August 1, 2008

Camp Preview: RB

ASU suffered a devastating loss in 2007 when Ryan Torain, who one season earlier became the first Sun Devil to rush for over 1,200 yards since 1974, was lost in the sixth game of the season to a foot injury, ending his college career.

The Sun Devils lost a little bit at the position the rest of the season by not having Torain to call upon, but the silver lining was the continued emergence of its other rushers as legitimate high level Pac-10 players.

Heading into the season, there is no doubt Arizona State has several good ball carrying options in what looks to be a particularly crowded backfield.

Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance together totaled more than 1,300 rushing yards and helped the team lead the league in time of possession.

Neither player exhibited the star power that Torain had as an every down back but Herring in particular is highly esteemed and deservedly so.

Herring is the leading returning back in the Pac-10 in rushing yards after all five players who finished with more yards moved on to the pro ranks.

At least one preseason publication, Phil Steele's College Football Preview, projects Herring as a first-team all-conference performer.

The 5-10, 195 pound Peoria native last year became the 16th player in ASU history to rush for more than 2,000 career yards, and he is currently 10th on the all-time list in the category heading into his senior campaign.

As a junior, Herring had 815 yards on 154 carries with five touchdowns for an impressive 5.3 yards per carry average. A home run threat with elite speed, three of Herring's touchdowns came on runs of 70 yards or longer and a fourth was from 46 yards out.

For his career, Herring has totaled 2,234 rushing yards on 406 carries with 17 touchdowns and an impressive 5.5 yards per carry average. Perhaps most impressively, he has played in all 38 games during his first three seasons in Tempe, with 12 starts.

Herring is ideally suited to be a speedy, change of pace runner as a partner to a bigger, more physical back, which Torain was. Despite gaining approximately ten pounds in the off-season, Herring still appeared to struggle a bit at times running in between the tackles.

Even though he's also gained size and strength and is now listed at a solid 220 pounds, Nance is nimble more than he is powerful. His excellent vision and footwork allow him to find holes and make the most out of what is given to him inside. He doesn't have great speed on the edge, however, so he provides something that is in direct contrast to Herring.

Nance had 500 rushing yards and a team-best seven touchdowns on 133 caries last season for a 3.8 yards per carry average. He also was the top receiving threat out of the backfield with 13 catches for 120 yards, primarily on swing passes.

In his two year career, the junior out of Euless, Texas has rushed for 729 yards on 189 carries with ten touchdowns.

As established as Herring and Nance are, the other two scholarship players on the roster, Shaun DeWitty and Jarrell Woods, also performed very well at various points of the spring. Ultimately, none of the players solidly stood out from the others in the group.

Indeed, it became clear to regular onlookers that this is one of the deepest position groups on the roster with all four capable of playing well when called upon in the coming year, though none are the caliber of Torain.

At 6-2, 227 pounds, DeWitty is the team's most physical inside runner; he's also the best blocking back and a capable receiving threat out of the backfield, which make him the team's most well-rounded third-down back.

After playing in a limited role in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the Colorado Springs, Colo., native redshirted last season and was named Scout Team Player of the Year. He followed that up by leading the team with 71 rushing yards, including a 29-yard touchdown scamper in the team's spring game.

Woods meanwhile has a good combination of size and speed at 5-10, 212 pounds. The redshirt junior played in just one game last season, the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, where he carried the ball three times for 20 yards and one touchdown.

In camp last year, Woods was consistently impressive, scoring touchdowns in the team's first three scrimmages before a high ankle sprain sidelined him for almost half the season. By the time he came back healthy, he was buried on the depth chart.

In some respects, Woods is perhaps hurt by being similar to both Herring and Nance. He's more well-rounded than both in the sense that he has speed on the edge as well as the ability to run inside, but Woods is perhaps not as good as either in the areas where they excel.

Still, because he's versatile with a solid work ethic, and none of the players are true standout elite rushers, Woods has a chance to see the field and produce.

Expected to join the program for camp is true freshman Ryan Bass, a second-team All-USA player by USA Today and the most acclaimed recruit in the 2008 recruiting class.

Bass, from Corona, Calif., rushed for 2,608 yards and 47 touchdowns as a senior to boost his three-year career totals to 7,096 total yards, 186.7 yards per game, and 117 touchdowns on 894 carries in 38 career games.

At 5-10, 200 pounds, Bass is widely considered to be a durable, everydown back with a tremendous combination of size and speed.

With running back being a position where true freshmen are often very capable of coming in and playing immediately, Bass has a legitimate shot at moving up the depth chart early almost immediately.

What to watch in fall camp:

It figures the Sun Devils will split carries between at least Herring and Nance, but what interests us is whether others will earn significant snaps and who that will be.

We also want to see how the backs' roles are carved out. Will ASU display any tendency to telegraph its play intentions based on who is on the field and the down/distance?

It's going to be tough for any back to move ahead of the top two on the depth chart, but it's possible. Can DeWitty or Woods do it?

What type of immediate impact is Bass going to make as the X-factor?

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