The 2009 ASU football season couldn't have started on a more beautiful evening.
As the full moon gazed down on Kajikawa field and the cool desert winds danced, coaches cursed and players jested.
Ah, the first day of practice.
For once, senior quarterback Danny Sullivan was taking snaps with the first unit. It couldn't have come soon enough.
"Three years on the bench has not been fun," Sullivan said. "I can sit here and say, 'Yeah, Rudy, he's doing well' but in the back of my mind I'm like 'God, I wish I was out there.' We'll have some fun this year, I'm telling you right now."
Sullivan looked very sharp Thursday night, hitting almost every target during 7-on-7 drills. His only outstanding blemish was an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by sophomore linebacker Derrall Anderson for a pick six.
Though he's penciled in as the starter now, Sullivan was still saying all the right things after practice.
"Nothing's set in stone yet," Sullivan said. "He hasn't named the starter, so I've to go out there thinking that I got to fight to win this job. Nothing is handed to me."
Sophomore quarterback Samson Szakacsy, meanwhile, looked very erratic. He had a tough time getting anything going during 7-on-7s, consistently overthrowing receivers and holding on to the ball too long.
In coach Dennis Erickson's opinion, freshman Brock Osweiler "threw as well as anybody." Erickson said he would ideally like to redshirt Osweiler but hinted that he will likely keep Osweiler on as the third quarterback.
"It's a long season," Erickson said.
There were also plenty of fresh faces running around Thursday, none more anticipated than freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who looked as big and fast as advertised. Erickson said it would be tough to truly evaluate his new players until the team puts on some pads, though.
Burfict is among a host of young talent Erickson has stocked at the second level of defense. He along with sophomores Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee help give ASU one of its deepest, most versatlie linebacking corps in years.
"We're really looking three [rotations] deep right now at linebacker," senior linebacker Mike Nixon said. "As far as depth, nobody wants to play 90 plays in this heat. We'll do it if we have to, but if we can play 55-60 and the other guys can play 30 then were going to be a lot better come fourth quarters."
Nixon also specifically noted the mental growth of Lyons and Magee and how they are both capable of playing at the SAM and WILL positions.
"The versatility is going to help us and allow us to do a lot of things," Nixon said. "These young guys are so athletic, they just got to get the mental aspect and they're really going to help us."
Depth was also evident on the defensive line, as it showed off its anticipated new look for the upcoming season. The defensive tackles and ends were shuffling around the line of scrimmage before every snap lining up in their new strong-side, weak-side formation.
Sophomore defensive tackle Lawrence Guy was particularly impressive Thursday night, as was senior defensive end Dexter Davis.
In the secondary, there's no question as to who will be this year's vocal leader. In fact, junior cornerback Omar Bolden may have taken over Keegan Herring's title as the team's most entertaining mouthpiece.
On the other side of the ball there were noticeable omissions, especially Rudy Carpenter. And though the wideouts are without last year's leading receiver Michael Jones, Sullivan was quick to heap praise.
"As a unit, the receivers are looking to be the best in the Pac-10," he said. "They have that mentality. [Senior] Kyle [Williams] has been a good leader for them and his leadership role is going to be big for us heading into the Pac-10 season."
Up on the offensive line, Erickson said he is happy to finally have some depth, while the backfield is looking a little bit leaner than last year.