Spring In Review
Clearly the most-watched position battle following the early departure of Brock Osweiler to the NFL, the three-man race at quarterback ran straight through the finish line of the spring with Mike Bercovici (pictured), Michael Eubank and Taylor Kelly still running neck-and-neck beside one another.
Throughout the spring, each player of the three had moments of showing isolated skills that could lead to a starting position while also showing deficiencies that could result in relegation to a backup role. For there to be ups and downs isn't hugely surprising as not only does none of the three have college starting experience, but the group combines for only four total appearances at ASU with Bercovici and Kelly both playing in just two games last season.
Bercovici showed what many people expected—major upside as a traditional passer but limited athletic mobility, especially when compared to Eubank and Kelly. The most accurate passer and boasting the strongest arm of the group, Bercovici has improved his pocket mobility—a definite requisite with such a large quantity of movement on all pass plays—but his abilities on designed run plays still is largely lacking.
The argument for Bercovici is that Graham's offense will not require much designed quarterback running, so Bercovici can plausibly counter any athletic deficiencies with his passing prowess. Also, if it comes down to which quarterback the coaches trust most to make smart, precise throws in pressure situations, it may very well be Bercovici that has the most fitting resume for that role.
The top recruit of ASU's 2011 class and a budding fan favorite, Eubank entered the spring with a great deal of public support as somewhat of a "Peoples' Choice" of the group. As he also showcased during his stellar senior season at Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School, Eubank provided a major spark with his feet this spring showing both an athletic and physical running style.
Eubank also showed flashes as a passer but also some weaknesses in the advanced parameters of his quarterback responsibilities such as reading progressions, prematurely taking off to run and inconsistencies in other analytical scenarios that are common among quarterbacks with no game experience. Many presume at this point that Eubank will be used in some capacity in 2012 as his Cam Newton type of presence is one that can't help but provide value even if in a platoon role.
Make no mistake about it, Eubank's future is still tremendously bright and the main debate at this point is whether he can emerge as a full-time starter or a change of pace athlete to complement another quarterback this fall.
Since arriving on campus at ASU in 2010, Kelly has had a handful of moments as an overachiever as he impressed the previous coaching staff while redshirting that season and then relentlessly battled Bercovici to be Osweiler's top backup last season.
This spring, the situation was not much different as Kelly, who many figured to be the "odd man out" of the three, refused to quit and made enough adjustments and showed enough assets to remain in the competition to start.
Kelly is the type of quarterback that is a superstar in no single area but is solid in many capacities; he's more athletic and mobile than Bercovici and more refined in the pass game than Eubank. Though it still generally would be a surprise to see him ultimately named the starter, Kelly enjoyed a great performance in the spring game, ending the spring on a high note and giving himself a fighting chance heading into the time off before fall camp.
Walk-on Danny Lewis was the team's fourth quarterback and is slated to be a scout team player come fall.
Scrimmage after scrimmage, week after week, practice after practice, play after play, a different quarterback appeared to emerge. Just as there is very minimal separation between the three now that the spring has concluded, the pecking order also seemed to consistently shift each week of practice as each of the three had standout moments and times that exemplified areas of need.
All things considered it's challenging to truly identify a "top performer"—if there was just one, a starter would likely have been named.
Statistically, Bercovici proved to be the most efficient quarterback in terms of passing numbers and avoiding turnovers. Eubank was consistently drawing rave reviews for his abilities in the run game and spotlight moments as a passer, while Kelly refused succumb to the pressure of the competition, shook off a slow spring start and was impressively versatile both as a runner and a passer.
Storylines going into Fall Camp
• Who will emerge as the starting quarterback and when?
• Will ASU implement a two-quarterback system?
• Will Bercovici's passing prowess allow coaches to overlook his lack of mobility?
• Will Eubank's unparalleled physical qualities give him a formidable edge despite his need for technical refinement?
• Can Kelly remain in the fight to start?
Spring In Review
Early in the spring, the depth chart fell like dominoes as returning 1,000-yard rusher Cameron Marshall underwent ankle surgery after the first week of practice and shortly after that, backup Kyle Middlebrooks was lost for the remainder of the spring due to a shoulder injury.
