Tuesday, August 5, 2008

ASU Preseason Outlook Pt. 1: Quarterbacks

It’s been quite a tumultuous last six seasons at quarterback for the Sun Devils, hasn’t it? If you were to lay out a timeline of the Sun Devils at the starting QB position, it would look something like this:

-The christening (no pun intended) of Chad Christensen as the QB of the future
-Chad Christensen’s starting career ending after 3 games
-Andrew Walter’s 2002 emergence
-Andrew Walter’s 2003 step back

-Andrew Walter’s record-setting 2004

-And finally, Andrew Walter’s devastating career-ending injury at Arizona

-Sam Keller’s tremendous Sun Bowl MVP performance
-Sam Keller’s implosion against USC in 2005 and broken thumb against Oregon
-Rudy Carpenter’s national-best efficiency rating and 2005 Insight Bowl performance
-Keller and Carpenter emerge from Spring 2006 as co-starters
-Sam Keller is named the starter 8 days before the 2006 season
-Rudy Carpenter rep
laces Sam Keller as the starter 20 hours later
-Sam Keller transfers to Nebraska
-Carpenter plods through 2006, highlighted by a 33-yard game vs. Oregon
-Carpenter reemerges and leads ASU to a shared Pac-10 Title in 2007

Phew. Catch your breath. When you look at it that way, it’s remarkable that 2008 will be the 2nd straight year of relative stability at quarterback.

It seems like an eternity since Rudy Carpenter took over at Stanford in '05 and almost led the Devils back from down 45-7 to the lowly Cardinal. Since then, he’s seen the ups, downs, ins and outs of pretty much every kind of offense and is now the Sun Devils’ senior starting quarterback.

Carpenter’s stubbornness has rubbed many the wrong way, but you can’t argue with his ability to say relatively healthy since that ill fated 2005 season. He played through his only significant injury, that darn thumb, last season, only relenting for a series and change at the Rose Bowl against UCLA. He had the thumb surgically repaired over the summer and says he’s back to full strength.

Carpenter’s arm strength and accuracy are still his strong points. He has a knack for finding the smallest of holes and hitting wide receivers in stride. One needs to look no further than his mind-boggling TD pass to Kyle Williams in triple coverage against Colorado last season to realize the kind of ability Rudy has to find his receivers. He still also has an underutilized ability to scramble and make plays outside the pocket.

The same negative still burdens the 4th year starter, however: his knack for holding on to the ball too long. We all saw it; it requires no real explanation. Rudy was sacked a ton last year, and while the porous offensive line was mostly to blame, Carpenter still takes too much time to decide what he wants to do with the ball under pressure. There was nothing more frustrating than watching him perform the old “hold the ball and cower,” especially against Texas in the Holiday Bowl.

Danny Sullivan is back as the primary backup. After getting action in 7 games last season and through the Spring, Sullivan greatly improved his analytical view on the game and his pocket presence. Danny seems to be your classic cerebral quarterback and will continue to strengthen his arm throughout the Fall. He'll be pushed by the one or more of the quarterbacks behind him, but his tenure and game experience still puts him ahead on the depth chart than any other QB that the Sun Devils have on the roster.

ASU’s two standout recruits from last season also return, as Samson Szakaczy and Chasen Stangel both return for their 2nd season in maroon and gold. At this time last season, it looked like one would redshirt and the other would spend a year of eligibility as the 3rd stringer, but both burned their redshirts in 2007.

Stangel spent the year running with the threes as the main quarterback for the scout team and after spending a lot of time in the weight room, he’ll look to push Sullivan for the top backup role. Szakacsy was hampered by injuries last year and still has a lot of work to do. He might be the most athletic and mobile quarterback that ASU carries, but he still lacks the strength and mental agility that the college game requires. Samson will still be regarded as a work in progress.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the QB outlook without taking a look at the recruit that generated more buzz than any player that has come through Tempe in recent years. Jack Elway, the son of John, comes to ASU from Cherry Creek High School in Colorado. Aside from the pedigree, Jack carries a fearless attitude about throwing the ball anywhere, which has its positives and negatives (we’ll chalk that 7 interception playoff game up as a negative). Elway comes to ASU as the top rated prep quarterback out of Colorado in 2007.

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