I received my retirement and pension from the NFL in 2004 I parted ways and began to finish what I started back in 2001 and that was to enlist in the military and serve my country.
 
What made you decide to join the Marine Corps. and serve our country?
The major event was 9/11, at that time I was in between teams and I just couldn’t fathom playing a game while our country was under attack. I just felt I needed to be doing more with my life than playing a game that nobody really cares about anyways. I mean the ’96 ASU season is remembered by those that were there, but most people couldn’t tell you or could careless who played in the ’97 Rosebowl. Unless I told people who the 41st pick of the second round in the NFL draft was in 1998, most people don’t care and that showed me that if I am living for myself, I was wrong. Life has so much more fulfillment when you serve others, and thus I began to really look for other avenues to enhance my life. Joining the service was also a way for to me to humble myself. I had to realize that I couldn’t serve God if I couldn’t even serve my own people, so the military was a great way to become humble and learn to serve. After the debacle that the Army made of Pat’s death it was an easy decision to go with the Marine Corps.
 
What was it like being in Iraq?
Eye-opening. It was good to see how much as Americans we take for granted. Being in Iraq put a lot of things into perspective. Once you share the same fifty gallon drum as a toilet with two hundred other Marines and countless flies buzzing me and crawling into every opening on my body while I am trying to do my business, also while wearing full protective gear and wondering how the article would be written if I was to get smoked while using the head. I learned real quick what it was to be humble and not to take the things we have in the States for granted. The people there in Haditha, Iraq were just people, its funny to me to think that these people are our enemies, but then to hear their laughs brought things into perspective as well. A laugh is the same in any language and it just showed me that the Iraqis are people too.  There are times were I think back to Iraq and get a cold chill up my spine, because I felt more protected over there then I do in my own backyard.  At least in Iraq I could protect myself from those that mean to control me.
 
How’s married life?
Married life is great! It too has humbled me a lot. Now instead of having a team once a year for the season I have a teammate for life. It too is truly an eye opening experience. It’s not about self anymore and I can only imagine how much more I will be humbled once we decide to start a family. Wow Crazy thought.  We are coming up on our one year anniversary (10-10-2010) all ready and I can’t believe how fast time is going.
 
What are your plans for the future?
Well right now, Janelle is going back to school to get her RN degree and I am just training in the different martial arts. I plan to train while she is in school and maybe step into the ring for a few fights, and maybe some Pro. I have about a four year window to do this venture, so we will see. I don’t like planning anything farther out than four years. Janelle and I have agreed not to have children until her schooling is done. I want her to be self sufficient in case anything was to ever happen to me. Most people do not plan to fail, they just fail to plan and luck favors the prepared and thus is why we plan to have children after she finished school, BUT if things go well in the financing department of renewable energy career we will start our family a little earlier then expected.
 
In one word describe the following people:
 Yourself, Kevin Wolthausen, Bruce Snyder
Myself = determined
Kevin Wolthausen = excitable
Bruce Snyder = passionate
 
Describe any community projects you’re involved in.
I try and speak at as many schools, churches and community events as possible.  Just to give kids motivation to do their best and stay in school.  I also try and promote the Veteran Tickets Foundation which is a non-profit organization that takes in donated tickets from major sporting events, Nascar and anything else that requires a ticket to get in and gives those donated tickets away to Veterans and their families for free. I am also working with a foundation that serves our Purple Heart recipients.  Its a television show that we are in the pre-stages of filming. It is called Vision 2 Victory (V2V.tv). It is a television show were we take Purple Heart recipients and fulfill their dreams in various motor sports.  For example, we placed a double amputee (both legs above the knee) in the 2010 Catalina Ski Race. Ryan Price who was with the 101st airborne was the navigator in Lori Dunsmore’s Boat and got the opportunity to drive a 38ft hustlers speed boat at 80 mph!!  It took an hour to get the smile off his face, and to me that is worth more then all of the money in the world.  I am the host of the show and am very excited about our continuing to support of our Veterans.

On a personal note Jeremy is one of my best friends.  We should all be proud of what he represents.  He is a true Sun Devil and has brought honor to Tempe not only with his service on the field but with his selfless service to our country.  So we salute Jeremy Staat!  A Sun Devil hero and our final 2010 Blast from the Sun Devil Past.

