Oh, the difference a year makes.
This time last August, Taylor Kelly was third in line for starting reps at quarterback at ASU, but fast-forward 12 months and a sound, efficient season and Kelly is regarded as one of the nation's most underrated signal callers.
After compiling some of the top statistical efforts in school history and also rushing for the most yards by a Sun Devil quarterback in over 30 years, Kelly entered this offseason with zero doubt that he was going to have top billing once again in 2013.
The next task for Kelly is to gain further mastery of the Sun Devil offense, implement new tactics and utilize new weaponry, while refining the necessary parts of his game to allow ASU to achieve its lofty goals for 2013.
Behind Kelly stand sophomores Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici, both highly talented players with very different capabilities.
Eubank, due to his size and running style, likely will still have a role in the Sun Devil offense this season, though it remains to be seen how his responsibilities in 2013 will compare to last season. His traits were highly useful in goal line and short yardage situations, so it would be surprising to see Eubank pulled from those roles.
Bercovici was thought by many to be the likely starting candidate during the 2012 preseason, but it is largely presumed that his lack of mobility caused him to fall beneath Taylor Kelly. After redshirting last year, Bercovici has shown in spring practice that he is more athletic, less mistake prone and is a very capable backup.
After two consecutive years without signing a quarterback recruit, ASU will rely on walk-ons to fill depth behind Kelly, Eubank and Bercovici.
Burning Fall Camp Question: What progress will be shown by Taylor Kelly?
For the first time since 2008, ASU will return its starting quarterback from the previous season and there will be no quarterback controversy to be settled in fall camp.
With a pecking order essentially established already, eyes will focus on what developments and advancements Kelly shows this season versus last year.
The 2012 season was, of course, a resounding success for Kelly, but it certainly was far from perfect.
Specifically when matched against the toughest opponents Kelly faced some struggles as he threw eight touchdowns and all nine of his interceptions in ASU's five losses compared to 21 touchdowns with zero turnovers in the eight wins. ASU's daunting 2013 schedule is one of the nation's toughest, so Kelly will have to elevate his efficiency against the top competitors the Sun Devils will face.
Also, though Kelly has an amazing group of pass-catchers such as Chris Coyle, D.J. Foster and Marion Grice at his disposal, the quarterback's leadership skills will be of high priority in helping to facilitate the adjustments needed from the team's hefty list of inexperienced wide receivers.
By no means does Kelly have to implement drastic revisions to his approach in 2013, but a few notable improvements are vital to ASU's success.
Expected to be the offense's biggest set of weapons this year, ASU's stable of running backs is just about as versatile as it gets as multiple players have vast experience as rushers and receivers and will be featured by the coaching staff in a multitude of ways.
The co-headliners of the group are the sensational pair of senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster (pictured), both of whom exceled tremendously as first-year players at the FBS level in 2013. Both athletes are incredible threats in any way they're used and with Cameron Marshall no longer on the roster, a greater quantity of touches will be available to this backfield brethren.
Though Marshall was a tremendous Sun Devil and his career ranks among the best statistical efforts in ASU history by a running back, his departure might be an odd sort of "addition by subtraction". Last year, ASU had several games in which the running game seemed slow to take shape because of the desire to distribute carries between Marshall, Grice and Foster. With a minimized quantity of featured backs, it's probable that the Devils can pick up quicker steam on the ground in 2013.
If Grice and Foster are the only two contributors, the position should remain in excellent shape, however what adds even more allure to the running back group as a whole is the sizeable potential of the depth players.
First on the list in terms of "potential" is Deantre Lewis, who submitted one of the program's best freshman seasons by a running back when he carved defenses as a rusher and receiver in 2010. However, due to a gunshot wound the following offseason, Lewis has not been able to return to his true form but in the spring showed that he is possibly primed to return to a level of play that rivals his rookie year. If the Deantre Lewis of 2010 is able to return and join forces with Grice and Foster each with a full year of FBS football under their belts—watch out!
Another player who contributed as a true freshman in 2010, Kyle Middlebrooks has had potential by the ton since his arrival in Tempe. Unfortunately, due to a combination of injuries, depth chart issues and coaches bouncing him between receiver and running back, he has barely emerged beyond a special teams player. If he is able to stay healthy, Middlebrooks has the speed and rounded skill set to perform at a high level. Middlebrooks, who tore his ACL against Arizona, will be held out of contact for the first could of weeks of fall camp.
Terrell Davis and Marcus Washington bring solid frames to the position and are more adept to running inside than the other backs that rely on versatility and agility as primary tactics. Davis redshirted last season but has shown solid efforts as a power runner in practices, while Washington returns to running back after a stint at tight end last year.
