March 24, 2009

Erickson must get Arizona State offense rolling

The past two seasons have brought dramatic shifts for Arizona State.

In 2007, their first season under coach Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils posted 10 victories and shared the Pac-10 championship with USC.

Last season, they dropped to just five wins and failed to qualify for a bowl.

The Sun Devils' hopes of getting back into championship contention this fall require upgrading a disappointing offense. Finding a quarterback to replace the departed Rudy Carpenter will be the top priority this spring.

Here's a look at the Sun Devils as they prepare for spring drills.

arizona state AT-A-GLANCE
Coach Dennis Erickson needs to revamp the Sun Devils' offense.
THE BASICS
Coach: Dennis Erickson
Last season: 5-7, 4-5 Pac-10
Spring dates: March 24-April 28
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (4): C Thomas Altieri, T Jon Hargis, G Shawn Lauvao, WR Chris McGaha.
Defense (6): CB Omar Bolden, CB Terell Carr, E Dexter Davis, LB Travis Goethel, T Lawrence Guy, LB Mike Nixon.
Special teams (1): P/K Thomas Weber.
Positions of strength

Any defensive line that features Dexter Davis and Lawrence Guy must be viewed as a strength. Davis posted 11 sacks in '08 to rank among the nation's top 10, and Guy was named a freshman All-America after posting 44 tackles - including 10 for losses. Junior college transfer Dean DeLeone is counted on to make an immediate contribution at end. The linebackers are solid, too. Part-time starter Gerald Munns returns to the team after taking a leave of absence, and sophomore Shelly Lyons showed promise last season.

Help is needed

For the first time in four years, Arizona State has questions at quarterback. Carpenter completed his eligibility after passing for 10,491 yards in his career. A three-way competition to be his successor begins this spring with '08 backup Danny Sullivan, sophomore Samson Szakacsy and early enrollee Brock Osweiler. A go-to receiver needs to emerge. The Sun Devils also need a boost at safety, where both starters from '08 are gone. Sophomore Clint Floyd, who is coming back from a kidney injury, likely takes over at one of those spots.

Keep an eye on

DE James Brooks: He managed just 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman backup last season. But he has excellent size (6-4/283) and impressive athletic ability. This could be a breakout season for him.

S Keelan Johnson: He has good size (6-0/200), good speed and great ball skills. He's a bone-crunching hitter, too. He was the scout team MVP last season while redshirting as a freshman. This season, coaches are looking forward to his hitting opposing players.

QB Samson Szakacsy: He has a really cool name. He could also emerge as the starting quarterback. A three-star prospect two years ago, Szakacsy a sophomore hasn't thrown a college pass. But he has good size (6-4/210) and great potential, and no quarterback on the roster has significant playing experience.

His time is now

Though senior Dimitri Nance led the Sun Devils in rushing last season, he gained just 410 yards and his longest run netted only 18 yards. Unless he shows he's capable of producing more this spring, he could be in danger of falling off the two-deep with some talented younger players coming up behind him.

The buzz

The Sun Devils stumbled through a dismal 2008 season in which they ranked 100th nationally in total offense. Major changes may be made on offense as some elements of the spread may be added. Regardless of how they plan to do it, the Sun Devils desperately need to upgrade the offense.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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