May
20

Arizona State University was in a bad place following the 1994 season.  The team finished 3-8 and although the team was young many felt that the program was not moving forward.  It was a season that saw many coaches leave the program.  Rod Marinelli, considered one of the pillars of the staff at the time, left for USC, Kent Baer was fired as Defensive Coordinator, Dan Henson left to become Offensive Coordinator at Eastern Michigan.  One coaching move that unnerved ASU’s football program was Karl Dorrell leaving for the University of Colorado.  Dorrell, a very well respected and effective recruiter, was in charge of in-state recruiting.  The coaching exodus left Bruce Snyder and his remaining staff scrambling.  In a short time they had to hire four new assistants, which they did: Don Pettas (Running Backs), Robin Pflugrad (Wide Receivers and father of current ASU Receiver Aaron Pflugrad), Lyle Setencich (Linebackers) and Kevin Wolthausen (Defensive Line) but the staff also had to quickly make an impact on the recruits who were considering ASU.  One such recruit, Peoria High School Receiver Kenny Mitchell, was considered the top priority.

When Karl Dorrell left ASU for Colorado many in the valley felt that Mitchell, one of the most sought after recruits in Arizona, would about-face his commitment to ASU and join Dorrell in Colorado.  Mitchell was a Parade All-American receiver along with NFL superstar Randy Moss of the New England Patriots.  Locally Mitchell was All-State, All-Region and was considered the number one Wide Receiver prospect in Arizona his senior year.  This would be a monumental loss for ASU at one of the most trying times in Bruce Snyder’s tenure as Head Coach.  Newspapers had editorials about it and many felt that Mitchell, who had a great relationship with Dorrell, was on the fence.  Dorrell gave his assurances from Boulder that the 6’4” recruit had not been contacted by him or anyone from Colorado; but rumors were rampant to the contrary.  For six tense weeks Sun Devil Nation waited.  Then on National Signing Day Kenny Mitchell became a Sun Devil.  Much to the relief of the staff, as well as the fans, the most sought after player in the 1995 Recruiting Class was staying home.

Mitchell made an immediate impact as a True Freshman.  He earned a starting position and helped the Sun Devils earn a 6-5 record.  Mitchell’s talent was obvious.  In the 31-10 upset of the defending champion Oregon Ducks Mitchell had his break out game.  In one play he literally reached over Alex Molden, took the ball away from him and ran in for a touchdown.  Molden was the top Cornerback in the Pac-10 and an NFL First Rounder for New Orleans the following April.  Without question Bruce Snyder found a gem.  Mitchell was a welcome addition to the team.  Bruce Snyder designed a play for Mitchell that, until now, had never been discussed in public.  The name of the play eventually became his nickname among chosen Sun Devil teammates.  “War Bird” was a reverse short yardage play designed by Bruce Snyder to get the ball into Mitchell’s hands.  The play was run only once with success: a first down.  From then on Mitchell became known as the War Bird.  Mitchell ended up fighting injury in 1996 and did not contribute as he would’ve liked in the 11-0 season but he contributed as best he could and was a loyal team member until the end of his time in Tempe.  Following his Senior year he was elected to play in the Blue-Grey All Star Classic.  Mitchell was signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins in 1999 and tried out for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2001 but hamstring problems eventually cost him any chance he had at a professional career.

Mitchell, besides being a contributor on the field was a well known prankster and character.  When he arrived in Tempe in 1995 Mitchell became an instant hit with his Sun Devil teammates.  His humorous demeanor and penchant for doing imitations brought laughter to his teammates and coaches.  He bonded with Jake Plummer and Keith Poole and as the season progressed in 1995 as well as into 1996 the trio developed a pre-practice routine that would bring smiles to all the players and coaches.  The new tradition never stopped, even when ASU was about to face Nebraska in 1996.  The pre-practice routine was during stretching Mitchell would sing the chorus to the song “Tainted Love” by Ed Cobb in a high pitched pained voice.  When the players would hear Mitchell’s version of “Sometimes I feel I got to” they would all clap their hands so that Mitchell could finish it with “Run away.”  It was a great way to loosen everyone up before practice and even the coaches would smile and sometimes laugh.  The bigger the game, the higher the stakes, the louder Mitchell sang.  This became commonplace for ASU during those years.  Another pre-pre practice tradition was Mitchell and Plummer doing a version of “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”  Plummer would cue Mitchell at different times during stretch period and look over at Mitchell and smile.  Jake would then start by singing “The stars at night are big and bright…” the Quarterbacks, Receivers and Tight Ends would then clap their hands four times really fast and then Mitchell would raise his head and bellow “DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEEEEEEEXAS!”  Again no matter who was up the next week, the coaches’ moods or the tension in the air Mitchell shattered it with this skit.  During those two years practice always started off fun and relaxed.  Mitchell’s antics broke the ice and made everyone laugh.  Looking back on it now it was an important part of everyday routine for the Devils.  During the 11-0 season, the upset win over Nebraska and the Rose Bowl preparation these traditions were upheld and are now Sun Devil lore.

