2013 Arizona State Preview - Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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Arizona State Offense
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What You Need To Know: Backfield? Check. Everywhere else? Check back at the end of the season. The Sun Devils offense was terrific a year ago, cranking out 464 balanced yards and 38 points per game. And with the returns of underrated QB Taylor Kelly and versatile backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, expectations will again be very high for the attack. In fact, even more will be expected from the unit now that Kelly is entering his second season as the starter. However, ASU isn't without an offseason to-do list, the likes of which will become particularly poignant when facing Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, Notre Dame and UCLA. If this program is going to keep the pedal on the floor, and capture the Pac-12 South, it needs to develop pass-catching playmakers besides H-back Chris Coyle and plug holes in pass protection. Kelly was outstanding in 2012, but he'll raise the bar two notches higher with a little more support. To help address the issues, the Devils have moved starting G Jamil Douglas outside to right tackle, and they're bringing in a trio of JUCO receivers signed to contribute right away.
Star of the offense: Junior QB Taylor Kelly
Passing: Taylor Kelly
241-359, 3,039 yards, 29 TDs, 9 INTs
Rushing: Marion Grice
103 carries, 679 yards, 11 TDs
Receiving: Chris Coyle
57 catches, 696 yards, 5 TDs
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior WR Kevin Ozier
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB D.J. Foster
Best pro prospect: Senior RB Marion Grice
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Grice , 2) Kelly, 3) Senior H-back Chris Coyle
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, depth and versatility of the backs, tight end, the ground game
Weakness of the offense: The wide receivers, pass protection
Arizona State was in dire need of a successor to Brock Osweiler last year. Junior Taylor Kelly answered the call, playing well beyond all expectations in his debut. After winning a heated competition in the spring and summer, Kelly went on to finish 2012 as the nation's ninth-rated quarterback in terms of passing efficiency. With noticeable precision, the 6-2, 202-pounder completed 241-of-359 passes for 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns and just nine picks. Had sacks not been subtracted, he would have led the Sun Devils with 724 yards on the ground, and his completion percentage of 67.1% set the school single-season record. Yeah, there are other Pac-12 quarterbacks with better overall measurables. But ASU is thrilled with Kelly, a winner, whose ability to flourish within the system could result in more national awareness in 2013.
The only competition at quarterback this year revolves around the backup job. Sophomores Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank are locked in an important battle. While only 6-1 and 202 pounds, Bercovici really cranks up the RPMs on his throws, and is the more polished pocket passer of the duo. He redshirted last season after playing behind Brock Osweiler as a rookie in 2011. Eubank was the gem of the 2011 recruiting class, a Cam Newton-sized dual-threat at 6-6 and 246 pounds. Whether or not he wins the No. 2 job, he's likely to see the field as a change-of-pace and short-yardage specialist. Eubank came off the bench last fall to rush for 223 yards and four scores on 63 carries, while completing 34-of-54 throws for 330 yards, four touchdowns and three picks.
Watch Out For … Kelly to be even better in Year 2 as the cover boy of the offense. The junior had a remarkable season considering his lack of experience and dangerous receivers on the perimeter. What the coaches like most about their quarterback is his work ethic and propensity for not resting on his laurels. Kelly is far from content, bad news for Pac-12 defenses.
Strength: The run-pass option. It would be tough enough to stop Eubank if he was simply an accurate dart thrower. However, his quickness, field vision and ability to prolong plays cannot be ignored. Oh, and when Arizona State really wants to keep defenses guessing, it'll summon No. 18, the equally athletic Eubank from the sideline.
Weakness: The ability to stretch the field. Kelly isn't exactly packing a rifle. And the Sun Devils wide receivers are marginal, at best. Put those two facts together, and it's to figure out why the passing game spends so much time getting the ball to the running backs and the tight ends on short and intermediate passing routes.
Outlook: The development of Kelly, the one-time afterthought in the quarterback race, was nothing short of revelatory in 2012. He was outstanding in his starting debut, and only figures to get better with more snaps and time in the system. The Sun Devils are pretty pleased with their backup situation as well, with Bercovici coming off his redshirt year, and Eubank serving as a secret weapon. In the span of a year, ASU's quarterback situation went from uncertain to rock solid.
Unit Rating: 8
Arizona State didn't have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2012. Not even close, in fact. Yet, the school is ecstatic about its backfield situation as the new campaign approaches. The frontrunner to become this year's feature back is 6-0, 204-pound senior Marion Grice, who maximized limited opportunities in his debut out of Blinn (Tex.) Community College. A complement within the attack, and a versatile one at that, he rushed for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns on only 103 carries, adding 41 receptions for 425 yards and another eight scores. As quiet off the field as he is explosive on it, Grice is a fluid runner, with the efficient stride and second gear to leave defensive backs feebly chasing him from behind.
