Q: Wide receivers Chris McGaha and Michael Jones combined for close to 1,600 yards receiving last season, making them the top returning tandem in terms of yardage in the Pac-10. Is this the best receiving tandem in the country for 2008?
A: Best in the Pac-10 probably, nationwide definitely in the top 10. Jones, who also plays centerfield for the Arizona State baseball team, is a heady and physical receiver that more often than not outmuscles his defenders.
If you need a first down in a passing situation, McGaha is your receiver. He’s extremely sure-handed, deceptively fast, and has a knack for making acrobatic catches. He was front and center on the team’s 2007 highlight reel.
Q: Can quarterback Rudy Carpenter regain his freshman form, when he completed 68 percent of his passes, throwing for 17 TDs and only two interceptions?
A: This year the Sun Devil offense will feature more four-wide receiver and empty backfield sets. This should help Carpenter immensely, and his accuracy and overall numbers should improve as a result. Furthermore, as a senior quarterback who now has experience under the Dennis Erickson system, a great 2008 campaign is a reasonable expectation.
Q: Are Herring and Nance going to split carries at running back, or has one emerged coming out of spring practice as the clear cut starter?
A: Herring and Nance don’t fit the part of the proverbial workhorse that can carry the pigskin 25-30 times a game. Therefore, the coaching staff is comfortable having both of them split the lion's share of carries, and that was the case for half of last season after Ryan Torain went down.
Furthermore, there are other capable running backs such as Shaun DeWitty and Jarrell Woods waiting in the wings, as well as incoming freshman Ryan Bass, who can spread the load even more.
Q: Arizona State's offensive line was among the nation's worst protecting the passer. Can you provide us with any details to give Sun Devil fans hope that this won't be the case this year?
A: Erickson said at the end of spring practice that the offensive line is a work in progress. The blocking schemes have been simplified and are better suited for this year’s unproven, but more athletic front five.
The spread offense will naturally call for more three-step drops by Carpenter, which should cut down on the sack opportunities and blitzes from opposing defenses. The ASU running backs have improved their pass blocking which will aid in the sack prevention cause.
Q: What can we expect out of defensive ends Luis Vasquez and Dexter Davis? Anyone watching a Sun Devil game last year noticed these two physical defensive players.
A: Davis is undoubtedly one of the less talked about defensive ends in the conference. He’s an already proven pass rusher, and with Vasquez’s performance in the second half of the 2007 season, there’s legitimate reason for optimism concerning this tandem.
Vasquez could make the prospects of double-teaming Davis less appealing than they were last year. The depth behind these two is suspect right now and time will tell if this will affect their performance.
Q: Will safety Troy Nolan be able to continue his production without his running mate Josh Barrett, and is highly talented cornerback Omar Bolden ready to have a breakout season?
A: Barrett actually had a very average senior year which was also marred by injuries. Moreover, senior Rodney Cox was one of spring’s best performers and showed the ability to compliment the play of Nolan. A drop in production from Nolan, and from the safety group in general, is unlikely.
Bolden showed in spring that he’s poised to build on his freshman All-American season. Nonetheless, Justin Tryon left big shoes to fill, so the contribution from the opposite corner spot will obviously dictate some of Bolden’s fortunes in 2008.
Q: What do the Sun Devils have to do offensively and defensively to compete for a Pac-10 title, and more importantly, a BCS National Championship?
A: Offensively, the Sun Devils should have a very effective spread offense that can only increase its production from 2007 and mask any deficiencies that may exist on the offensive line. This side of the ball is seasoned at the skill positions and has the potential to be lethal and up to par with other BCS teams’ offenses.
ASU’s kicker Thomas Weber is the reigning Lou Groza Award winner which only enhances the capability to put points on the board. The success rate of ASU’s offense keeping defenses off-balance with its wide-open schemes will be a significant factor in the Sun Devils’ 2008 record.
In its three losses the lack of speed on ASU’s defense was noticeable. However, an upgrade in this area is starting to take shape. The Sun Devils’ defensive line is receiving a much-needed boost, and if its newcomers can make a significant early impact, especially in the pass rush area, it can compensate for the question marks that exist at cornerback.
The linebacker core is fairly rich in talent and is expected to engage in more blitzing than it had last year. Overall, a faster and more daring defense is expected to emerge in 2008 and is an essential ingredient in the recipe that could produce a potential Pac-10 champion.