April 8, 2008

ASUDevils.com Hot 11

A number of Sun Devils have stepped up their play this spring and are deserving of recognition for their performance through the first eight practices. Here is a list of 11 ASU players that have made a positive impression on us. With many, we have been completely surprised by how well they have done thus far.

1. Colin Parker -- Give this young man a lot of credit. He suffered a torn ACL near the end of his junior season of high school, re-injured the knee at the start of his senior season and hasn't played at full strength in a football game since late 2005. That's an awful long time. Parker has showed excellent maturity and perseverance. He was a regular at ASU practices as a high school senior, he was very dedicated during his redshirt year and no doubt he approached his rehab with that same mentality. Now, he looks like he's ready to go. His father has been a regular at practice and must be please with what he's seeing. Parker is a highly intelligent player in the mold of Mike Nixon and he figures to be in the mix for playing time on the weak side this season.

2. Jarrell Holman -- The second most-surprising performance probably comes from Holman, who was relegated to scout team duty last season post-transfer from Phoenix College. That's generally not a very good sign, but Holman has come prepared to impress this spring and he's done exactly that. He's put himself squarely in the discussion for a spot in the two-deep. It was clear from the time he arrived he is a pretty good athlete with nice size and athleticism and he displayed that clearly for those fans in attendance at Saturday's scrimmage. He's up about 10 pounds and playing more freely now that he's got a better handle on assignments.

3. Dane Guthrie -- It's not easy bouncing around back and forth from tight end to defensive end and back. Tight end is a very demanding position with a lot of technical expertise required in order to be good. Guthrie appears to have matured in the last year or so. That happens to a lot of guys when they realize they have a lot of natural ability and not a lot of time to show pro scouts what they're capable of. Guthrie's approach and work ethic have been excellent and he appears to have grown as a blocker at tight end as a result of his time spent on defense. Frankly, he's a more well-rounded player with greater upside than Brent Miller. He'll be heavily counted on this season.

4. Jon Hargis -- The situation with Hargis is somewhat similar to Guthrie in that he was moved from offense to defense because of a rash of injuries last season and is now back at offense. But Hargis' task is even more difficult because he's never played offensive tackle before in his life. To go from that to having to play against a guy like Dexter Davis every day in practice? Yeah, that's about as difficult a task as anyone on this team in spring ball is charged with. It hasn't always been pretty, but Hargis has actually held his own and shown that he has a future at the position if he continues to work hard -- which he will, because that's the best attribute he brings to the program. Is he a great athlete? No. But he's certainly a capable one.

5. David Bertrand -- When you're a walk-on getting first-team repetitions in the first spring scrimmage, you certainly deserve to be mentioned on a list like this. Bertrand walked on to the team last year after previously being a walk-on at Arizona and he performed well on the scout team last season. It was clear at the time that he was among the top walk-ons on the roster and he actually saw a lot of scout team reps over a couple of scholarship players. The 6-1, 283 pound junior is well put together, a hard worker, and solid with his technique. While it will be difficult to remain in the two-deep in fall camp, when several highly thought of junior college prospects arrive, we're not going to put it past a guy like Bertrand. Few, if any, will outwork him.

6. Rodney Cox -- OK so this is the one semi-anticipated first-team defensive player on our list, but we think he deserves it all the same because he's out-performed our expectations. Let's take a quick look at where Cox has come from as a player. Safeties coach Matt Lubick told us last December that when they started summer camp, Cox was the last scholarship player on the depth chart at safety. But he showed up every day, worked his tail off, asked the right questions in meetings and consistently showed improvement. That speaks to his heart and character. Now that Cox is considered a favorite to start, nothing has changed. He was arguably the top performer in the scrimmage on Saturday.

7. Jarrell Woods -- Last August, I thought there was no doubt Woods would be in the regular playing rotation at the beginning of the season. He performed at a high level in camp and was the only guy to score a rushing touchdown in three straight scrimmages. But then he suffered a high ankle sprain and it basically wiped him out for over two months. By the time he was really back at full strength it was November and even after the injury to Ryan Torain, he just wasn't going to get game snaps. But this spring he's back to showing what he's capable of. We view Woods as primarily a between the tackles runner who can hit the hole quickly and with power, and he has good second level speed. There is little doubt he'll at least get his chance this season if he's healthy.

8. Jamarr Robinson -- After watching his performance in the last couple of weeks there is no doubt in my mind that Robinson's move to end is a good one. Physically, he's built more like a middle linebacker than an outside linebacker for ASU's scheme but there is a glut of players that already are solid occupying that position. Robinson has good quickness off the ball and a natural understanding of leverage, with good hands. He's not nearly as big or as athletic as James Brooks, but he's performed as well as Brooks, or even perhaps better than Brooks to this point.

9. Lance Evbuomwan -- Last Thursday, Evbuomwan absolutely smashed a defensive end in a position drill and tight ends coach Dan Cozzetto basically said, "Where the heck has that been?" It wasn't a one-time anomaly. Somewhere in the last few months, Evbuomwan picked up the one thing he lacked, and needed, if he was to ever have even a chance of being a solid college tight end: The willingness to be a physical blocker. He is huge, with great hands and feet and the ability to make plays downfield. But he just didn't bring it on the inside. In one practice last week we saw Evbuomwan be more physical at the point of attack than anything we remember of him in the entirety of the last year.

10. Brandon Smith -- During spring ball 2007, Smith was electric and drew rave reviews from most regular onlookers including the coaching staff and myself. Then he suffered what looked like a very minor foot sprain in practice last year after the team returned from Tontozona and the injury lingered for months, much longer than anticipated. Smith wasn't even running and cutting at full speed in practice at the end of the regular season. Well, he certainly appears to be back on track this spring. We know he's probably got the best package of size and athleticism of any receiver on the roster, but until he shows it when it counts, it has to be taken for what it's worth: looking good in practice.

11. Chasen Stangel -- Prior to Saturday's scrimmage, we were prepared to have Stangel much higher on this list. He played well last Wednesday and then on Thursday had what should be considered the best practice he's ever had at ASU. He literally didn't have one bad rep. Every decision he made was a good one and almost all the throws were dead on accurate and delivered quickly and with good ball velocity. Even Dennis Erickson said it looked like something finally clicked. But then on Saturday he took a step backwards with some questionable decisions and he didn't show the same poise he displayed on Thursday. We completely acknowledge, playing for the third-team is not an easy chore and we also know that there will be setbacks. Still, we like the overall trend.

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