February 7, 2008

Numerous recruits likely to play major roles early

The impact of LOI day could be immediate for the Sun Devils.

Even though the 2007 Sun Devils won ten games with a team not particularly dependent on its since-graduated seniors, at least seven of Wednesday's signees have strong possibilities of seeing significant playing time next year.

ASU has a tough schedule next season (five Pac-10 road games including at USC and Cal, and a match up with Georgia, a likely preseason Top-5 team), which may lead to difficulty matching, much less exceeding the 10-game win total of 2007. As a result, the coaching staff appears willing to use next year as an opportunity for young, talented players to learn on the job.

ASU lost eight starters due to graduation, and while last season's backups will assume some of those spots, some will be taken over by new members of the team.

Terell Carr, Ryan Bass, Spencer Gasu, Eugene Germany, Tom Njunge, Gerell Robinson and Max Tabach are all likely to play in 2008. Lawrence Guy, Kemonte Bateman and Brandon Magee are others who could see the field, depending on how they progress through fall camp.

These new Sun Devils are talented enough to challenge some returners for playing time, and the coaching staff would ideally to get them on the field as soon as possible.

Five of those almost guaranteed to be on the field -- Bass and Robinson being the exceptions -- are junior college transfers.

"When you look at junior college players, it is probably a need," coach Dennis Erickson said Wednesday. "So when you look at the five junior college players that we have, we brought them in to play right away."

With the graduation of Justin Tryon, one gaping hole ASU needed to fill was at the cornerback slot opposite Omar Bolden. And heading into spring practices, which are set to begin next month, that starting spot could be Carr's to win or lose.

While he's not big, 5-foot-9, 170-pounds, Carr runs a legitimate 4.37 40-yard dash and his influence should be felt next year. As a junior college sophomore he had seven interceptions and was an all-state first-team performer.

After Ryan Torain went down with an injury it became clear that ASU did not have a player near his equal at running back.

Keegan Herring is always a threat to take it to the house and Dimitri Nance is a solid situational back, but neither is perceived to be an elite level every-down, top-tier back, that is why ASU recruited Bass and even pursued, without success, Michigan prep star Mark Ingram late in the recruiting cycle.

Bass is well put together (5-foot-10, 195-pounds) and fast (4.4-second 40-yard dash). He should fits nicely into Erickson's smash-mouth, grind-it-out offense.

Also, running back is one position in which there is greater likelihood players can excel as true freshmen.

Will he be ASU's featured back? Maybe. But he will at least see a lot of time on the field next year.

Gasu and Germany are two juniors that should help shore up a defensive line that only sacked opposing quarterbacks 29 times in 2007, ranking seventh in the conference.

And in Erickson's defensive scheme, a base 4-3 defense that prefers to rush four and sit in zone coverage, having linemen that put pressure on the quarterback is very important.

Gasu, a big athletic defensive tackle, could take the starting spot of recently graduated David Smith, and Germany, who played for Michigan two years ago, will give ASU a swing presence with his ability to play end or tackle depending on situation.

"[Germany] is really going to bring a lot to our football team up front athletically," Erickson said. "You don't go to Michigan and play in eight games as a true freshman (actually a redshirt) and not be a pretty good athlete."

But Gasu and Germany are ASU's two junior college transfers who will not be on campus until the fall, and Erickson said, "they will have a lot of learning to do," and, "a lot of catching up to do," when they arrive.

Njunge should help plug a hole in an offensive line that allowed 55 sacks last season, ranking it 117th of the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

"I was talking to the offensive line coach (Gregg Smith) and he just told me that they need help on the line with guys that are graduating, and that I would have a chance at starting at the start of the season," Njunge told ASUDevils.com when he committed in December. "I'm excited."

At 6-foot-4, Robinson, along with Mike Jones, is ASU's tallest receiver; and Robinson is perhaps faster than Jones. In order to help secure his commitment, the coaching staff hinted at immediate playing time, but ASU is deep at the position, so the number of snaps he plans may be limited.

Similar to the situation at cornerback, ASU has one established starter at safety in Troy Nolan, but nobody locked in place to start opposite of him, and the coaching staff would ideally like to see Tabach challenge returning players.

Tabach is already on campus, so the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Glendale Community College transfer will be able to prove himself in spring workouts.

Of the three recruits, Guy, Bateman and Magee, who are still less certain as far as playing time next season goes, Guy perhaps has the best chance of seeing the field.

The real concern with Guy is whether his academic profile will be good enough to pass the NCAA Clearinghouse. If he can qualify, Erickson would like to use him to add immediate depth on the defensive line.

"We like to rotate six, seven, if we have eight, in and out of there," he said. "The great teams play seven or eight defensive linemen every game and we'd like to be able to get to that point."

Bateman may see time next season, but with ASU's depth at receiver, it would probably only be if somebody else got hurt or if he was exceptional in fall camp.

Erickson called Magee an "explosive" linebacker and compared him to Robert James, who graduated in December.

Depending on how the season goes, the ASU coaching staff would like to get all of these guys a lot of experience to help the team grow for the future. Next season could potentially be a less successful year as far as record is concerned, but if these players and the redshirt freshmen who step in progress as much as the coaches expect, the future of the program will be bright.

"I'm real happy with [this class]," Erickson said. "If you add that with the class from last year it looks there is going to be a lot of success."

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