March 24, 2008

Detailed look at six players who need solid spring

Arizona State will begin spring ball on Tuesday. Here is a look at six returning players that we'll be closely watching. All have substantial talent and a chance to play significant roles in 2008, but they must show well in spring ball in order to capitalize on that opportunity.

Ryan McFoy -- "In my opinion, Ryan McFoy is the best defensive back we've recruited at Arizona State since our staff has been here. I love this guy. I love this guy as a player. He is a big hitter. He could play on offense, defense, he could be a return man…" Who would have thought when Dirk Koetter said that about McFoy that over three years ago upon his signing with the program that McFoy would be fighting for time at outside linebacker? McFoy needs to have a big spring for a few reasons, wwo of which are high school linebackers on the way this fall from California with the "Dennis Erickson type LB" label attached to them. Yes, not only does McFoy need to show he can compete with Travis Goethel, Mike Nixon, Derrall Anderson and Oliver Aaron, he has to separate himself enough from the incoming recruits so he isn't lost in the shuffle this fall. Erickson has had good things to say about McFoy in the last few weeks and he did practice well late last year. It should also be pointed out that McFoy was brought in for his speed a few times late in the year especially at Oregon, when ASU's lack of outside speed was being exploited. Erickson will not be afraid to mix and match linebackers during the season and for this reason I expect McFoy to see time this spring at both the SAM and WILL . How well he plays, and more to the point, how well he practices this spring and in summer camp, will determine if he can be a starter at either spot.

Jamarr Robinson -- Robinson has been in Tempe for two years and for various reasons has been unable to make a name for himself at linebacker. Now he is going to be given a long look at defensive end. Robinson has good size and speed and he should be able make the transition but how of smooth of a transition he can make as well as how much time he could earn for the fall is uncertain. Like others on this list, Robinson faces significantly more competition in the fall camp from the incoming recruiting class, but ASU does not enter the spring with much depth at defensive end. So Robinson will be given ample opportunity to improve and impress the coaches.

James Brooks -- The Sun Devils have not had many so-called physical specimens on the defensive line for most of this decade. Brooks is easily the best combination of size and athletic ability at end since Nick Johnson. Hopefully Brooks is better able to harness his ample abilities than Johnson was. Brooks was a work in progress last fall, when he earned rave reviews at times but overall was still very raw and inconsistent with his technique. The coaches were happy to be able to redshirt and develop him. Brooks needs to show he can keep his pad level low on a consistent basis and hold up at the point of attack to have a big spring.

Dane Guthrie -- After two seasons in Tempe, Guthrie has probably been more impressive at defensive end than at tight end, where he was the presumed starter in waiting for Zach Miller after transferring to Arizona State from Florida in 2005. Since then, underachieving would best describe Guthrie's play at tight-end. He had a chance to change that perception last season, but was needed on defense after a rash of injuries in camp. Now that he is said to be in the best shape of his career, Guthrie is expected back at tight-end, and he will likely be heavily counted on because a lack of experience at the position. His chief competition will primarily be inexperienced players, like redshirt freshmen Dan Knapp and possibly a beefed up Jovon Williams. Solid play from Guthrie will help out the offensive line and allow the coaches to not have to rush along some of the younger prospects.

Shaun DeWitty -- Running back is a position where size and fresh legs can make an impact late in games. DeWitty has size, and after playing in just 15 games in three seasons, he has fresh legs. A solid blocker with good hands, the passing game is where DeWitty is probably best suited to showcase his abilities. However, DeWitty is also the biggest running back on the roster so he will be given a shot to earn time as an every down back, or at the very least a complimentary runner, even as ASU returns two relatively known entities in Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance. What he does with this shot remains to be seen. Making it through the spring healthy and solidly in the mix would be a good accomplishment for DeWitty at this point. DeWitty if healthy can at the very least potentially be an impact player on special teams.

Brandon Smith -- As last spring closed some regular onlookers expected Smith to have a big 2007 season and thought Chris McGaha and Mike Jones were bigger question marks. As spring ball for 2008 is set to begin, it's Smith who has the questions to answer. Showing that he is healthy will help earn him more time with the first and/or second unit as well as show that he can be a better option this fall than a talented and deep group of wide receiver recruits. Smith has perhaps the best combination of size, speed, and natural ability of any receiver on the roster, but how he utilizes that combination this spring will go a long way in determining his role in the upcoming season.

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