Position Roster (By Seniority)
Joe Arreguin, Sr.*
Brock Osweiler, Jr.
Taylor Kelly, RS-Fr.
Mike Bercovici, Fr.
Michael Eubank, Fr.
Though every season, for every team, the quarterback position can be the difference between wins and losses and the season's overall quality, for ASU in 2011 the quarterback play could legitimately alter the long-term health of the football program.
There is no question that ASU's total talent in 2011 is at an intriguingly high level, the window of opportunity is not massive so the varied deficiencies that have persisted at quarterback the past few years will have to subside.
In 2010, the productivity at quarterback and in the passing game as a whole was clearly improved from the previous season, as Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone and quarterback Steven Threet helped revamp the Sun Devil offense into a top-20 passing attack. However, though the yardage and potency improved, Threet's penchant for unstable ball control was a devastating factor in as many as four of ASU's six losses.
Within the framework of ASU's offense, the quarterback clearly plays a substantial role, so there is little ability for starter Brock Osweiler to just focus on not making mistakes as passers in run-heavy offenses can often get away with. Ultimately, the ball is going to fly around quite a bit and it is up to Osweiler and his targets to make sure the action is conducted with greater consistency than was shown at many points in 2010.
In Osweiler, ASU gives the college football one of the most truly intriguing players around, as the former Gonzaga basketball recruit is the nation's tallest quarterback and combines awe-inspiring skills as an athletic, dynamic passer albeit packaged in a generally inexperienced player.
The meticulous analysis of Osweiler is baffling at best due to the drastically limited sample, but in the two games he was the primary quarterback, he showed elite abilities in guiding the offense—but also areas in need of improvement.
In relief of the injured Threet against UCLA, Osweiler was immaculate as he ignited the offense with jet fuel as he immediately helped erase a 17-0 deficit and four touchdown passes and one rushing score later, ASU dominated the Bruins to a 55-34 win.
The next week, in the season finale, Osweiler was visibly shaken in the early stages against Arizona in Tucson, throwing several ill-advised passes but luckily was able to avoid multiple potential turnovers. However, to Osweiler's credit, he was able to shake his first-half jitters and play a more composed brand of ball in the second half and the two overtimes and went from potential liability to a catalyst to ASU's dramatic victory.
In the end, there certainly is more optimism than pessimism for Osweiler's potential, but the hopes of a conference championship caliber team rest largely on his shoulders, and the lack of experienced depth at quarterback place severe urgency on Osweiler's ability to provide a mix of consistency and authority to the Sun Devil offensive attack.
Behind Osweiler, the question marks aren't because of a lack of talent, but due to zero college game experience among each player throughout the remainder of the depth chart.
Though redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly boasts a one-year tenure advantage over ASU's other two scholarship quarterbacks, it cannot be presumed that he will be handed the second-string position as true freshman spring enrollee Mike Bercovici began his Sun Devil career in excellent fashion and is a very plausible option for playing time this year.
Between the two players, Bercovici is clearly the more polished passer—despite his youth—as he has spectacular arm strength and notable pocket presence. What Kelly lacks in traditional throwing prowess he makes up for in athleticism as a threat to run, however that quality may not be enough for him to maintain his depth chart role. If the performances of the two in August are similar to what they were in March and April, few would be shocked by the true freshman claiming the number two role.
It is likely safe to say that fans eagerly anticipate the sight of incoming freshman Michael Eubank clad in maroon and gold, if even for just practice reps to begin with. The gem of ASU's 2011 recruiting class, Eubank is as athletic as any player at the position for ASU in recent or even long-term memory, the four-star prospect has next-level skills both in and out of the pocket. Though his physical gifts likely are unmatched by any quarterback on the roster, Eubank likely stands to benefit from some technical tutelage and the likelihood of him using 2011 to redshirt is high. However, Eubank's athletic ceiling seems to have few limits and his future—and that of ASU's offense—is very bright.
