Spring Review: Offense

If you attended just ASU's spring game and none of the other sessions in recent weeks you probably came away with the notion that during the Sun Devil offense was clicking on all cylinders. While that may have been true for this past Saturday, the entire 15-practice session was certainly a bumpy ride for this group.

Quarterback

Recap

When evaluating the full body of work, Brock Osweiler played very well and punctuated the spring with a fantastic Spring Game performance. The unquestioned starter certainly was not flawless, but when an objective analytical stance is taken, fans can be confident that Osweiler can efficiently and effectively engineer ASU's high octane passing attack.

Behind Osweiler, true freshman Mike Bercovici wasted absolutely no time in entering the competition with redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly to be Osweiler's top reserve.

Highlights

In four scrimmages, Osweiler totaled 593 passing yards on 54-of-82 attempts (.659 percent) with nine touchdowns and three interceptions, numbers, if multiplied over a season's scale, figure to facilitate an above-average offensive output. The coaching staff has praised Osweiler for his mental and technical development and his spring efforts, though by no stretch perfect, will not damper expectations.

Though his formal Sun Devil career has only aged a few weeks, Bercovici has shown as much fundamental prowess as any recent true freshman quarterback at ASU. His mechanics are air-tight and his presence is composed is far beyond his years—though Bercovici only months ago became old enough to vote, he has every qualification to lead the Sun Devil offense in the future.

Though he admittedly needs to add more touch and finesse to his passes, his potential at ASU is sky high.

Areas for Improvement

Osweiler needs to continue to progress and refine his overall repertoire; he needs to advance his timing and connection with his receivers and make the necessary reads and place the proper touch on his short, intermediate and deep throws. The work ethic and innate leadership abilities are absolutely there, so the template exists for an even further improved Osweiler to surface in fall camp.

Of the three current quarterbacks, Kelly faces the greatest need for improvement. Though he has the skill set to thrive in ASU's offense and has impressive mobility, his efficiency as a passer needs to improve for Kelly to keep Bercovici from claiming the backup spot.

Though Bercovici has shown big league set of offensive tools, if he is able to learn to improve his ability to progress through targets and know when and when not to use his arm strength, he may avoid the redshirt tag in 2011.

Fall Outlook

Osweiler is the unquestioned starter and in all likelihood, the Sun Devil offense will go as far as he does. He clearly has and had shown—albeit in limited opportunities—the tangible and intangible needs required of a standout quarterback, and the 2011 season will be Osweiler's chance to materialize his immense potential.

One of the most significant position battles to watch in the fall will be whether Kelly can hold off Bercovici, or if the true freshman can build on an impressive spring and become ASU's backup quarterback.

The competition among the reserves will only stiffen in the fall when dual threat recruit Michael Eubank joins the team, bringing physical qualities no quarterback on the roster can match. However, between the two true freshmen, it is presumed that Bercovici is more readymade, but Eubank will have the opportunity to compete and mount his own charge for playing time when fall practice begins.

Running Back

Recap

Though the scrimmage statistics were far from flattering, starter Cameron Marshall showed the qualities that likely will make him one of the more reliable backs in the league, while sophomore Kyle Middlebrooks (pictured) was one of the most impressive performers on the entire roster.

With sophomore Deantre Lewis out of action following an offseason shooting, Marshall and Middlebrooks created a compelling dichotomy in the backfield both in rushing and receiving roles.

Highlights

Expectations for Middlebrooks' sophomore season were raised substantially by way of his play all spring, while Marshall remained sturdy and steady. The added improvement of Middlebrooks as a viable threat out of the backfield makes the Devils' running backs stable an intriguing one on the ground and through the air.

Areas for Improvement

Not much was shown behind Marshall and Middlebrooks, as scholarship reserves James Morrison and Marcus Washington did not play poorly, but neither was particularly turning heads either. However, if Lewis returns to full health in the fall, ASU will have plenty of rushing talent with its top three options.

Fall Outlook

After the spring, the one-two punch of Marshall and Lewis may have turned into a one-two-three punch with Middlebrooks decisively inserting himself into the offense. All three players can excel taking handoffs or running short passing routes, making the unit superbly dynamic.

Barring injuries to the top three backs, Morrison and Washington likely will see only reserve action and participate mainly on special teams.

Wide Receiver

Recap

The spring efforts from the wide receivers were inconsistent throughout the spring, which is not much of a surprise because three of ASU's top wide receivers (Aaron Pflugrad, T.J. Simpson and Mike Willie) missed most or all 15 practices.

The upside to the injury concerns is the increased repetitions that would-be reserves earned, while the starters that were available had the chance to assert themselves as team leaders.

In all, there were some growing pains as the unit continues to acclimate to starting quarterback Brock Osweiler as well as the overall needs of the Sun Devil offense, but the group is expected to be a strength in 2011.

