With an established starter entering this year's spring practice, there was naturally no true quarterback battle to discuss. Nonetheless, coming out of the 15 sessions the depth chart has certainly changed.
Incumbent starter Taylor Kelly (pictured) may not have had a spectacular spring from start to finish, yet didn't do anything to put his status in jeopardy either. The overall wide receivers' performance (more on that later) surely didn't help him, or any of the other signal callers for that matter, to exhibit the full array of his passing skills. Yet, attributes that Kelly excelled in last season such as mobility, generally good decision making, accuracy and establishing good offensive rhythm were still on display. His arm strength was probably his biggest suspect trait last season and I can't say I saw noticeable improvement in that department.
All in all, good spring for Kelly and stop me if you heard this before, but the infusion of talent at wide receiver come fall camp will greatly aid the junior's development as well as prove a better assessment as to whether his passing skills have progressed.
The biggest spring storyline at this position was Mike Bercovici's (pictured) performance. We all know the story by now, how this time last year the sophomore was heading into fall camp as the probable season starter, just to lose his spot to Kelly, and subsequently redshirting the 2012 season. It's no secret that Bercovici thought about transferring out of the program following that year, and his decision to stay put did benefit him as he ascended to the no. 2 spot on the depth chart.
We talked here in length over the last several weeks of how Bercovici changed his decision making skills and abandoned his "gun slinging" ways, if you will, and his throws is general were less risky in nature. Bercovici also shed a few pounds to become stronger and more mobile, adapting to the nature of this ASU offense. His passing skills are still superior to his competitors so after improving on his other traits it wasn't uncommon to see him at times perform better than the other quarterbacks. Like any quarterback on the roster he did have some bad sessions and perhaps started spring on a stronger note than he finished it.
The gap between Bercovici and Kelly has narrowed quite a bit since fall camp, and the staff has to feel confident that if and when Bercovici has to be inserted into the game that he will be able to run the offense just as effectively as Kelly. Bercovici isn't planning to transfer and is entering fall camp with much confidence after a solid spring. It will be interesting to see if that gap between him and Kelly can be even narrower come August, especially if he can further improve on his mobility and athleticism.
Potential is often the most frustrating word in sports, and any discussion revolving around Michael Eubank usually starts and ends with that adjective. Surely he has the highest ceiling out of the three quarterbacks, as well as the most imposing frame. A tad less mobile than Kelly standing at 6-6 246 lbs. frame, but while that attribute still remains his strongest, something that does hinder the now sophomore who is viewed as a run first quarterback.
You can argue whether Eubank was ready for action as a redshirt freshman, being part of a two-quarterback system that was widely employed by the Sun Devils during the first part of the season, yet was gradually reduced as the year went on. Most of the down and distance situations where Eubank saw action in were tailor made for him to rush the ball and that's where he had mixed success. While you expected him not to be a refined passer in his first year of Division I football, it was disappointing this spring to see a general lack of progression with his throwing mechanics, which is probably the biggest culprit to his current no. 3 position on the depth chart.
Even though it had lost two starters from last year's squad, spring showcased a very strong offensive line. Sure, it was hard at times containing exceptional defensive linemen such as Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, but this group was solid in its run blocking and definitely has the most overall talent we've seen in a while.
Players such as left tackle Evan Finkenberg and center Kody Kobensky were solid contributors in the spring, and played as the experienced starters you would expect them to. Yet, this tandem was often overshadowed by right tackle Jamil Douglas (pictured), who looked like a natural, to say the least, at this role even though it was the first time he played this position for the Sun Devils. His sold footwork and overall athleticism are the culprits for that smooth transition, let alone his high football IQ.
As part of the normal experimentation that takes place in the spring, Douglas switched places with left guard Sil Ajawara. Let's just say that this brief role change served Douglas (likely to play guard at the next level) much better than it did Ajawara (and again playing a stout defensive line doesn't help matters) but spring was hardly a bust for the later. A lighter Ajawara preformed well for the most part at left guard although wasn't really pushed by Devin Goodman or Billy McGehee who were average at best during the spring.
