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July 3, 2013

Spring Rewind: Arizona State

With summer in full effect, Kaelyn Sayles over at UDUBNation.com sat down with all of the Pac-12 publishers to recap Spring. She's already checked in on the Bears with yours truly, plus Stanford, Colorado, Washington, and Washington State.

Today she sits down with our ASU insider, Chris Karpman.

Q: What was a major theme of spring practice?

Karpman: Arizona State coach Todd Graham wanted to see his team become more assignment sound and capable at defending the run. The Sun Devils had one of the top pass efficiency defenses in the nation last year but didn't always perform to his expectations against the run, especially through the middle and especially at the SAM linebacker position.

Q: Who were some standouts on offense? Any breakout performers?

Karpman: Senior running back Marion Grice was a revelation in his first year as a Sun Devil. He led the Pac-12 with a touchdown every 7.5 touches, more than De'Anthony Thomas, Marquis Lee, Johnathan Franklin and Ka'Deem Carey. He is also one of five returning FBS players to have more than 400 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards last season, along with teammate, sophomore running back D.J. Foster, another big play threat. At quarterback, junior Taylor Kelly set a school record with his completion percentage last year and was one touchdown shy of trying a single-season record. Senior tight end Chris Coyle set a record for most catches by the position in a season at ASU.

Q: Who were some standouts on defense? Any breakout performers?

Karpman: Senior defensive tackle Will Sutton was Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last year and a consensus All-American. He's arguably the top interior pass rusher in the nation. Junior hybrid end/linebacker Carl Bradford also was a dynamo last season as an edge pass rusher. Sutton and Bradford have more combined sacks and tackles-for-loss than any two returning players on a Division I team. Senior hybrid safety/linebacker Chris Young, senior safety Alden Darby and senior cornerback Osahon Irabor are all capable of first- or second-team all-conference honors.

Q: What areas still need work before the season starts? Some weaknesses?

Karpman: ASU's biggest areas of weakness are at wide receiver and free safety. The team had arguably the worst receivers in the Pac-12 last season and signed five in the 2013 class, including two junior college players who are going to be expected to play a lot, and probably start, right away. One of those players, Jaelen Strong, led all of Southern California's junior colleges in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Free safety is glaring hole, with no player having a clear path to the starting job. It'll be open in camp and a competition between a few players including junior college transfer Damarious Randall, who led the nation in interceptions last season.

Q: What are some strengths for this team as a whole?

Karpman: The defensive front is excellent and there's a lot of talent at linebacker, which plays to the strengths of Graham's ultra-aggressive philosophy. On offense, Kelly should be one of the league's best quarterbacks and ASU's backs -- if you include Coyle, who often lines up as an h-back -- are as good as any group in the country. It's offensive line is also relatively solid, with essentially four returning starters and a lot of experience and decent depth.

Q: Any injuries that can be talked about?

Karpman: The only significant injuries were senior receiver Kyle Middlebrooks missing the spring with a torn ACL, freshman linebacker Chans Cox having surgery for a broken foot and redshirt freshman reserve guard Stephon McCray suffering torn meniscus in his knee.

Q: Anything from last season that the team needs to move on from before this fall?

Karpman: No I think ASU has a lot of good energy heading into the offseason. It beat rival Arizona and dominated a totally outmatched Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to earn a very acceptable 8th win of the season, Graham's first in Tempe. If it can find a more consistent field goal kicker -- and it signed one late -- it'll go a long way to giving ASU a good chance at winning even more in 2013.

Chris Karpman is in his 10th year covering Arizona State for Rivals.com as the publisher of ASUDevils.com. He's a frequent contributor to ArizonaVarsity.com and regularly appears on XTRA 910 AM's Pros2Preps radio show on Fridays during the football season, and is a frequent guest on local news station 3TV covering local high school recruiting on its Friday and Sunday sports shows. Follow on Twitter @ASUDevilscom.

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