Since Dennis Erickson was named Arizona State football coach in December, much has been said about the gridiron knowledge the Sun Devils will gain from the two-time national championship winner.
As ASU begins its 95th season with the start of practice today, Erickson also will spend time in school.
“I know two fight songs in the Pac-10,” said Erickson, whose five previous college coaching locales include Washington State and Oregon State. “I’m about to learn a third. I imagine that I’ll be learning that at camp.”
And the music critiques from players will be relentless, as current and former Sun Devil coaches can attest. The fight-song auditions figure to be a big part of bonding after the team makes the trek to Camp Tontozona outside Payson next Wednesday.
Before then, there are seven practices at the Kajikawa Facility in Tempe, including two workouts on Tuesday. There are 28 practices — including 10 at Camp Tontozona — before the Sun Devils’ season-opening game against San Jose State on Sept. 1 at Sun Devil Stadium.
“It was a shock to see the coach that recruited me leave, but I understand the business side of things,” senior center Mike Pollak said. “You bring in a guy who has won two titles, and you learn from that type of experience. We’re excited for the season and playing for coach Erickson.”
Pollak made his statement at the podium in a Los Angeles hotel ballroom at Pac-10 media day. Sitting next to him, Erickson said, “Good answer.”
ASU is paying Erickson a guaranteed $5.6 million over the next five seasons to raise the level of a program that has won eight games or more just six times in the last 25 years.
With eight home games and a roster featuring several key returning players, Erickson steps into an ideal situation. And at Washington State, Miami (Fla.) and Oregon State, he got big results in a hurry.
As a result, the college football cognoscenti is keeping an eye on the Sun Devils as a potential surprise team in 2007.
The school bell rings today.
“Do I think (contending for a national championship) can happen here? Yes, no question,” Erickson said. “It’s going to get done. I am very impatient, but hopefully, we can do some big things this year. That’s what it’s all about.”
TOP 10 QUESTIONS HEADING INTO TRAINING CAMP, 2007
1. How will the transition to Dennis Erickson progress?
Erickson (left) has had little trouble getting his players’ attention on football matters; after all, those two national championship rings buy a coach a lot of credibility. His message to Arizona State is simple: This is a game plan that has worked everywhere I have been; execute it, and we’ll go places. There will be lots of teaching during camp, as big parts of the offensive and defensive playbooks have yet to be implemented. Something to watch — though, if it emerges, it will likely not be during the preseason — is how the Sun Devils respond to their coach’s let-players-be-players philosophy. Although Erickson preaches accountability, could ASU choke on the freedoms he gives?
2. Can defensive tackle depth be found?
No position is of bigger concern than the middle of the defensive line. Reliable Michael Marquardt is a starter, but nobody else stood out during the spring. Untested junior David Smith is the other projected first-stringer, and there is little experience among the backups at both positions. Redshirt freshmen Zach Niusulu, Jon Hargis and Saia Falahola (a converted offensive lineman) and junior Alex Asi will be asked to grow up fast, and 330-pound true freshman Jonathan English should get a look.
3. Who wants to be a starting cornerback?
Senior Justin Tryon does, and he is penciled in at one spot. Who mans the other side of the field is anybody’s guess. Highly touted true freshman Omar Bolden will be given every opportunity to start, but Chris Baloney — who battled injuries last year but was serviceable when he played — will have the experience edge. Junior-college transfer Jarrell Holman is in the mix, while senior Littrele Jones and sophomores Grant Crunkleton and Travis Smith need to prove they can be Pac-10 cover guys. We’ll say it again: The move of receiver Rudy Burgess to cornerback last year spoke volumes about what Dirk Koetter’s staff thought about the talent on hand.
4. How will the linebackers shake out?
Linebacker is the deepest unit on the defense, and it should be fun seeing how the threesome evolves from now until the season-opening game on Sept. 1. The first-stringers to start the fall figure to be the same ones that ended the spring — JC transfer Morris Wooten in the middle, sophomore Mike Nixon on the weak side and sophomore Travis Goethel at strong-side LB. Converted safety Ryan McFoy could push to start at SLB, and Chad Lindsey and Jeff Bereuter had solid springs. The X-factor is senior Robert James, a former starter who missed the second half of last season and spring due to concussion-related headaches.