Senior walk-on Joe Arreguin, formerly of Pima Community College, adds depth behind ASU's four scholarship quarterbacks.
What We Know:
There is zero doubt about Brock Osweiler being the starter.
The early retirement of Samson Szakacsy was more of a hit to ASU's quarterback depth, but when it was announced that Steven Threet would be forced to discontinue his college career there was little doubt that Osweiler would firmly grasp the reins of the offense. The unexpected events may have not created unnatural results, as after Osweiler had orchestrated wins in the team's final two efforts of 2010 many supported him as starter over an able-bodied Threet.
With no other quarterback on the roster with college game experience, for now, Osweiler has to be the option. Osweiler's status as a starter isn't undeserved, as he has shown the necessary development to guide the Sun Devils with his arm strength, surprising mobility and perhaps above all, his charismatic moxie as a leader. However, despite all the intrigue that surrounds the 6-foot-8 triggerman, with Osweiler in charge only Washington has less quarterback experience than ASU among Pac-12 teams.
There is no question that all eyes will be on Osweiler in August camp and in the early stages of the season, as the lofty expectations for ASU's 2011 squad will last only as long as he remains effective and efficient as the signal caller.
What We Don't Know:
Who will be the backup and how do redshirting strategies play a role?
After the spring, Bercovici appears to be on track to be able to surpass Kelly, but there is always the lingering concern of placing a true freshman into duty at quarterback given the seemingly inevitable learning curve that is exists. Because of the fact that Osweiler is the unquestioned starter, it remains to be seen whether any "mop-up" duty will be given to Kelly to attempt to redshirt both Bercovici and fellow true freshman Michael Eubank.
Essentially, it breaks down to what is most important: preparing the most qualified candidate for future duty or not wasting eligibility for the sake of minimal game reps. Historically at ASU, Dennis Erickson has not hesitated to play true freshman even if strictly as role players, so odds are if Bercovici is the decided number two, he will see the field at some point in 2011.
Projected Starter: Brock Osweiler
With both Steven Threet and Samson Szakacsy having ended their careers a year early, Osweiler is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience. Not does he have some seasoning, he rides a bit of momentum into 2011 after a gritty test in victory as a starter at Arizona that followed a sensational performance in a win over UCLA the week before. Theoretically, it would take a catastrophic event for Osweiler to be out of the starting lineup at any point in 2011.
Rising Star: Mike Bercovici
Bercovici (pictured) brought quite a bit of recruiting hype to Tempe, but there were some unanswered questions due to the uniqueness of him being only a one-year starter in high school that had to sit out the duration of his junior season.
Any concerns were quickly extinguished as Bercovici showed the mental and physical traits light years beyond what is expected of an individual that had yet to experience his senior prom. When fall camp rolls around, Bercovici is in the thick of the battle to be Osweiler's to backup, and few would be surprised if Bercovici bypasses a redshirt season in 2011 and sees immediate action as a reserve.
Needs to Step Up:
Taylor Kelly Last fall, Kelly was earning rave reviews for his athleticism and upside, but fast forward 12 months and he is in a dog fight for the backup quarterback position. With Bercovici having a stellar spring for a true freshman and the ultra-athletic Michael Eubank arriving this summer to add even more promise to the future of the quarterback position, Kelly is assumed by many to be barely holding onto his second-team position—if he hasn't lost it already. If Kelly is noticeably outperformed by Bercovici in August, he may very well be relegated to a third-team role.
Position Roster (By Seniority)
James Morrison, RS-Jr.
Cameron Marshall, Jr.
Kyle Middlebrooks, So.
Brock Gorubec, So.*
D.J. Bush, RS-Fr.*
Marcus Washington, RS-Fr.
Over the past calendar year, the landscape at wide receiver for the Sun Devils as become as positive as it has since Dennis Erickson arrived in 2007, with multiple athletes on the depth chart able to provide striking qualities to the offense.