One of Mitchell’s more unforgettable comical moments came in December 1996.  ASU, in preparation for the Rose Bowl against Ohio State, attended a luncheon at Universal Studios in Universal City CA.  This was the only function that the two teams would attend together other than the game.  One of the events planned was a talent show.  Gus Farwell, an ASU back-up Quarterback took the stage and did a very good opera performance which drew applause.  But things became a bit tense following one Buckeye player’s sorry attempt at comedy in which he dissed ASU’s Jake Plummer calling him “The Fake Slivery Guy” rather than “Jaek the Snake.”  The remark drew grumbling and jeers from several Sun Devil players.  When the Buckeye player was finished he walked off the field and the room was semi-quiet Mitchell had the guts to get on stage and do his stand-up routine.  With both ASU and Ohio State players watching, and a thick unomfortable tension in the room due to the insult against Plummer, Mitchell took the microphone, strutted on stage and with his best “Momma Klump” impression looked over at the Ohio State side of the room and said “Orlando….you look FABULOUS BABY!!!”  Mitchell was referring to Orlando Pace, the Ohio State All-American Tackle who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.  The room broke out in laughter and for one moment, the Sun Devils and the Buckeyes were united in humor and the tension that existed was shattered.  Mitchell’s routine went on to include skits on Star Trek, “The Evolution of Man” in which he made a gorilla face and crawled around the ground which made the room erupt yet again in laughter and a rendition of the Jerkie Boys.  It was a performance that will forever be remembered by those who witnessed it.

So in this edition of A Blast From the Sun Devil Past we catch up with the War Bird Kenny Mitchell.

1. What are you up to these days?

I currently work for the City of Phoenix Police Department, as a Fugitive Apprehension Detective. It’s like being a bounty hunter that tracks down violent felons.

2. What ended up being the reason you chose ASU over Colorado?

The ladies at ASU (lol). And the possibility to be a starter as a true freshman was a close second.

3. What is your favorite football moment while at ASU?

The Rose Bowl.

4. What is the one concept Bruce Snyder taught that has influenced your life the most?

One at a Time, the concept of focusing on the task at hand to achieve positve results.

5. If you could change one thing about your career at ASU what would it be?

Not getting hurt during during track season my freshman year.

6. Who started the “Deep in the Heart of Texas” pre-practice ritual?

I think it was Jake or Keith, I think Keith. But I sang the song “Tainted Love.”

7. What does being a Sun Devil mean to you?

It’s a family that made history and did things that no one thought we could. It taught me that no challenge is too hard when you face it head on; together.

8. What do you do in your leisure time?

Practice for SWAT and shoot a lot of ammo. Oh and watch Ol’ School Gangsta Movies (Ol’ School Thurs)

9. Tell us about any community projects you’re involved in.

I have talked to kids about staying drug free during Red Ribbon Week.

10. In one word describe the following people: Jake Plummer, Dan Cozzetto, Pat Tillman

Jake= playmaker Cozzetto= The Don (forgetaboutit) Pat= fighter

On a personal note Kenny was, and is, one of my dearest friends.  We should all be proud of the contribution he makes to community.  We should appreciate that every day he is out there making our streets safer.  Kenny was a very important member of the team not only for his talent but his character.  So we salute Kenny Mitchell, the War Bird, a Blast from the Sun Devil Past!

