August 18, 2008

Analysis: Tontozona scrimmage wrap-up

Here is a look at some of the major elements we're focused on coming out of the Camp Tontozona scrimmage and heading into the final week of camp.

  • Defensively, everything generally starts up front. It's a pretty good bet that if there are no running lanes open between the tackles, the defensive line play was solid, and especially from the defensive tackles. On Saturday, Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance in particular consistently found themselves running into a brick wall when called upon to hit the inside gaps. Defensive tackles don't usually get a lot of credit or publicity unless at this level unless they are generating sacks, but that shouldn't be the case.

    We felt like David Smith in particular, and also Saia Falahola and Jonathan English were very effective with the top groups, and Bo Moos stood out in his reps with the deep reserves. These guys were able to get penetration and prevent the offensive line from getting to the second level, and also allow the linebackers to come up and make plays. It's one of the main reasons we saw solid performances from guys like Gerald Munns and Shelly Lyons.

    It's difficult in a live setting with so much overall responsibility to see what is happening everywhere to just focus in on the defensive tackle play, but our guess is that a guy like Smith graded out as well as any player from the first or second team defense, and others probably weren't far behind.

    It's not going to be an accolades group, but it could be a pretty good one. When we asked Gerald Munns what he thought of the defense to this point following the scrimmage, he said the defensive line was the best group, even ahead of the strong play of the corners. That isn't possible without solid interior line play, and it certainly isn't possible for a middle linebacker to say it without solid interior line play.

  • When you think of ASU's offensive personnel the term "game changer" probably applies most to Keegan Herring, Mike Jones and Chris McGaha among returning players. Maybe throw Kyle Williams in there as well. It shouldn't be that much of a surprise then, that the offense is seemingly behind the defense and/or had the defense get the best of the recent matchups.

    Sure, Kerry Taylor and Dimitri Nance and others are good solid players, but they aren't your game-breaker types. With Jones and McGaha sitting out most of the last week, including the scrimmage, and Herring getting limited reps simply because there is no reason to work him aggressively and also because of a tender shoulder, we can't really say the first-team defense is further ahead because it's not a fair comparison. Take out Troy Nolan and Omar Bolden and limit Dexter Davis and then maybe we can talk.

    That said, what this tells us is that ASU needs those three guys (Herring, Jones and McGaha) to be healthy this season and stay that way. It's one of the top storylines to follow in the coming weeks.

  • One of the biggest stories from the Camp Tontozona scrimmage is something that didn't happen, and it didn't get a lot of play in the media. Those of us who have been at a majority of practices in the last two weeks have seen a lot of different looks from ASU both offensively and defensively, but not much of that was on display on Saturday. Not a lot of screens, especially receiver screens on offense, a very limited number of certain types of blitz packages.

    Hey, we're guessing there probably weren't any spies amongst the tall pines who decided to make the trek to scout out ASU for opposing schools on the 2008 schedule, but it sure seemed like the Sun Devils approached the scrimmage as though it wanted to avoid the chance of certain things leaking out to its early schedule season opponents. We'd expect the same type of approach on Thursday at Sun Devil Stadium.

    The bigger question is what happens when ASU plays NAU on Aug. 30. Our guess? Save some stuff for Stanford unless it's absolutely needed. It won't be.

  • We still believe, at the end of the day, that offensive line play will determine how successful this team is this season. You can say whatever you want, like sacks are a function of a number of different issues possibly going wrong, and that is true. But you have a senior quarterback who is looking as good as he has ever, a group of running backs that is among the best in the Pac-10, certainly, and a collection of wide receivers that is as talented as any in the conference when healthy.

    So what else can it come down to other than the offensive line play, beyond injuries? Nothing.

    What we have seen over and over in 11-on-11 work this camp is the first-group is usually pretty good, especially with pass protection and especially from Jon Hargis over to Paul Fanaika, and the second-group comes in and gets absolutely swashbuckled. So basically, our conclusion is the first-group can be pretty decent, even better than last year perhaps because the guards are more experienced and improved, Hargis is showing up and the center can hold his own. But if there are injuries here, it will likely be a major problem.

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