R.J. Robinson enters his fifth year in the program and has earned some mop-up carries during his tenure at ASU.
Burning Fall Camp Question: Will we see the Deantre Lewis of old?
The top of the depth chart is highly predictable with the dynamic pairing of Grice and Foster and further down the list, the likes of Davis and Washington likely will battle for "garbage time" reps while Kyle Middlebrooks is a question mark due to his injury history. The biggest wildcard in this position—and one of the team's most notable wild cards this year—is Lewis, a player capable of standing toe-to-toe with Grice and Foster in terms of playmaking skills and versatility.
Lewis' story is well known, and after a stint on defense last year he returns to his natural position at running back. What is not known, however, is if he can perform at the level he did as a true freshman in 2010. If Lewis can resemble his rookie year form, ASU will add a third all-purpose threat to what is already one of college football's most dangerous running back duos.
The position group that resembles perhaps the most significant question mark on the entire team, ASU is hoping for marked improvements from its wide receivers compared to spring drills in terms of viable depth and overall consistency.
Sophomore Richard Smith (pictured) was regarded as the most consistent receiver during the spring and appears to be firmly entrenched in a starting position, while senior Kevin Ozier has ample game experience that could make him an odds-on favorite to start as well.
Alonzo Agwuenu enters his second of two seasons with the Devils after making moderate contributions in 2012, while sophomore Gary Chambers battled with Agwuenu for starting reps this spring.
Walk-on Frederick Gammage was a surprise contributor in the spring but will have to hold of multiple newcomers to remain a viable depth chart option this fall.
A lack of experience is a notable red flag for the position group as Ozier is the only one to have seen field action for ASU prior to the 2012 season and the returning receivers from last year combined for only 46 receptions.
A massive influx of potential talent joins the roster for fall camp as five newcomers—junior Joe Morris, sophomore Jaelen Strong and true freshmen Ronald Lewis, Ellis Jefferson and Cameron Smith—will all compete for playing time. Due to the combination of inexperience and inconsistency that exists among the returning scholarship receivers from last year, any and all of the newcomers could have a viable opportunity to quickly take on a major role.
The wide receiver group as a whole is a major "swing" position for the offense, as an above average collective effort would make players such as Chris Coyle, Marion Grice and D.J. Foster even more accessible and dangerous but a disappointing performance by the group on the year could make ASU's offense detrimentally predictable.
Burning Fall Camp Question: How will the newcomers stack up?
In the spring, ASU had only four scholarship wide receivers participating in drills but an additional five scholarship additions figure to join the roster for fall camp, putting the Devils in a position to very likely rely on several of the new additions to contribute in 2013. Entering fall camp, it would come as little to no surprise if no fewer than four of the new receivers were primed for on-field duty this year.
Presuming his academics are in order, Jaelen Strong is not only poised for playing time this year but likely is headed right toward the top of the depth chart. Many critics and specifically Sun Devil fans hesitate to anoint a JUCO transfer wide receiver as the next Derek Hagan or John Jefferson, but Strong has the full toolbox required to excel from day one.
Strong's JUCO teammate, Morris, likely will have a solid role due to his physical nature and size but his immediate impact is expected to be limited due to a foot injury that is likely to sideline him for the majority of fall camp. Smith and Lewis are speedy, athletic types that could help give ASU some playmaking threats at receiver to complement Richard Smith that are very much needed. Jefferson brings a frame similar to Morris and Strong and a physical style of play. Cameron Smith has been drawing rave reviews of the summer and could very well be a contributor as a true freshman.
Unfortunately, it may occur that both Strong and Morris endure limitations in fall camp, as Strong's academic qualification could delay his participation in practice, while Morris may miss substantial practice time and invaluable learning opportunities due to his foot injury.
In all, it should be no surprise if the two-deep at the wide receiver positions are littered with first-year Sun Devils. However, with the challenging slate ASU faces in the first half of the season and natural adjustments that come with the leap to the FBS level, the respective learning curves among the newbies will have to be minimized at all costs. In all, these players' respective abilities to acclimate to the FBS level could be a major factor in the offense's success this season, especially in the early stages of the year.
Newcomers: De'Marieya Nelson, Grant Martinez
After going from a seldom-used pass-catcher under Dennis Erickson, Chris Coyle (pictured) exploded as Todd Graham's three-back in 2012, achieving marks that surpassed superstars such as Todd Heap and Zach Miller. Entering his senior season, Coyle has been frequently named among All-America teams and award watch lists and should leave his mark as one of the top tight ends in Sun Devil history.
As much of a luxury as it is to have a potential All-American on the team, the depth behind Coyle brings a handful of question marks for Graham to organize this preseason.