The only thing that might prevent Grice from amassing monster numbers this season is the presence of his young teammate, precocious sophomore D.J. Foster. The gem of the 2012 recruiting class made an instant splash as a rookie, rushing for 493 yards and two scores on 102 carries. However, he was even more valuable as a receiver, catching 38 balls for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Trading feature back size for speed and elusiveness, the bulked up 5-11, 199-pounder is determined to become the big-play guy that this offense sorely needs. Foster has wasted no time impressing the coaching staff, especially with his toughness in traffic.
No, there won't be many carries to be dispersed by the time the third team is reached, but 5-11, 188-pound Deantre Lewis has performed this offseason as if he plans on forcing his way into the mix. The junior busted out as a rookie in 2010, missed all of 2011 to recover from a random gunshot wound and spent most of last year on defense. However, in the spring, his versatility and elusiveness was back on display on the offensive side of the ball.
Watch Out For … Grice to quickly attract the attention of the NFL scouts and the non-Pac-12 portion of college football fans. The multi-dimensional playmaker showed glimpses of his potential in his debut out of the junior-college ranks. This fall, with an expanded role, and a chance to audition for a job on Sundays, he's going to break loose from his anonymity.
Strength: Versatility. Arizona State's three primary running backs share a common thread—they're all playmakers, whether they're running with the ball or catching it out of the backfield. Grice, Foster and Lewis can also go the distance with the smallest window of daylight, busting through seams and through defenses with suddenness.
Weakness: Short yardage. Now that their biggest backs, Cameron Marshall and James Morrison, are gone, who do the Sun Devils turn to in short yardage situations? Redshirt freshman Terrell Davis is a powerful 6-0, 232-pounder, but he's also listed fourth on the depth chart. ASU is going to need a reliable bruiser who can occasionally pick up dirty yards.
Outlook: Arizona State is eager to unleash its running backs on Pac-12 defenses. In Grice and Foster, the team has a pair of dynamic playmakers, both of whom will be used as inventively as possible. Oh, and the reemergence of Lewis is just an added bonus of depth. A physical, between-the-tackles presence aside, the Sun Devils have it all in the backfield, boasting two budding stars ready to flourish now that there are more touches to go around.
Unit Rating: 8
While QB Taylor Kelly looks for a playmaker on the outside, a weak area for the Sun Devils, he'll continue to play catch with 6-3, 222-pound H-back Chris Coyle, by far his most reliable target in 2012. The senior, who began last year with only six career catches, had a team-high 57 receptions for 696 yards and five touchdowns to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12. He rehabbed a shoulder injury, shook off a couple of idle seasons in Tempe and proved to be a nice fit for an offense that makes better use of tight ends and H-backs than the prior staff. Coyle has soft hands, which he'll use to catch at least 50 passes once again this fall.
The graduations of Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross mean that senior Kevin Ozier is the new veteran among the wide receivers. The 6-2, 200-pound former walk-on has carved out a nice career in Tempe, peaking last season with 21 catches for 324 yards and five touchdowns. The team's possession receiver at "X" is a tough, hard-working and sure-handed target for the team's quarterbacks.
The offense is banking on 5-9, 165-pound "Z" receiver Richard Smith blossoming in his sophomore year. He's the type of athlete, with the 4.4 wheels, who is capable of stretching out opposing defenses. He wet his feet last fall with 14 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns to go along with contributions on special teams.
Rounding out the probable starting unit is the "Y" receiver, 6-3, 200-pound sophomore Gary Chambers. Though inexperienced, he's a long target who's capable of creating mismatches with smaller defensive backs. He didn't catch a pass last year, but spent a lot of time with the first unit in the spring.
When the Sun Devils use a traditional tight end, 6-4, 244-pound senior Darwin Rogers will get the call. The former high school quarterback, who began his career at Illinois, caught three balls for 31 yards and a touchdown in his debut out of Arizona Western.
Backing up Ozier at "X" will be senior Alonzo Agwuenu, who spent some time with the first unit in the spring. The 6-4, 212-pound former transfer from Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) Junior College earned a letter in his first year as a Sun Devil, catching 11 balls for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Watch Out For … the arrival of the cavalry. Arizona State needs help at wide receiver, and it recruited accordingly in February. The program signed five wideouts and two tight ends, all of whom will get an immediate shot to compete for playing time. JUCO transfer Jaelen Strong and true freshmen Ellis Jefferson and Cameron Smith, in particular, are closest to being ready for the field.