After a solid true freshman season in a reserve role in 2009, Cameron Marshall (pictured) emerged into a highly qualified starting running back by collecting 787 yards on 150 carries (5.2 avg.) with nine touchdowns while adding 25 receptions for 227 yards and a score as a receiver. In total, Marshall routinely showed a combination of authoritative running and darting speed to be a multi-dimensional threat while also tying the most total touchdowns (10) scored by a Sun Devil since Shaun McDonald in 2002.
Heading into 2011, Marshall has a decisive spot atop the pecking order at running back—partially because of his talents, while also because of circumstantial forces.
Due to the fact that Deantre Lewis, the author of a sensational rookie season in 2010, was a victim of an offseason shooting, the forecast for Lewis' availability for 2011 remains unclear. When on the field, Lewis is a running highlight reel as he instantly became a force both in the running game and as a receiver, having totaled 539 rushing yards, 370 receiving yards and six total touchdowns as a true freshman. Lewis missed all of spring drills and recently returned to basic workouts, but no precise timetable to return to live action has been established.
In Lewis' absence this spring, sophomore Kyle Middlebrooks was given the opportunity to showcase his elite athleticism, performing as dynamically as any offensive player during the practice sessions and scrimmages. Primarily a kickoff return specialist but also a participant at both wide receiver and running back as a true freshman in 2010, Middlebrooks, an extremely versatile athlete with a high-profile track background, appears ready to take on a much greater role. Whether Lewis is available or not, Middlebrooks still will be a factor in the offense, giving ASU, if at full strength, a bounty of weapons out of the backfield.
If Lewis continues to be absent from the lineup, needs at running back could trickle down to players other than Marshall and Middlebrooks, as all-purpose athlete Jamal Miles, primarily a starter at wide receiver but a star running back at the high school level, may take on a greater rushing role.
In 2010, Miles' contributions were split evenly as a receiver, runner and punt returner, as the Peoria native totaled 25 receptions, 27 carries and 29 punt returns. Also, despite only returning three kickoffs on the year, one was a 99-yard dash for a touchdown against UCLA.
The lower end of the scholarship depth chart figures to include James Morrison, ASU's most veteran running back, as well as redshirt freshman Marcus Washington. Morrison has had exhibitions of excellent running in practice over his three years at ASU but posted only 66 yards on 18 carries in eight games last year, while Washington, a back that combines size and athleticism, has yet to show the overall skill set to make him a viable game day option.
Walk-on R.J. Robinson saw limited game action in 2010 and will add depth at running back along with fellow walk-ons D.J. Bush and Brock Gorubec.
What We Know:
Cameron Marshall has shown the talents to be able to easily be a 1,000-yard back if given enough carries.
In a league full of superstars such as LaMichael James and Chris Polk, as well as highly capable backs that are not predominately known on a national level such as Johnathan Franklin, Rodney Stewart, Stepfan Taylor and Marc Tyler, there are plenty of reasons that Marshall is currently lost in the shuffle of the Pac's top runners.
However, his inclusion in the Doak Walker Award Preseason Watch List shows that he has certainly established himself as a viable threat. Especially if Lewis is limited or unavailable for 2011, Marshall will be counted on as the featured player in the Sun Devil backfield. With a collegiate career rushing average over five yards per carry, Marshall can go toe-to-toe with many of the league's better backs in terms of overall football talent.
Kyle Middlebrooks is ready for an expanded role.
With Lewis out during the spring, Middlebrooks (pictured) earned much loftier responsibilities than he had during the majority of his true freshman season. A bona fide game changer as a runner, receiver and kick returner, Middlebrooks undoubtedly has carved out a noted role in the Sun Devil offense regardless the physical availability of Lewis this season.
What We Don't Know:
What will Deantre Lewis' availability be for the 2011 season?
