Eve Craig/SunDevilSource

Spring primer: Arizona State offensive line

Arizona State loses two starters off of its 2016 offensive line, but the Sun Devils should have more depth at the position this season as some of their younger players grow into larger roles.

Spring primer: Offensive line

Returners (12)

A.J. McCollum: Senior

Connor Humphreys: Junior

Alex Losoya: Junior

Tyson Rising: Junior

Quinn Bailey: Junior

Sam Jones: Junior

Zach Robertson: Sophomore

Steve Miller: Sophomore

Cade Cote: Sophomore

Cohl Cabral: Sophomore

Mason Walter: Sophomore

Marshal Nathe: Redshirt freshman

Spring additions (0)

Anticipated fall arrivals (1)

Corey Stephens

What to expect: When Washington Huskies' left tackle Trey Adams earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors in 2016, he became the first sophomore to earn the recognition since 2012, when Oregon's Hroniss Grasu and UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo ranked among the top five offensive linemen in the conference.

Between 2013 and 2015, though, all 15 offensive linemen who earned First Team All-Pac-12 recognition were juniors or seniors, highlighting the value of physical maturity, experience and repetitions in one of the nation's highest-profile conferences.

Having a slew of veterans in the trenches has proven critical for many of the Pac-12's most successful teams through the years, while inexperience and youth has derailed plenty of team's offensive hopes and aspirations.

When Arizona State rolled out its first starting offensive line for the 2016 season, the Sun Devils expected a pair of seniors, Evan Goodman and Stephon McCray, to help carry the load for a group with three underclassmen, then-sophomore left guard Sam Jones, then-sophomore right guard Quinn Bailey, and then-redshirt freshman Zach Robertson. 

After graduating multi-year starters Christian Westerman and Nick Kelly, as well as the program's starting right tackle in 2015, Billy McGehee, the historical precedent within the Pac-12 suggested ASU was likely headed for growing pains and a decline in production.

And even though Goodman boasted starting experience and McCray possessed the versatility to play at various positions along the offensive front, neither player was the type of senior leader the Sun Devils could rely upon to offset such significant personnel losses after the 2015 campaign.

With a transition in coordinators and turnover at the quarterback position, the Sun Devils' offensive line entered last season practically needing the stars to align to become a reliable, consistent force. Instead, though, ASU encountered the opposite, as a vicious injury bug ripped through the position group and forced the unit to start from scratch on an almost-weekly basis.

By the end of the season, only Goodman and Bailey managed to start every game for ASU, as Jones, McCray and Robertson all missed multiple contests with injuries. 

Over the course of a frustrating 5-7 season in which ASU's offensive line protected three different starting quarterbacks, the Sun Devils started no fewer than a half dozen different combinations as offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and offensive line coach Chris Thomsen attempted to find some semblance of consistency and rhythm for a group that seemingly veered off track at every possible crossroad.

After playing a leading role in ASU's 10th-place finish in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (131.5 yards per game) and the Sun Devils' conference-worst mark in sacks allowed (41), the unit lost both Lindsey and Thomsen this offseason as each coach departed for jobs in their home state. 

Furthermore, with Goodman and McCray departing, the Sun Devils' roster now lists just one senior, center A.J. McCollum, which leaves ASU without the veteran leaders the Pac-12's best offensive lines have come to be defined by.

Though the surface looks somewhat bleak for ASU's line, the Sun Devils are actually better positioned to make significant improvements entering the 2017 spring practice slate than it initially appears.

As a result of all of ASU's injury issues last season, the Sun Devils had the opportunity to evaluate and play a large contingent of their younger players, many of whom possess impressive frames and the raw skill sets that could eventually help them develop into the all-conference caliber linemen teams rely on for offensive success.

Entering the spring, a pair of juniors, Jones and Bailey, appear poised to assume starting roles for the second straight season, which would allow the Sun Devils to begin building around more experienced options. 

At 6-foot-5 and 297 pounds, Jones started at left guard for ASU in 2016 before suffering a foot injury on the final play of the Sun Devils' 40-16 loss against Colorado that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Prior to his injury, Jones was probably ASU's most consistent lineman in the run game and one of the team's more physical pass blocking options. Though Jones might have the versatility to swing out to tackle, he's more naturally suited to playing guard and should lay claim to a starting spot again this spring.

In Bailey, ASU has a 6-foot-5, 307-pound lineman who played both guard and tackle last season, and drew comparisons from Graham to former ASU starter and NFL draft choice Christian Westerman. Though Bailey is probably better suited to playing guard, he could wind up as the team's starting right tackle this season because he's a bit more rangy athlete than sophomore Zach Robertson, who has a wider frame and has candidly said he's more comfortable at guard than tackle. 

Jones has a higher ceiling than Bailey, but when healthy, both players are capable of being above-average offensive linemen in the Pac-12, which should give ASU a stronger base to work with than the duo of Goodman and McCray formed last season.

The other upperclassman with an inside track at earning a starting job is McCollum, who started more than half of ASU's games at center last season. A junior college transfer from City College of San Francisco, McCollum arrived in fall camp out of shape and battled a hamstring injury, but still broke into ASU's rotation early in the year and impressed Graham with his nasty streak. 

