More bodies, more competition for Sun Devils

March, 16, 2009
3/16/09
6:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson is throwing names around and reporters pens are racing and it's hard to figure out who's first team, who's second team and who's merely intriguing.

The confusion, by the way, is a good thing.

 
  Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
  Arizona State's Danny Sullivan is one of five guys competing for the starting quarterback spot.
A year after trotting out a handful of young guys who clearly weren't ready to play in the Pac-10 -- particularly on the offensive line -- the Sun Devils' depth chart appears full of potential and full of reasons to believe that a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2008 was merely a blip for Erickson's rebuilding project in the desert.

"We've got bodies for a change," Erickson said. "That also brings in the thing USC has -- competition."

Of course, when spring practices start on March 24, everyone will be asking about the quarterbacks, and Erickson is glad to answer.

And the names start flowing.

He's got five guys competing. Senior Danny Sullivan, who waited patiently while Rudy Carpenter owned the position the previous three-plus seasons, starts at No. 1. Sophomore Samson Szakacsy is No. 2, but he's got to prove his elbow has fully healed.

Redshirt freshman Jack Elway -- yes, that guy's son -- is No. 3 after running the scout team a year ago. Sophomore Chasen Stangel is fourth in the pecking order.

Then there's the tall guy.

He's No. 5 for now, but 6-foot-8, 235-pound Brock Osweiler, a true freshman from Kalispell, Mont., has already enrolled and already has tongues wagging.

"He's got a chance," Erickson said.

Coy isn't a term often applied to Erickson, but there's just a hint of that when he fields questions about Osweiler. Time's winged chariot might be hurrying near, as coach Andrew Marvell once told reporters, but Osweiler's candidacy could linger into the fall as the Sun Devils' coaches winnow the field to two or three guys.

"Age has nothing to do with who will be the guy," Erickson said. "None of them have any experience."

That's not completely true. Sullivan has seen spot action. He went 15-of-43 for 151 yards last year with two interceptions and one touchdown. But Erickson isn't counting those uninspiring numbers, or counting out Sullivan, whose lack of mobility is countered by his experience and strong arm.

"We've seen Danny Sullivan every day for two years, and I think he's very underrated," Erickson said.

Of course, quarterback isn't everything. The Sun Devils felt pretty good about Carpenter last year, but their inability to protect him over the past two seasons seemed to catch up to them as the season wore on and the record-setting hurler seemed to lose his rhythm.

Which brings us back to the exact same Big Issue Above All Others ASU had a year ago. Any Sun Devils fans know what's coming?

"Bottom line is you've got to block somebody," Erickson said. "Bottom line is you've got to be able to run the football."

That is where Erickson is most optimistic about improvement. He now sees a for-real two-deep depth chart with more guys who look like they can play.

The only certainty is workout-warrior Shawn Lauvao moving from guard to left tackle. After that, it's wide open.

On the other side of the ball, there's also going to be competition and player-shuffling, but the questions are more pleasant.

"Defensively, we've got a lot of good players coming back," Erickson said. "That's a strength for us."

The biggest position switch is Travis Goethel moving from strongside linebacker to the middle, replacing Morris Wooten, where he'll compete with former starter Gerald Munns, who's returning after leaving the team last season for personal reasons. The arrival of prep All-American Vontaze Burfict in the fall figures to further thicken the plot.

The biggest competition will be to replace All-Pac-10 safety Troy Nolan. The list of candidates for Nolan's spot -- and strong safety for that matter -- includes Clint Floyd, Max Tabach, Ryan McFoy, Keelan Johnson, Jarrell Holman and freshman Matthew Tucker, who's already enrolled.

So, yeah -- whew -- that's a lot of guys.

Which has Erickson expecting his Sun Devils to emerge from spring practices believing 2008 was the program equivalent of eating a bad oyster.

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