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ASU Football: "Spring Surprises"

Arizona State doesn't lack for star power, but which role players surprised the coaching staff this spring and could see playing time this fall? Find out with our "Spring Surprises".

Deantre Lewis checks in on our "Spring Surprises" list.
Deantre Lewis checks in on our "Spring Surprises" list.
Ezra Shaw

Spring football has come and gone, but there are a handful of players that left a lasting impression with their recent performances.

The Sun Devil stars are well established, but it's going to take more than a combination of Taylor Kelly and Will Sutton to turn Arizona State into one of college football's elite.

With the 2013 season still four months away, there's plenty of time for players to build upon their spring experience and work themselves into critical roles come fall.

After attending practices and taking in the annual spring game, we've compiled a list of our top five "Spring Surprises."

To be considered for selection, the "surprise" players must appear primed for a significant increase in playing time from 2012 to this season and must also have demonstrated a progression in skills.

We believe our list reflects the Sun Devils who have gained the trust of their coaches' and look ready for a breakout season. However, we don't have room for everyone; so if a player caught your eye this spring, let us know in the comments section below the article.

Without further ado, here are your "Spring Surprises".

1. Rick Smith-Wide Receiver

With the loss of Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles, the Sun Devil receiving corps is in desperate need of a speed threat that can stretch the field. Most of the maroon and gold faithful believed the offense would receive that infusion when recruits Jaelen Strong and Cameron Smith entered the fray, but Rick Smith stepped up in a big way.

Taylor Kelly developed definite chemistry with Smith and the 5-foot-9 sophomore-to-be routinely found the end zone during 7-on-7 passing drills as well as scrimmage repetitions.

One facet of Smith's game that stood out was his ability to move with the football in his hands. Smith can cut on a dime and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell drew up plays to motion Smith into the backfield for option sets. Don't be surprised if Smith carves his way into an all-purpose role this fall because he's certainly proved that his versatility is a valuable weapon.

2. Lloyd Carrington-Defensive Back

The Pittsburgh transfer followed Todd Graham to Tempe and his impressive spring should help build his confidence level. Carrington started off the spring at the safety position, but worked his way into the rotation at the boundary cornerback position where the Sun Devils will attempt to replace Deveron Carr.

Carrington has an athletic body and his 6-foot frame is ideally suited for the cornerback position. The fact that he knows Graham's system from their previous pit stop adds to the mutual confidence Carrington and Graham have developed.

If Graham urged Carrington to try his hand at corner instead of safety, he clearly believes that Carrington can develop into an impact player at that position.

Finally, Carrington's ability to shed blocks as a physical presence in stopping the run could help him continue his ascent up the depth chart.

3. Gannon Conway-Defensive End

With an injury to last year's starter Junior Onyeali, the defensive end position was up for grabs this spring. Though Onyeali will likely reclaim the spot when healthy, Gannon Conway made the most of the incumbent's absence.

At 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 264 pounds, Conway is a physical specimen who could add much needed depth to the defensive line. After transferring in from Mesa Community College for the 2010 season, Conway has slowly but surely risen through the ranks.

Last season, the rising senior recorded his second career sack and also added nine tackles in limited playing time. This spring, Conway demonstrated great progress and maintained a consistent spot with the first team defense despite pressure from Davon Coleman to split time.

The coaching staff praised Conway for his work ethic and drive and it showed in the spring game as he made his way into the backfield several times. If Conway can dominate against the second team offense when Onyeali returns to practice, he might force the coaching staff's hand and earn a more significant role.

4. Deantre Lewis-Running Back

It's no secret that Lewis is one of the most talented athletes in the Sun Devil football program. After racking up 539 rushing yards and averaging nearly six yards per carry as a freshman, Lewis suffered a devastating injury when a bullet struck him.

Last season, Lewis never appeared to be 100 percent and the coaching staff asked him to try his hand at defensive back midway through the season. This spring, Lewis made a triumphant return to the running back position and looks to have regained his speed and strength.

The coaching staff praised Lewis' resilience, and he brings a renewed sense of passion to the field. Lewis was especially impressive during team run periods as his leg drive and ability to find running lanes against the first team defense separated him from the pack.

Marion Grice and D.J. Foster are still the primary backfield options until proven otherwise, but expect Lewis to figure prominently into Mike Norvell's offensive scheme.

5. Darwin Rogers-Tight End

Chris Coyle has asserted himself as one of the nation's premier tight ends. Highly touted recruit De'Marieya Nelson committed to Arizona State on signing day in hopes of taking over for Coyle when he graduates. So where does this leave senior Darwin Rogers?

From the looks of spring practices, Rogers is right in the thick of things.

At 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds, Rogers definitely has a size advantage over Coyle and his run blocking skills are an asset. However, the junior college transfer isn't just a one-trick pony.

This spring, Rogers displayed his surprising speed and mixed in frequently in Arizona State's new dual tight end formations. With opposing defenses keying so much on Coyle, Rogers can add another element to the offense and the Sun Devils won't lose any production from the tight end position.

Tight end is a crowded spot, but Rogers proved throughout the spring that he has the athleticism to beat opposing defenses through the air and deliver support in run blocking.