Spring football is often referred to as a double-edged sword. All of the drills, countless repetitions, increased emphasis on fundamentals and multiple intra-squad scrimmages are necessary evils of spring practice.
Although the points and touchdowns scored during these workouts do not count towards the games in the fall, the injuries sustained will have a big impact and prove long lasting.
Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils landed on each side of the sword, picking up serious knee injuries in back-to-back workouts and losing key pieces of ASU’s championship puzzle.
First, on Thursday night, word came out regarding starting wide receiver T.J. Simpson, who injured his knee during practice.
Simpson, who is expected to have an MRI exam this week, said, “right now, it doesn’t look good.”
Last fall, Simpson emerged as a go-to target and deep threat for the ASU offense, hauling in 29 passes for 481 yards. Simpson was ASU’s leading returning receiver entering his senior season.
“When I heard the pop, I knew it wasn’t normal.” Simpson responded.
However, injuries during spring and fall camp are just that, normal.
When spring practice commenced, Erickson’s squad had minimal flaws. With 18 starters returning, it was easy to buy into what Erickson and the Sun Devils were selling.
A bone-jarring defense tag-teamed with a prolific offense ready to take the next step in the college football world, was everything fans in the valley of the sun could hope for.
But hopes and dreams of a Pacific-12 Championship were put on hold, once again, with a catastrophic knee injury.
Omar Bolden, ASU’s senior captain and unanimous first team All-Pac-10 cornerback, left Saturday’s scrimmage on the third play. The severity of Bolden’s knee injury is still unknown, but initial views of the injury were not promising.
Bolden’s potentially lengthy loss extends further than just the Sun Devil’s lockdown cornerback spot. As a team leader, the Sun Devils grew up as a cohesive unit alongside Bolden.
As the shining star in Erickson’s debut recruiting class, Bolden took the Sun Devil fan base by storm both on and off of the field. From the moment Bolden pledged to the sun-drenched Tempe campus, maroon and gold fans adored him.
Who can ever forget Bolden’s words?
“I think it might be…No. Ain’t gonna be a Trojan. I’m going to be an Arizona State Sun Devil!”
After beginning his career as a freshman All-American in 2007, Omar Bolden has appeared in 41 games throughout his career, including 22 consecutive starts from ’07-’09.
Even to this point in Bolden’s career, after many high school standouts fall by the wayside, Bolden has caught the eye of many prominent NFL organizations to continue his career on the next level.
The opportunity to turn pro was appetizing, but as Bolden said during his January 7th press conference, “I have decided to take my talents to the next level…I mean, take my talents to the next level, at this program.”
Expectations for a breakout season by the Sun Devils and Bolden kept the playmaker’s talents in Tempe.
Now, it appears those talents will be sidelined indefinitely.
As the injury bug hit the Sun Devils, fans, players and coaches all felt a swift kick in the gut.
Erickson shared that sentiment as he said, “When you see two guys like that go down, you almost feel like not practicing.”
During spring practice and fall camp, fans hold their collective breath until the first game’s starting lineup is announced. Now, fear of further injuries to even more prominent utility players is a concern.
A week ago, the Sun Devils appeared oozing with depth. Now, with vocal leaders and star players sidelined, the perceived depth will be put to work sooner rather than later.
With starting safeties Eddie Elder and Keelan Johnson sidelined for precautionary reasons this spring, along with Bolden’s injury, the secondary is a worrisome area for maroon and gold supporters moving forward.
Although there is never any good news regarding injuries, on the bright side, the Sun Devils have five months to fill in the gaps and keep hopes and dreams alive for a breakout season in 2011.
In the meantime, Erickson and the Sun Devils will try to rehabilitate the swagger that’s lost with Bolden and Simpson.