May
14

Lining up and playing on the offensive line is no easy task. Not everyone can get into a three-point stance and knock someone backwards five yards or keep them away from a quarterback. It takes a unique individual to be able to line up forty to fifty times and hit someone over and over again. Line play requires grit, tenacity, intelligence and attitude. Whether practice or game the lineman knows going in that it’s going to be a physical time and relishes in that fact. There are many different ways and techniques used by thousands of line coaches. I have developed my own philosophy based on experience in both playing and coaching. There are three crucial elements to line play: stance, footwork and hand placement. Then there are the four points for success: get off, assignment, body position and completion of the assignment (finish). As a former player and coach I have learned many different techniques. These techniques I want to share and pass on to young linemen looking to be the best they can be. The concept of Camp74 is that it be a “linemen only” environment. It is designed to focus on the concepts just mentioned and instill them into aspiring offensive linemen at the high school level. The camp is designed to be competitive, educational and fun. The camps will be small so that every young man attending will receive the proper attention. By the end of the experience the young man will depart with the necessary tools for success on the O-Line.

In the game of football O-Line play is the single most important component of offense. Many feel it’s the quarterback, others the running backs or the receivers. That is not true. The five men or young men who line up and “block” are the engine that makes an offensive vehicle run. If you look at the great teams of the NFL all had excellent offensive lines. The Dallas Cowboys of the mid 1990’s had a dominating front five that featured legends like Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Erik Williams and Mark Stepnoski. The San Francisco 49ers boasted Steve Wallace, Jesse Sapolu and Ray Brown. In the 1980’s the Washington Redskins had the “Hogs” which made Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, Mark May and George Stark legends. Art Shell and Gene Upshaw were a fierce left side for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970’s. What makes the lineman unique is he has to know what everyone else is doing on the field. Yes, they need to know what every position is doing on any given play. Not an easy task when you think that many college and professional playbooks are thicker than a bible. So what does it take? How is it done?

Having played in college and the pros I have seen what it takes to be great on the offensive line. I was fortunate to have been coached by two great line coaches Dan Cozzetto and Jack Henry at Arizona State and the Detroit Lions, respectively. As a player they taught me many techniques that were invaluable. Both believed in great technique and sound assignments. In 2005 I was a member of the football staff at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills Michigan. We were 12-2 and won an MHSAA Division II Title that season. Offensively we boasted great skill players like John Goebel (Cincinnati), Caulton Ray (Western Illinois) and Charlie Gantt (Michigan State). However it was the improved play of the offensive line that put us over the hump. The tandem of Brian Bonkowski, Ryan Helmer, Tom Angott, Steve Haskell and Darris Sawtelle paved the way for one of the state’s most powerful offensive attacks. Darris eventually went on to earn a football scholarship from the University of Tennessee. I worked with those young men constantly in the off season using the drills I will use in Camp74 and by the time August rolled around they were ready to dominate. I taught them from the ground up and those young men to this day have my respect. I tested them before each game as if they were in college. I made them learn every position and also instilled my passion for football on them. I learned more about myself in that season than I did playing the game. I learned a new love for the game and developed a passion for teaching the game. I was truly fortunate that Al Fracassa, the winningest coach in Michigan high school history, gave me the opportunity to be part of his program. I will always remember that group of kids. They had a huge impact on my life as I am hopeful I did on theirs.

Offensive line play is developed.  No one is born a lineman.  Linemen are made.  My format for developing linemen is based on the following:

THE THREE CRUCIAL ELEMENTS

Stance


A lineman must be able to move quickly and efficiently in order to make his block whether it be a run or pass play. At the high school level I believe a three-point stance is the best way to go. I feel it is a bit too early for the two-point stance because it can lead to bad habits. The three-point stance I teach is a staggered stance. In a right-handed stance the feet will be shoulder width apart with the right toe lined up at the midpoint of the left foot (between the toe and heel). The lineman will then sit with his elbow on his knees and then slightly lean forward and place his right hand down. The stance is to be “neutral”; which means that the hand should not be leaning too far forward nor should it be too far back. I should be able to move the student’s hand away without causing any change or shift in their stance. Centers will be taught a neutral even-toed stance as they must be able to move in either direction. Tackles may sometimes use a “deeper” stance meaning that the outside toe aligns with the inside heel to give them a bit more depth in pass protection. The camp will touch on all facets.

