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2009 Arizona State Preview - Offense
Arizona State OT Shawn Lauvao
Arizona State OT Shawn Lauvao
Posted May 16, 2009 2009 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Offense

Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Arizona State Preview | 2009 ASU Offense
- 2009 ASU Defense
| 2009 ASU Depth Chart
- 2008 ASU Preview | 2007 ASU Preview
| 2006 ASU Preview

What you need to know: The staff is hunting for answers, even spending time at Texas to learn the zone-read option, after finishing 100th nationally in total offense and scoring just 22 points a game. The reality is that there are no easy solutions when the talent on hand is marginal. Pac-10 defenses no longer have Rudy Carpenter to kick around, leaving quarterback in the hands of career backup Danny Sullivan and a pair of underclassmen. And while there is talent at the skill positions, it’s not so dynamic that it can thrive without help from the offensive line. Arizona State has been off-the-charts bad in the trenches over the last two seasons, a trend that shows no sign of changing. If the line doesn’t block and the passers are iffy, it’ll be tough getting horses, like RB Ryan Bass and WR Kyle Williams, out of the barn.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Danny Sullivan
15-43, 151 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Dimitri Nance
105 carries, 410 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Chris McGaha
35 catches, 501 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior OT Shawn Lauvao
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Danny Sullivan
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Ryan Bass
Best pro prospect: Lauvao
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lauvao,  2) Senior WR Chris McGaha, 3) Senior WR Kyle Williams
Strength of the offense: Depth at the skill positions, power backs
Weakness of the offense: Uncertainty at quarterback, running game, offensive line, red zone offense


Projected Starter: The top priority on offense will be to replace Rudy Carpenter, a rock of stability who’d started 43 straight games before graduating. The favorite to succeed him is his long-time caddy Danny Sullivan, a 6-4, 242-pound senior who has waited patiently for this opportunity. Blessed with a cannon for an arm and a command of the system, he used a stellar spring to widen the gap on the competition and move closer to getting the nod. Although he doesn’t have pro scouts flocking to Tempe and is fairly stationary, he can still succeed by distributing the ball accurately and managing the game effectively. For his career, he’s appeared in 24 games, going 40-of-87 for 409 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.     

Projected Top Reserves: The biggest challenge to Sullivan is coming from 6-4, 205-pound sophomore  Samson Szakacsy, the best athlete among the quarterbacks. Tremendously agile and quick outside the pocket, he brings an intriguing set of dual-threat skills to an offense looking to employ elements of the zone-read option. After undergoing surgery to remove cartilage from his elbow, he’s working to perfect his throwing motion and evolve as a passer.

The biggest buzz at the position has been reserved for 6-8, 237-pound true freshman Brock Osweiler, the quarterback of the future for the Sun Devils. He arrived in time for spring camp and wowed the coaching staff with his poise and maturity. Oh, and no one should make generalizations because of his massive size. Yes, he can get it done as a pocket passer, but he’s also an outstanding athlete, turning down basketball scholarships from the likes of Gonzaga before settling at ASU.

Watch Out For… Sullivan to win the job, but Osweiler to make the headlines. The rookie has enormous upside, and will challenge Szakacsy for the No. 2 job in the summer before taking center stage in 2010. If he can absorb without much pressure, he could really take off as a sophomore.
Strength: Diversity. While Dennis Erickson has no desire for a platoon, he does have options if he ever wants to mix things up or keep the defense on its heels. Sullivan is the steady veteran with the good arm. Szakacsy is the dual-threat. Osweiler is the future.    
Weakness: Starting experience. The flip side of Carpenter’s durability is that no one else got a chance for meaningful minutes. Sullivan may be the veteran, but if he proves not to be the guy, Arizona State will be forced to rely on two players with no career snaps. 
Outlook: If Sullivan can bridge the divide between today and 2010, it’s a win for Arizona State. Few expect him to be an All-Pac-10 performer, but if he can steadily guide the Sun Devils back to the postseason, while allowing Szakacsy and Osweiler another year to ripen, everyone in Tempe will be happy.
: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: To suggest that the Sun Devils were a dreadful running team in 2008 would be a gross understatement. The team finished 113th nationally on the ground, averaging 89 yards a game and 2.9 yards a carry. The job is open to anyone who can create yards on his own. First in line will be 5-10, 218-pound senior Dimitri Nance, who led the team with 410 yards and three scores on 105 carries. A big, experienced back, who does a lot of little things well, he’s not a big-play threat and needs to hit the hole with more authority. While he has value, especially in short yardage, he’s also vulnerable at a very murky position.