McCollum has better tools than his predecessor at the position, Kelly, but Kelly had an excellent football mind and was a model of consistency in the middle of ASU's offensive line. If McCollum uses the offseason training program to get in better shape and seizes the center role in spring ball, ASU will be better off for it because he's an old-school center with the potential to pave lanes in the run game.

With McCollum, Bailey and Jones having an upper hand entering spring practices, a trio of sophomores could be battling for the remaining two spots on the starting line.

Robertson, Steve Miller and Cohl Cabral are among the three most physically imposing linemen on ASU's roster, but all three early still early in their developmental process. 

A former four-star recruit out of Southern California, Robertson began the 2016 season as ASU's starting right tackle before an injury and McCollum's emergence forced him into a backup role. At 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, Robertson has an NFL-body type and has the fluid hips to bend and move well when he gets in and out of his stance, but he struggled handling speed on the edge last season.

Robertson doesn't move backward as well as he does forward, which hurt him against even reasonably competent pass rushers looking to whip around the edge and get to the quarterback last season. 

Robertson and Miller are two of the linemen who should benefit from the transition from Lindsey to new offensive coordinator Billy Napier, as Napier should incorporate more power run schemes into ASU's offense next season. While ASU's offensive linemen were encouraged to trim down to prepare for more zone blocking concepts under Lindsey, the players at this unit may need to bulk back up this offseason and that would suit both Robertson and Miller well.

Miller was one of the odd men out on ASU's line last season, spending much of the season as a reserve but earning playing time when McCray went down with an injury in late October. At 6-foot-4 and 326 pounds, Miller looks even better on the hoof than Robertson does, as his body composition screams NFL potential. Still, in limited opportunities last year, Miller was phased by the speed of the game, and didn't move out of his stance fast enough to take advantage of his physical gifts. 

If Miller takes the leap many linemen do during their third year in the program this spring, he could force his way into the conversation for a starting spot. If Miller remains inconsistent, though, it could leave ASU in a challenging position depth-wise because so many of its potential starting options are young and inexperienced.

Outside of how Robertson and Miller fit into ASU's equation up front, one of the major storylines to follow will be the development of Cabral, who arrived on campus a season ago as one of the most physically impressive freshmen linemen in recent memory. 

At 6-foot-5 and 286 pounds, Cabral can play any position on the offensive line, but worked at center and left tackle as a freshman. Because of ASU's depth issues and the Sun Devils' reliance on the "Sparky" package, Cabral's redshirt was burned last season and he contributed in limited opportunities.

Because ASU failed to sign a junior college offensive tackle prospect, Cabral may get the first look at left tackle for the Sun Devils this spring as the program looks to find Goodman's permanent replacement. If Cabral, who might have the highest ceiling of any ASU lineman, proves he's at least serviceable at left tackle, he could become the odds-on favorite to win the job because the Sun Devils simply lack true offensive tackle prospects. 

While Jones, Bailey, Robertson and even Miller can likely all play tackle, each of those linemen would probably be better off at guard. However, because of team needs, at least one member of that group will probably be forced into action at tackle. 

With six clear-cut options jockeying for roles and hoping to impress new offensive line coach Rob Sale this spring, a slew of depth options hope to prove they've done enough to merit consideration for expanded opportunities this spring.

Aside from Jones and Bailey, ASU has three other juniors looking to make a mark this spring, including a pair of junior college transfers who were brought in after National Signing Day in 2016.

Junior Tyson Rising battled an injury and redshirted in 2016, while fellow transfer Alex Losoya served as a second-team offensive guard who found himself as the eighth and more often ninth man in the Sun Devils' rotation. The third junior, Connor Humphreys, has the frame to fit in at center, but like Losoya, worked as a backup guard last season. Of those three players, perhaps Rising has the best opportunity to earn consideration for an expanded role as he was brought in as a tackle and ASU is more uncertain about its depth at that position right now.

The trio of Rising, Losoya and Humphreys should have an easier time making an impression this spring than sophomores Cade Cote and Mason Walter, as well as redshirt freshman Marshal Nathe. As expected, the upperclassmen are more physically developed than the younger trio, but Nathe could wind up earning playing time down the road.

The Centennial High (Peoria) product redshirted in 2016 and showcased an impressive blend of size and strength during position drills with ASU's centers that could make him an option to replace McCollum in 2018.

Because the Sun Devils are low on scholarship numbers entering the spring, the position group could add a scholarship player this fall if Graham awards walk-on center Tyler McClure a ride. McClure made his first career start against Washington State last season, filling in for McCollum who missed the game for undisclosed reasons. Though McClure likely wouldn't challenge for a starting role, he probably would fit in as one of the program's nine or 10 best options on the offensive line in 2017. 

Aside from focusing on skill development and creating cohesion among his linemen this spring, in his first year with the program, Sale will be tasked with preparing ASU's line for the transition from Lindsey to Napier and helping the younger players understand the intricacies of an offense that will likely feature key changes in assignments and blocking schemes. 


Prep Colorado Top Stories