The stance a lineman uses, while the most basic of fundamentals, can make or break a team. Defenses key linemen’s stances. In many cases game plans are based on lineman tendencies. If defenders see linemen leaning forward they know it’s run based on film study and likewise if a lineman is leaning or sitting in his stance they know it’s a pass. By using a neutral stance the defense will not be able to tell what’s coming because the linemen will be in the exact same stance every time. I also believe that even at the high school level left-side players should line up in a left-hand stance and right-side players in a right-hand stance. One of the key concepts Camp74 will cover is being able to line up in both stances and be effective from both stances. That gives the young player the flexibility to use what he’s taught regardless of where he lines up. For possible college recruits being able to line up and play well in either stance will be a bonus and will make college coaches more excited about the potential prospect.

Footwork

Where a lineman steps is vital to play’s success. Improper footwork in run or pass can lead to severe and even career ending injury. Teaching the basic steps of run blocking and pass blocking are very important to ensure effective line play. The two basic types of blocks are power blocks and zone blocks and both have unique footwork. Camp74 will teach the basic steps in both facets. The focus of footwork is to ensure that players step in the right direction and properly engage their blocks. The Camp will employ college and professional drills that will teach these fundamentals. The drills will be done in a format that will be easy to do so that the students will be able to work with a parent or coach.

Run blocking drill work will focus on the method I use of identifying, focusing and then using the proper steps. From his neutral stance the student will be able to identify where his assignment is, whether on the line or off the line and get a “pre-snap” read. Then once the play begins the student will employ the proper footwork to get to his assignment. I will teach zone blocking and power blocking as well as pulling and second level engagement. I believe in a simple lead step-power step method of blocking. It gives the student a blue print and simple formula in applying the techniques. By the time the camp ends, the student will have been exposed to every facet of this crucial element.

Pass blocking is a game of angles and it all begins with footwork. I will teach students to know these angles as they apply to pass blocking and using the right footwork to get into good body position. Pass blocking is erroneously seen as “passive” which is far from the truth. Pass blocking is physical! I will teach both guard and tackle techniques to students. I employ the kick slide technique in teaching tackles how to get out of their stances. It all begins with the position of the feet. For guards I like to teach the quick set where they engage their defender quickly but yet be able to react and then identify possible movement. We will spend considerable time talking about and teaching how to react to stunts, twists and speed rushers. The student will be exposed to both tackle and guard footwork.

Hand Placement

Where the hands go is crucial in run or pass. This is the final element that ties it all together. I will teach students where the hands should be placed in run and pass blocking. Hand placement is the #1 cause of linemen penalties. Holding penalties kill drives, deflate momentum and discourages the player. Hands to the face is a 15yard personal foul. These are major no-no’s in my view and in many cases are directly the fault of the coaching not so much the player. I will teach correct hand placement and stress it in intense drill work. In the passing game I will teach where to aim the hands to stymie the defender. The rule in football is “he who touches first wins.” Camp74 will teach young offensive linemen how to touch first legally and within the rules. The drills that will be used to teach proper hand placement will be easy to learn so that the student is able to keep doing them on their own or with a parent or coach.

THE FOUR POINTS OF SUCCESS

Get Off

Camp74 will focus on an aggressive style of line play. Students will be taught and drilled in snap counts, hard counts and beating the defender off the ball. Get off is the first step for a successful block. Engaging a defender before he has momentum can be the difference between a decent block and a dominating pancake block. Students will be drilled in getting up to the line of scrimmage and getting into their stances quickly. Then they will be given a snap count. The focus will be on developing the “hair trigger” mentality yet still being able to respond to an audible without jumping off sides.

Assignment

The mind of a lineman must be sharp and must process a lot of data in mere seconds to be successful. I will teach how to focus on a task and then be able to change and still be aggressive. While there will be no playbooks given there are still ways to drill the mental aspect of the game. Students will be given basic play structure and be asked to perform it alone, in pairs or as a whole line. This will give them a simulated game or practice situation where they will be asked to not only know what to do but work as a unit.

Body Position

This ties into footwork and hand placement and brings it all together. Students will be taught to use proper body position so that they are able to have success and protect themselves as well. Injury happens many times when lineman fall to the ground, lean, over extend or simply use bad technique. Students will be taught proper body position and how to maintain it through their blocks. In the passing techniques I will stress proper angles and body position to be able to react to movement and change of direction. This is done through drill work that focuses on this aspect of line play. The drills are designed to force the student to use good leverage and body position. The drills are formatted to be simple and can be used any time to work this area of the game.