As accurately described in a recent discussion board thread, at this point there are more questions than answers regarding Lewis' health. Though there haven't been any implications that his wounds will in any way threaten his career longevity, his availability for 2011 is very much unknown. If he is limited, in part or in full, for the upcoming season, players such as Kyle Middlebrooks and Jamal Miles likely will have to take on greater roles in the run game.
Though there is no shortage of athleticism in the depth at running back, there is very little college experience among the players in strict terms of taking carries at running back. Lewis, who brings a "homerun" quality perhaps not seen since Keegan Herring, provides a presence that certainly would be missed if absent from the lineup.
If Lewis is out of the lineup, how reliable can the reserves be as runners?
Anytime a running back at or beneath the 180-pound range is suggested as a candidate the earn substantial carries at ASU, Sun Devil fans may not help but recall Rudy Burgess, of a similar weight, in 2004 being severely limited for several weeks after a 37-carry outing against Stanford.
In Layman's Terms, if Lewis is absent from the lineup, a question mark may be how much of a pounding Kyle Middlebrooks and/or Jamal Miles can absorb.
Thankfully, neither would be counted on to take the full brunt of the running back requirements with Cameron Marshall still at the top of the depth chart, but the inquiry still exists as to the ability of running backs that would fill in for an injured Lewis to take on a substantial role.
Ultimately, the question may be more to the nature of the potential durability more than the athletic requisites, as both Middlebrooks and Miles are two of ASU's most dynamic competitors.
Though Marshall has the physical build to earn the presumption that he could take the full load of carries if needed, he has never exceeded 17 in a game through two seasons—both a complement to his ability to consistently make an impact despite a lack of extensive opportunities, but also a question toward how easily he could survive 20-plus carries on a consistent basis.
In all, if Lewis is absent and ASU's reserves are incapable of accepting a greater workload, the ill effects could trickle all throughout the running back depth.
Projected Starter: Cameron Marshall
Whether Deantre Lewis is 100-percent by the start of fall camp or if he remains a major question mark, Marshall's consistency and ever-evolving performance on the field has cemented him as ASU's top back. The only uncertainty that stands at this point is whether he will split carries with a teammate in a relatively even fashion or take on the primary bulk of the running back duties.
Rising Star: Kyle Middlebrooks
In 2010 as a true freshman, Middlebrooks showed bits and pieces of the multi-dimensional threat he can be on the football field—some as a runner, some as a receiver and some on returns. After beginning at wide receiver, he was repositioned to running back, his natural spot. Filling in due to the spring absence of Deantre Lewis, Middlebrooks was perhaps the most outstanding overall performer on either side of the ball for ASU, showing tremendous prowess in rushing and receiving capacities out of the backfield.
A former track standout, Middlebrooks likely is the team's fastest player and without a doubt will be a featured contributor in the offense this year as well as one of the Pac-12's most dangerous kickoff returners.
Needs to Step Up: James Morrison
Few players of recent memory have had as up-and-down careers at ASU without having done a great deal during actual live play. Shortly after his arrival as a walk-on in 2008, Morrison appeared to be a powerful, assertive rusher that would be a fixture for the offense for years to come. Though he suffered an injury that forced him to redshirt that year, Morrison soon was placed on scholarship, further endorsing his potential.
In 2009, however, as Cameron Marshall arrived on campus there were few carries to be had and over the past two seasons Morrison has never risen above the third team and recently he considered transferring to the FCS level.
