Tim's Take: Tim Healey's Camp Tontozona Observations

Aug. 21, 2005

Tim's Take

No matter how many times you go there (at least once a year since 1984 for yours truly), it's hard not to be impressed by the magnificent natural beauty of Camp Tontozona. Arizona State's mountaintopretreat is, without question, the most breathtaking and unique setting for a preseason training camp in all of college football.

After spending time in the cool pines observing the 2005 Sun Devils go through the 11 days of Tontozona, it's also hard not to be impressed with the potential coach Dirk Koetter's fifth ASU football team possesses.

Each August, the Sun Devils head to 'Camp T' to begin the process ofbecoming a team. To these eyes, the Devils took giant steps forward in their quest to achieve that goal, during their 2005 stay at Tontozona.

Spending a week-and-a-half living together in Spartan-like conditions,isolated from most of the rest of the civilized world, thinking football 24-7, cannot help but bond a group of young men (and their coaches) and bring them closer together than they were before campstarted. Furthermore, to go through a hard-hitting 11 days of practices relatively injury-free has got to make coach Koetter feelas though Christmas arrived early this year. When you have a close-knit, relatively healthy squad that is also talented, deep and experienced, it's no wonder Koetter says the 2005 Sun Devils are further ahead than any of his previous ASU teams.

Other random thoughts from Camp T:

---The role of starting quarterback at a big-time Pac-10 school seems to fit Sam Keller very well. Keller was solid at Camp Tontozona, grading himself at B+ for his on-field work, saying 'I did a lotbetter (than in spring ball), but to be an ~A(tm) in this offense, you've got to be really good with all the decisions.' But perhaps the most significant aspect of Keller's camp experience was the leadership he started to exert over this team, a vocal, emotional brand of leadership.

'It was my first camp as a starter. I'll always remember that, justbecause I have been waiting for this my entire life,' Keller said.'I felt like I really grabbed hold of the team. I didn't know how they were going to respond to me. I knew I had a lot of friends out here, and I knew I had a good rapport with a lot of them, but I'm just really pleased with how the guys have my back.'

Sam's teammates are quick to heap praise on their new starting quarterback.

'Andrew Walter was a great mentor. He rubbed off really well onSam,' says tight end Jamaal Lewis, who was Keller's roommate last year. '(Sam) comes in the huddle and he is so poised and you can just see in his eyes he knows what he wants to get done.'

Center Grayling Love points to Keller's 370-yard, three-touchdown performance that earned him MVP honors in last December's 27-23 Sun Bowl victory over Purdue. 'He's proven in a big-time game he canstep up to the pressure,' Love says. 'All Sam needs to do is perfecthis techniques, fine-tune a lot of things. All the pieces of the puzzle are in place for him to do real well.'

Footnote: as discouraging as it must have been for Andrew Walter to be sidelined in the Sun Bowl because of his shoulder injury, what a blessing in disguise it was for Sam Keller to get the opportunityto jump-start his ascension to the Sun Devil quarterbacking throne in El Paso. You cannot help but think that the preseason forecasts regarding ASU would be more pessimistic, had not Keller gotten thechance to display his talent against a very good Purdue defense in the Sun Bowl.

--Freshman tailback Keegan Herring is a 'stud,' as Keller describedthe Sun Devils' top offensive newcomer at Camp Tontozona. We knew this guy had great speed, as evidenced by the three state track and field sprinting championships he won this past spring as a seniorat Peoria High School. What impressed many camp observers about Herring was his physical toughness, and his ability to pound out difficult yards between the tackles. In fact, there were timeswhen Keegan seemed to dish out more punishment than he absorbed.

'During high school I used to always run to the sideline,' Herringsaid after the camp-ending scrimmage August 19. 'Then I came here andRudy (Burgess) told me it's not a sideline game, it's a between-the-tackles game, so I just ran between the tackles a couple of times, and that's what I'm looking forward to.'

We're looking forward to seeing how Herring performs in 2005, when he figures to become the first true freshman running back to see action in the Dirk Koetter era at ASU.

--Speaking of Rudy Burgess, the other Sun Bowl star has addedalmost 10 pounds of muscle, and is eagerly looking forward to being the Devils'all-purpose weapon in 2005. 'I just hope I can be utilized in as many places as I can---as a returner, running back andreceiver,' Burgess said. 'I think that will give opposing defenses aharder option to scheme against us.'

It's easy to compare Arizona State's plans for Burgess, with the waynational champion USC utilizes its all-around All-American Reggie Bush. In fact, there are those who refer to individuals with such diversified talent as playing the 'Reggie Bush position.'

