2014 ASU Preview: What You Need To Know
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Arizona State (Getty Images)
What You Need To Know...
Arizona State Preview
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Arizona State will need its offense to be potent now more than ever. Coordinator Mike Norvell continues to do an outstanding job with a balanced, big-play attack that's averaged more than 38 points in each of the last two seasons. The Sun Devils will need every point this fall, as the D undergoes an extreme makeover. Sparking Sparky for one more year will be senior QB Taylor Kelly, a threat as a passer and a scrambler. Kelly loses access to RB Marion Grice and TE Chris Coyle, but weapons won't be a worry in 2014. D.J. Foster heads a deep backfield that also includes Kyle Middlebrooks and Deantre Lewis. Kelly's targets include All-American candidate Jaelen Strong and a spate of risers, like redshirt freshman WR Ellis Jefferson and do-everything TE De'Marieya Nelson. Breaths, though, are being held regarding the O-line. Auburn transfer Christian Westerman and all-star Jamil Douglas are terrific building blocks, but ASU has a history of struggling in pass protection.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: All eyes this summer will be on new coordinator Keith Patterson's defense, which will look nothing like the one that had its share of ups-and-downs in 2013. The Sun Devils will be breaking in new starters at each level, as eight all-stars either graduated or chose to leave school early. While many of the faces will be new, the attack plan will be the same. ASU wants to, well, attack, both the pocket and the man with the ball. With only three regulars back, name tags will be necessary this summer at Camp Tontozona. Sure, the Sun Devils have quality holdovers, such as LB Salamo Fiso and FS Damarious Randall. But by October, a bunch of first-year players could be household names. Linemen Dalvon Stuckey, Connor Humphreys, Darrius Caldwell and Tashon Smallwood, and CB Kweishi Brown haven't even been fitted for uniforms yet. Each of the newcomers, though, possesses the talent and the opportunity to become breakout stars in their Sun Devil debuts.
Players You Need To Know
1. QB Taylor Kelly, Sr.
With a year of eligibility left, Kelly is well on his way to ranking among ASU's most prolific passers in every major category. The third-year starter has dwarfed expectations in Tempe, raising the level of his play as a junior. In 2013, he earned Second Team All-Pac-12 behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota by completing 302-of-484 passes for 3,635 yards, 28 touchdowns and 12 picks. No one-note playmaker, Kelly also rushed for 608 yards and nine touchdowns on 173 carries. Still, he's working on becoming a more efficient passer, who throws fewer picks and takes less sacks in his final year.
2. WR Jaelen Strong, Jr.
Arizona State's eye for junior-college talent continued in 2013 with the development of Strong into an instant impact performer. In his debut out of Pierce (Calif.) College, he caught a team-high 75 passes for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns to earn Second Team All-Pac-12. At 6-3 and 212 pounds, he's physical and has tremendous length, from his overall frame to his long arms and big mitts. Think young Anquan Boldin. Strong is an All-American contender, as well as a contender to leave for the NFL following his junior year.
3. OT Jamil Douglas, Sr.
Douglas is set to anchor a Sun Devil O-line that could be the school's most physical and assertive unit in years. A natural guard, who'll play the position on Sundays, he's been working at left tackle to fill the gaping hole left by the graduation of Evan Finkenberg. The 6-4, 301-pound Douglas was a member of the All-Pac-12 Second Team in 2013, running his streak of consecutive starts to 27 games. His athleticism and fundamentals will attract the attention of NFL scouts this fall.
4. RB D.J. Foster, Jr.
Over the past two seasons, Foster was one of the country's busiest all-purpose backs. This fall, he's targeting the role of feature back that had been handled by Marion Grice. The Sun Devils tinkered with Foster out of the slot in 2013 to maximize his terrific hands. He responded with 63 catches for 653 yards and four touchdowns. However, Foster is not some third-down, situational scatback. He's an electrifying 5-11, 203-pounder, who's rushed for almost 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in a complementary role in his first two years on campus.
5. FS Damarious Randall, Sr.
Randall was an instant impact player for the Sun Devils in his first season out of Mesa (Ariz.) Community College. After getting his feet wet as a backup in the early going, he won a job at the end of September that he'd never relinquish. He finished the season with 71 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, three interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles. As the numbers attest, Randall is a 5-11, 189-pound ball-hawk, with the range and the all-around skill set to impact games in a number of different ways.
6. LB Salamo Fiso, Soph.
After being thoroughly gutted at linebacker, ASU is looking for Fiso to be more than just a playmaker. The team needs him to be a young leader of the rebuilt crew. He excelled beyond most expectations in 2013, starting 10 games as a rookie, including the last five. Fiso finished tied for third on the team with 71 tackles, capped by a season-high nine in the bowl loss to Texas Tech. The 6-0, 236-pound brings toughness, physicality and high energy to strongside for the Sun Devils.
7. OG Christian Westerman, Jr.
The Sun Devils are bullish on Westerman. And for good reason. Three years ago, he was a five-star Auburn recruit and the nation's top-rated guard. After two years on the Plains, he decided to transfer back to his home state. The 6-4, 304-pound nasty drive blocker used the spring to solidify his spot as the starting left guard, which allowed the staff to slide all-leaguer Jamil Douglas to the left tackle opening. Although Westerman has had limited reps at this level, there's a growing buzz that he has all-star skills as well.
8. DT Jaxon Hood, Jr.
The hope around campus is that Hood can recapture his true freshman form, when he earned honorable mention All-Pac-12. He'll need to rebound from a sophomore slump that saw him start five games and make only 17 tackles and three stops for loss. When the 6-0, 301-pound Hood is playing at his optimal level, he's a rugged, high-motor tackle who never quits on a play. ASU needs to see the lineman whose leverage, strength and attitude make it difficult to keep him out of the backfield.
9. DT Dalvon Stuckey, Jr.
Yeah, Stuckey has yet to even arrive in Tempe, but he's that good, and the Sun Devils are that needy after losing nine defensive starters. The 6-3, 308-pound Pearl River (Miss.) Community College transfer originally signed with Florida State out of high school, but now he's headed to the desert. He's an explosive interior lineman, sudden off the snap and even quicker into opposing backfields. Stuckey was a JUCO menace, racking up a slew of tackles for loss. Arizona State needs the disruption to carry over to this fall to help offset some of Will Sutton's lost production.
10. PK Zane Gonzales, Soph.
Gonzales brought instant stability and accuracy to the kicking game in his first year out of Deer Park (Tex.) High School. Unusually steady for such a young player, he nailed 25-of-30 field goal attempts to get recognized as a Groza Award semifinalist. Those 25 three-pointers not only led the FBS, but also tied an NCAA record among freshmen. Gonzales' 138 points in 2013 smashed the school mark established by Sun Devil Wilford White 63 years earlier.
Arizona State Preview