Though he is positioned to remain at ASU, he is still in a dogfight for substantial playing time. Morrison could be a beneficiary if Lewis is sidelined for an extensive period, but even in that scenario he will have to compete consistently in August practices to be a credible factor.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Position Roster (By Seniority)
Aaron Pflugrad, RS-Sr. (WR)
T.J. Simpson, RS-Sr. (WR)
George Bell, Sr. (WR)
Trevor Kohl, Sr. (TE)
Gerell Robinson, Sr. (WR)
Mike Willie, Sr. (WR)
Angelo Magee, RS-Jr. (WR)*
A.J. Pickens, RS-Jr. (WR)
Jamal Miles, Jr. (WR)
Jarrid Bryant, RS-So. (WR)
Christopher Coyle, RS-So. (TE)
J.J. Holliday, RS-So. (WR)
Kevin Ozier, RS-So. (WR)*
Max Smith, RS-So. (TE)
Kevin Anderson, RS-Fr. (WR)
Randy Knust, RS-Fr. (WR)
Chike Mbanefo, RS-Fr. (WR)*
Gary Chambers, Fr. (WR)
Josh Fulton, Fr. (TE)
Karl Holmes, Fr. (WR)
Brent Scott, Fr. (WR)*
As preseason preparation began for ASU, wide receiver was perceived to be a major strength as only one senior departed, albeit the team's leading receiver, but the depth, talent and experience was expected to create a major force in 2011.
Though by-and-large that is still the case, the potential season-ending spring injury to senior T.J. Simpson, who would have been ASU's returning leader in receiving yards, put a slight damper on the position's prestige and creates an additional hole to fill.
Despite the two noteworthy losses, the depth up top has to be considered among the top units in the Pac-12, led by a trio of seniors in Gerell Robinson (pictured), Mike Willie and Aaron Pflugrad.
After two so-so seasons, Robinson, the former blue-chip recruit, had a vindicating season as a junior in 2010 and is entirely expected to rank among the league's better receivers in 2011.
Willie, a junior college transfer that first began his formal Sun Devil career last August, made a quick impact in fall camp and immediately became a go-to target. Both Robinson and Willie boast tremendous size and physicality, giving the Sun Devils a pair of consistent mismatch threats. Pflugrad, a former transfer from Oregon, was used more in the short passing game and complemented the size of Robinson and Willie and the speed of Simpson in 2010.
In addition to those top three, multi-purpose threat Jamal Miles saw consistent starting action at wide receiver and is a shifty player that will be featured in numerous ways. Similar to Pflugrad, Miles is most frequently used in the short passing game, where he can quickly get the ball in space and use his elite speed and agility to beat defenders.
When looking beyond the top four wide receivers there are multiple options, but just as many question marks as there are eight scholarship athletes but not one has shown significant proof of his abilities.
George Bell was nothing short of an enigma in 2010; a highly-acclaimed junior college transfer that showed major promise in the preseason, Bell fell flat as a junior. Though he was given many opportunities, a lack of focus and consistency plagued his debut season.
Though Bell had his struggles, a few inexperienced yet intriguing options have surfaced, primarily in the form of the trio including junior A.J. Pickens, sophomore J.J. Holliday and redshirt freshman Kevin Anderson. Pickens, who suffered through inconsistency as a redshirt freshman, had scattered highlights last year and possesses the physical skills to be a viable option, while Anderson also showcased moments of high skill this offseason.
Of the three, Holliday undoubtedly has the most upside and saw ample action in the spring, leading many to believe that the Tucson native may be the chosen one to supplant the injured Simpson in the 2011 lineup.
Jarrid Bryant, the tallest receiver on the roster but also one of the skinniest, improved this offseason after seeing very little action as a redshirt freshman, while redshirt freshman Randy Knust adds depth after spending 2010 on the scout team.
Kevin Ozier, a walk-on that enjoyed a very solid spring, may prove to be a wild card in the wide receiver competition. With openings available on the depth chart, his non-scholarship status is not a hindrance, as in the spring Ozier outplayed multiple teammates whose education is paid for.
ASU's 2011 signing class brought two wide receivers into the fold in Gary Chambers of Glendale, Ariz., and Karl Holmes of Pasadena, Calif. Both players can be considered the classic "under the radar" recruits and bring solid size to the lineup, but Chambers and Holmes very likely need a redshirt season to hone their talents to acclimate to the college level.