Tyler Sulka had a very pedestrian spring at backup right tackle and doesn't appear to a threat to unseat Douglas as a starter.
As a right guard starter, Vi Teofilo, much like Ajawara doesn't face much competition to knock him off his first team status but he too did well in the spring. Needless to say that if Christian Westerman, the transfer from Auburn, was able to play this season then we could be looking at a much different depth chart. On several occasions, especially in run blocking, the former Chandler Hamilton star showed his prowess and is undoubtedly poised to make his mark on this unit in 2014 after sitting out the mandatory season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Evan Goodman, much like Eubank, is an underclassman who came in his respective recruiting class as arguably the most heralded prospect of that group, yet has been slow to make a meaningful and consistent impact. While Goodman is mentioned at times to be in the mix for right tackle, in actuality he's Finkenberg's backup at left tackle. Some thought that by now the sophomore could unseat the senior, or at last make s strong push but spring proved once again that the gap between the two is still a sizeable one.
In Goodman's defense he was hobbled for most of spring, but even if healthy the best he can hope for is for blowout contests that will provide him ample opportunity at playing time. Not to look too much ahead, but 2014 spring practice will be huge for Goodman to once and for all establish himself as the mainstay left tackle so many envisioned him to be. But again, as a sophomore he's just another young player battling with the inevitable learning curve.
Stephon McCray is another lineman that was sidelined during spring, although he was completely held out of action as he was recovering from Mencius surgery. While he could play guard, he is now listed behind JC transfer Nick Kelly at center. Kelly had a solid camp and proves to adequately fill the role of backup center, a position that was the line's Achilles heel in 2012. Kelly's fine play, was one of the main factors that forced Mo Latu to make the switch to defensive line, although as it is the local Gilbert Perry product was struggling plenty both at center and guard during the spring.
The high expectations placed on this group to carry the offense did materialize during the spring, and this group may have provided the biggest surprise to boot. Even though this unit is the only position, aside from quarterback, that won't welcome a newcomer from the 2013 recruiting class, it's more than stacked with quality depth. Implementing the pistol scheme did nothing but allow this talented group of backs to employ more downhill running as the scheme is designed to cause the defense to react slower than usual.
Both Marion Grice and D.J. Foster (pictured) added bulk to their frame, but as spring has shown this didn't do anything to adversely impact their trademark explosiveness. Truth be told, Grice did start spring on a very quiet note and had a short flu episode to boot. However, when he was at full strength we once again saw a running back that often will eat up chunks of real estate either rushing the ball or catching it from the backfield.
As a true freshman, Foster was never reluctant to take on contact but the added 15 lbs. in the off-season allow him more than ever to maintain that style of play but be that much harder to tackle. Not that Grice and Lewis lack in the receiving skills department, but Foster is an absolute asset in that aspect and proved that time after time in the spring.
The feel good story of the spring was by far Deantre Lewis. His unfortunate gunshot injury and long rehab was well chronicled, and many doubted that this player, who two years ago thought about retiring due that tragic incident, could ever come back and be a significant contributor at ASU.
It may have taken two years, but the wait was worthwhile as the junior's spring performance was reminiscent to that of his promising true freshman year, as his improvement was off the charts. Running behind Grice and Foster, Lewis proved to be just as effective as that star tandem and possessing the same traits to boot. His quickness was always baffling to defenders as he rushed from the edge, but in the spring he used those attributes to also be a very potent inside the tackles rusher. All in all, an embarrassment of riches having a player of Lewis' caliber as your third string back.
Marcus Washington has bounced between this group and the tight ends one, but after spring it sure appears as if the running backs unit suits him the best. Unlike Grice and Foster he actually had to shed weight to be effective at this role, yet is still a physical player and one of the better blockers in his group, let alone a ball carrier well suited for short yardage situations. Washington's great attitude and effort can and will give him more opportunities than you would expect to having him see the field.
