August 3, 2006

Hot 11: Sun Devil player rankings

Arizona State begins its fall camp with a helmets-only practice Friday evening at 6:20 p.m. at the Kajikawa Practice Facility in Tempe. Throughout the fall, ASUDevils.com will have a regularly updated Hot 11 list of the top ASU players you'll see on the field at Sun Devil Stadium this season. You can think of this as a stock-watch of sorts. In our inaugural list, tight end Zach Miller comes in at the No. 1 spot and Zach Catanese is at No. 2. Find out what other players are on the list, and their Hot 11 order by reading on.

1. Zach Miller, 6-foot-5, 259, Junior, TE. Rivals.com first-team preseason All-American who caught 38 passes for 478 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore last season. Miller's numbers were down from his freshman season, when he broke a school record for catches by a tight end, hauling in 56 balls for 552 yards and six touchdowns. The reason for the decline is solely attributed to the fact that he played with assorted injuries through much of the season. Now healthy, Miller stands a reasonable chance of being the team's leading pass catcher. He's extremely versatile and the Sun Devils are able to create a lot of mismatches for him at various places on the field, in multiple tight end sets, and even with him lined up in the slot. Basically, he's a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to scheme against.

2. Zach Catanese, 6-foot-2, 230, Senior, S. The leading returning tackler in the Pac-10, Catanese had 107 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 2005. Playing in his first season as a junior college transfer, Catanese showed quite clearly that he's one of the best defensive ball hawks in the Pac-10, and he's particularly impressive playing up against the run. Catanese lost about five pounds in the off-season, but rebuilt his body and is now bigger and we expect him to be even quicker and more explosive as well after a full year-and-a-half in the ASU weight and training program. An argument can be made that Catanese is the top safety in the conference, and he's without question a guy who will play on Sundays, whether it's as a safety or moving up to play linebacker.

3. Andrew Carnahan, 6-foot-8, 288, Senior, OL. Carnahan, A fifth-year senior out of Hereford, Tex., Carnahan is one of the toughest and most decorated linemen in ASU history. Last season he played with a broken finger, a fractured ankle and played most of ASU's Insight Bowl victory over Rutgers with a deep leg bruise that generally would have kept any player out of a game. Despite the list of injuries, Carnahan played in nine of the Sun Devils 12 games in 2005 after starting in all 12 games as sophomore and redshirt freshman. In 2004 as a sophomore Carnahan was second-team all PAC 10 and was also named to the honorable-mention PAC-10 All-Academic team for the second consecutive season. As a red-shirt freshman in 2003 he was named to the Sporting News PAC-10 All-Freshman and All-America honors from Rivals.com. Carnahan is physically imposing, tough as nails and he's one of the most intelligent players on the team, a good combination to be sure.

4. Sam Keller, 6-foot-4, 230, Senior, QB. There was a sense that Keller would be special within weeks of his arrival at ASU as a true freshman when coach Dirk Koetter said that the quarterback picked up the offense quicker than any player at the position he'd ever worked with. Through the first four games of last season Keller was making good on his all-world potential. To that point he had completed 88-of-147 attempts (59.8%) for 1,434 yards (358.5 yards per game) and 16 touchdowns against just two interceptions, and he was leading the nation in multiple categories. But Keller suffered several injuries, and eventually needed surgery on his throwing thumb. He came back to participate in spring drills but might not have been entirely back to full health. Four months later Keller is said to be 100-percent healthy and ready to go, and if that is indeed the case, he could be poised for a monster season.

5. Rudy Burgess, 5-foot-10, 180, Junior, WR. One of the top pure athletes on the team, Burgess was initially recruited to play wide receiver, but when ASU needed guys to move to running back after a rash of injuries, he did so an excelled. This spring, he spent time at cornerback and looked quite capable there as well. There is a legitimate possibility he'll play both ways at times this season. As a junior, Burgess rushed for 644 yards and six touchdowns on 145 carries and he finished second only to Derek Hagan with 59 catches for 655 yards and four touchdowns. The versatility and game-breaking ability provided by Burgess is extremely rare. The joke around Tempe is that USC's Reggie Bush was the Arizona State-version of Rudy Burgess. Certainly that is said in jest, but it makes a very good point. This is one heck of a good football player.