Darwin Rogers returns for his senior season after earning ample playing time in a traditional line of scrimmage tight end role. Though he saw several snaps over the course of the year, Rogers was far from a frequent target in the pass game as he only hauled in a trio of passes in 2012. Rogers figures to continue to earn substantial playing time in 2013 but it remains whether to be seen if his role as a receiving target will increase noticeably this year.
Behind Coyle and Rogers, three players with zero FBS game experience will compete for reps in JUCO transfer De'Marieya Nelson; redshirt freshman Kody Kohl and true freshman Grant Martinez.
Nelson comes to ASU as one of the offense's most intriguing options as the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder can run and catch the ball with equal impact. His potential in the Sun Devil offense has frequently been compared to the college career of Charles Clay, now with the Miami Dolphins, who played for Graham at Tulsa from 2007-10 and totaled over 2,500 receiving yards and over 900 rushing yards during his four-year tenure. Nelson will likely see time at the three-back position as a backfield threat in the rush and pass games.
Kohl, the younger brother of former Sun Devil Trevor Kohl, brings solid bulk to the lineup at 6-foot-3 and 251-pounds. Martinez, a talented receiving tight end from Scottsdale's Notre Dame Prep, will be the tallest tight end on the roster in the fall and could etch out a role if he is able to quickly adapt to college football on a physical level.
Burning Fall Camp Question: Aside from Coyle, what will be seen?
With his record-setting junior season, Coyle's abilities are well known and his services will undoubtedly be used early and often this season. However, the predictability of contributions beyond Coyle is uncertain at best. Rogers is the only other with game experience, but he caught only three passes in 12 games. Nelson brings potentially outstanding versatility to the position and could be used as both a runner and as a receiver. Martinez could have a shot at cracking the lineup as a true freshman and Kohl adds further depth.
Coyle by all means remains the candidate to receive the vast bulk of the attention from the position group, but fall camp will be a good indicator of what sort of involvement the likes of Rogers, Nelson and others will have in the offense.
Evaluating ASU's offensive line is basically a "glass half full or half empty" (well, 60% full or 40% empty) situation. The Sun Devils return three starters from last season in LT Evan Finkenberg, C Kody Koebensky and Jamil Douglas (pictured), who moves from left guard to right tackle. All three are all-conference candidates and Finkenberg is one of the nation's most experienced starters.
However, with Andrew Sampson and Brice Schwab gone from last year's starting lineup, ASU faces the task of filling in with two new starters. In the spring, Vi Teofilo was firmly planted at right guard, while Sil Ajawara saw substantial first-team reps at left guard and even a little at right tackle. Teofilo is somewhat battled tested as he earned some starting action last season, though Ajawara's résumé of game action as a Sun Devil is greatly limited. Teofilo is one of ASU's strongest overall players and Ajawara was a sought-after high school recruit, but both players are still green in terms of college playing time.
Junior Tyler Sulka is the team's most experienced reserve linemen and also one of the squad's most versatile, as he saw time as an extra tight end last year in addition to playing offensive tackle. The staff remains high on Sulka's skill set and athleticism and could push for playing time.
Evan Goodman is a player Sun Devil fans eagerly await to see in meaningful duty after Goodman bypassed a redshirt season to see game action as a true freshman in 2012. The former four-star prospect will start camp behind Evan Finkenberg at left tackle, the position at which Goodman likely will start after Finkenberg graduates.
Devin Goodman, Stephon McCray and William McGehee were plotted along the interior line depth chart during the spring and add scholarship depth behind the proposed starters.
Spring junior college transfer Nick Kelly brings versatility as a possible option at center or guard, while true freshman tackle Jack Powers in all likelihood will redshirt.
After former five-star recruit Christian Westerman chose to transfer from Auburn to ASU prior to the spring semester, some hope remained that Westerman would be able to be eligible to play immediately but unless he gets the proverbial "Governor's pardon", Westerman is expected to sit out the 2013 season.
Though experienced depth is a concern, ASU does have the benefit of returning its three best starters from last season and if that trio can—most importantly—stay healthy and also provide the leadership necessary to mentor the younger contributors, the Sun Devil line should not be an area of concern.
Burning Fall Camp Question: Will the starting five remain the same from the spring?
The group of Finkenberg-Ajawara-Koebensky-Teofilo-Douglas was generally the routine starting line during spring ball and can accurately be presumed to be the first-team unit to begin fall camp. Finkenberg, Koebensky and Douglas are concrete locks to remain starters, but wild cards such as Tyler Sulka and Evan Goodman could potentially push Ajawara and Teofilo, both first-year full-time possible starters, for action. If a change is made from the unit that started for most of the spring, it's plausible that Douglas would return to guard, as he did when the coaching staff tinkered with Ajawara at right tackle for a brief part of the spring.