Spring preview: Offense

Devils Digest's Joe Healey breaks down the offensive position groups going into spring practice.


Returning Starter: None

Departed Starter: Brock Osweiler

Top Newcomer: Michael Eubank

Look Out For: Taylor Kelly

Who Needs to Perform: Mike Bercovici

With the sudden and unexpected early departure of Brock Osweiler to the NFL, ASU went from having one of the league's most statistically accomplished passers returning for 2012 to having one of the conference's most inexperienced groups of quarterbacks.

Though the trio consisting of sophomores Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank is defined by a major lack of experience, there is no shortage of talent in a variety of categories.

Kelly, the elder statesman of the group as 2012 marks his third season on campus, has notable athleticism and enough passing skills to succeed, while Bercovici, who benefitted from graduating high school early to participate in spring drills last year, is more of a prototypical pocket passer with his cannon of an arm and notable accuracy.

Eubank, in many cases the "people's choice" has the size advantage and immense physical prowess, with leadership skills and passing abilities worth notice as well. Additionally, he was recruited by Todd Graham while at Pittsburgh which makes him very familiar to ASU's first-year coaching staff.

Bercovici and Kelly saw limited snaps as freshmen in 2011, but within that small sample Kelly was the more impressive of the two in live game action. Eubank, with all his potential and intrigue, spent last season on the scout team as a redshirt and was only a full-time starter for one year at the high school level, though that one year was a dominant one that ultimately earned him a four-star ranking. Basically, each of the three has areas of strength, areas of weakness and a no proven advantage until shown on the field.

Though every fan and critic will bring an opinion to start camp, no player has a decisive advantage and the competition will clearly play out entirely on the field and may last deep into fall camp, if not even the regular season.

Running Back

Returning Starter: Cameron Marshall

Departed Starter: None

Top Newcomer: None

Look Out For: Kyle Middlebrooks

Who Needs to Perform: James Morrison

Through spring ball there likely will be no chance Cameron Marshall's (pictured) job will be in jeopardy, though each player in the position group has a variety of reasons to perform at a high level.

Marshall, who last year tied ASU's single-season rushing touchdowns record and became only the second Sun Devil to surpass 1,000 rushing yards since 2001, has the clear experience advantage over all his position mates. However, with backs such as top-rated junior college runner Marion Grice and local phenom D.J. Foster ready to join the squad in the summer, the senior can't afford to be complacent and comfortable that the carries will naturally come his way in droves.

Behind Marshall, however, things get a little murky. All Sun Devil fans eagerly anticipate Deantre Lewis' hopeful return from last February's gun shot wound, but in a recent interview with the Speak of the Devils podcast, Lewis admitted that he is about 80% ready to return. Also according to Lewis, he will attempt to practice during the three pre-Spring Break sessions and re-evaluate his abilities with the training staff before the team practices in pads.

There's truly no telling what Lewis' road to recovery will include, so ASU's depth players may very likely get a shot at ample practice action. If Lewis is limited or unavailable, look for returning lettermen such as Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison, R.J. Robinson and Marcus Washington to work to fill the void.

Each player of the four has shown moments of ability, with Middlebrooks bringing the greatest amount of potential due to his slashing speed and versatility. Despite his high athletic ceiling, Middlebrooks' sophomore season in 2011 did not come close to living up to expectations after his spectacular spring last year. Morrison has intrigued fans for four years with his size and bruising running style, but that appeal has fallen unsubstantiated entering his fifth season at ASU. Robinson, a local walk-on, has overachieved to the point of receiving game action, while Washington has also shown promise.

Ultimately, with the aforementioned blue chip fall arrivals entering the fold for preseason camp, a handful of running backs will need to use spring as a proving ground to remain in the viable game day depth chart.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Returning Starters: Jamal Miles

Departed Starters: Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad, Mike Willie, Trevor Kohl (TE)

Top Newcomers: Karl Holmes (WR), Darwin Rogers (TE)

Look Out For: Rashad Ross

Who Needs to Perform: J.J. Holliday

With a mass departures of seniors , highlighted by Robinson, who etched one of ASU's most prolific single-season performances by a wide receiver, the Sun Devils are tasked with replacing over 60% of the wide receiver productivity from 2011. Additionally, ASU suffered another blow to the position when T.J. Simpson was denied a sixth year of eligibility for 2012, creating even more inexperience at this position.

The mass exodus here, however, is the opportunity for a mix of youngsters and lightly used upperclassmen to emerge.

Though senior all-purpose star Jamal Miles (pictured) returns with 60 receptions from 2011, his presence is more of an all-around playmaker than strict textbook receiver. That certainly doesn't diminish the various levels of impact he can create each game, but other reliable targets will need to surface in the spring.