Walk-ons Angelo Magee, Chike Mbanefo and Brent Scott add depth at wide receiver.
Since All-American Zach Miller's departure after the 2006 season, the offensive productivity from ASU's tight ends has spiraled down to being barely existent, as four Sun Devil tight ends that played last year combined for only two total receptions.
At this point, it is almost unfathomable that within the past 10 years ASU has had players at the position such as Miller, Todd Heap, Brent Miller, Mike Pinkard and Tyrice Thompson all get at least a chance at playing in the NFL roster.
In ASU's offense, tight ends are almost exclusively called upon to assist in blocking schemes, though there is still receiving talent on the roster.
Trevor Kohl, a gritty former walk-on, returns as the top tight end and is a highly-capable lead blocker or line-of-scrimmage player.
The player many have been keeping an eye on to break out is sophomore Christopher Coyle, a top recruit out of Oaks Christian High School in California. Though Coyle saw substantial time in 2010 he failed to make a catch, but this offseason his role expanded and he saw more action as a slot receiver. If used properly, Coyle presents a viable mismatch for ASU to exploit in the passing game.
Kohl and Coyle, roommates and participants on ASU's rugby club team this offseason, are joined in the lineup by sophomore Max Smith, a capable blocker.
True freshman Josh Fulton arrived this spring after greyshirting during the 2010 season due to shoulder surgery conducted near signing day. The former Phoenix St. Mary's High School standout showed quite a bit of rust in the spring and is very likely headed for a redshirt year in 2011.
What We Know:
The top depth at wide receiver should be consistently productive.
Throughout the quartet of Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie, Aaron Pflugrad and Jamal Miles, there is a stellar combination of size, speed, reliability and experience.
If the offseason is any indicator Robinson is poised to close his career in memorable fashion as his work ethic and attitude have been spectacular and his consistency in spring practices puts him clearly on the verge of a standout year. Though Willie was unavailable during the spring, his play last year leaves little concern for his ability to be a go-to target as a senior. Pflugrad and Miles offer complementary qualities to pair with the size and strength of Robinson and Willie, as both are shifty, quick athletes able to make plays in space.
Though questions may exist for the depth behind these four as ASU strives to replace two productive receivers from last year, the primary projected starters should provide quarterback Brock Osweiler a collective sense of dynamic stability.
What We Don't Know:
How will ASU replace the productivity of the players gone from last year's roster?
In 2010, T.J. Simpson and a departed senior combined for 83 receptions and ranked one and two on the team in receiving yards, collectively totaling 1,180 yards. As a whole, ASU's receivers are capable of filling that void but the formula to do so is a minor concern.
At the top, starters Mike Willie and Gerell Robinson (442 and 387 receiving yards in 2010, respectively) likely will be featured enough for each to double his figures from 2010, while Aaron Pflugrad may be a candidate to exceed his marks of 29 receptions for 329 yards last year. Jamal Miles caught 25 passes for 203 yards in 2010 and will again be used in a variety of ways this season, which may include and increased role as a rusher if running back Deantre Lewis is out of the lineup.
It would be most advantageous for one or more of the trio consisting of returning letter winners George Bell, J.J. Holliday and A.J. Pickens (12 combined receptions in 2010) to improve to the 20-30 reception range to help take the load off the shoulders of primarily Robinson and Willie.
Will Christopher Coyle be used differently this year compared to last?
In the spring, ASU tinkered with having Coyle (pictured) operate as a slot receiver in addition to his traditional tight end position and saw satisfactory results. Though Coyle gives max effort and won't deny a challenge, his forte has and always will be more in the passing department than as a blocker.
The quandary, however, is for ASU to find the right fit for him as the Sun Devil offense recently has infrequently asked the team's tight ends to provide much as receivers. If the coaching staff can formidably format a scheme to integrate the former U.S. Army All-American into the offense and Coyle answers the call, the dynamics of the Sun Devil offense could benefit substantially.
