2012 Arizona State Preview – Offense
Arizona State WR Jamal Miles
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: New head coach Todd Graham and his staff want to spread out the field, but not just for the benefit of the passing game. No, this regime wants to exploit running lanes, while occasionally bloodying its opponent’s nose. Arizona State plans to move at a frenetic pace, yet still be a physical team, which could fit the personnel rather well. The strength of the Sun Devils is clearly at running back, where 1,000-yarder Cameron Marshall leads a very deep and talented collection of holdovers and newcomers. The program will have success on the ground, but balance is likely to escape it. A starting quarterback has yet to be named after underclassmen Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank failed to distinguish themselves. And aside from Jamal Miles, the receivers are pedestrian. Arizona State could be content to simply employ a ground-and-pound persona in the early part of the fall, mixing in some play-action to the tight ends and receivers. After scoring 33 points a game in 2011, the Sun Devils are poised to regress this season.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Cameron Marshall
Passing: Taylor Kelly
4-4, 31 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: Cameron Marshall
230 carries, 1,050 yards, 18 TDs
Receiving: Jamal Miles
60 catches, 361 yards, 6 TDs
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore QB Mike Bercovici or redshirt freshman Michael Eubank
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Evan Finkenberg
Best pro prospect: Marshall
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Marshall , 2) Senior WR Jamal Miles, 3) Finkenberg
Strength of the offense: Speed, depth and talent at running back
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience under center, the receivers, the O-line, third-down and red-zone efficiency
Now that Brock Osweiler is Peyton Manning’s understudy in Denver, the Sun Devils are busy trying to develop his successor. At the beginning of spring, there were three main contenders for the job. When the team resumes practice in August, there still will be, as the staff continues to flesh out a pecking order. Sophomore Mike Bercovici made a couple of appearances in his first season on campus, learning on the fly. The 6-1, 202-pounder is arguably the steadiest pocket passer of the trio, showcasing a quick trigger and nice zip on his passes. However, he’s also the least athletic of the contenders, a concern for a new staff that covets nimble quarterbacks.
Sophomore Taylor Kelly is in many ways the antithesis of Bercovici, a mobile signal-caller who lacks consistency in the passing game. The 6-1, 203-pounder does a lot of little things well, and has an extra season at this level, but does not do any one thing exceptionally well. Ideally suited as a stable presence off the bench, he’s going to hang around this competition until someone steps up and grabs the job.
If excitement and anticipation were job requirements, 6-5, 242-pound redshirt freshman Michael Eubank would have already blown away the competition. The gem of the 2011 recruiting class is the fans’ choice to nab the opening, largely because of his unique blend of size, speed and pocket presence. Think extremely raw Cam Newton. However, he’ll only beat out Bercovici if he proves he’s ready to command the offense, and evolve as a complete, mistake-free passer.
Watch Out For … Eubank to get snaps in 2012, but not necessarily be under center in the opener. There’s no doubt that No. 18 has the highest ceiling, and is a good fit what the Sun Devils would like to do. However, if he’s unable to turn the corner with his reads, progressions and decisions, Bercovici or Kelly might prove to be the safer choice to run the offense.
Strength: Agility. Todd Graham and his staff are fortunate to have inherited three young quarterbacks with good feet. The system calls for its passers to run some read-option, and make a lot of connections on the move in a rolling pocket. Once these Sun Devils get a few live reps under their belt, they’ve got the raw skills to be effective scramblers, by design or out of necessity.
Weakness: Inexperience. This was a concern a year that Osweiler was able to address. Arizona State may not be so fortunate in 2012. As if the installation of an entirely new system isn’t daunting enough, the three Devils vying for the starting job have combined to throw just seven passes during their careers.
Outlook: Wake up Sun Devils fans when it’s 2013. It figures to be a tough year for the quarterbacks for a number of different reasons. The playbook and coaches are new, the receivers are marginal and the three subjects are inexperienced and inconsistent. The hope around Tempe is that Eubank or Bercovici can win the job without equivocation, and lay a solid foundation for next season.