After a strong conclusion to his debut season as a Sun Devil both as a receiver and on special teams, Rashad Ross enters his senior year expected to be a major deep threat in the vertical pass game. Ross, who joined ASU's track team and immediately became an impact contributor in that sport, has a lean frame but good height at 6-feet tall, giving him the ability to be a well-rounded receiver. Due to his skills and the ample opportunities, Ross could see his recognition skyrocket with a consistent camp.

Kevin Ozier, a former walk-on recently placed on scholarship, likely will run with the first team and has shown flashes in games and practices to create encouragement for his potential moving forward. A.J. Pickens also showed moments of flash as a junior in 2011 and should be expected to take on a greater role.

Beyond these four, very little can be predicted as a host of scholarship players and walk-ons that have yet to make a major impact at ASU will compete for backup duties.

Similar to Kyle Middlebrooks at running back, J.J. Holliday is a player that has received high praise for his practice efforts and has been expected to merge into a contributing role, but a collarbone injury just before the start of last season squashed his chances of making any impact in 2011. Holliday has shown the ability to earn consideration for a first-team role but will have to earn his way to that level.

Two of the more intriguing receivers to watch in the spring will be ASU's two redshirt freshmen, Gary Chambers and Karl Holmes. Both standing 6-foot-3, Chambers and Holmes quickly showed their talents last fall and have the physical stature to make a depth chart ascension despite their lack of experience.

Kevin Anderson and Randy Knust did not see game action as scholarship redshirt freshmen in 2011, while Jarrid Bryant and Chike Mbanefo saw limited time. Knust is expected to miss spring drills due to a foot injury.

Though the new coaching staff plans to use tight ends more frequently and with more responsibilities than the previous staff, personnel options in the spring will be largely limited.

Junior college transfer Darwin Rogers was signed to add a measure of instant stability, but an ankle injury will limit him in the spring, while would-be redshirt freshman Josh Fulton reportedly will not return to the program. Until true freshman Kody Kohl arrives in the summer, currently the only other available scholarship tight end beside Rogers is Max Smith.

If Rogers is healthy enough for stable repetitions, he and Smith could fill the line of scrimmage and backfield roles that Todd Graham will implement with its tight ends, but depth will be virtually non-existent.

Neither Rogers, who will start his FBS career in the spring after two years at Arizona Western College nor Smith, who has received sparse action through his first two seasons, has much of a resume to speak of that provides immediate confidence at tight end.

Chris Coyle, a player that has bounced between tight end and wide receiver over his first two years and may be used at either position in 2012, will miss spring drills due to off-season shoulder surgery.

Offensive Line

Returning Starters: Evan Finkenberg (LT), Andrew Sampson (RG)

Departed Starters: Mike Marcisz/Adam Tello (LG), Garth Gerhart (C), Dan Knapp/Aderious Simmons (RT)

Top Newcomer: Mo Latu

Look Out For: Brice Schwab

Who Needs to Perform: Kody Koebensky, Tyler Sulka

With all-conference center Garth Gerhart off to a probable NFL career and senior starters and top reserves gone at left guard and right tackle, ASU is greatly limited entering the spring in terms of proven starting stability as well as depth.

Evan Finkenberg (pictured) returns as a solid left tackle, while Andrew Sampson, a multi-year starter with experience at guard and center, returns but struggled mightily at times as a junior in 2011.

Brice Schwab, a former blue-chip junior college recruit in 2010, redshirted in 2011 after his debut season as a Sun Devil was marred by poor conditioning. Now reportedly in much better shape, Schwab may see time at guard opposite Sampson or tackle opposite Finkenberg, but in either event he will be counted on to be a stable first-stringer in the spring. Hopes are that not only does he maintain a legitimate starter, but that he also legitimizes the massive expectations that accompanied the 6-foot-7 lineman to Tempe.

At center, as many as three players may battle to replace Gerhart, including Kody Koebensky, who saw some time at the position in 2011, as well as redshirt freshman Devin Goodman and classmate Mo Latu, who redshirted as a defenisve tackle last season and may see action on both lines in the spring.

Though Koebensky brings a distinct experience advantage over the other two, Goodman is an athletic and versatile lineman, while the mere fact that Latu is auditioning for a position change speaks volumes of the lack of stability Koebensky and Goodman figure to bring to the center position. If Latu works his way to a consistent first-team role, both Goodman and Koebensky have the ability to also compete for time at guard.

Depending on where Schwab lines up, sophomores Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka likely will be the next in line to round out the starting five. Both players saw time as redshirt freshmen in 2011 on offense and special teams and are expected to have stable futures as their careers progress.

Rounding out the scholarship depth on the offensive line are players such as Sil Ajawara, Kyle Johnson and Vi Teofilo. Ajawara has struggled with conditioning since his arrival to ASU and likely will enter the spring in a reserve role, while Johnson, a fifth-year senior in 2012, has never come close to battling for a substantial role. Teofilo has the physical requisites to be a formidable offensive guard but remains a work in progress.

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