6. Terry Richardson, 6-foot-1, 188, Senior, WR. Unquestionably one of the nation's top punt return specialists, Richardson averaged 15.3 yards per return and he took three punts to the house for touchdowns, including a game-changing score against Arizona. He finished the season ranked No. 7 in yards per return nationally. As a receiver, Richardson caught 37 balls for 495 yards and five touchdowns. Though his talent has never been in question, Richardson has earned a reputation as a guy who doesn't have the best work ethic -- he's so talented that he's had a tendency to rely on natural ability too much -- and he was suspended for spring ball in part as a result. It appears that measure by the ASU staff has made a big impact and he's earned rave reviews for the job he's put in this summer. When he's putting forth a maximum effort in his day-in and day-out preparations, Richardson is the type of guy that is an extremely difficult player to defend in space on game day.

7. Loren Howard, 6-foot-4, 274, Senior, DE. A former freshman All-American at Northwestern, Howard is considered to be one of the top strongside defensive ends in college football, when healthy, but he's battled numerous injuries throughout his career. Before announcing his decision to transfer to Arizona State prior to the 2005 season, Howard was ranked as the No. 4 defensive end in the country by Phil Steele's and the No. 11 end in the country by the Sporting News. After using his transfer year to finally get health and recover from surgery, the Scottsdale , Ariz. native is preparing for a big senior season, and the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd and put himself in good position to be selected in next year's NFL draft. Howard is one of the more impressive physical specimens you'll ever see in college football, and he's extraordinarily quick and overpowering at the line of scrimmage.

8. Brandon Rodd, 6-foot-4, 301, Junior, OL. Entering the 2006 campaign the skilled lineman from Aiea, Hawaii looks to man the left tackle spot for the Sun Devils. In 2005 Rodd earned honorable mentions All PAC-10 honors while starting the first eight games at left tackle and then the final four at left guard. In 2004, as a red-shirt freshman Rodd started ASU's season opener vs. UTEP at left guard. In that game he tore the ACL on his right knee in that game and missed the rest of the season. ASU coaches predicted that he could have been a freshman All-American had it not been for that injury, and he has been called the most technically proficient and consistent lineman on the team by his head coach. Rodd also earned honorable-mention Pac-10 All-Academic accolades in 2004. He's smooth and efficient, a player that often goes unnoticed but in the best way possible, at a place where mistakes are noticed more often than excellence.

9. Keegan Herring, 5-foot-10, 186, Sophomore RB. Set an Arizona State freshmen rushing record last season -- and did it as a true freshman no less -- with 870 yards and six touchdowns on 158 carries, for 5.5 yards per carry. And he broke the record despite essentially splitting carries on a near 50/50 basis with Burgess, and at a listed weight of 179 pounds. Herring has added nearly 10 pounds to his frame, and while he was always a powerful runner, he pounded the rock with greater force in spring ball and that should continue to be his M.O. as his sophomore year unfolds. A natural runner who hits the hole hard and fast, Herring has great speed, a 10.5 second 100 meters guy, and he can punish opponents if he's able to break it outside, though he's equally comfortable running amongst the big boys. In order to truly become a great back, Herring has to show that he's a more capable and consistent blocker, and be a better threat catching the ball out of the backfield, but remember, last season was his first at the college level.

10. Rudy Carpenter, 6-foot-2, 207, Sophomore QB. It's difficult to imagine that the nation's returning top-rated passer would come in at No. 10 on our list and perhaps it's not fair to him. The truth is we know Carpenter is a tremendous player. There is no doubt about that. He also led the nation in interception percentage and yards per passing attempt as a redshirt freshman and is rated among the top 20 quarterbacks in the country by at least one publication. Carpenter is extremely accurate and he provides above average mobility to the position and has a quiet, confident style of leadership. He's all about actions over rhetoric and that is a commendable thing. He outplayed Keller in spring ball but Keller was not completed recovered from his off-season thumb surgery. It remains to be seen what will happen with this competition when both players are at full strength and from a fan perspective, it should be extremely enjoyable to watch. If Carpenter is able to win the starting nod in fall camp, you can expect that his stock on this Hot 11 will climb dramatically.

11. Tranell Morant, 6-foot-5, 280, Junior, DL. Sat out last season after transferring from Florida but truth be told, Morant looked like he was probably the team's best defensive end from fall camp on and ASU could have really used him on the field. Morant has an incredibly lean body for carrying as much weight as he does and his frame is just prototypical for what you'd like in an NFL strongside end. He's technically very sound and efficient at the point of attack and he utilizes a varied set of pass rush skills that is well advanced from most of his peers. When you package that with his athleticism and strong motor, Morant is the type of player that can create havoc, and spent a lot of time in opposing backfields, especially when he's playing on a balanced defensive line that affords him a greater opportunity to operate in isolation. Between Morant and Howard, ASU has two defensive ends that stand a reasonable chance of being the top defensive impact transfer in the Pac-10.


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