Player capsule: A.J. McCollum
Position: Offensive lineman
Weight: 305 pounds
2016 season quick review: In his first season at Arizona State, McCollum started eight of the team's 12 games. After Stephon McCray started the opener against NAU at center, McCollum took over the position for the team's second game, with McCray shifting to guard. McCollum was away from the team for two weeks late in the season, missing games against Washington State and Oregon, before returning off the bench against Utah and starting against Washington and Arizona. He was the staff's preferred starter at center.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: It was initially anticipated that McCollum would be a spring enrollee in 2016 out of San Francisco City College, but things didn't go as planned. He didn't immediately qualify for the spring semester academically and had to take additional coursework. By the time spring practices rolled around, McCollum was in Tempe but it was immediately clear he wasn't in playing shape. He was a practice attendee, which helped his assimilation on the mental side, but McCollum wasn't able to participate at all and his conditioning was not up to par.
By the time the season started, McCollum had made clear improvement by dropping some weight but still looked to be in questionable shape physically. He carries extra weight around the midsection and isn't ever going to look especially good on the hoof, but McCollum has a low center of gravity, a broad barrel chest and decent enough arm length and flexibility to play the position. He'd be well served to get as lean as possible in order to enhance his mobility, which is one of his biggest drawbacks. McCollum is listed by ASU at 305 pounds and is best served at a weight closer to 290 pounds, but it may be asking too much with his body type.
McCollum is at his best operating in tight quarters. He has a nasty disposition and finishes engaged blocks effectively, particularly when he's got his feet working well beneath him. He relishes the opportunity to put defensive linemen on their backs, but found that's a lot harder to do in the Pac-12 than it was at the junior college level. When he's in position and gets his hands located where he wants to, McCollum is very capable in the run game as long as he's able to get contact quickly with the defensive player. At times he'll try to muscle defenders with his upper body even when out-leveraged instead of working to get his body oriented in a better position to execute the block.
It's as a range blocker where McCollum leaves a lot to be desired. He's relatively slow footed at the Pac-12 level for a starter and is especially challenged at getting out and running to access blocks on the perimeter. This is limiting in ASU's outside and stretch zone concepts that call for the center to maintain integrity with multiple fellow linemen getting out quickly and being well spaced to the edge.
The quickness challenges are most challenging for McCollum in the passing game when opponents pop linebackers into the A-gap upon the snap of the football and on stunts working from outside into the A-gap. It takes a greater level of awareness and anticipation for less mobile players to be able to handle these types of pressures, and consequently, better technique than players who do have better length and mobility.
Projected depth chart status: There's a legitimate battle taking place between McCollum and fellow senior Tyler McClure for the starting center spot. The players are a fair amount different. McCollum is a more physical player and can move bodies more easily at the point of attack, and perhaps hold off linemen a bit better in pass protection, while McClure is clearly a much rangier blocker and able to access the second level and perimeter of the football field in the run game. This battle could continue into the season.