One certainty at running back is that Marshall, despite his general unavailability this spring, will return as the team's top back and likely will get the majority of carries.
Beyond that spot of the depth chart, ASU has what appears to be—and what figures to continue to grow into—a spoil of riches that needs sorting out.
In the wake of these two injuries, senior James Morrison stepped up in a major way and showed a measure of consistency and determination that he had not previously shown in a Sun Devil uniform. Christened with the nickname "Tank" during the spring by head coach Todd Graham for his relentless running style, Morrison time and time again showed the downhill rushing capabilities that Graham covets among his runners.
Prior to his injury, Middlebrooks was applauded as one of the team's most outstanding overall athletes for his early efforts in the spring. This tale is nothing new for fans that have followed Middlebrooks' career at ASU, as he was arguably the team's overall most valuable performer last spring but stuttered in game action as a sophomore.
Middlebrooks is a player that likely thrives best with creativity; if he is relegated to a traditional running back position he may underuse his skills, but Graham has the offensive intelligence to allow Middlebrooks to excel. Though he performed admirably, with the quality and quantity that are expected of ASU's running backs in the fall, Middlebrooks can ill-afford further setbacks in his health or development.
Without question, the wild card entering the spring was the return of Deantre Lewis (pictured), who missed all of 2011 after being struck by a bullet while visiting family in Southern California just over a year ago. Since suffering the gunshot wound, many wondered if Lewis would ever regain the sensational flash he showcased as a true freshman in 2010, but thankfully he returned to playing form to begin the spring.
Though Lewis has yet to materialize the true return of his first-year form, progress has been shown and he had several impressive spring moments. A potentially deadly threat in the pass and run games, if he builds back to his full capabilities Lewis could be an absolute force in Graham's offense.
Behind Morrison and Lewis, walk-on R.J. Robinson, who has worked his way into game action despite his non-scholarship status, served a backup role, as did Marcus Washington, who also saw ample practice repetitions at tight end.
Walk-on Danny Clark saw time in a fullback role with the backup units.
Though the workload was generally defaulted to him after the team lost the services of Marshall and Middlebrooks and due to Lewis remaining below full strength, Morrison still starred during his newfound role. Though there may be skepticism due to the fact that Morrison has exceled before in practices and scrimmages but has yet to parlay that into an on-field role, Morrison can be the beneficiary—not the victim—of any sort of favoritism that is developed with a first-year head coach in Todd Graham versus the challenges he faced in gaining playing time under Dennis Erickson.
Storylines going into Fall Camp
• Will Morrison be able to remain in the rotation for substantial playing time?
• Will Middlebrooks show in games what he's shown in practice?
• Will Lewis make it back to the form he showed as a true freshman in 2010?
• Will anyone among the two newcomers or returning players such as Middlebrooks redshirt in 2012?
Spring in Review
Prior to the spring, the passing game had a potentially volatile formula with three inexperienced quarterbacks and the loss of two-thirds of the wide receiver productivity from 2011. However, the end results as far as wide receiver consistency are concerned were more favorable than poor but questions still linger.
With players such as Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie now absent form the lineup, the 60 passes caught by Jamal Miles (pictured) in 2011 would be more comforting if not for the fact that his pass-catching duties were more as a complementary receiver with routes in the flats and other short-range destinations.
Thankfully, Graham opened the spring with the ambition to help mold Miles into more of a vertical threat, a move that progressed nicely and will be a major asset to the Sun Devil offense. There's no doubt as to the damage that Miles can do in open space as a receiver and as one of the nation's premier punt and kick return specialists, but to add the feather in his cap as a more traditional wide receiver will be a mutually beneficial experience for his long-term football prospects and ASU's passing abilities in 2012.
Aside from Miles, ASU's other wide receivers have combined for merely one career start, with speedster Rashad Ross having the lone experience. Last season, Ross had momentary flashes of his high potential at receiver and on special teams and was expected to be a breakout candidate in 2012. Never will there be doubt of Ross' pure deep speed, however his spring assignment was to emerge from the shell of being a one-dimensional athlete.
