2011 Arizona State Preview – Offense
Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: If ever a team epitomized an inability to get over the hump, it was the 2010 Sun Devils. At times, their offense was a well-oiled machine out of the no-huddle spread. Still, in nearly each of their six losses, untimely turnovers and red zone futility were the program's undoing. In Arizona State's defense, last season was the debut of coordinator Noel Mazzone and his spread scheme. Therefore, it would not be a stretch to assume that this group has rid itself of most of the natural growing pains associated with a new system. QB Brock Osweiler started just one game last year, but with Steven Threet forced to retire due to post-concussion syndrome, the former is now the undisputed starter. The junior will have a proven stable of backs to balance the passing game to go along with a seasoned collection of receivers.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Cameron Marshall
Passing: Brock Osweiler
62-109, 797 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INT
Rushing: Cameron Marshall
150 carries, 787 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: Mike Willie
36 catches, 442 yards, 6 TDs
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior QB Brock Osweiler
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Evan Finkenberg
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Gerell Robinson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior C Garth Gerhart , 2) Marshall, 3) Robinson
Strength of the offense: Backfield depth, veteran O-line, balance
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience under center, pass protection, red zone scoring, interceptions
State of the Unit: Brock Osweiler was able to engineer two consecutive victories at the end of 2010 to prevent the Sun Devils from having a third straight losing season. His charisma and leadership are not in doubt, but his experience is a totally different story. The junior played in only six games and has attempted just 109 passes. The two games he led his team to wins in, UCLA and Arizona, showed as much of his promise as they did his inconsistency and inexperience.
Unchallenged as a starter coming into spring practice, it took Osweiler more than a few weeks for him to fully hit his stride and start realizing some of his potential. His five touchdown passes in the spring game will certainly boost his confidence going into fall camp. At 6-8 and 235 pounds, the junior is naturally blessed with a big arm, but accuracy, especially in longer routes, can be an issue. He's mobile enough to evade defenders and gain yards with his feet, but won't be asked to wander as much as other traditional spread quarterbacks.
Now that Steven Threet has been forced to retire, spring ball featured a heated battle for Osweiler's backup between 6-1, 202-pound redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly and 6-1, 205-pound true freshman Mike Bercovici . The two signal-callers could not be more different in their skill sets. The mobile Kelly is an average passer, and often has a hard time connecting on medium and long routes. Bercovici, on the other hand, is blessed with a quick release, strong arm, and the ability to work through his progressions. Yet, like any first-year quarterback he is prone to mistakes at times and is too quick with his delivery.
Watch Out For … true freshman Michael Eubank . The comparisons to Cam Newton may be overly optimistic, but they do indicate his enormous potential. However, his dual-threat ability could make the race for the No. 2 job an intriguing one.
Strength: Big arms. Osweiler, Bercovici, and even Eubank certainly posses the arm strength to stretch a defense. While Arizona State's isn't one that necessarily features many routes over 20 or 30 yards, the offense can rest assured it harbors the quarterbacks to deliver over the top.
Weakness: Inexperience. Three of the Sun Devils quarterbacks have yet to take a snap in a college game. And despite being a junior, Osweiler is far from being labeled a seasoned vet. He'll have to start the season on a strong note in order to achieve a level of comfort and confidence as the man under the microscope.
Outlook: Coordinator Noel Mazzone's scheme isn't one that puts high demands on the quarterback. Instead, it asks him to put the ball in the playmakers' hands and let them do the rest. An increased emphasis on the running game, which features a talented stable of backs, will only help alleviate some pressure from Osweiler.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: Rushing for over 1,600 yards and scoring 19 scores, an inexperienced Sun Devil ground game was a major surprise in 2010. The squad will once again feature a desirable blend of talent and a deep rotation needed to keep everyone fresh. Between the powerful, yet deceptively quick Cameron Marshall to speedy Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks , Arizona State was able to keep defenses guessing. At season's end, coaches admitted they should have run the ball more, a mistake that won't be made in 2011.
Marshall is a top-tier Pac-12 back and a strong candidate for all-conference honors. A punishing downhill runner, he also flashed the ability to out run defenders. Laying the foundation for a breakout junior year, he ran for 787 yards and nine scores on 150 carries, while adding 21 catches for 227 yards and another score. The 5-11, 223-pounder did have some difficulties converting third and short situations, but new formations introduced this year are aimed at turning that deficiency into a competency.
Coaches often bank on a player's biggest improvement to occur between his freshman and sophomore year. If spring practice is any indication, Middlebrooks is going to validate the theory. The 5-8, 175-pounder relies on his speed and quickness to eat up real estate and evade defenders. Still, he's versatile enough to not be labeled a one-dimensional runner. Like any young back, pass blocking is an aspect he needs to improve upon. He emerged from spring as the offense's MVP, positioning himself well for fall camp.
Lewis averaged just under six yards a carry as a true freshman, fulfilling expectations as one of the top West Coast backs of the 2010 recruiting class. The 5-10, 193-pounder displayed his versatility, rushing 539 yards and four scores to go along with 23 catches for 370 yards and two touchdowns. Yet, the enthusiasm over his future has been dampened by an unfortunate accident. The sophomore was a victim of a random shooting in February which injured his leg and hamstring. He was held out of spring practice and will be monitored closely in August.
Watch Out For … Lewis' recovery. The situation could have been a lot worse, but the sophomore's immediate future remains somewhat tenuous. At full-strength, he's a slippery runner, with enough bulk to operate between the tackles. If he's able to recapture his rookie form, he's capable of being one of the program's most dangerous weapons.