Completion of Assignment (Finish)

The completing of an assignment is what separates a decent lineman from a great lineman. Having the tenacity to finish a block until the whistle blows is something that can be taught and reinforced. This is the aspect of line play that will be worked on over and over again. Finishing blocks is what opens up running lanes, especially cut-back lanes. Finishing blocks is what gives a quarterback that extra half-second that can be the difference between an incomplete pass and a touchdown.  I look forward to developing this camp and wanted to share the concept and what my teaching philosophy is. I am excited about the opportunity to bring this to Arizona. There are sponsorship opportunities available for those interested. I look forward to hopefully seeing you out there!

www.roque74.com

juan@roque74.com


Apr
26

Discussion is ok, If you want to argue, I’ll win.

What a beautiful day for a football game Saturday was, you couldn’t ask for a nicer spring day.  It was warm but not unbearably hot as it will be very soon, there was not a cloud in the sky and the breeze was slight but cool.  Definitely a day where you not only want to be outside but you want to be outside watching ASU Sun Devil Football.  Sitting right behind the bench on the 35 yard line I had a great view of the field.  It was a great weekend as it was Alumni Reunion week.  Thursday at Macayo’s I reacquainted with former players I hadn’t seen in a long time.  Players like Toby Mills and Craig Ritter who I played with in 1992 and 1993 when I was first starting my career at ASU.  I also was able to catch up with former greats Kit Lathrup, Jeff VanRaaphorst and Vernon Maxwell.  My Canadian Sun Devil buddy Rick Keller also came into town.  He is a devoted Devil.  he makes the trek every year from British Columbia.  Chuck Underwood and Shawn Swayda came in for the festivities and along with Chad Ackerley, Kevin Minifield, Pat Fresch, Jeremy Hammer and several others we got the weekend started off right.  This weekend puts you in a great mood and sets the tone for the Spring Game.  On Saturday afternoon I was looking forward to seeing the Sun Devils improve from two weeks ago.

The Spring Game was offense against defense and score was kept depending on what happened.  Sacks, first downs, interceptions were all tallied and counted for something.  I actually liked this format because itmade the game interesting insteadof it being a glorified scrimmage.  The team took the field and looked to be in good spirits.  There was definitely a little Sun Devil Spunk in their steps and the mood was positive.  In the stands around me people were excited to see the Devils and see how the team is doing.  There was one scary moment at the beginning as Lawrence Guy left the game and did not return.  It looked like he injured his shoulder but appeared to be okay on the sidelines so I am imagining it was a precaution holding him out.  A player like that you need to protect.  Guy is going to be an all-conference performer.  The game itslef was was a defensive clinic.  It looked from my seat that the offense just couldn’t get in synch.  Defensively though the team looked great.  They swarmed to the ball and stuffed the offense frequently.  In the end the final score was Maroon 36 Gold 61.  The defense turned the heat on in the 4th quarter and paralyzed the offense and forced three turnovers, one that went for a touchdown and one that appeared to be a touchdown that was called back and then Coach Dennis Erickson ended the game with about 1:21 left.  It was fairly obvious to all in the stands that coach had seen enough.

Many things to talk about in this game.  I have broken down each position and graded it based on the collective performance of the position.  I also mention individuals who deserve mention and that caught my eye.

GRADING THE OFFENSE

Quarterbacks

Unfortunately neither Brock Osweiler or Steven Threet impressed in this game.  Their play was at times good but then it would be not too good.  They displayed flashes of efficiency and presence but then they were erratic at others.  Neither appeared really comfortable in the pocket and some balls were not delivered on the money and there was some overthrowing of open receivers.  Two weeks ago Brock looked to have the edge now the waters are muddied again and then there’s Samson Szakacsy who’ll come in the summer.  It’s safe to say the QB decision is far from set or final but both Quarterbacks defnitely have talent.  I saw Samson on the sideline and spoke with him for a bit and he was very positive about his progress and will be ready to go in August 100%.  Although neither quarterback had a stellar showing in their defense they were pressured often from the defense which caused some hurried throws.  When the game ended Brock Osweiler was 17 of 33 for 151 yards.  He threw for one touchdown and had an interception.  Steven Threet was 9 of 27 for 117 yards and had three passes picked off.  Cole Rarrick played at the end and was 1 for 3 with two interceptions.  This unit had seven turnovers.  That’s not going to cut it and we all know that and they know that.  You cannot be sloppy with the football.  At the same time I am not worried about this unit.  They were not good on Saturday but there’s no denying that this position has improved.  Up until Saturday the QBs fared well they just weren’t able to get it going Saturday.  I have to cut them slack because they were constantly having to avoid the rush of the Devil D-Line and had to change their progressions because of it.