Projected Starters: WR: Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie, Aaron Pflugrad and Jamal Miles; TE: Trevor Kohl
Robinson and Willie are valid candidates for postseason honors, while Pflugrad is reliable though unflashy. Miles, who may see time at multiple field positions, started seven at receiver in 2010.
Kohl started four of 11 games played last season—technically not a starter in seven because of formations—and is the best blocker among ASU's tight ends, therefore fulfilling the one-dimensional requirement of the position in the Sun Devil offense.
J.J. Holliday With two formidable holes to fill at wide receiver, it is likely that at least one reserve will have the chance to take a bigger step into the spotlight than otherwise expected. Though he wasn't much of a factor on the field as a redshirt freshman, Holliday has had an intriguing offseason, including a series of standout performances in the spring when not only Simpson but Mike Willie and Aaron Pflugrad missed time.
Though he may not crack the starting lineup, Holliday potentially headlines the short list of the top backups, followed by players such as George Bell, A.J. Pickens and Kevin Anderson.
Needs to Step Up: George Bell
A four-star prospect prior to his spring enrollment at ASU in 2010, Bell (pictured) was expected to leap into a significant role in the Sun Devil offense. However, inconsistency plagued the former junior college superstar as he managed only nine receptions last season. Though there are holes to be filled at wide receiver due to the losses of Simpson and the departed senior, Bell's performance in the spring was less than thrilling and he will need a much better showing to avoid being leapfrogged by an underclassman in the depth chart.
Position Roster (By Seniority)
Garth Gerhart, RS-Sr.
Dan Knapp, RS-Sr.
Mike Marcisz, RS-Sr.
Trent Marsh, RS-Sr.*
Aderious Simmons, RS-Sr.
Adam Tello, RS-Sr.
Chris De Armas, Sr.
Nick Emanuele, Sr.*
Brice Schwab, Sr.
Kyle Johnson, RS-Jr.
Andrew Sampson, RS-Jr.
Oluwakayode Whesu, Jr.*
Evan Finkenberg, RS-So.
Kody Kobensky, RS-So.
Sil Ajawara, RS-Fr.
Jamil Douglas, RS-Fr.
Chip Sarafin, RS-Fr.*
Tyler Sulka, RS-Fr.
Devan Goodman, Fr.
Vi Teofilo, Fr.
In defining ASU's offensive line, consistency is the most common theme over any sort of notable star power. For the first time since 2003, the Sun Devils return the entirety of its starting five from the previous year, emphasizing the continuity and experiences this year's blockers provide.
Entering fall camp, four out of the five positions appear to be pretty well set—sophomore left tackle Evan Finkenberg (pictured), senior left guard Mike Marcisz, senior center Garth Gerhart and junior right guard Andrew Sampson. At right tackle, the odds-on candidate is the ever-improving senior Aderious Simmons, who has been battling senior Dan Knapp, a transplant from tight end a year ago, who saw some starting duties in 2010.
With the exception of the right tackle competition, there are no newsworthy position battles along the line and the group, with Gerhart, an All-Pac-12 honors candidate as its leader, figures to be reliable though not dominant.
Prior to the start of the 2010 season, only Gerhart had substantial starting experience—perhaps helping contribute to ASU's sacks allowed total raising from 27 in 2009 to 31 last year—but with a full year under its collective belt, the Sun Devils' solidarity up front should be stable.
Behind the predicted starters, redshirt freshman Jamil Douglas and junior Kyle Johnson will compete for time at left tackle, while redshirt freshman Tyler Sulka will add depth at right tackle. Redshirt freshman Sil Ajawara is slotted as a backup at left guard, as is senior Adam Tello, whose availability is currently unknown due to offseason surgery. Senior Chris De Armas is capable of providing depth at guard and at center, sophomore Kody Kobensky will be Gerhart's primary understudy after showing marked improvement this spring.
