1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
The core question for me was this: how are the Sun Devils going to replace Will Sutton and Carl Bradford? So far, junior defensive tackle Jaxon Hood appears to be the heir apparent to Sutton but the Devilbacker position, Bradford'd old haunt, isn't as settled. There's still some competition between redshirt junior Eriquel Florence, sophomore Villami Latu and redshirt freshman Chans Cox at Devilbacker. Florence has the early lead on the post-spring depth chart but the competition to replace Bradford will extend well into the fall.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Not really, everything looks to remain pretty much the same on defense, maybe some minor tweaks with new Defensive Coordinator Keith Patterson but nothing dramatic. Offensively, everything will be the same. Redshirt senior Quarterback Taylor Kelly is in his third year as the starter and he has tons of weapons around him, namely junior running back D.J. Foster and redshirt junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
On offense, redshirt senior running back Kyle Middlebrooks really made a splash this spring. It seemed like every practice he did something electric. Not only that but he's also dangerous in the return game. He will be in the running to be Foster's primary backup with redshirt senior Deantre Lewis.
On defense, freshman linebacker D.J. Calhoun made a great impression. He's a true freshman that spent much of his spring on the first-team defense at Will linebacker but I'll talk more about him at question six.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
The defense is the elephant in the room. How will they perform with so many new starters? If they can perform anywhere near as well as the defense did last year things should be okay, especially with an offense that looks like it could possibly make scoreboards break.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
I'm thinking Arizona State is an outside contender. The offense is primed to improve on its 39.7 point per game average from last year but there are just so many questions on defense. The offense will be able to win some shootouts but much of the Sun Devils success will come down to how the defense performs.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
Perhaps the most intriguing freshman is already on campus in Calhoun. He is 17 years old and enrolled early to participate in spring practice. He's already made an impact and played much of the spring on the first-team defense at the Will linebacker spot. He is currently listed on the post-spring depth chart with an "or" between him and redshirt junior Antonio Longino at Will and will have a legitimate chance to earn a starting role as a true freshman.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
Sutton and Bradford are obvious choices because of their production and the attention they commanded from opposing offenses but I think another player you can't go without mentioning is Alden Darby. Not only does Arizona State lose a first-team All Pac-12 safety but also an unquestioned leader. Darby was a very vocal leader and not only does his production need replacement but so does his leadership and locker room presence.
8. Any particular Pac12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall?
I'm a big fan of Oregon vs. Stanford but I think the rematch of Oregon vs. UCLA is going to be a good one. UCLA is the frontrunner in the Pac-12 South and will be looking to make up for the 42-14 thumping it took from the Ducks in Eugene, Ore. last year. You also have to love the head to head matchup of UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
The Sun Devils made it through spring mostly unscathed. Strong had a minor toe injury that kept him out of a few practices but that was the only noteworthy one.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
I think it's actually a unit that's ready to make a big jump and that is the offensive line. Arizona State allowed a league-worst 41 sacks last year and that number should drop. Redshirt senior Jamil Douglas moves to left tackle from left guard and redshirt junior Auburn transfer Christian Westerman, a spring standout, takes over at left guard. Nick Kelly drew positive reviews at center. The whole right side returns with redshirt junior right guard Vi Teofilo and redshirt senior Tyler Sulka at right tackle. That sacks allowed number should drop this fall.
11. With only two returning starters on the defense, how do you think the unit will perform in 2014?
I think the defense will take a step back in 2014. That happens when you replace nine starters, six of whom were first or second-team All Pac-12. But there is still some experience especially along the defensive front. Hood, redshirt junior Mo Latu and senior Marcus Hardison all have game experience and Latu in particular showed he could be a force in the middle of the line. The biggest question I think is in the secondary where Arizona State replaces three All Pac-12 players. So, will the defense be as good as last year? Probably not, but there is room for optimism.
12. The Pac-12 is loaded with talented quarterbacks, including Taylor Kelly. How do you think he will rank among the conference in 2014?
I think Kelly comes in at No. 3 in the conference behind Oregon's Mariota and UCLA's Hundley. It came down to Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion for the No. 3 spot. I give Kelly a slight edge because of his ability to run and the diversity that brings to the offense. With Mannion, you know he's going to stand in the pocket and chuck it but Kelly can beat you with his arm or he can pull it down and run with the football so that diversity gives him an edge and the No. 3 spot.
13. Whom do you want to punch in the face?
Nobody. I'm a lover not a fighter.
Thanks again to House of Sparky for taking the time to answer all of our questions and good luck in 2014!