CAMP TONTOZONA, Ariz. — Arizona State running back D.J. Foster was having a banner day in front of roughly 5,300 fans on hand to watch the Sun Devils scrimmage in their final practice at Camp Tontozona.
He then sent a good deal of the crowd into minor panic, going down and not coming up after a carry before being helped off the field with a left ankle injury.
Foster turned out to be fine but sat out the rest of the scrimmage, having already shown he’s primed for an even bigger season than he had as a freshman.
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“He’s faster and bigger than he was last year,” quarterback Taylor Kelly said. “I’m excited to see what he’s going to do this year.”
Saturday’s scrimmage may have been a bit of a preview. Foster had just three carries, all early in the scrimmage, but one went for 35 yards. He caught two passes from Kelly, one for 15 yards and the other for 26. Most impressive may have been Foster’s 50-yard kickoff return.
“I felt very comfortable out there,” Foster said. “I just felt in my zone, and I felt like the offense was great.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell hesitated at first but admitted his heart may have skipped a beat when Foster didn’t get up on the 34th play of the day. Foster was helped off the field but spent the rest of the time standing and walking the sidelines. He said afterward he does not expect to miss any time.
“D.J. is one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever been around in my life,” Norvell said. “He was ready to get back in, but he did enough to me for me to hold him out for the rest of the scrimmage.”
ASU has tried to protect Foster and fellow running back Marion Grice this fall with gold “no contact” jerseys, but Foster has made it clear he didn’t want to wear one.
“He’s a guy that brings it every single day,” Norvell said. “We had them put the gold jerseys on, and it took about one day of D.J. being in a pissed-off mood all day that we ended up taking it off.”
Foster, who has impressed throughout camp, will get plenty of carries this season next to Grice but will again be used in a variety of roles. On Saturday, he opened the day at slot receiver.
Foster was one part of an offense coach Todd Graham said dominated Saturday’s scrimmage.
“The offense was way ahead of the defense today because they kicked our butt,” Graham said. “We were very explosive offensively.”
The defense, on the other hand, did not play well, making mental errors, blowing assignments and committing costly penalties. It was the penalties that seemed to bother Graham most. The defense committed four offsides penalties, which Graham said matched its total from the entire 2012 season. There was also a horse-collar tackle penalty that led to a touchdown.
“We did not play very well defensively at all,” Graham said. “We’re not the defending Super Bowl champs, and that’s kind of the way we acted. I was very disappointed in that.”
While Graham, who runs the defense, was not happy with how easily the offense picked apart the defense for 285 yards on the ground and 372 in the air over 103 plays from scrimmage, he was exceedingly pleased with one offensive unit.
“I thought the offensive line was the shining group of the scrimmage,” Graham said. “They flat got after it and dominated the line of scrimmage.”
NOTES, OBSERVATIONS AND HIGHLIGHTS
— Freshman safety Marcus Ball, who was positioned to start at field safety and took first reps there Saturday, left early in the scrimmage with an apparent shoulder injury. He had his right arm in a sling for most of the day. The exact nature and extent of the injury are unknown, but Graham’s early assessment didn’t sound optimistic.
“He’ll probably be out for a little bit,” Graham said. “That’s about the best I can do.”
— With Ball out, redshirt freshman Laiu Moeakiola handled first-team duties at field safety. Freshman James Johnson also saw first-team action and now will likely slide into second-team duty until Damarious Randall returns from a groin injury to compete for the spot.
— Starting boundary cornerback Osahon Irabor was held out of the scrimmage as a precaution due to a tender hamstring. Others not participating: receivers Joe Morris (foot) and Cameron Smith (hamstring) and running back Kyle Middlebrooks (knee).
— In a surprising development, defensive lineman Mo Latu was back. Latu left Camp Tontozona on Tuesday night, returning to Phoenix and traveling to California to deal with a family emergency. He missed three practices but still made it back in time to dress for the scrimmage.
— Wide receiver Jaelen Strong, after three straight strong days in camp, did not have a reception in the scrimmage. He was targeted a couple times but wasn’t able to bring one in. He’s still looking like a starter alongside sophomore Richard Smith. The third spot, in the slot, looks like it could be Foster’s in certain packages, and Jefferson could start there otherwise.
— Agwuenu, who started camp slowly, had a nice day. Most of his team-high 129 receiving yards came on what might have been the play of the day. Bercovici hit Agwuenu in stride deep downfield, but Agwuenu didn’t secure the catch right away, bobbling it three times before reeling it in for a 78-yard touchdown and drawing the loudest applause of the day. Agwuenu also had catches of 27 and 24 yards.
— Kelly lined up to take the first punt of the day, a “pooch” punt, which ASU used a few times last season. Looks like they might utilize it again.
— As for the regular punters, walk-on Dom Vizzare still seems to be leading over freshman Matt Haack, though Graham said Haack had a “great” day Saturday. Vizzare had a couple impressive punts but also shanked one badly.
— Graham was not happy about penalties. The team totaled 11 overall, including one on offense that called back a touchdown. After that, Kelly was sacked twice and the offense had to settle for a field goal.
— Graham was pleased with ball security, as the offense committed just one turnover, a Bercovici fumble.
— Despite a few shaky days in camp, freshman Zane Gonzalez appears to have locked down the placekicking job. He was perfect on Saturday, and Graham commented that Gonzalez “really looked great.”
— With the spur position still unsettled, Grandville Taylor — usually a will linebacker — took reps at the spot during the scrimmage.
— Graham on where the team stands after Camp Tontozona: “We’re right where we need to be. We’ve to go to work. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next five practices to get ready, and then we start game week.”