Arizona State Football: 4 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2013

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Arizona State Football: 4 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2013
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Arizona State is off to a 2-1 start thanks to the impressive play of a few key players.

While the Arizona State football team's 2-1 start isn't terribly surprising, there have been a few players who have surprised fans with their performance thus far.

While Will Sutton hasn't been putting up the same numbers he did last year, his teammates have stepped up to make big plays.

Salamo Fiso and Osahon Irabor have put together solid campaigns thus far and helped the Sun Devils field a fierce defense, even though ASU's run defense has still looked suspect at times.

On the other side of the ball, the story has really been the lack of weapons at quarterback Taylor Kelly's disposal. The only consistent offensive threat so far this year has been Jaelen Strong.

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When ASU needs a big play or a third-down conversion, the team has turned to Strongand he's delivered.

One sour spot for the Sun Devils thus far, however, has been their lack of special teams production. A lot of this lies on the back of Zane Gonzalez, who was thought to be the answer to ASU's special team woes.

Instead, he has caused many fans to pull their hair out.

 

Salamo Fiso

Fiso is a redshirt freshman linebacker who has played so well this season, he is close to forcing his way into the starting lineup.

ASU head coach Todd Graham told azcentral.com's Doug Haller he sees something special in Fiso:

(He’s) making plays, man. He still has not figured out what he’s doing completely, but that guy is going to be a great player. He’s got what you can’t teach. He’s got great instincts as a linebacker.

It's those instincts that have helped Fiso already tally nine tackles through three games.

Against Stanford, Fiso was arguably the best Sun Devil on the field defensively. The linebacker came into the game and shocked Stanford's offensive line with his ability to shoot gaps and wreak havoc. As Ben Haber of House of Sparky writes, Fiso forced Stanford to change its game plan:

Salamo Fiso's four tackles don't stand out on paper, but he showed why Todd Graham considers him the defense's 12th starter. Stanford milked the clock and managed to pick up solid gains despite the presumed run calls, and Fiso changed the plan. David Shaw was forced to call a trick quarterback keeper bootleg because of Fiso's ability to clog the running lanes.

Fiso's ASU bio says he's a "tenacious and aggressive linebacker," and so far he's living up to that billing.

 

Osahon Irabor

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Irabor's ability to rush the passer has become a valuable asset for ASU.

While Irabor was expected to be a playmaker on the Sun Devil's defense, his ability to help out stopping the run has surprised many.

The senior cornerback has been able to apply tons of pressure off the edge and has already accounted for 17 tackles through three games.

He has also been able to get off his block and help make tackles in the backfield as well.

While ASU's front seven isn't putting up quite the numbers some expected, Irabor is providing stability and excellent pressure from a position not typically known for pressuring the opponent's backfield.

Irabor is becoming a force to be reckoned with not only as a shutdown corner, but also as a run-stopping asset.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

 

Jaelen Strong

There isn't much negative to say about Strong's season thus far.

He's racked up 330 receiving yards on 24 receptions with two touchdowns through the Sun Devil's first three games, all while becoming Kelly's favorite target.

He has a special combination of size and speed that make him a matchup nightmare for any team.

Strong seems to always be on the same page as Kelly and has the ability to attack the ball with his size and leaping ability. He and Kelly have mastered the back-shoulder fade to the point where it can't be defended without taking a pass interference penalty.

Dan Kadar of SB Nation says he sees plenty of NFL potential in Strong after only a few games:

At 6'3, 205 pounds, Strong plays a lot like Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos. He can go up and catch tough passes and is dangerous on vertical routes.

Strong may not be one-and-done at Arizona State like Patterson was at Tennessee, but he sure looks NFL ready at this point.

That's high praise for a guy who has only played in three FBS games.

It was hard to say preseason the kind of impact Strong would have on ASU's offense, but it seems all to clear now that he will be the guy the Sun Devils turn to when the game is on the line.

 

Zane Gonzalez

When Gonzalez committed to ASU, fans rejoiced praising him as the savior of ASU's kicking issues.

Now, just three games into the year, it appears all those issues are still alive and well in Tempe with no clear solution in sight.

Gonzalez is only 4-7 on the year and hasn't shown any signs of consistency thus far.

The freshman kicker didn't miss a single kick or extra point his entire senior year and only missed two kicks his whole junior.

What happened when he came to Tempe?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Gonzalez has to get into a rhythm for ASU to have success in 2013.

That's the question on the minds of Sun Devils fans. It's surprising that he hasn't been able to settle into a rhythm thus far, and it's alarming to say the least.

Last year, Alex Garoutte forced plenty of ASU fans to pull their hair out, and it seems Gonzalez is headed down that same path this year.

 

All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from ESPN.com. 

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