Player capsule: Sam Jones
Position: Left guard
Weight: 297 pounds
2016 season quick review: Jones began the 2016 season as Arizona State's starting left guard after splitting time between the tackle and guard positions as a redshirt freshman. Jones had a tall task ahead of him in 2016 as the Highlands Ranch, Colorado native was asked to replace Christian Westerman, a fifth round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals, but he performed well at the outset of last season. In a campaign in which ASU's offensive line struggled with inconsistency and injury issues, Jones was the team's most productive lineman during the first half of the year before he suffered a season-ending injury on the final play of ASU's 40-16 loss against Colorado in October.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: After flipping back and forth between tackle and guard as a redshirt freshman, Jones found a home as ASU's starting left guard as a sophomore which is a position Jones is ideally suited to.
The Sun Devils waited until last season to make Jones a full-time guard because early in his career, he lacked the power and raw strength to compete with enough physicality against Pac-12-caliber defensive linemen. Additionally, Jones possessed decent mobility coming out of high school, and with a shortage of tackles in the program, the Sun Devils were willing to wait and see exactly how adding size to Jones' frame would impact his development.
By the start of the 2016 season, though, Jones was clearly well positioned to make an impact at guard and he did so, starting the first six games of the Sun Devils' season. At the midway point of the year, Jones was at least a middle-tier offensive lineman in the Pac-12, and with more reps down the stretch, could have potentially developed into an Honorable Mention All-Conference candidate thanks to his consistent, disciplined approach at the line of scrimmage.
However, an injury in garbage time against Colorado derailed Jones' season, and forced him to get back in the weight room this offseason to maintain his strength and return to form. Working with the starting unit again this spring, Jones didn't appear to have any setbacks related to his injury, and looks as if he's in excellent position to have his best season yet.
First-year offensive line coach Rob Sale considers Jones one of his "dependables," a player Sale can count on in the film room, in the weight room, and on the field because he brings the same aggressive demeanor and desire to improve to every aspect of the sport. Jones is a quiet, hard hat and lunch pail type of a player, but Sale also considers him the best leader on the offensive line and one of the best overall leaders on ASU's roster.
As a prospect, Jones boasts great balance and coordination, plays with a solid pad level, and moves fluidly for a player who carries nearly 300 pounds on his frame. This will enable first-year offensive coordinator to take advantage of Jones' athleticism, and use him as a pulling guard and as a move blocker. When the Sun Devils opt to run behind Jones this season, they're hoping he can develop more of a nasty streak and become a more successful drive blocker as opposed to the angle blocker he was earlier in his career.
There's plenty of reason to like Jones' upside, because he's one of the most experienced offensive linemen on ASU's roster and one of the most fundamentally sound as well. From a technical standpoint, Jones has proven he's a willing learner who takes quickly to coaching points, and now that he's completely developed physically, there's no reason Jones can't become at least an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 performer as a junior.
Projected depth chart status: Jones will begin the season as ASU's starting left guard, and has an opportunity to represent the offense as a team captain. While ASU head coach Todd Graham will always have a quarterback as his captain, Jones has demonstrated the type of consistent work ethic and leadership skills Graham often rewards players for in the form of a captainship. If ASU gets into trouble with injury issues at the tackle positions, Jones is a candidate to slide out because he's more developed than most of the Sun Devils' other options, but ASU will be best served if it can keep Jones at left guard for the duration of the season.