Grade: C

Running Backs

James Morrison had the two biggest plays on the ground in the second quarter for 20 yards.  Until then and afterwards the ground game was stuffed, shut down and was non-existent.  No running back looked to be finding anywhere to run.  Cameron Marshall dropped passes out of the backfield on balls that were on his hands each time but caught two others he turned into decent gains.  Combined Sun Devil backs ran for 42 yards.  Obviously that is a stat that causes concern.  However, I am going to cut this group slack as well because, in their defense, there was nowhere to run.  Devil defenders were in the backfield often and there simply were no running lanes opened for them.  Too many times the backs had to stop in the backfield and cutback due to running lanes collapsing or simply not developing.  There were also occasions when an unblocked defender would make a tackle on the ball carrier before he could get going.  Topo many plays went for no gain or for a loss.

Grade: C-

Receivers

This unit showed something Saturday.  They were the stars in a game that left a lot to be desired on offense.  The group played well given the situation of the quarterbacks being under constant pressure.  They ran good routes, finished their routes and displayed courage in traffic.  Aaron Pflugrad is a fast player who, despite being a bit undersized, is not afraid to get hit in order to make a play.  You gotta love that grit in a receiver.  I loved his catch between three Devil Defensive Backs.  This kid just simply isn’t afraid to get the ball.  Kerry Taylor played well too as did George Bell who caught a TD pass.  Bell had some drops two weeks ago and made up for it this week.  The unit may have not caught a lot balls (28 total receptions) but they played well.  Gerrell Robinson had three catches for 43 yards and showed tremendous courage when he took a shot and held on to the ball.  Chris Coyle had a heck of catch for a first down in a traffic jam.  Overall this unit was the strength of the offense.  Still too many drops but that’s something they’re going to get better at.  New coordinator Noel Mazzone is looking to stretch the field more and you can definitley see that happening even against a good Devil secondary.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

Losing Jon Hargis was a blow and his absence is felt.  The O-Line simply couldn’t get in synch on a consistent basis.  This is what happens when injuries take out two starters and the line undergoes a shuffle.  However there were some positives like Garth Gerhart being special at center.  He definitely has the talent to be a dominant player.  He likes to mix it up and has a mean streak.  He had a heck of game from where I was sitting.  Now they need to build a line around him.  Brice Schwab looks much more comfortable on the right side.  He is much quicker on his pass sets he just needs a bit more polish.  He tends to lean on Defensive Ends from time to time but when he sits down and delivers a punch and skates there’s no getting around him.  Schwab is our second best lineman right now.  He can be special too.  With more coaching and technique work he can be All Pac-10 by the time he’s done.  Schwab was definitely improved from the scrimmage I saw two weeks ago.  The unit was simply outmatched Saturday.  Part of the inconsistent play is injuries and another part is the new system.  Typically in a new offense the O-Line struggles the most at first because there’s new schemes terminology and philosophy.  It looks like Mazzone’s version of the Spread Offense is more of a finesse approach up front.  To put it in simple terms they’re being taught Square Dancing when they were used to Two-Stepping.  It’s going to take some time for these things to click.  The unit played hard all day without question.  It’s not by a lack of effort or talent that this unit is struggling.  Chris DeArmas, Evan Finkenberg, Patrick Jameson all played hard.  The biggest issue the line has is consistency.  At times they looked good pass blocking, others they looked porous.  One play they bungles up the D-Line and on the very next play a defender wouldbreak free and pressure the QB.  In the running game there was simply no push and running lanes were not there for the backs.  With all the injuries and several players held out it’s too early to call how this unit is going to shape out.  Typically the cohesion and synergy come as the unit plays more and more together.  That doesn’t come overnight.  One glaring issue I did see was there were too many times when the O-Line would stop blocking during pass plays while the QB was still trying to make a play.  That is something I am sure Gregg Smith is going to address.  Hopefully as this unit learns the new system they will be more aggressive up front.  Right now they’re probably playing too much with their heads.