Highlights

If the 2011 season is a continuation of the spring, Gerell Robinson's (pictured) senior year at ASU should be a special one. The former Chandler Hamilton standout was provided a reliable, gritty presence and generally showed the tangible and intangible traits to make him a viable post-season honors candidate this fall.

In the spring game, Robinson (four receptions, 65 yards, one touchdown) and Pflugrad (three receptions, 74 yards, one touchdown) were the leading receivers, while a variety of reserves also contributed.

Much like Middlebrooks at running back, Jamal Miles was used in a multi-purpose role, which included taking snaps out of ASU's newly-dubbed ‘Pitchfork' formation.

As far as the players that earned greater action than initially expected, athletes such as Kevin Anderson, Jarrid Bryant, J.J. Holliday and A.J. Pickens had scattered shining moments that provide confidence for their potential this year. Additionally, walk-on Kevin Ozier, the cousin of Sun Devil legend J.R. Redmond, at times played as well as any of his scholarship colleagues and may be a dark horse candidate for playing time as a reserve.

Areas for Improvement

Though there were several impressive moments, there were many instances where the receivers were either out of synch with Osweiler or lacked focus in their route-running and pass-catching. The wide receivers' overall discipline may not be an urgent issue to cause major concern, but will certainly be a point of reevaluation when fall camp begins.

With the absence of Simpson for most of the season if not the entire campaign, a new deep threat will need to emerge and though candidates certainly exist, a proven target has yet to be fully established.

As far as individual improvements are concerned, senior George Bell was unable to fully capitalize on his extensive first-team action and will need to noticeably improve his focus and toughness to exceed the minimal contributions he made in 2010.

Redshirt freshman Randy Knust saw the least action among scholarship receivers and likely will have a very limited role—or possibly another scout team season—in his immediate future.

Fall Outlook

With Willie back in the mix, ASU's receivers unit should be one of the league's deepest. A key factor undoubtedly will be whether the reserves can perform as well in game action as they did at times throughout the spring, but if the group can collectively bond with Osweiler, the passing attack should remain among the nation's best.

Willie, Robinson, Pflugrad and Miles are all but assured to be the top members of the rotation, with Bell, Holliday and Pickens likely as the top reserves, but will be pushed by Anderson, Bryant and potentially Ozier.

Freshman Karl Holmes and junior college transfer Rashad Ross (the later may end up moving to cornerback to bolster the thin depth there) will join the team in the fall. Gary Chambers who was once a potential greyshirt candidate is now scheduled to join the squad in the fall as well. Each member of the incoming group will have to prove himself quickly to avoid a redshirt year in a deep group of wide receivers.

Tight End

Recap

Unsurprisingly, Trevor Kohl and Christopher Coyle were the two primary tight ends – just as they were for ASU in 2010. Kohl's blocking prowess and Coyle's receiving skills complemented one another to a satisfactory degree, while Max Smith and Josh Fulton rounded out the spring depth at tight end.

Highlights

Coyle was clearly the most accomplished receiver among the tight ends this spring, seeing the most passes come his way in practice as well as in scrimmages. Kohl saw his role diversify to different backfield blocking duties as well as traditional line of scrimmage responsibilities.

Areas for Improvement

There is little improvement to demand because the collective role of ASU's tight ends is so minimal; as long as Kohl is sufficient in his blocking duties and he and Coyle positively respond when utilized in the pass game, few will complain.

If there is a single individual to highlight as far as needing improvement among the four scholarship tight ends, Josh Fulton saw the least action in the spring though he may still be suffering rust from being over a year removed from his most recent game or practice activity.

Fall Outlook

Though the position group is not a major emphasis in ASU's offense, Kohl has a clear role as a blocker while Coyle has continued to show respectable skills as a receiver and should see more looks this year compared to last. Smith likely will be the third tight end and used for depth purposes and perhaps on special teams, while Fulton appears destined for a redshirt and perhaps even a position change, as he also starred at defensive end at Phoenix's St. Mary's High School.

ASU did not sign a tight end in its 2011 class, making the fall expectations very apparent now that spring drills have concluded.

Offensive Line

Recap

Similar to the 2010 season, ASU's offensive line this spring was solid even though it did not generate a spectacular degree of fanfare. Most importantly for many, the Sun Devil front five generally remained healthy though right tackle Dan Knapp missed the final couple weeks with a knee injury that is not expected to hold him out of fall practice.

The expected starters remained unquestioned, while reserves such as tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka, guard Kody Kobensky, guard Brice Schwab and tackle Aderious Simmons all showed marked improvement this spring.

Highlights

During the spring, center Garth Gerhart continued to prove himself as perhaps the league's best at his position, while left tackle Evan Finkenberg (pictured) also showed abilities to make further improvements on a high quality redshirt freshman season last year.

The most notable highlights, however, may be the aforementioned individual improvements as they create vast encouragement for the starting lineup and depth along the line this season.

Areas for Improvement

All things considered, ASU's line plays well within itself and there were more improvements than concerns shown this spring. To maintain continuous health has and always will be a priority, as there is no significant starting experience among the reserves—though the backups are generally tenured in their respective roles.