Ross has starred and also stumbled, an inconsistency not deathly with over four months left until season's start, but also concerning as the former junior college transfer is preparing for his final season of college eligibility. Ross' collective spring effort is very likely enough to warrant a starting position, but further technique developments will help him to be a well-rounded target instead of a track star hoping to just outrun defenders on every play.
Similar to Middlebrooks at running back, it should come as no major surprise that J.J. Holliday earned respectable reviews in the spring. However, just like Middlebrooks, Holliday has struggled to translate that into game day success predominately due to injury setbacks. When healthy, Holliday can be a total package at wide receiver with reliable hands and historically impressive timed speed. Though he's yet to catch a pass in 10 career games over two years, Holliday exited the spring as a very viable candidate to start in 2012. If he evades the injury bug, Holliday could be one of the surprise performers of ASU's offense this fall.
Prior to the 2011 season, Kevin Ozier was known more for being J.R. Redmond's cousin and for his involvement in a locker room fight with Vontaze Burfict than for his on-field abilities, but fast-forward about six months and he used a sophomore season as a contributing receiver to not only be placed on scholarship but to be in the realistic conversation to start as a junior.
To complement his smaller, speedier teammates, Ozier is a solid possession wideout with the necessary athleticism and fundamental skills to take a major leap in 2011. During the spring, Ozier was often running with the top receivers and is expected to improve upon his 11 receptions from last year.
A.J. Pickens, a senior, is perhaps the player of the position group that more was expected than was shown this spring. After two seasons with minimal contributions, Pickens worked his way into the fold as a junior last year and showed qualities to evoke confidence that he would be a potential impact player in 2012. Despite his seniority and game experience, Pickens was consistently relegated to a backup role and was leapfrogged on the depth chart by players with much less team experience.
Gary Chambers and Karl Holmes drew some applause last fall for their contributions in camp as true freshmen, and after redshirting in 2011 both players hope to emerge as viable targets. This spring, both Chambers and Holmes saw time with the backup units with Chambers, an Arizona native, showing the most promise, especially in the final two scrimmages of the spring. Standing 6-foot-3, both receivers bring solid size to the position and appear to have bright futures at ASU.
Kevin Anderson saw action as a reserve receiver before an injury that sidelined him for the late portion of the spring. After not seeing game action as a redshirt freshman in 2011, Anderson has shown sparks of the ability to be a game day contributor when healthy.
Walk-ons Tevin Favor and Daniel Masifilo saw extended time with the reserve units and will add depth in the fall.
Though Ross showed his all-world speed on several occasions and Ozier flashed skills to evoke confidence in him possibly being a starter this year, no receiver was as consistent or as impressive as Miles.
Despite the fact that he has technically played receiver through each of his first three seasons as a Sun Devil, Miles has yet to be used in a traditional, vertical role but rather as more of a short-range option that thrived in the flats. With his speed, experience and improving focus as a pass-catcher, Miles has shown the ability to earn opponents' respect as a wide receiver and not simply an all-purpose athlete.
Miles capped his spring off by surpassing the 100-yard mark in the team's spring game, with three total touchdowns including a 97-yard kickoff return. In the fall, Miles expects to be one of the team's offensive leaders and will also be counted on to be diversely featured in the Sun Devil offense.
Storylines going into Fall Camp
• Can Miles thrive as reliable vertical threat in the pass game?
• Will Holiday be able to shake off his injury bug in 2012 and be a contributor?
• Is Ozier prepared to be a go-to threat?
• Can Ross add technical refinement to his elite speed? • What will be seen from redshirt freshmen Gary Chambers and Karl Holmes this year? Tight End
Spring in Review
A position of improved necessity, upon Graham's arrival he implemented multiple uses of the tight ends, which include line of scrimmage and backfield responsibilities.
With the graduation of Trevor Kohl, the transfer of Josh Fulton and an overall lack of quantity at the position, ASU had very few options to work with in the spring but may have found some sufficient contributors nonetheless.
One of three mid-year signees in the 2012 class, Darwin Rogers consistently ran with the first team and has the ability to fulfill any of the responsibilities required of the tight end or three-back positions. A former high school quarterback, Rogers showed good athleticism in the short-range pass game and valid toughness as a blocker.
