Well, folks, it's nearly here. Arizona State football opens fall camp tomorrow.
Earlier in the week, we brought you the positional previews, and now we're going to take a look at the biggest camp battles that will unfold over the next four weeks in the lead up to August 30th's season opener against NAU.
Cornerback - Deveron Carr vs. Robert Nelson
Senior Deveron Carr has all of the tools to be a shutdown corner. From his size (5'11", 193) to his speed, Carr has flashed the potential that lies within (see: 2011 vs. USC). However, the consistency that is key to a top-flight corner has yet eluded him, a situation not aided by some nagging injury issues over the last two years.
The latest injury during the spring opened the door for Robert Nelson to shine. Nelson transferred to ASU after the 2010 season from Louisiana-Monroe, and after sitting out last season, has opened many eyes. While Carr has great size, Nelson is smaller (5'10", 167) and relies on blanketing coverage technique to compensate.
Carr emerged from spring practices as a starter opposite Osahon Irabor, but the gap between the two has closed. At worst, the loser will still see plenty of time, but after the secondary woes of a season ago, having consistency at cornerback will be a priority for Coach Graham this fall.
The questions at wide receiver have been among the most discussed issues surrounding the Sun Devil offense this offseason, and for good reason. The team lost 66% of last season's receiving yards, and their leading returning receiver is still learning the intricacies of the position.
Nevertheless, Jamal Miles will be the starter at the Z position, and Kevin Ozier has the inside track to start at the Y, or slot, receiver spot. That leaves a battle at the X spot up in the air on the outside.
After spring, Rashad Ross and J.J. Holliday were listed as co-starters, and joining them this fall will be juco transfer Alonzo Agweunu.
Ross has world class speed on the outside, and showed great promise late in 2011, posting a 108-yard game against Cal. He showed some improvements in his hands and route running during the spring, but still has refinements to make. Holliday was one of the offense's top performers through the spring. He showed off great hands, crisp routes. While he doesn't have the speed of Ross, he can still beat defenders deep. The wild card is Agwuenu. At 6'4" and 210 pounds, he has the big frame that Gerell Robinson used to such great effect last season. He was very productive at the juco ranks, and if he can translate that onto the practice field, he should be a factor early in the year.
Let's get the obvious out of the way right now. No one is unseating starter Cameron Marshall. One of the nation's best running backs, Marshall will once again be the workhorse of the Sun Devil offense.
After him, however, it will get interesting.
There's only one football on the field, and ASU's stable of talented backs will battle it out during fall camp to see who will get the touches not bestowed upon Marshall.
James "Tank" Morrison was the star of the spring, and he brings a powerful running style. The door was opened for him to shine during spring by a shoulder injury to the small and speedy Kyle Middlebrooks, who should be back to full strength sometime during camp. The once dynamic Deantre Lewis has yet to regain his rare burst following last season's gunshot injury, but he was very solid during spring and continues to improve.
Joining that existing corps are two four-star members of the 2012 class. The big name is freshman D.J. Foster, whose rare speed and agility should make him a factor in both the running and passing games. Juco transfer Marion Grice is another talented power runner at 215 pounds who has a chance to impress.
How the coaches divide the carries and get creative with how they employ these weapons during fall will be fun to watch. Guys like Foster, Middlebrooks and Lewis have the ability to shift out and play some wide receiver, and the coaches have stated they will use multiple backs at once, and those combinations could get interesting.
Linebacker - Everyone not named Brandon Magee vs. everyone else not named Brandon Magee
What is known: Brandon Magee should be back to 100% sometime during camp. Steffon Martin is a supremely talented juco transfer, and should have the inside track at another linebacker spot. That's about it.
That leaves a lot of talented players vying for the remaining playing time at the position. Kipeli Koniseti and Grandville Taylor each had excellent springs filling in for the recovering Magee. Koniseti in particular is intriguing, with his NFL-caliber size at 6'3", 243 pounds and ability against the run.
The team will also see three incoming true freshmen join the team in Salamo Fiso, Matt Rowe and Carlos Mendoza. All are similar in size, at 6'1" to 6'2" and 220 pounds. Mendoza has good pass rushing ability, and Fiso's ability and range may give him an edge, but each player should get a chance to show his stuff given the questions at the position.
Well, of course.
The biggest storyline for the program since Todd Graham's hiring, the three-man quarterback battle went undecided during the spring and spills over into the fall.
Although no starter has been named, many indications are that it is Mike Bercovici's job to lose. The most experienced member of the group, Bercovici has great intangibles, a growing grasp of the offense, and is a much more polished passer than the rest. The most gifted player is redshirt freshman Michael Eubank. At 6'5", 242 pounds, he is a devastating running threat with a cannon of an arm. However, his passing is unrefined, and will need to show off great improvement there. Kelly is behind the pair of Mikes, but a very good performance showing in the spring game still has the dual-threat in the competition.
Another aspect to watch will be whether the much discussed two-quarterback system is implemented, with Bercovici seeing the majority of the snaps and Eubank seeing particular packages, a la Florida with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. Anything is possible in this high-octane program.