Projected Top Reserves: The biggest upside among the backs belongs to 5-9, 205-pound sophomore Ryan Bass, a mega-recruit from the 2008 class. Too valuable to redshirt last fall, he played in seven games, carrying 26 times for 120 yards and gaining valuable experience. With proper dedication in the film room and weight room, he has the acceleration and big-play skill set to be the headliner of this group before very long.

It remains up in the air whether 6-2, 210-pound senior Shaun DeWitty will be a part of the mix this season. Physically, he’s every bit as good as the competition, a tantalizing combination of size, power, burst, and quickness. However, he was often overlooked a year ago, earning just 62 carries for 270 yards, and needs to get right academically to be available in September.

One of the pleasant surprises of the backfield has been 5-11, 219-pound redshirt freshman James Morrison. The rare walk-on to make noise on the depth chart, the only thing to slow him down since arriving has been a broken ankle. Considering he’s one of the biggest backs on the roster, he’s surprisingly shifty, showing good footwork and the ability to make people miss in space. He lacks the experience, but remains a wild card.

Watch Out For… the intense competition to linger long beyond spring. Nance has the upper hand, but this is far from over. The staff is desperate to fine one or two players who can keep the chains moving, and will even consider true freshmen if they’re up to the challenge.
Strength: Big backs. Hey, if the blockers do their job up front, there’s no reason why this ensemble of backs won’t be able to move the pile and bull ahead for more yards. All of them are north of 200 yards and have adequate lower body strength.
Weakness: Explosiveness. Does anyone other than maybe Bass frighten opposing defenses? Uh-uh. This is a very methodical group of runners, who will barely bust out into the open field. DeWitty had a 54-yard scamper against Oregon State last Nov. 1. It was the Sun Devils’ only run of more than 30 yards all season.
Outlook: While the poor production of the running game is certainly a shared responsibility, the backs have to get better if any progress is going to be made. Realizing that support from the quarterback and offensive line may be modest, it’s up to Nance and Bass, in particular, to hit holes a little quicker and drag this sector of the offense out of the depths of mediocrity.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Although the Sun Devils will be without last year’s top receiver, Michael Jones, they still feel pretty confident about the make-up of the returners. In particular, 6-1, 199-pound senior Chris McGaha is capable of blowing past last year’s numbers, 35 catches for 501 yards and a touchdown, if he can only stay healthy. A toe injury limited him throughout 2008, but he’s healthy again and poised for a strong finish in Tempe. An outstanding route runner with sure hands and the wheels to get behind the secondary, he’s had a knack for knowing where the chains are and delivering on third down.

At “X” receiver, 6-0, 197-pound junior Kerry Taylor is holding an edge after starting six games in 2008 and making 27 grabs for 405 yards and three touchdowns. An increasingly polished performer, he runs tight routes and doesn’t drop many passes. With help from the quarterback, his production will continue on a northern path.

In contention for the most explosive Sun Devil receiver is 5-10, 186-pound senior Kyle Williams, the starter at the inside “H” position. Armed with game-breaking speed and a quick first step, he averaged almost 20 yards a reception last season, turning 19 receptions into 364 yards and four touchdowns. Arizona State needs to concoct more ways to get him into space.

It’s going to be a bit of a transition year at “Y” receiver, the program’s version of a tight end in this offense. Looking to offset the graduation of last year’s starter, Andrew Pettes, will be 6-4, 225-pound senior Jovon Johnson. Although he hasn’t played very much in his career, catching just three balls for 33 yards a year ago, he’s a tremendous athlete, who could be a downfield threat if he polishes up his overall game.  

Projected Top Reserves: Of all the backups at wide receiver, none is closer to breaking into the lineup than 6-4, 230-pound sophomore Gerell Robinson. Another one of Dennis Erickson’s marquee recruits of 2008, he earned a letter as a rookie and then spent the offseason reshaping his body and targeting a breakout year. While not a deep ball threat, he is a physical receiver, who works well in traffic and will be a load to contain near the end zone. He’s too good not to be used more in his second season of eligibility.

Sophomore Dan Knapp was looking like the next big thing at tight end for the program before an injury stalled his progress and cut his debut season in half. Still, he was around long enough to start a pair of games and catch three passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. At 6-5 and 258 pounds, he has the size to be effective as a blocker and a pass-catcher.