Max Smith, the most experienced tight end available for the spring, saw a much increased role from his previous duties and showed some promise in his role in the later stages of spring. Benefitting from his compact frame, Smith is slated as a top reserve behind Rogers at tight end.
One of the pleasant surprises of spring practice was the play of Marcus Washington, who saw action in a variety of backfield roles including the three-back position. A running back during his entire football career prior to the spring, Washington brings toughness and a team-first mentality to the position and played well enough to earn a chance for game time this fall.
Chris Coyle, who has bounced between tight end and wide receiver during his ASU career, is generally considered a hybrid of the two positions and is expected to be a top candidate to start at three-back when he returns from the injury that sidelined him for the spring.
Walk-on Alex Bykovskiy earned reps at tight end in practices and scrimmages as well and will push for a depth chart role this fall.
With limited depth and limited options, those available for playing time received several opportunities to audition for fall playing time. Though he was not offered by any other BCS program beside ASU, Darwin Rogers showed an admirable amount of stability in his first practice sessions as a Sun Devil. Additionally, Rogers has shown much needed versatility as he is able to play either the traditional tight end or backfield three-back position Graham employs in his offense.
When the fall comes around Rogers likely will still be in the equation to start and it can generally be said that his first showing at ASU exceeded general expectations.
Storylines going into Fall Camp
• What sort of production will Coyle show when he returns from injury?
• Will Rogers be a reliable contributor in his first season at the FBS level?
• Will Washington remain in the conversation for playing time?
Spring in Review
The spring brought a great deal of initial concern at offensive line, as a unit that was already inconsistent in 2011 presented openings at three starting positions due to senior departures.
Thankfully, however, the fairly inexperienced group performed admirably as a whole, largely helped by general consistency by both the returning starters and the new first-teamers.
Left tackle Evan Finkenberg and right guard Andrew Sampson, both boasting over 20 career offensive line starts at ASU, have had up-and-down moments during their college days but each enjoyed a solid spring as the veteran leaders of the line.
Perhaps the breakout story on the offensive line was the return to the starting lineup of Brice Schwab (pictured). The former four-star junior college prospect and presumed "can't miss" offensive tackle stumbled early in his Sun Devil career in 2010 due to a lack of physical conditioning, prompting his move to offensive guard. After redshirting in 2011, Schwab arrived for the spring in phenomenal physical condition and maintained the starting nod at right tackle all spring.
Two players with no prior starting experience, left guard Jamil Douglas and center Kody Koebensky, were also able to hold onto first-team roles all spring. Both players bring some versatility to the line as Douglas can play guard or tackle, while Koebensky can play center or guard.
Also at center, Devin Goodman and Mo Latu, a pair of redshirt freshmen, pushed Koebensky for time. Latu, who moved from defensive tackle in the spring, has a high upside and potentially bright future at the position though requires further technical advancements. Both players are capable of also adding depth at guard where there is very little proven talent behind the starters.
Sil Ajawara and Vi Teofilo are listed as the second team guards with Kyle Johnson and Tyler Sulka as the reserve tackles. In all likelihood these four will remain backups in the fall barring injury as there weren't many instances of out-playing the starters this spring.
With Finkenberg and Sampson returning as multi-year starters, most eyes focused on the performances as the three new starters filling voids at left guard, center and right tackle. Among those players, Schwab gained major attraction for both his play on the field and his awe-inspiring physical improvements.
Nearly written off as a recruiting bust, the former four-star junior college recruit that was once relocated from tackle to guard due to his lack of athletic ability seemingly has a firm grasp on the starting right tackle position entering his senior season. Schwab's return may prove to have a ripple effect in the fall, as many presumed before his return that true freshman Evan Goodman would possibly have to be immediately forced into the lineup at tackle, which may not be the case any longer.
Storylines going into Fall Camp
• Will Sampson show consistency after an erratic junior season?
• Can Schwab be a reliable starter for a full season?
• Will Koebensky keep a stranglehold on the starting center position?
• Can the generally untested second-team members fill in responsibly if necessary?
• Will Evan Goodman need to be thrown in the lineup at offensive tackle as a true freshman?