Here is a look at 11 Arizona State players who have impressed us substantially relative to our expectations coming into camp. It's not the 11 best players on the roster. It is 11 players who are each playing extremely well and showing us something well beyond what we expected they'd deliver.
1. James Brooks -- This was an easy choice for us at No. 1 because our other possible top slot candidate didn't have a particularly compelling first scrimmage (perhaps not his fault). Where do you start with Brooks? He lost 10-15 pounds and is leaner, even more explosive and he was already an athletic freak. But what is most important, he now is more able to tap into that natural ability because he's playing lower with better leverage and pad level. He knows it too; his motor has improved in concert with his excitement for how he's playing. Brooks would start at most Pac-10 schools this season, we believe. It's only because one of the conference's top ends, Luis Vasquez, is ahead of him, that he probably won't for ASU.
2. Kerry Taylor -- Until Tuesday, Taylor was neck and neck with Brooks for our top spot. He caught more balls than every receiver else combined in multiple practice during the first week of the season. Coach Dennis Erickson said on multiple occasions that Taylor has been most impressive for his consistency and his versatility. Although he is competing with Kyle Williams to start at the slot position, he can play either outside position, which is key for the team's depth.
3. Pierre Singfield -- In the spring, Singfield walked on to the program -- literally he came up from the Tucson area to hand deliver tape and was invited to walk-on the next week -- and he promptly jumped over at least one scholarship player on the depth chart. Now he's continuing his assault. Singfield has been so impressive, he is one-half of the reason Travis Smith, a pretty good corner in his own right, has been shifted to back-up Omar Bolden on the other side. Singfield has worked with the first-team at times in recent days and he's in a dogfight with Terell Carr for the starting nod. Pretty darn good walk-on.
4. James Morrison -- The most shockingly impressive walk-on out of high school to join the program and even more surprising than Singfield that he didn't pick up a scholarship prior to this season. With Singfield, he played for 0-10 Pima College. Out of the way JUCO kids are easier to miss than 5-foot-11, 220 pound running backs from high profile high schools in major markets. Morrison was injured and missed part his senior season, but regardless, a lot of schools just completely missed the boat on this one and it was to ASU's benefit. Morrison is big with quick feet and good vision. He is a physical inside runner who can provide something that ASU doesn't have a lot of. His performance in the first scrimmage showed that.
5. Jon Hargis -- Does he play offense, does he play defense, does he play offense? Hargis moved around like a rag doll during his first two years at ASU, including his redshirt season, but those days are over now. This is a left tackle and that's where he will stay. Hargis is deceptively athletic, an accountable hard worker who is committed to improving and to being a good teammate. He took to the move in spring football and that has carried on into camp. He's surpassed our expectations. It was thought Hargis would be in a battle with JUCO transfer Tom Njunge, for the starting nod, but Hargis now appears locked in, not because Njunge has performed poorly but rather because Hargis has played so well.
6. Gerell Robinson -- There isn't a single freshman in the class more heralded than Robinson, and often times, the most talented are apt to rely on those talents more than others. Not Robinson. He was there at every single spring practice and every single summer workout. Nobody else in his class can say that at ASU. Robinson was extremely raw with his route running a month ago and while he still has a ways to go, he's improved by leaps and bounds. At 6-foot-4, 222 pounds, he provides a physical threat who can gather yards after the catch and be important in red zone opportunities, as we saw Tuesday when he had a touchdown grab tucked into the side of the end zone over Singfield, who defended the play rather well and was perplexed at how Robinson made the catch. Answer: Because he's good.
7. Dimitri Nance --When onlookers at ASU's summer workouts took a tally of which running backs were frequently in attendance, the list was two names long: Jarrell Woods and Nance. We've seen Nance consistently improve every off-season, be it intangibly or with his body. Coming into camp this year he had increased his weight to about 218 pounds while actually leaning out. He's a little quicker and more explosive. Nance still isn't a power runner per se, but he does have strength in addition to his excellent footwork and vision. His runs on Tuesday demonstrated all of his great attributes in spades, with two big gapers that went for big gains.
8. Clint Floyd -- Nobody outside of ASU, not even Clint Floyd himself, or his parents or high school coach or pastor or girlfriend (if he has one) would have ever thought that he'd be running with the second-team at safety in the first week of camp. This is almost as improbable as Singfield possibly starting or Morrison possibly skipping several scholarship backs on the depth chart. Almost. Take a look at Floyd. He's listed at 183 pounds but I'm guessing that is when he's full dressed out and carrying a his playbook around. And if does weigh that much, it's only because his calves are unnaturally large for his frame. Regardless, seemingly every time Matt Lubick physically moves Floyd into position where he's supposed to be, he does something that keeps him on the field with the second team.
9. Danny Sullivan -- Good enough to start in the Pac-10 and be the quarterback of a top-tier team as long as the talent around him is solid. That's all I need to write, but I'll continue by saying this guy is physically looking the best he ever has, the game has sufficiently slowed down for him in live 11-on-11s to where he's able to make good decisions pretty quickly. Still has a tendency to lock onto primary targets and there are some other advanced techniques to continue to develop, but Sullivan has become a Pac-10 level quarterback, definitely.
10. Adam Tello -- Wait for it. Better than Richard Tuitu'u. Prediction: You are not going to see Tello get turnstiled as much as a redshirt freshman as Tuitu'u was as a junior last season. This guy has actually won several practices against Vasquez, who could prove to be one of the top defensive ends in the Pac-10 this season. He's mellow as heck, which is a little disconcerting when you talk to him but then you see him on the field and he just is pretty consistently good. You see offensive line coach Gregg Smith doing a lot of correcting during practice, but Tello is one of the guys he seems to get on the least. That's a good sign.
11. Shelly Lyons -- Physically, this is either the No. 1 or No. 2 best looking linebacker on the ASU roster, and he's a true freshman. His body is Pac-10 ready. Lyons is 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, can play multiple positions (has worked quite a bit at second-team MIKE), is lanky with huge hands, bulging traps and delts and he's tough. He sprained his foot last week, was in an orange jersey the next day and not feeling good, but when challenged by Craig Bray he ran out for reps. That told a lot. Then you see Lyons running to the ball and playing physically and it confirms everything. He still is learning, but he'll get there and probably sooner than later.
Just missed: Rudy Carpenter, T.J. Simpson, Luis Vasquez, Travis Goethel, Brandon Magee
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