The focus of Arizona State's spring is going to be on offense.
The Sun Devils were ninth in the conference in total offense last season, eighth in scoring (22.33), unable to take advantage of a salty defense that allowed a Pac-10-low 297.58 yards per game. Coach Dennis Erickson, coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in his career, changed offensive coordinators.
Gone is Rich Olson and in is Noel Mazzone, which will mean more of a no-huddle approach and more spread offensive principles. Mazzone spent the past four years with the New York Jets -- as a receivers coach for three of those years and as a personnel consultant last season.
He has extensive college experience, including serving as the offensive coordinator at Mississippi, Auburn and North Carolina State.
With the new coordinator and some new philosophies comes what should be an intense quarterback battle when spring practice opens March 30. There are three prime candidates to replace Danny Sullivan.
Sophomore Brock Osweiler was the primary backup for most of last season. He's an intriguing 6-8 prospect who earned raves from Erickson for most of the season but made only one start and still has a lot to prove.
Junior Samson Szakacsy started the final two games, but was ineffective. He adds a running threat, but the thing to watch with him is the health of his throwing elbow, which wasn't 100 percent, even when he started.
The candidate that perhaps most excites the fan base is Michigan transfer Steven Threet, who started eight games for the Wolverines in 2007. He sat out last fall as a transfer but reportedly looked good in practices.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Beyond the quarterback battle, Arizona State has to establish other playmakers on offense. Running back Dimitri Nance is gone after rushing for 795 yards behind a subpar offensive line. Cameron Marshall did some good things as a true freshman last season (64 rushes, 280 yards) but might not be the home run threat ASU needs. Speedy Jamal Miles will be tried at running back after shifting from receiver. Freshman RB Deantre Lewis could be in the mix in the fall.
Leading receivers Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha are gone, so this is an important spring for senior Kerry Taylor and junior Gerell Robinson. Robinson, in particular, needs to make a move and live up to his high school press clippings. Watch for Oregon transfer receiver Aaron Pflugrad at receiver, as well.
ASU has depth to fill holes on defense, with sophomore Greg Smith apparently first in line to take over for speed rusher Dexter Davis, although Smith will have competition.
BUILDING BLOCKS: ASU has one of the most ferocious hitters in the West to lead the defense -- sophomore Vontaze Burfict, who finished with 69 tackles, including seven for loss and two sacks. He's a physical specimen and an NFL prototype, but he has to play with more smarts and control after drawing several personal foul penalties as a true freshman. Junior DT Lawrence Guy leads a defensive line that returns three starters. After two seasons of injuries and instability on the offensive line, Arizona State should have a full cupboard, including left guard Jon Hargis and center Garth Gerhart.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You'll probably see as fast an offensive team that you've seen in a long time here, and us taking advantage of all that speed. We've got the right guys to do this, and we'll continue to recruit to that type of guy." -- Coach Dennis Erickson, in the Arizona Republic.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The heat is on Dennis Erickson, who started his ASU career with an 8-0 record but has gone 11-18 since then, including back-to-back losing seasons. What happens if he doesn't win in his fourth season? The defense should still be fast and good, although there is work to do replace DE Dexter Davis and LB Mike Nixon, a productive, smart player. The Sun Devils aren't going to climb far, though, unless the new offense takes hold and one of the quarterbacks grabs the reins. The preseason ratings won't be very high for ASU, coming off a 4-8 record.
WR George Bell -- Arizona State has to replace starting wide receivers Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams, and Bell, from Southwestern Community College, should be at the front of the line. Bell, who was rated the No. 3 junior college wideout by Rivals.com, is enrolled for spring. He had two-year junior college totals of 134 catches for 2,068 yards and 17 touchdowns.
OT Brice Schwab -- He's huge at 6-8, 320. Schwab was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 2 junior college offensive lineman and the ninth-best overall JC prospect. He is enrolled for the spring ... and that left tackle job is wide open.
RB Deantre Lewis -- One of ASU's top freshman signees, Lewis adds speed to a backfield that needs a bit more flash. He rushed 237 times for 2,383 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior at Norco (Calif.) High School, which has become a pipeline for ASU since Dennis Erickson became coach. Lewis was rated the 20th-best running back in the country by Rivals.com.
--WR Brandon Smith, who missed the entire 2007 and 2009 seasons due to injury, was granted an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA.
--Junior CB Omar Bolden missed the final eight games of the season due to a knee injury. He should return to a starting role in 2010.
--PK Thomas Weber, the 2007 Lou Groza Award winner, suffered a groin injury early in the season and never regained his All-American form. In fact, when he made a 35-yard extra point (after a penalty) against Arizona in the season finale, it was his longest made kick of the season.
Previous Report: 03/25/2010