Most expect the ASU defense to be the cornerstone of the team in 2009. After Saturday's scrimmage at a muggy Sun Devil Stadium, it's easy to see why.
The offense struggled mightily to start on Saturday, taking 12 drives to finally punch through the end zone for a score.
"Defensively we started extremely fast," coach Dennis Erickson said. "Obviously, we didn't on offense but I thought as the scrimmage went along there were some awfully good things on offense."
For the majority of the scrimmage, the offense was plagued by penalties, a subpar passing game performance and fumbles.
That's not to say there weren't any highlights.
Sophomore wide receiver Gerell Robinson was undoubtedly the most impressive offensive player on the afternoon. Robinson finished with four catches for 116 yards and a touchdown and said he's feeling very comfortable at the position after a year of transition last season.
"It's night and day," senior quarterback Danny Sullivan said of Robinson's evolution. "Last year, we tried to fit him in to that situation of transferring from playing quarterback to wide receiver and it took some time. But G-Rob is a completely different player, it's nice to have him out there."
Robinson provided the scrimmage's finest play during the 12th drive, when he caught the ball near the five-yard line and used some fancy footwork to beat the defender and cross the goal-line.
Robinson did have one blemish on Saturday, though. After beating junior cornerback LeQuan Lewis in single coverage down the left sideline, Robinson hauled in a 50-yard pass. Lewis was able to knock the ball loose during the tackle, however, and senior safety Ryan McFoy scooped it up for a 17-yard return.
Still, there's no doubting the Robinson's progression as a legitimate wide receiver threat.
"I definitely feel like I'm capable of getting in and out of my routes and reading coverages and helping the team win," Robinson said. "But today [the wide receivers] came out kind of sluggish. To be honest with you, the offense starts with the receiving corps. We take it upon ourselves to get the ball moving. If we get open and catch passes, it'll open up the running lanes for the running backs and help us win."
Following the scrimmage, Erickson said the running back position is still up for grabs. On Saturday, freshman Cameron Marshall (six carries, 23 yards) and redshirt freshman James Morrison (six carries, 18 yards) looked the most impressive. Morrison did a great job of lowering his shoulder and even dislodged junior safety Max Tabach's helmet at one point.
"Cameron has really surprised us," Sullivan said. "He's come a lot longer than we thought he would and he's going to be good for us on Saturdays. James ran like he's never run before today. He was powering it today."
No running backs were credited with a touchdown, though it looked like senior Shaun DeWitty scored from one-yard out on the 10th drive. The referees spotted the ball inches short of the goal-line, setting up a sneak from freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Osweiler (5-11, 117 yards) got himself in a bit of hot water with Erickson near the end of scrimmage, though. After failing to throw the ball out of bounds under pressure from the defensive line, Osweiler was replaced by Sullivan mid-way through the final drive.
Though Sullivan (11-26, 96 yards, TD) over threw his receivers on several occasions, there's little he could do to lose the starting job. After the scrimmage, Erickson re-affirmed that Sullivan will be the starter.
"That doesn't do anything," Sullivan said of Erickson's endorsement. "I've had the same mindset going into day one. I just keep telling myself, 'You got to keep competing.' If something goes wrong, [the coaches] are willing to change it."
On the other side of the ball, freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict looked like the scrimmage's best defensive player. Not only was he making tackles, but he nearly intercepted a pass that could have easily resulted in a pick six.
"He's always everywhere," Erickson said. "He makes a lot of plays and sometimes he goes where he's not supposed to be. But you don't want to screw him up."
Burfict got up slow on a couple of occasions after plays and appeared to be favoring his injured hip flexor, but was able to play the entire scrimmage. Sophomore linebacker Brandon Magee, however, wasn't as lucky. Magee left the field with an apparent left ankle injury and was walking around on crutches later.