August 4, 2008

Tuitu'u leaves program; Tello projected right tackle

It's been clear for months this Arizona State team would be inexperienced along the offensive front this season, but the group became even greener looking when coach Dennis Erickson announced at Media Day that projected starting right tackle Richard Tuitu'u has left the program.

Tuitu'u had long been plagued by questions about his work ethic and rumors surrounding his academic standing, but he was the only returning offensive tackle on the roster with game experience at the position, having played in 19 games as a reserve over the last two seasons.

It's a potentially nerve-wracking scenario for a coaching staff trying to recover from a 2007 season that saw ASU finish 117 of 119 teams in sacks allowed per game, with a school-record 55.

"He decided not to play football," Erickson said of Tuitu'u. "So, Adam Tello will be our starter. I'm excited about our offensive front, but it is an area that's young. We've got (Shawn) Lauvao and Paul (Fanaika) coming back. They're the two experienced guys, and everybody else is going to be new. They're athletic, and it will be exciting to see how they come about. That's a real big question. So, we'll see what happens, but that's probably the biggest one we've got right now."

Lauvao and Fanaika are returning starters at left and right guard respectively, but the Sun Devils have to replace all-conference center Mike Pollak, four-year starting left tackle Brandon Rodd, and right tackle Julius Orieukwu as well as swing lineman Zach Krula and now, Tuitu'u.

The 6-foot-2, 283 pound Tello, a redshirt freshman, is strong and athletic, but undersized for the tackle position and he also has been plagued by rumors about his dedication and maturity level.

"Adam had a very good spring," Erickson said. "He's very athletic and a good pass protector. He's the starter now, but we can do some other things. We could flip (Tom) Njunge to there, and Mike Marcisz and some other guys are in the mix. But I think Adam fits in well to what we want to get done on the offensive line."

Entering camp, Jon Hargis is the projected starter at left tackle after playing defensive tackle last season as a redshirt freshman. Njunge can back him up or surpass him atop the depth chart, or move to right tackle. Marcisz could also be a factor at either position, as could Matt Hustad, a swing player who currently projects as the backup right guard.

At center, Thomas Altieri and Garth Gerhart will battle for the starting nod and the opportunity to replace Pollak.

Four freshmen -- Zach Schlink, Patrick Jamison, Andrew Sampson and Kyle Johnson -- join the program along the offensive line. Jamison is the only player who appears to be physically suited to have a chance to earn playing time at right tackle this season, but that appears to be a small possibility.

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