Strength: Size. The Sun Devils aren't the fastest or the most experienced on the outside, but they do harbor a collection of well-sized targets for QB Taylor Kelly. Ozier, Chambers and Agwuenu are at least 6-2, with the long arms to make grabs above the defensive back.
Weakness: Proven wide receivers. Arizona State is in great shape at H-back with Coyle, but the wide receivers are pedestrian and inexperienced. While Ozier is the team's most seasoned pass-catcher on the outside, he'd ideally be a No. 3 guy on most Pac-12 teams. If the Sun Devils are again unspectacular at wide receiver, they'll be forced to avoid downfield throws altogether, heavily using the backs and tight ends.
Outlook: If the Sun Devils stumble on offense this season, it could be because of the lack of playmakers at wide receivers. The team is searching for a bona fide go-to guy on the outside who catch 50 passes and six or seven touchdowns. In August, it'll be worth closely watching the newcomers, who'll get a chance to become important cogs in the offensive machine.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Three starters return from last year's O-line, none more accomplished than senior LT Evan Finkenberg. The Sun Devils will be rebuilding on the right side, but the left side is set with Finkenberg as the anchor of the entire unit. The versatile 6-4, 290-pounder has started 34 career games, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 and the team's Outstanding Offensive Lineman award a year ago. While built more like a guard than a tackle, he uses his feet well, and plays with the athleticism to close off the edge on some of the Pac-12's quicker pass rushers.
The team's new left guard looks as if it will be 6-4, 297-pound Sil Ajawara. The junior flirted with right tackle in the spring, but wound up looking more comfortable on the interior. Physical and aggressive on running plays, he's working toward a promotion after coming off the bench in five games in 2012.
With Ajawara staying at guard, the staff has moved 6-4, 303-pound Jamil Douglas from left guard, where he started 13 games, to right tackle. While tackle is not the junior's natural position, he's such a good athlete that he was able to make a rather smooth transition in the spring. Douglas is on the cusp of being an honors candidate and surpassing Finkenberg as the team's best blocker.
A solid offseason has propelled 6-3, 314-pound sophomore Vi Teofilo to the top of the depth chart at right guard. He has the advantage of three starts last fall in place of the injured Andrew Sampson, and is an especially effective north-south run blocker.
Arizona State's third returning starter up front is 6-3, 290-pound Kody Koebensky, the team's center. He brings 29 games of experience to the front wall, including 13 starts at the pivot a year ago. He's versatile, durable and smart, a steady blocker for the Sun Devils.
Former four-star LT Evan Goodman, the prize of the 2012 recruiting class, will spend one more year behind Finkenberg before replacing him next year. Ferocious and quick out of his stance, he chose Arizona State over the likes of Notre Dame, Miami, Clemson and Nebraska a year ago. Behind Teofilo at right guard, Mo Latu is a 6-3, 338-pound mauler, with the strength and want-to to become a road grader for the Sun Devils.
Watch Out For … the availability of Auburn transfer Christian Westerman. The five-star recruit, who was rated as the nation's top guard of 2010, decided last December to continue his career closer to his Chandler, Ariz. home. Although the sophomore would instantly be in the mix for one of the starting jobs, it's more likely that he won't be eligible to play for his new team until 2014.
Strength: Run blocking. Relatively speaking, Arizona State will continue to be more skilled as run blockers than as pass protectors. This is a physical, blue-collar collection of offensive linemen that was a key reason why the Sun Devils ranked 25th nationally on the ground, while norming almost 4.5 yards per carry.
Weakness: Keeping the pocket clean. Pass protection has been a perennial problem in Tempe, with last season being no different. Despite blocking for a quarterback, Taylor Kelly, who has quick feet and makes good decisions, Arizona State still ranked 102nd nationally in sacks allowed. Moving Douglas outside ought to help, but it could also leave the unit vulnerable to inside rushes.
Outlook: In some aspects, the O-line improved in 2012, and in others it regressed. Blocking for the Sun Devils' skill position players will be a marginal group of linemen, none of whom are likely to earn All-Pac-12 honors. The unit will be scrappy, diligent and hardworking, but it will also be vulnerable to getting whipped by some of the faster pass rushers in the league. In an ideal scenario, Arizona State keeps opening holes, while giving Kelly a little more time to find open receivers.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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Arizona State Offense
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