Unit Rating: 7
When Arizona State is moving the chains this fall, it’ll likely be because of this deep stable of running backs. Leading the charge once again will be 5-11, 223-pound senior Cameron Marshall , one of the Pac-12’s top returning runners. A year ago, he became the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006, adding 18 touchdowns on the ground. He’s a durable and punishing runner between the tackles, yet also has the quick feet and deceptive speed to make tacklers miss in space. When Marshall explodes through the hole, he has a knack for shedding defenders as if they’re placekickers.
In the Devils’ new offense, Marshall is known as a four-back, which is a traditional workhorse. Working to be his backup is senior James Morrison , the former walk-on who earned a scholarship in 2009. Although touches have been infrequent for the 5-11, 213-pound bruiser, he impressed in the spring with his downhill running and non-stop legs.
The offense will also use a three-back, which is typically a third-down back who can also shift to the slot or one of the wideout positions. Junior Kyle Middlebrooks is the frontrunner to become the team’s multi-dimensional tool out of the backfield, using his blazing speed and quickness to ignite the offense from a number of different spots on the field. At just 5-8 and 182 pounds, he’s unlikely to be used in a traditional manner.
The wild card at three-back is sophomore Deantre Lewis , who missed all of 2011 to recover from a random gunshot wound. He’s not all the way back, but he is getting close. At 5-10 and 193 pounds, he’s bigger than Middlebrooks, yet has a lot of the same versatility and big-play potential. The program is hoping he can approach his rookie form of 2010, when he rushed for 539 yards and four scores, while catching 23 passes for 370 yards and two more touchdowns.
Watch Out For … the role of the newcomers. Junior-college transfer Marion Grice and prepster D.J. Foster are a pair of four-star recruits who had their choice of major programs to attend. Grice is ready-made to contribute, and Foster didn’t turn down USC, Stanford and Oregon to stand on the sidelines for very long.
Strength: Depth. The Sun Devils are loaded with as much backfield talent as any edition in Tempe in recent memory. There’s a legit feature back in Marshall, and a complimentary supporting cast ensuring that everyone remains fresh. This group will give the staff all kinds of options, while making sure that a serious injury won’t derail the ground game.
Weakness: Durability. Marshall and Middlebrooks were injured during the spring, and Lewis is still working hard to get back to 100%. Although it looks as if Arizona State has ample troops in the event of injury, it’s a long season, so the hope is that everyone is available at full strength for the opener.
Outlook: So, how is head coach Todd Graham going to keep everyone happy and involved in the offense? The Sun Devils boast six quality backs, with as many four possibly appearing worthy of a dozen carries a game. Marshall is the undisputed feature back of the ensemble. However, Arizona State also would like to exploit the unique skills of Middlebrooks, Lewis and Grice. Unless Foster starts channeling Woody Green right away, he’s a good candidate to be redshirted in 2012.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The passing game is getting whacked with a double-whammy. QB Brock Osweiler is no longer around, and neither are three of last year’s top four receivers. Carrying the torch at “X” for the decimated group will be senior Jamal Miles , the program’s most versatile player. The elusive 5-10, 180-pounder is difficult to classify because he does so many things well. A year ago, for instance, he caught 60 passes for 361 yards and six touchdowns, averaged 8.2 yards on 29 carries and was All-Pac-12 as a punt returner. The staff has to do a better job of getting him in space on vertical routes this fall.
On his way to being locked in at “Y” is 6-0, 198-pound junior Kevin Ozier , the former walk-on who earned a scholarship this offseason. More steady than spectacular, the sure-handed possession receiver will look to build on last season’s 11 receptions for 169 yards.
The competition at “X” receiver is pitting 6-0, 170-pound junior J.J. Holliday against 6-0, 174-pound senior Rashad Ross . Last season was supposed to be Holliday’s breakout moment, but a preseason collarbone injury prevented him from ever playing a down. He looks great in practice, but has yet to remain healthy long enough to produce on Saturdays. Ross is arguably the fastest Sun Devil on the roster, showcasing his jets on the program’s indoor track team. After catching 18 passes for 254 yards and a score in his debut out of Butte (Calif.) College, he hopes to prove he’s much more than just a one-dimensional speedster.