At 235 lbs. redshirt freshman Terrell Davis is a victim of his own inexperience and doesn't always play as physical as you would expect someone of his size to play. Improving fundamentals is crucial for him to establish a role in a crowded running backs group. Did see some work at fullback which could ultimately be his niche.
Much like running backs, this group, specifically senior Chris Coyle (pictured), will be called upon to carry the offense and during the spring we saw that notion repeatedly play out. The senior continues to arguably be the best and most reliable aerial target for the quarterbacks and his improved blocking aids the general effort in the Sun Devils' strong running game. During the spring I saw Coyle be more a vocal leader which is important for a group that generally lacks experience. When the previous staff virtually eliminated the tight end from its offense, Coyle was seriously contemplating a transfer. Judging by last year's production and this year's spring performance, to say that ASU dodged a bullet would be a gross understatement.
While Coyle's contributions were never in question, the depth at the position was another story. Their position coach, Chip Long, talked about the great off-season senior Darwin Rogers was having and those words definitely came to fruition in the spring. The physical and mental improvement of last year's JC transfer was noticeable. Consistency, especially blocking wise could get better though, but in terms of catching the ball he's generally done a good job when his number was called.
Redshirt freshman Kody Kohl knows his niche, and that is to be the best blocking tight end of the group, and with more two tight end formations being employed this year that role becomes more and more invaluable. At 6-3 251 lbs. not only does he have the physical tools but also the work ethic and tenacity to be the quintessential lunch pail player of this unit. His performance may not register in any stats but can still assist others in moving the chains, let alone putting points on the boards.
You would hope that the most maligned group of last season would turn in a spring performance that would even just attempt to silence the critics. If I told you that the two standouts of this group ended up being a sophomore and a walkon, you could probably guess how well the ASU wide receivers have done in reversing their fortunes from last year. Yes, as we all know the cavalry is on its way when five talented newcomers are scheduled to arrive in the summer, yet that fact alone makes it even more disappointing that several returning players were not able to step up their game and establish themselves going into fall camp.
When Jamal Miles was greatly struggling last year, I know myself and many others believed that Richard Smith should have seen much more playing time than he actually did. However, the good news was that a good true freshman season by Smith had enough momentum to carry him into spring and be essentially the only beacon of hope in this current group. At 5-9 165 lbs. he's one of the smallest players out there and will have to get stronger as his role is poised to increase quite a bit in 2013. Nonetheless, his speed and quickness came in handy against a very talented Sun Devil secondary. If he continues on his current path he very well could fend off the newcomers aiming for his job and secure a starting position.
Similar in size, yet perhaps the biggest surprise of spring (second to Deantre Lewis) was walk-on Fred Gammage. Plays the same role as Smith does at Z receiver and possesses a lot of the same attributes as well. A very sure handed receiver who had a great connection with Bercovici throughout spring. True, he stands a good chance to get buried in the depth chart as fall camp progresses, but who knows if he doesn't continue to surprise and end up in the rotation for this upcoming season.
I personally expected Kevin Ozier, who did show some flashes last season, to flourish among such a shallow group of wide receivers but that simply didn't happen. Again, he and the rest of his teammates played against a very potent secondary, but route running, separation from defenders and catching are skills I expected Ozier to turn the corner on from last season and that simply never happened.
Last year, Alonzo Agwuenu suffered greatly from the typical JC transfer learning curve and a fairly good start to spring seemingly turned out to be a disappointment fairly fast. His starting position during the spring was challenged at times by Gary Chambers, yet even the sophomore battled his own inconsistencies as well.
Senior Kyle Middlebrooks was recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Arizona game last year, which was unfortunate since he is probably the most proven player of the group (albeit gaining much of experience at running back) and could use a good spring to try and establish himself.
Please visit our premium message board Sparky's Huddle to discuss this article and offer your own input on this topic.