Spring Game storylines to watch

Our viewing guide for the 2015 Spring Game includes a lot of tips on how to watch Arizona State on the field and what specifically to be looking for as you determine the team's overall capability level entering the summer.

If we're being frank, spring games aren't great evaluation opportunities because they tend to be three-quarter speed with an aim on not trying to get players hurt, and there are too many eyes watching for coaches to put everything on display schematically.

That doesn't mean there won't be some valuable things to look for during tonight's ASU Spring Game. Here's some things you'll enjoy paying attention to and why they're important:

Reserve quarterback play: If you can't demonstrate poise in a Spring Game against your own defense in relaxed conditions, limited blitzing, you aren't going to be able to do so in week-to-week competition in the Pac-12. Sophomore Manny Wilkins has made clear strides this spring in this regard and has to keep developing in this area. If he's able to stay in the pocket comfortably, feel the rush and keep his eyes cycling through the progression he'll show additional progress. Freshman Brady White has been completely unfazed by the transition to college ball, seemingly, and if he's able to do it on a little bigger stage, it'll be a great sign for his future.

ASU's ability to pressure with four: ASU has yielded too many big plays defensively, the only real glaring issue that needs to be resolved. The biggest pathway to accomplishing this is to have Todd Graham more confident in not needing to bring as many five and especially six man pressures as such a high percentage of defensive snaps. This is only going to happen if defensive linemenDevil backers show an improved ability to affect the quarterback. Redshirt freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson has had a lot of ASU's pressures in this regard during the spring. Redshirt Freshman end Renell Wren has come on of late. Junior Edmond Boateng has made progress with his skill level and explosiveness. True freshman George Lea had his best two practices back to back in the last week and has the ability to eventually be an interior pressure player. But can ASU do it right now?

Inside run success: The Graham-era hasn't been hallmarked by an especially potent inside run game and certainly not in the red zone or short yardage situations. That has to change and Graham has said as much. In practices the last month it's been a key focus and the offensive line, led by senior all-league candidates Nick Kelly and Christian Westerman, have demonstrated signs of an improved capability, albeit against a defensive line that is somewhat uncertain still. With ASU's wide receiver talent and depth somewhat unproven, and limited tight end options, the running back position is going to be heavily relied upon and boasts some of ASU's most talent on the roster, with sophomores Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and junior De'Chavon Hayes. But it requires an effective and more physical offensive line to fully take advantage of that backfield talent.

D.J. Foster's battle with Lloyd Carrington: All spring we've seen a monumental and very physical clash between the running back-turned-wide receiver D.J. Foster and fellow senior Lloyd Carrington, at cornerback. These are two of ASU's best overall players on the entire roster and Foster immediately became the Sun Devils' most physical receiver upon the switch to the position. He's as likely to deliver a blow at the line of scrimmage as he is to take one from Carrington and there have been some violent interactions at the snap of the football as the players have fought for control of the area in which they operate. The spring game may be less than full go, but these players are almost surely going to tangle on the boundary side of the field.

Receiver progress essential: There were signs of life early in spring with sophomore Ellis Jefferson making plays all over the field and junior Eric Lauderdale looking improved. But they got a little quieter as the schedule unfolded until Jefferson again had a big day Thursday. ASU needs one or both of these players to step forward and be more consistently productive, or absent that, get more out of redshirt freshmen Jalen Harvey and/or Tyler Whiley. Increased weaponry and big play capability at receiver can take pressure of ASU's run game and D.J. Foster, enabling more one-on-on coverage across the full field and give senior quarterback Mike Bercovici more time and opportunity to take advantage of his plus-arm and ample command of the offense.

Signs of special teams development: ASU has needed to substantially upgrade its special teams play and with that in mind hired Shawn Slocum, a former NFL Special Teams Pro Bowl coach with the Green Bay Packers, and has completely reworked its special teams units from the ground up this spring. Junior punter Matt Haack has looked much improved, and ASU has some weapons in the return game, but has to continue to improve structurally on kick off coverage and punt return, in particular. The practice habits and sync are much better than ever before, but there are still critical breakdowns in execution that yield big plays, or alternatively prevent them.

Resolving secondary depth and speed issues: Losing Damarious Randall at field safety takes what was an averagely athletic ASU secondary and downgrades it to some degree in that regard. Carrington and Bandit safety Jordan Simone are two of ASU's best overall players, but neither would described as a freak athlete and sophomore field safety James Johnson, who is replacing Randall, is more of an anticipation and structurally sound player than someone who makes up for mistakes with speed and range. How these pieces all fit together in terms of how well ASU covers the full field while also trying to find a second cornerback to step up on the wide side -- whether that is senior Solomon Means or senior Kweishi Brown or someone else -- and whether sophomore Marcus Ball is ready to help in a reserve role at Spur is still somewhat of an unknown from an overall capability standpoint.

Offensive tackle competency: In light of the losses of starting offensive tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka, how will ASU be at these key positions as it relates to the team's overall protection of Bercovici and ability to improve its run game potency? Senior William McGehee is has looked much better in spring ball, a continuation of the overall progress arc he's made. With junior Evan Goodman battling a hamstring all spring that has kept him out of team periods, he's unlikely to go in the Spring Game. But redshirt freshman Sam Jones has looked like a future star in Goodman's place with the first-group. Can these guys do it under the lights at Sun Devil Stadium? If so that will bode very well for the team's offensive capability in 2015.


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