Watch Out For … the evolution of junior Darwin Rogers . Under the new staff, Arizona State plans to use its tight ends more frequently and diversely than Dennis Erickson did. It’ll help having Rogers, a 6-4, 240-pound transfer from Arizona Western who was originally slated to begin his career at Illinois. The former high school quarterback has shown just enough athleticism to warrant a sizable role in the offense.
Strength: Speed. Consistent with the rest of the roster, the receiving corps will be built around its impressive wheels. Miles, Ross and Holliday, in particular, possess the burst to get off the line quickly and behind the secondary in a flash. Even when they aren’t hooking up deep, the Sun Devils should be able to stretch opposing defenses.
Weakness: Consistency. Miles is as close to a sure-thing as the Sun Devils have on the outside entering 2012. However, after the senior, there’s a wave of uncertainty at wide receiver and tight end. Arizona State will need not just one, but multiple pass-catchers to elevate their overall play at the position.
Outlook: The Sun Devils receivers are lining up this offseason to become one of the quarterback’s preferred targets. There’s an enormous opportunity for touches in 2012, and a worrisome dearth of proven players after Miles. Arizona State is not without the raw ingredients for success, especially if Ross or Holliday can emerge at “X”, but a substantial decline in execution from a year ago seems inevitable.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Arizona State must replace three starters along an offensive line that’s been a perennial sore spot in Tempe. The two elder statesmen will be asked to be more than just blockers in 2012—they’ll need to be vocal leaders. The left tackle will once again be 6-6, 299-pound Evan Finkenberg who has 21 starts on his resume. Now that he’s arrived at the halfway point of his career, the staff is hopeful he can begin to turn the corner of his development. The junior has ideal size for the position to go along with the light feet needed to seal off the edge.
The favorite to join Finkenberg at tackle, on the right side, is 6-7, 303-pound Brice Schwab , one of the pleasant surprises of the offseason so far. The former four-star JUCO recruit redshirted last year, using the time to improve his overall conditioning and technique. Now 50 pounds lighter, he’s more flexible and nimble than at any point in his career.
The Devils’ other anchor up front will be senior RG Andrew Sampson who has started 22 games during his career. He’s a blue-collar grinder willing to do whatever is necessary to help the offense reach its goals. And his north-south, no-nonsense approach to the position will be a good fit for an attack that’ll spend more time pounding the ball between the tackles this autumn.
The staff is hoping to hand the left guard job to versatile sophomore Jamil Douglas who can play multiple positions. The former tight end has maintained his agility and athletic ability, but will need to add more strength and muscle to a 6-4, 284-pound frame in order to hold up for 12 games at the point of attack.
Fingers are crossed that 6-4, 294-pound junior Kody Koebensky is ready to handle the tall order of supplanting all-star Garth Gerhart at center. He lettered a year ago in a reserve role, but needs to show that he can be the steady quarterback of the unit on a week-in, week-out basis. If he struggles, the staff could turn to 6-3, 336-pound Mo Latu , a real mauler who’s a few pounds lighter away from being a force at the pivot.
Watch Out For … how high the ceiling is for rookie OT Evan Goodman in his debut. Arizona State loves the potential of its four-star gem from Florida, as did Notre Dame, Miami, Clemson and Nebraska. Tenacious and very quick out of his stance, he has the tools to rise into the two-deep early in his college career.
Strength: Run blocking. Relatively speaking, the Sun Devils will be more advanced at run blocking than pass protection in the early stages of the season. No, they won’t be the most physically imposing unit in the Pac-12, but with Sampson setting the tone, they will play to the whistle, and hold blocks until one of the runners can be sprung.
Weakness: Talent pool. Arizona State will not be very rich in elite blocking talent this season, instead utilizing a handful of try-hard journeymen from the first two units. The left side of Finkenberg and Douglas has a chance to be an exception, but this group of blockers doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well.
Outlook: Last year’s Sun Devils were a seasoned unit with an all-star in the middle, yet the team still finished 85th nationally in rushing and 73rd in sacks allowed. The current edition will have a difficult time improving upon those numbers. Arizona State will feature three new starters, ensuring some degree of a messy transition period. Schwab will be a key component of the group. If he can finally approach his post-JUCO grade, the Devils could surge forward in pass protection.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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