August 23, 2008

Season Preview: QB

Camp is over and the Sun Devils are now beginning to gear up for the NAU game a week away. After attending every practice of camp, has a report on what fans can expect from their team at each position this year. Here is a detailed look at the quarterback position.

ASU returns the most accomplished signal caller in the Pac-10, senior Rudy Carpenter, who leads all active players in the league with 7,998 passing yards, 586 completions, 65 touchdown completions, and nine 300-yard passing games.

Carpenter has fully recovered from off-season surgery on his throwing hand and he had a terrific fall camp. I
n the off-season Carpenter worked on his ball mechanics, holding the football higher and tighter to his body prior to bringing it to his release point. He is getting the ball in throwing position quicker and has a more consistent arm slot, even when he's on the move. The result is a quicker delivery of the ball and fewer problems with inaccuracy due to mechanics.

Additionally, Carpenter has gained approximately 15-20 pounds. With his body change and skill improvements, Carpenter is now looking the part of a potential professional quarterback. He still has a bit of a tendency to hold onto the ball too long in the pocket, though he's certainly improved in this area. Carpenter prefers to make plays with his arm and is willing to take some physical punishment as a result, but he needs to find a solid balance.

Where he will benefit this season is with the Sun Devils' new emphasis on the screen game, rollouts and hot-route type looks. It makes his job a bit easier, as well as that of the offensive line. If there is an area where Carpenter probably isn't at an elite level, it's with his field vision. Some professional scouts will tell you Carpenter is a one-look quarterback. In other words, when his primary target isn't open, he doesn't do a good enough job going through progressions. We wouldn't go as far as to define him that way, but certainly it's an area where he can improve.

All in all, Carpenter is unquestionably one of the top quarterbacks not only in the Pac-10, but in the nation, a 2007 Davey O'Brien Award semi-finalist.

Behind him, the Sun Devils have a very capable backup, junior Danny Sullivan. The game has seemingly slowed down for Sullivan, who played well in garbage time versus Texas in the Holiday Bowl and followed that up with an excellent spring. Sullivan is a big, physical pocket passer with a terrific arm who has become a bit leaner and is moving around better in the pocket, sensing what is going on around him.

Sullivan needs to work on looking off his primary receiver so as not to telegraph his passes, and he has a tendency to miss underneath defenders in zone coverage (usually outside linebackers), but there is no doubt he's about as well equipped a backup as there is in the Pac-10.

Redshirt freshman db]Samson Szakacsy[/db] was named the third-string quarterback and he has shown improved ball velocity coming off surgery to alleviate pressure on a nerve in his throwing arm. He's extremely mobile and actually has a tendency to leave the pocket too early at times. Szakacsy is very accurate and he doesn't make a lot of bad decisions with his throws. The main thing is, he still needs to improve his arm strength a bit to be successful at this level.

Szakacsy beat fellow redshirt freshman Chasen Stangel for the third-string job, and Stangel promptly responded with the best scrimmage performance of his career. He was poised and made good decisions with his throws and generally managed the offense well. Those have been the question marks for Stangel, a player who, though a bit undersized, has very good throwing mechanics and a strong arm.

True freshman Jack Elway struggled at times, as most new arriving players do coming out of high school, Carpenter and Sullivan for example. The real question mark for Elway is whether he will have the ball velocity to succeed at this level. His arm needs to get quite a bit stronger to make some of the key throws needed to play at this level, and the issue is even more in doubt due to his elongated delivery of the football and unusual mechanics. Fans gave Elway as loud a response as any ASU player during the recent scrimmage, but he threw two interceptions and had a rough outing. But he's young and it had to be expected he would struggle. We are going to have to re-visit where Elway is at in the spring.

Camp grade:

Coach Dennis Erickson and offensive coordinator Rich Olson have to be pleased with where the quarterback position is at right now. Carpenter and Sullivan performed well in camp, Szakacsy showed improvement in a key area and Stangel had his best scrimmage performance. ASU's quarterback situation is probably better than any of its peers in the Pac-10. Grade: A-

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