August 16, 2006

Fall Camp 8/15: Sights and Sounds

-This is shaping up to possibly be the deepest group of ASU running backs dating in the last decade, dating to the 1996 Rose Bowl season when the Sun Devils had Terry Battle, Michael Martin, Marlon Farlow and then-freshman J.R. Redmond.

We know that Keegan Herring is an unbelievable talent and he'd set all kinds of school record if given enough carries to do so but with other great running back options on the roster, it just may never happen. As mentioned in recent updates, we've grown increasingly enamored with JUCO transfer Ryan Torain, and sophomore Shaun Dewitty keeps looking better and better as well. On Tuesday he may have had his best practices yet, as he was hitting the hole quickly and running downhill and making all kinds of nice plays in third down situations.

The situation with true freshman Dimitri Nance may parallel that of Redmond in 1996. This guy is so talented that he's going to be difficult to keep of the field - ala Redmond -- but baring injury, the position is so deep that he probably isn't needed, and to burn a year of eligibility for what will likely amount to a very small percentage of the team's overall carries doesn't seem like the way to go. And Rodney Glass has been more impressive than we'd anticipated though he seems all but certain to redshirt now that he's suffered a high ankle sprain.

-For the first time ever, freshman wide receiver Kyle Williams was practicing in an ASU jersey -- albeit an orange one -- that actually had something underneath it other than just himself. Williams has looked very impressive returning kicks, with great burst and field vision and he also had a nice day working with the receivers on Tuesday. It doesn't appear to us that he's rusty whatsoever after dealing with mononucleosis earlier this month.

-With guys like Michael Jones and Brandon Smith held out of contact, the Sun Devils have turned to walk-on Jeff Gray and former walk-on Alex King to get a lot of first and second team live situational snaps in recent days and both have delivered in a big way. In fact, Gray has been one of the more consistent performers in the group and we think it a foregone conclusion that he'll see playing time this year, and perhaps even play a significant role. Gray had four catches in Saturday's scrimmage at Camp Tontozona and he's reliable as a possession guy, something that is viewed as very favorable by the staff. King also has performed well in drills and may be in line for some game snaps.

-One of the things we have been continuously drawn too is the coaching jobs being done by some of these new staff members, and in particular Al Simmons, the cornerbacks coach, and Grady Stretz, who is working with the defensive line. Watching Stretz closely on Tuesday, we were frankly blown away by his technical savvy and ability to articulate what he wants his players to accomplish, and the unique drills we're seeing implemented in order to bring about improvement and consistency. Simply put, Stretz is an absolutely amazing teacher of the game and he's very fair and firm with his players. They know where they stand at all times; they know when they do something right; they know when they do something wrong; they quickly are told how to make the adjustment. It's a level of communication and technical expertise that we haven't seen with this position group in recent years.

-The play of middle linebacker Beau Manutai and Mike Nixon in recent days, and especially on Tuesday, is making us increasingly comfortable with how well this critical position is going to perform this season. We've been talking up both players in the last week, and they each had strong performances once again. Manutai is definitely quicker and better in coverage, as he got back to make a nice pass deflection. Nixon is a great student of the game and he's always talking about situations on the sideline in a way that incorporates the younger players and keeps them thinking and on their toes. It appears this position is in good hands, and if they along with the starting safeties can get the SAM and WILL linebackers in a similar place within the next couple of weeks before the games get serious against Colorado, this ASU defense has a chance to be among the most improved in the nation.


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