5. Is Rudy renewed?
Quarterback Rudy Carpenter’s tumultuous ’06 was well-documented; the junior has since vowed to make football fun again. Carpenter (below) is energized by an Erickson offensive system — shotgun formations, spreading the field, scrambling and throwing on the run — tailored to his talents, and he hopes that some subtle mechanical adjustments make him even more effective.
6. Who will be the outside passing targets?
The Carpenter of two years ago will not emerge without more consistency from the wide receivers, whose production as a unit last year barely exceeded what Derek Hagan compiled by himself in 2004 and ’05. There is great potential in sophomores Kyle Williams and Brandon Smith. Burgess (ankle) and Nate Kimbrough (knee) are back from injuries, and Tyrice Thompson was perhaps the offense’s best player during spring practice. Michael Jones and Chris McGaha need to develop more consistency. Ex-running back Rodney Glass is a burner but extremely rough around the edges.
7. How will Zach Krula hold up?
Krula is one of ASU’s most inspiring stories, back after missing almost two full seasons due to a gruesome broken ankle suffered in the third game of 2005. Spring was successful for Krula — who has moved from right guard to tackle — but the Sun Devils need his body to withstand the daily rigors of fall.
The top seven offensive linemen all have starting experience, but overall depth could become an issue if one of them misses time with an injury. The failure of 335-pound freshman Po’u Palelei to academically qualify stripped the line of a potential immediate contributor.
8. How will Ryan Torain’s supporting cast perform?
Torain, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2006 and All-America candidate (right), will get the bulk of the rushing attempts, but the Sun Devils need to sort out a parade of talented running backs behind him. Speedy, athletic Keegan Herring ran for 870 yards as a freshman in 2005, and sophomore Dimitri Nance has shown speed, sharp cutting and the moxie to run inside. Jarrell Woods should be a factor; after all — as was said about Torain last year — JC transfers are not brought in to sit on the bench. Can Shaun DeWitty, who has battled back pain, earn carries? Erickson has ruled out moving any of the reserve RBs to other positions.
9. Can Thomas Weber kick?
The previous coaching staff thought enough of Weber, who was at Michigan State briefly before walking on at ASU, to award him a scholarship last season. However, the redshirt freshman had an inconsistent spring, despite making a 52-yarder during the maroon-gold scrimmage. ASU has few, if any, options if Weber struggles.
10. Will anyone emerge unexpectedly?
The best thing about camp is this simple truth: It does not lie. Players that impress during the next four weeks can be major contributors during the season. In 2005, Jamaal Lewis had a big preseason, then led Division I-A tight ends in average yards per catch. Last year, Torain and Goethel served notice that they were the real deal. Of the players not already mentioned, we’ll pick one on each side of the ball as breakout possibilities: true freshman wide receiver Kerry Taylor and junior safety Rodney Cox.
2007 ASU TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE
KAJIKAWA PRACTICE FACILITY
Today, 6:30-9 p.m. (helmets)
Friday, 6:30-9 p.m. (helmets)
Saturday, 6-8:20 p.m. (shells)
Sunday, 5:20-7:50 p.m. (shells)
Monday, 7-9:15 p.m. (pads)
Tuesday, 8:30-11 a.m. (shells)
Tuesday, 7-9:15 p.m. (pads)
Wednesday, 4:30-6:30 p.m. (pads)
Aug. 9, 8:50-11:05 a.m. (shells)
Aug. 9, 4-6:15 p.m. (pads)
Aug. 10, 3-5:15 p.m. (pads)
Aug. 11, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (scrimmage)
Aug. 12, 3-5:15 p.m. (pads)
Aug. 13, 8:50-11:05 a.m. (shells)
Aug. 13, 4-6:15 p.m. (pads)
Aug. 14, 3-5:15 p.m. (pads)
Aug. 15, 10:05 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (shells)
KAJIKAWA PRACTICE FACILITY
Aug. 16, 7:15-9:15 p.m. (pads)
Aug. 17, 7-9:30 p.m. (scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium)
Aug. 19, 5:45-8 p.m.
Aug. 21, 5:40-8 p.m.
Aug. 22, 5:40-8 p.m.
Aug. 23, 4-5:30 p.m.
Aug. 24, 5:30-7:30 p.m. (mock game at Sun Devil Stadium; fan appreciation afterward)
Aug. 26, 5:45-8 p.m.