Brice Schwab, a former four-star junior college transfer that moved from tackle to guard last year, may strategically redshirt in 2011 to work toward a starting role in 2012 as a fifth-year senior.
ASU's two incoming true freshman lineman, Devin Goodman and Vi Teofilo, likely will be positioned at center and guard, respectively. Barring an urgent need, both Goodman and Teofilo can be expected to redshirt. Additionally, Goodman has yet to gain full academic clearance but is expected to be eligible to participate in August.
Seniors Trent Marsh and Nick Emanuele, junior Oluwakayode Whesu and redshirt freshman Chip Sarafin are all walk-on linemen currently listed on ASU's roster.
What We Know:
If healthy, ASU's offensive line should be as stable as it has since Dennis Erickson arrived in 2007.
Though there has been little superstar talent on the group, ASU's line has quietly and gradually gotten past the point of being a liability as it was three or four years ago and is merging toward being an actual area of collective talent for the Sun Devils.
Garth Gerhart (pictured), a viable First-Team All-Pac-12 option, is the clear leader, while Evan Finkenberg and Aderious Simmons are expected to make notable leaps as second-year starters and could be honors candidates. On the interior, guards Mike Marcisz and Andrew Sampson have proven to be stable blockers and the unit as a whole has jelled into an experienced, capable group.
What We Don't Know:
If injuries occur, who will be able to fill in?
With Tello out for an undisclosed amount of time and Schwab potentially redshirting, only one reserve—whichever of Knapp and Simmons does not start at right tackle—will have prior starting experience.
Kyle Johnson and Chris DeArmas have shown very little promise, and Kody Koebensky, though a surprise performer in the spring, appeared in only one game last year as a redshirt freshman. Redshirt freshmen Sil Ajawara, Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka each has noteworthy upside, but of course no collegiate field experience to draw upon. Lastly, true freshmen Devin Goodman and Vi Teofilo likely are bound to redshirt.
If one lineman goes down, Knapp (or Simmons) likely can fill in adequately, but if more than one casualty exists there is little certainty among the remaining reserves as far as their potential to be consistent starters this season.
Projected Starters: LT Evan Finkenberg, LG Mike Marcisz, C Garth Gerhart, RG Andrew Sampson, RT Aderious Simmons
With the exception of Simmons, the offensive line is the exact group that started the majority of last season's games, providing ASU substantial continuity up front. In 2010, Gerhart started all 12 games, while Finkenberg and Marcisz each only missed one start a piece. Sampson started eight last season and also gained starting experience as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
Simmons, who appears to have edged out Dan Knapp for a first-team role, started six of nine games played in 2010 and has more athletic upside than any lineman on the roster.
Jamil Douglas Though his redshirt season was interrupted by a suspension due to an incident off the field, Douglas returned to the team in good standing this spring and has shown glimpses of the ample athleticism that made him an intriguing prospect out of high school.
As a redshirt freshman this season, Douglas likely will be a reserve but has the physical gifts to be an emergency starter. Moreover, this season will be a warm-up for what could be a starting opportunity in 2012 after tackles Dan Knapp and Aderious Simmons depart.
Needs to Step Up: Kyle Johnson
A fourth-year junior and product of the acclaimed Norco High School football program, Johnson has remained planted in mud during his first two years of eligibility at ASU, first being bypassed as a sophomore by redshirt freshman Evan Finkenberg, now as a junior to redshirt freshman Jamil Douglas.
To the eye, Johnson does not appear to have the physical prowess to be a formidable force as a blocker, while he doesn't compensate with the necessary athleticism to efficiently utlize his lean frame. With Finkenberg just a sophomore and Douglas and fellow redshirt freshman Tyler Sulka already receiving more compliments than he has, Johnson is in desperate need of a eye-opening camp to help him even be in the conversation for worthwhile playing time beyond his current role as a blocker on the field goal and extra point teams.