The Arizona State Sun Devils completed spring football last week and although there were some high points in the 15-day practice regimen and annual Spring Game, there were also some notable areas for concern.
Coach Todd Graham himself noted the deficiencies and said, via ArizonaSports.com, “We still have a lot of work to do and a long way to go.”
The Sun Devils had a successful national signing day that brought on 27 new players, including nine players who ranked in the top 40 nationally for their position and seven transfer students who ranked in the top 100 overall junior college prospects. Of the 27 commits, four of them were on the field for spring drills, although none of the four made an impact on the field.
With the semester coming to a close and the sweltering summer approaching, here are four positions that Coach Graham and his staff should be worried about.
The kicking game at Arizona State is in such disarray that they signed a placekicker, Zane Gonzalez out of Deer Park, Texas, nearly two months after national signing day. Gonzales was perfect in his senior year, including 10-of-10 on field goals and was 100 percent on PATs.
The Sun Devils kicking game woes have been well documented with Alex Garoutte and Jon Mora both struggling; Garoutte was 6-of-11 and Mora was 9-of-12, and both of them missed chip-shot extra points during the year.
The punting game will also need help after the departure of All-Pac-12 punter Josh Hubner. Junior Dom Vizzare will be competing with incoming freshman Matt Haack to be the team’s everyday punter. Vizzare had a nice outing at the spring game, averaging 45.3 yards per punt and pinning 4-of-6 within the 20-yard line. He had a long punt of 54 yards and one touchback.
For a team that had no standouts at the wide receiver position in 2012, the fact that quarterback Taylor Kelly still threw for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns is nothing short of a miracle.
The onus is on senior Kevin Ozier to lead this crew of receivers with sophomores Richard Smith and Gary Chambers also starting in the spring game.
Much like last season, Kelly’s favorite target at the spring game was H-back, Chris Coyle. The senior was at the receiving end of three of the five touchdown passes thrown, two from Kelly and one from Mike Bercovici.
New additions to the receiving corps look promising with Jaelen Strong lighting up the junior college circuit at Pierce College. Strong is the No. 17 overall recruit in ESPN’s JUCO Top 100.
Joseph Morris, Strong’s teammate at Pierce, also joins the squad and looks to add veteran leadership. Three freshmen receivers will join the team in the fall, including Ellis Jefferson, Ronald Lewis and Cameron Smith.
Senior Junior Onyeali is still recovering from an injury and didn’t participate in the spring game, allowing Gannon Conway to take over the starting position. The former Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year needs to return to his former glory—and quickly.
The Sun Devils defensive line is solid with Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton at the nose and All-Pac-12 honorable mention Jaxon Hood at the tackle position. The end is truly an area for concern if Onyeali can’t return.
Senior Davon Coleman started eight games at the position last year but was relegated to running with the second team defense throughout spring practice. Incoming freshman Kisima Jagne saw limited time during the spring due to injury as well.
The Sun Devils linebacker squad was incredible last year and looks to do the same or better in the upcoming season. Why is it that this is a position to be worried about then?
The biggest cause for concern is losing team captain Brandon Magee to the NFL and also notable injuries that limited players in spring drills.
Carlos Mendoza had a monster game filling in for Magee against Illinois but was injured and spent the rest of the season on the sideline. When spring practice arrived, the hype on Mendoza was palpable, but he wore a green no-contact jersey throughout drills, raising concerns about his availability in the upcoming season.
Another injury that hit hard occurred on the first day of practice, knocking highly-touted in-state recruit Chans Cox out for the remainder of the spring.
Returning starters Carl Bradford, Steffon Martin, Chris Young and Grandville Taylor are all looking to dominate offenses in the upcoming season. Look for newcomers Antonio Longino and Eriquel Florence to push for playing time along with senior Kipeli Koniseti, who notched a solo tackle and fumble recovery in the spring game.
After losing four straight games in the middle of the season, the Sun Devils won their last three games for the first time since 1978 while beating Arizona and winning their bowl game for the first time since 2005, only the eighth time in school history.
Graham transformed the team from the most penalized in the Pac-12 to the least penalized. His high-octane style of offense is responsible for three of the 14 NCAA FBS bowl teams to score 60 or more points, and he is the only coach to have scored 60-plus points in multiple bowl games.
Given the small discrepancies previously mentioned, I believe that this Sun Devil team believes in what Graham is trying to do at Arizona State and has everybody “Speaking Victory.”