The offensive line is by no means a powerhouse unit, but is also far from being a liability as it was earlier in Dennis Erickson's tenure at ASU.

Fall Outlook

When fall camp begins the left-to-right starting lineup of Finkenberg, Mike Marcisz, Gerhart, Andrew Sampson or Adam Tello and either Knapp or Simmons seems to remain a distinct plausibility. Clearly, right tackle is the main position that will experience much of a battle for starting rights, but spring efforts of underclassmen such as Douglas and Kobensky add further assurance to the overall depth of the line.

Center Devin Goodman and guards Vi Teofilo and Brent Walker are expected to join the team in the fall to begin their Sun Devil careers, though all three very likely will redshirt – while Walker has academic hurdles to clear before making his way to ASU. Additionally, there is vast speculation that Schwab may redshirt in 2011 to extend his eligibility another year with two seniors among ASU's three starting interior linemen.

Offensive Surprises

QB Mike Bercovici: Quarterbacks invariably will be watched and scoured more closely than any player on the roster, and an early high school graduate such as Bercovici had virtually no choice but to grab the intrigue of many throughout the spring. For most of the cluster of practices and scrimmages, the true freshman exhibited technical skills light years beyond his football experience, showing incredible mechanics and poise in the pocket as well as a cannon of an arm and a superb work ethic.

As a reserve in all four scrimmages, Bercovici totaled 334 passing yards on 23-of-37 passing (62.2 percent) with one touchdown and two interceptions. Though his skills are far from perfect, his overall effort in the spring was far beyond all expectations and if his performances are similar through the summer and into fall camp, he may be able to earn the backup quarterback role for 2011.

RB Kyle Middlebrooks: Likely to be one of the most improved offensive Sun Devils in 2011, Middlebrooks was one of the top spring standouts both in running and receiving roles as he took advantage of an elevated depth chart role in place of the injured Deantre Lewis. Middlebrooks' elite speed and lateral quickness out of the backfield are tremendous assets and the Rudy Burgess comparisons may be quickly validated when the regular season commences.

In four scrimmages, the sophomore totaled 17 carries for 135 yards as well as seven receptions for 49 yards and a 12-yard touchdown in the Spring Game. His greatest emphasis may have been as a receiver in the flats, as his longest running plays technically counted as rushing yards by way of backward passes. Though Lewis is expected to return to full strength in the fall, Middlebrooks provides the offense a luxurious multi-dimensional option, while he likely will be the Devils' primary kickoff returner after thriving at that role as a true freshman last season.

WRs J.J. Holliday and Kevin Ozier: Though no player or coach took any measure of joy in the receivers that missed spring duty during the spring, one positive note was the opportunity for some of the less experienced players to earn increased practice reps. Of the group, Holliday and Ozier were among the most substantially improved players, especially in live scrimmage action.

In four scrimmages, Holliday totaled 12 receptions for 129 yards with a touchdown that came in the Spring Game, while Ozier had the most statistically impressive effort by a wide receiver in the four mock games, hauling in five passes for 121 yards and a score in the team's second scrimmage. Both players may have effectively put themselves on the ‘map' for 2011, as Holliday could be a surprise offensive contributor while Ozier, currently a walk-on, may be able to merge into game action or possibly a scholarship opportunity if one is available.

Offensive Disappointments

WR George Bell: With the long-term injury suffered by Simpson and the unavailability of Willie and Pflugrad during the spring, Bell was given every opportunity under the sun to establish himself as a viable starting candidate and capable target.

Throughout the spring, Bell was inconsistent with his focus and technique (especially catching balls in traffic) and although there were satisfactory moments, by-and-large he was not able to escalate confidence in him as a key contributor.

OT Kyle Johnson: Though Johnson boasts the most experience out of all the Sun Devil offensive tackles, he has not been able to translate his seniority into a game rotation role. Evan Finkenberg has the starting left tackle locked down, while Dan Knapp and Aderious Simmons will continue to battle for reps at right tackle.

Entering the spring, Johnson was listed as the top reserve at left tackle, however he was generally outperformed by redshirt freshman Jamil Douglas, potentially relegating Johnson to the third team for his redshirt junior campaign.

QB Taylor Kelly: If not for the eye-opening play of true freshman Mike Bercovici, the redshirt freshman's performances may not have been as closely scrutinized, but Bercovici's emergence undoubtedly illustrated that the second-string quarterback position is far from guaranteed to Kelly. He was not grossly disappointing all things considered, but his combined scrimmage efforts of 14-of-30 passing (46.7 percent) for 136 yards with four interceptions and zero touchdowns certainly did not cement Kelly in as Brock Osweiler's primary understudy.

Though the coaching staff denied proclaiming an official #2 quarterback, few would be shocked if Bercovici assumed Kelly's current reserve role if the two quarterbacks perform at the same respective levels in fall camp.


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