Strength: Speed. The three-headed attack at running back can out run many defensive backs in the league, let along opposing front seven defenders trying to bring them down. The Sun Devils have the pop to break long runs regularly, provided they get proper support from the blockers.
Weakness: Short-yardage situations. Much of ASU's well-documented red zone struggles have been attributed to the fact that its backs often had a hard time moving the chains inside the 20-yard line. The potential of improvement is there, but for the time being so is the burden of proof.
Outlook: The trio of Marshall, Middlebrooks, and Lewis should be able to establish the Sun Devils' rushing attack and take some pressure off an inexperienced quarterback group. Their versatility in an offensive scheme known for its deception can only create more headaches for opposing defensive coordinators.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: Arizona State's scheme doesn't necessarily call for one or two star receivers to carry the burden since it's a system that peppers the pigskin around to many different targets. Finishing 2010 No. 15 nationally in passing, and losing just one receiver, Kerry Taylor, speaks to the potential of this group. The Sun Devils have capable wideouts in Gerell Robinson and Mike Willie , who are joined by fellow senior Aaron Pflugrad as the team's top receivers. Robinson and Willie, who collectively registered 829 yards and 11 touchdowns, both have a good chance for all-conference honors. At 6-4, the physical pair has the size and stride to create mismatches with defenders. The 5-10, 180-pound Pflugrad is a classic slot receiver, running precise routes in tight spaces and displaying sure hands.
One of two major injuries that took place in the spring was to senior T.J. Simpson who tore his ACL the second week of practice. He was the only proven downfield receiver, a void that sophomore J.J. Holliday and redshirt freshman Kevin Anderson will try to fill. Senior George Bell might have the best size-speed combination on the team but is coming off a dismal 2010. He was plagued by inconsistency at the beginning of spring, but improved as the session wound down. He's another player who could get increased playing time due to Simpson's injury.
Junior Jamal Miles is a versatile receiver who'll line up in several different spots on the field. He's one the main playmakers on the team, tying for second on the squad with six total touchdowns. He and fellow junior A.J. Pickens both had a solid spring and figure to be prominent in the rotation come fall.
Watch Out For … Holliday. The talented young receiver has been the victim of a rich depth chart the last couple of years. This past spring he proved he should see less of the sidelines and more of the field. A deft route runner, with serious jets, he has a chance to break out in 2011.
Strength: Physical presence. There's no ignoring the element of quickness within this group, but opposing defenses will particularly dread its size and physicality. Robinson, Willie, and Bell are all at least 6-3, and will create headaches for smaller corners and safeties.
Weakness: Making plays in the red zone. The receivers struggled a year ago at running tight routes and making things happen deep in enemy territory. Much like the running backs, this unit failed to shine in the red zone, and must do its part to reverse the offense's fortunes at critical junctures in the game.
Outlook: With the greenness of the signal-callers and the increased emphasis on the ground game, expecting gaudy numbers from the passing game is a reach. However, this doesn't diminish the sheer talent of this group, which has shown it can frustrate defenses with its execution in short and medium routes. Stretching the field and making the most of Brock Osweiler's big arm are aspects that this group needs to establish as part of its repertoire.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: There's no substitute for experience, and the ASU line will have plenty of it this fall. Senior Garth Gerhart , an All-Pac-12 candidate, is one the leading centers in the league, bringing a calming effect to a group that had serious question marks around it last season. The other front wall mainstay to start every game of 2010 is left tackle Evan Finkenberg . As a redshirt freshman, he played well beyond his years, and his spring performance proved he's on the right track for another solid campaign.
At right guard, junior Andrew Sampson has had his ups and downs during his career, but has managed to lock down a starting job. Left guard on the other hand is far from being settled. Senior Mike Marcisz was able to hold off the competition last season, but in the spring he had a hard time holding off classmate Adam Tello , a lineman who has largely underachieved during his Tempe tenure. This battle may not make headlines in August, but it'll be worth following.
Right tackle is another starting position that isn't etched in stone. As was the case most of last season, the spring saw seniors Dan Knapp and Aderious Simmons get snaps with the first team. Midway through spring, Knapp was held out for the duration of the sessions with a strained MCL, allowing Simmons to get increased reps. Knapp is expected to be 100% for fall camp, meaning the battle will continue in August.
While the starting five and main backups have experience, depth remains somewhat thin. Upperclassmen, such as senior G Brice Schwab and junior T Kyle Johnson didn't play well in 2010 or during the spring. Sophomore Kody Kobensky has done a good job at backup center, and the tandem of redshirt freshmen tackles Tyler Sulka and Jamil Douglas were also spring standouts.
Watch Out For … the emergence of Simmons. Blessed with an NFL-type body, the senior has a solid chance at all-conference honors and extending his career to playing on Sundays if he can match his mental approach to his physical attributes.
Strength: Run blocking. The Sun Devils did a solid job of opening holes for the backs, paving the way for an ensemble that averaged more than four yards a carry. The program plans to grind it out a little more this season behind a veteran and cohesive group of blockers.
Weakness: Pass protection. A perennial problem in Tempe, the line continues to have issues containing opposing pass rushers. Yeah, there's an experienced rotation of tackles, but that alone won't guarantee the Sun Devils can improve on last season's No. 95 national ranking in sacks allowed.
Outlook: Arizona State's front five is a group that took a lot of snaps together in 2010, and now the staff hopes that the all-important chemistry ingredient isn't a concern. The unit has proven to be above average in run blocking, and in a system that often calls for a quick release by the quarterback, there's reason for hope in pass blocking. Depth is an issue and many young players will be asked to step up to the plate, which could test the starters.
Unit Rating: 7
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Arizona State Offense
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