Player capsule: Nick Kelly

A strong case could be made that center Nick Kelly was Arizona State's most impressive player on the team last season relative to expectation. He earned second-team all-conference honors and is back for his senior season. What can be expected?

Player Capsule: Nick Kelly

Position: Center

Eligibility: Senior

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 294 pounds

2014 season quick review: Seldom does a player replace an outgoing senior multi-year starter and improve the position's capability but that's what happened last year when Nick Kelly ascended to Arizona State's first-string center position. He played well enough to earn second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was also a second-team All-Academic selection in the conference.

Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen: Nick Kelly is the nicest guy you'll ever meet, but he'll go up there and cut your throat. He will punch you. He's a seeker of contact, he wants to get a shot on you and I didn't teach Nick Kelly that. I don't know who taught Nick Kelly that and I don't how he got that.

"I knew Nick would do well, get out and pull and do stuff in space. But I wondered a little bit about when he's sliding over and the guard's sliding and here comes, you know, (Washington's big defensive tackle Danny Shelton, a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2015)... We put him in zero (technique situations) and that was a lot with Shelton and a lot of those guys and he did it (his job) well. I mean, there was one time against Utah that he probably got overpowered a little bit, but that happens to anybody. He surprised me, I knew he would do well but he exceeded my expectation a little bit. Tough, I can't even go on record and tell you what he played with this (past) year."

SunDevilSource.com analysis: A strong case could be made that Kelly was ASU's most impressive player on the team last season relative to expectation. He provided improved athletic range that enabled broader play calling with confidence on the part of offensive coordinator Mike Norvell because Kelly could get to places on the field more easily than his predecessor to pick up out of area blocks. Kelly can get out and run well for a center on kick out type blocks and has a lot of poise as a blocker in space, attributes which can lead to explosive gainers on outside runs and screens.

In tighter quarters, Kelly uses his long arms very well and it helps him overcome his modest height of 6-foot-2. The intensity with which he approaches run blocks in close combat is a seemingly innate attribute that helps to set Kelly apart, and his quickness post-snap with getting his hands and feet into position is a true strength. This is enabled by Kelly's high level understanding of the ASU offense and the game of football more broadly. He is great defensive movement anticipation, and also works extremely well with his offensive line teammates to provide a cohesive reaction to what the opposition is doing strategically.

In the 2013 season before Kelly became a starter, ASU really struggled at times with A-gap stunts and blitz pops from the linebacker level, particularly against a Stanford team that executes these attacks with surgical-like precision. Kelly was able to help the Sun Devils improve their capability against these types of pressures due to his ability to more quickly cover the full width of the gap post-snap.

Upon his initial arrival at ASU Kelly was underweight and then packed on too much size too quickly and lost a bit of his athleticism. He's since leaned out his body while adding more muscle and told us recently he weighs right around 300 pounds, which is going to help him handle powerful defensive tackles and ward off against displacement and pocket collapse, which are two of the areas he stood to be able to improve his capacity going into his senior season.

Projected depth chart status: Kelly is not only a completely locked-in starter, but one of ASU's best overall players and a well-deserved Rimington Award Watch List candidate, which is the honor annually awarded to the nation's best centers. He is one of the Sun Devils' best all-league honors candidates in 2015.


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