Grade: C –

Overall

Noel Mazzone definitely likes the aerial assault.  I like his style in terms of the way he stretches the field with his four receiver sets.  Against a good Devil Defense receivers found ways to get the ball.  The running attack needs to improve dramatically in a hurry if this team is going to contend for a bowl game.  That is the biggest concern going into fall; ASU’s running game.  If they can’t run the ball the Devils are in trouble.  Lots of work to do here but the good news is it’s only April.  The next biggest concern is finding five linemen who will be able to gel.  It was just terrible that Hargis went down and that Schlink is hurt again.  Shuffling players will not work up front.  If this unit struggles the offense will sputter.

GRADING THE DEFENSE

Defensive Line

I am impressed with this group!  Holy smokes.  Lawrence Guy is just getting better and better.  Even though he left the game early with a shoulder he managed to get a sack beforehand.  Will Sutton was a one man wrecking crew at D-Tackle.  Number 90 was in the backfield frequently causing havoc.  Sutton reminds me of Vince Amey.  Sutton, like Amey, has a low center of gravity, great push inside and quick hands.  He is a relentless pass rusher inside.  Dean DeLeone also played well.  He has improved his pass rushing.  He has a decent upfield push and does a good job leaning his shoulder to get leverage on the Offensive Tackle.  Jamar Jarrett also played well.  He gave Brice Schwab all he could handle.  Jarrett has a good first step and his inside move is very good.  He was in the QB’s face constantly.  Jamarr Robinson is another baller at D-End.  He has quick hands and his double move in the pass rush caught the tackles off guard.  The group constantly changed the Line of Scrimmage and allowed the linebackers to make plays on the ball.  The unit played well together.  They don’t need to get fancy they just line up and kick butt.  ASU’s running game was non-existent due to the great penetration they got and they harassed Sun Devil Quarterbacks all afternoon.  In a controlled scrimmage they still looked good.

Grade: A

Linebackers

The Centennial Three made their presence felt.  Shelly Lyons, Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Magee are the real deal.  They attack the line of scrimmage and have great angles in pursuit.  Gerald Munns is solid in his reserve role.  Burfict is a natural ball hawk.  Lyons is a hard hitter and Magee is quick to the point of attack.  Munns is a sure tackler.  By far this unit is the strength of the defense.  They can cover the pass and stymie the run.  I cannot wait to see these guys bring the hat in the fall.  Even in a controlled setting they got in their licks.  I just can’t wait to hear the first crunch of an opposing player getting nailed full speed by Burfict.  It’s going to be quite a smack.  It’s going to be very difficult for offensive coordinators to move the ball with this unit.

Grade: A

Secondary

Omar Bolden should contend for some honors this season.  He is just a different player now.  He is healthy, bigger and plays with the instinct of a pro.  Clint Floyd had a good game from his Safety position.  He gave great support downfield and had an interception returned or a touchdown.  The overall coverage was excellent and this unit didn’t give up the big play easily.  They mixed it up in terms of coverage and were efficient.  The receivers earned every yard against this secondary.  With the D-Line providing the pressure up front this unit can cause turnovers in a hurry.  Craig Bray has definitely upgraded this unit.

Grade: A

Overall

This unit is scary.  I saw no glaring weaknesses.  They can cover the pass, shut down the run, pressure the QB and cause turnovers.  They’re definitely well ahead of the curve going into fall.  This unit will keep the Devils in every game they play and may even come up with a score every now and then.  The unit is together and they’re having fun.  Right now the defense is the strength of this team.

So at this point where do I feel the Devils are?  Defensively well ahead of schedule.  Barring any major injuries this is possibly the best unit in the conference and may develop into one of the best in the country.  Offensively they got lots of work to do but there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.  If they can get an identity on offense and play with some level of efficiency and dominate on defense, which they will, this is a 7 or 8 win team.  If the offense cannot get in synch we’re doomed to another losing year.  So there’s lots to feel good about heading into summer.  Once the Devils re-convene in August and they start preparation for the season we’ll get a better picture of how this team is going to take shape.

GO DEVILS!!!!!