Rudy Burgess begs to differ. 'Out here, I refer to it as the 'RudyBurgess' position!' So do we.

--New defensive coordinator Bill Miller will prove to be a great addition to coach Koetter's staff, for several reasons. A well-respected veteran with nearly three decades of major college coachingexperience (working with or for the likes of Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, Nick Saban and Butch Davis), Miller figures to enhance the 4-3 scheme successfully implemented a year ago by hispredecessor Brent Guy (now the head coach at Utah State), although Miller says 'schemes are over-rated. It's the fellas doing it, and how hard they do it that dictate a defense's success.'

What type of defense does Miller hope to build at ASU? A tough, physical defense. 'I want to be very fundamental, but we want to be very aggressive,' Miller said. 'We want to go dictate some things to an offense, and try to take away what they do best by making big plays.'

In addition, Miller's hiring at ASU figures to open up the fertile state of Florida to the ASU future recruiting efforts. A one-time assistant at both Florida and Miami, Miller has already helped lure two former Gators to Tempe (tight end Dane Guthrie and defensive end Tranell Morant, transfers who will sit out the 2005 season and figure to be key contributors for ASU in 2006).

Having Guthrie and Morant at Arizona State 'will open up thatpath,' Miller says. 'If kids (in Florida) see those two are in a goodenvironment and a great program like this, then others will follow.'

--The Sun Devils came to Camp T with some question marks on defense,including which linemen would join tackle Jordan Hill and end Kyle Caldwell on ASU's front four. The Sun Devils may have discovered their other two starters in camp, as end Will Kofe, a junior collegetransfer, and senior tackle DeWayne Hollyfield (a juco transfer last season) emerged with their performances at Tontozona. In fact, Kofe was named ASU's top newcomer at Camp T., while Hollyfield was voted the team's most improved defensive player.

--Other camp award winners for 2005: hard-hitting safety Zach Catanese, a transfer from Shasta College in northern California who went thru spring ball at ASU, was chosen the Sun Devils' mostimproved player on special teams. The Most Improved Offensive Player award went to backup quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who passed for 198 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the camp-ending intra-squad scrimmage August 19.

--My, how the Sun Devils are loaded with talented receivers and offensive linemen. The Devils go virtually three-deep with scholarship players in the O-line, and will no doubt have several backups worthy of starting at most other Pac-10 schools. Furthermore, only two of the linemen (center Grayling Love and tackle Chaz White) are seniors. As for the receivers, All-Americans Derek Hagan and Zach Miller get most of the hype (and deservedly so), but ArizonaState has an abundance of talent behind those two, with tight ends Jamaal Lewis and Brent Miller (Zach's older brother) drawing rave reviews for their work at Camp Tontozona.

--It seems odd to call the linebacker position a concern, given the fact that the Sun Devils boast two superb senior starters in co-captain Jamar Williams and Dale Robinson. However, beyond those twothere is an element of uncertainty at the position: a first-time starter (Robert James), a juco transfer (Beau Manutai), an ex-walk-on (Nick Clapp), a red-shirt freshman (Adam Vincent), and a true freshman(Chad Lindsey). Keep in mind, though: uncertainty does not necessarily mean lack of capability.

--A sometimes discouraging story could have a happy ending for CornellCanidate. How nice it is to see the Sun Devils' senior back in uniform, after missing last season with a serious groin injury that ultimately required surgery. Cornell got his degree this spring, and figures to be a productive member of the ASU running back corps this season. In fact, Canidate was the Devils'top rusher at the Camp T. scrimmage with 51 yards and a touchdown in nine carries.

--Another welcome sight at Tontozona: former ASU quarterback Paul Justin is back in the program, 15 years after his Sun Devil playing career ended. Paul is finishing his degree requirements, and serving as an intern with the sports performance coaching staff. I always felt Justin was one of the most underrated quarterbacks in Sun Devil history. He is sixth on ASU's all-time list with 5,761 careerpassing yards, despite missing much of his senior season (1990) with a shoulder injury.

--Finally, the terms 'kicker' and 'good physique' seldom areused in the same sentence. Yet, it says here that the Sun Devils' hardest body belongs to their sophomore punter Chris MacDonald. The guy is flat-out ripped, and well-conditioned to boot (you should see Chris sprinting ahead of the field in his player group, during sportsperformance coach Joe Kenn's post-practice conditioning sessions). MacDonald was booming his punts at Camp T., and if the SunDevils do a better job covering those punts in 2005, their overall kicking game should be dynamic.

I cannot wait for the season to begin!

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