Watch Out For… more blocking from this group. With the Sun Devils showing an inclination toward more running in 2009, the receivers and the tight ends will be asked to do more than just run routes and catch passes this season. If you can’t hold a block and spring a back, your playing time will be impacted.
Strength: Hands. With McGaha as the poster boy for sticky hands, the Sun Devils have a collection of receivers, who won’t bobble or drop a lot of passes. The starters, including Williams at tight end, also have the speed to stretch a defense and get behind the secondary.
Weakness: Consistency. Even when Jones was around, this group just disappeared too often last fall. Yeah, it hurt that McGaha wasn’t at full strength, but the receivers and tight ends need to step it up on a week-in, week-out basis without exceptions.
Outlook: The seedlings of greater production are there; it’s up to the new quarterback to help make them blossom. From the steadiness of McGaha to the big-play capabilities of Williams and Taylor, there’s a nice mix of talent to be accessed. If Robinson keeps forcing his way into the rotation, the overall ranking goes a tick higher.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The offensive line has been downright awful the last two seasons, prompting more shifting than a shell game. The biggest change involves the Devils’ top lineman, 6-3, 305-pound Shawn Lauvao, who’s relocating from left guard to left tackle. While it’s a completely new assignment, the hope is that his experience, dominant strength, and great feet will help smooth out the inevitable wrinkles. The staff has already admitted this move should have happened a year earlier, an indication that the senior is making a nice transition.

Over at right tackle will be 6-5, 272-pound senior Tom Njunge, who held up relatively well in his first season out of Pasadena City College. A good athlete with long arms, he’s shown his biggest strides in pass protection, a real need area for the Sun Devils. To stay on top, he’ll need to keep making progress this summer.

There was supposed to be a heated competition at center in the spring. Sophomore Garth Gerhart ended any drama after a few practices. Head and shoulders better than the more experienced competition, he’ll be difficult to unseat in August. A versatile 6-1, 302-pounder, he’s extremely strong at the point of attack and is quicker out of the box than most of his teammates.

The guard situation is more muddled, largely due to inconsistency and injuries. Junior Jon Hargis has staked his claim to left guard, basically swapping jobs with Lauvao. A former defensive tackle and a liability as a pass protector, there’s hope that the 6-3, 312-pounder can use his brute force and intensity to be more effective with teammates on both sides.

Fingers are crossed around Tempe that 6-4, 331-pound sophomore Zach Schlink is ready for a growth spurt in his second season of action. While he’s been slowed by a knee injury, he oozes potential when he’s healthy. One of the school’s top recruits from 2008, he has the size, strength, and tenacity to be a nasty run blocker.

Projected Top Reserves: While 6-1, 301-pound senior Thomas Altieri has essentially lost the battle with Gerhart at center, his experience will be a boon to the second unit. A starter throughout the 2008 season, he’s an insurance policy in the event that one of the interior gets injured.

Sophomore Matt Hustad has a high ceiling that the coaching staff hopes he’ll begin to reach this fall. A 6-5, 292-pound future starter at tackle, he’s one of the group’s best overall athletes and not your typical lumbering, out-of-shape lineman. His biggest concern has been health after undergoing knee surgery the last two years.

After failing his audition as a tackle, 6-3, 290-pound sophomore Adam Tello is making a permanent move to guard, a position that better suits his skill set. He missed the spring to recover from an injury, but expects to return in the summer and push Schlink for the starting job.    

Watch Out For… the injury reports. The Sun Devils have enough issues up front without things being complicated by injuries and lost time. If they have any chance of filling out a viable depth chart, it’s imperative that the spring casualties are ready to go in August.
Strength: The left side. Now that Lauvao and Hargis have swapped roles, things look a lot brighter to the left of Gerhart. Lauvao is too good to flub this challenge, and Hargis is liable to flourish now that he’s no longer trying to survive on an island.
Weakness: Blocking. Yeah, it sounds sort of obvious, but Arizona State simply doesn’t hold its blocks or win many battles at the point of attack. It remains a makeshift group that doesn’t open holes for the backs, labors in pass protection, and lacks proven players on the second unit.
Outlook: You could argue that Arizona State has had the worst offensive line over the last two years among the BCS programs, and you’d have a very compelling case. Lauvao aside, there are possible holes everywhere, which has helped keep some pretty talented skill position players from getting out of the blocks.
Rating: 5.5