Season Preview: Offensive Line

Wrapping up the preview of ASU's offense, Joe Healey examines the team's 2009 front five.

Offensive Line (listed alphabetically)

56 Thomas Altieri C RS-Sr. 6-1 301 Vista, Calif. (Vista HS)

52 Garth Gerhart C RS-So. 6-1 302 Norco, Calif. (Norco HS)

62 Evan Finkenberg OT Fr. 6-6 265 Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. (Tesoro HS)

79 Brent Good OG RS-Sr. 6-2 342 Chandler, Ariz. (Dobson HS/Holy Cross)

59 Jon Hargis OG/OT RS-Jr. 6-3 312 Mesa, Ariz. (Red Mountain HS)

66 Matt Hustad OT RS-So. 6-5 292 Helena, Mont. (Helena HS)

76 Patrick Jamison OT/OG RS-Fr. 6-3 280 Chandler, Ariz. (Hamilton HS)

78 Kyle Johnson OT RS-Fr. 6-7 292 Norco, Calif. (Norco HS)

69 Kody Koebensky OG Fr. 6-4 303 Scottsdale, Ariz. (Saguaro HS)

67 Shawn Lauvao OT RS-Sr. 6-3 305 Honolulu, Hawaii (Farrington HS)

70 Mike Marcisz OG/OT RS-So. 6-5 298 Livermore, Calif. (Granada HS)

74 Tom Njunge OT Sr. 6-5 272 Pasadena, Calif. (Muir HS/Pasadena City College)

72 Andrew Sampson OG RS-Fr. 6-3 299 Aurora, Colo. (Overland HS)

75 Zach Schlink OG So. 6-4 331 Peoria, Ariz. (Centennial HS)

77 Adam Tello OG/OT RS-So. 6-3 290 Norco, Calif. (Norco HS)

In an earlier season preview, I priced the query at quarterback for the Sun Devils as a $1 million question, however many would argue that questions surrounding ASU's offensive line may appraise for an even higher value.

After earning the dubious distinction of allowing a school-record 55 sacks in 2007, despite having a largely veteran crew along the line, the level of play of the line continued to slide the following season. In 2008, the sacks allowed total reduced to 34, however that still rated the Sun Devils eighth in the conference, but perhaps a greater impact was felt in the running game, which ranked ninth in the Pac-10 at a measly 89.1 yards-per-game average.

The offense totaled only 1,069 net rushing yards, the fewest since Arizona State College totaled 870 rushing yards in 11 games under coach Steve Coutchie in 1946. In general, the line play helped dictate a general offensive inconsistency during the majority of the season.

The pessimistic mindset is that there's nowhere but ‘up' to go at this point; however that was a general mentality after the 55-sack 2007 season which remained unfortified. With an inexperienced quarterback, undetermined depth at running back and unproven talent at tight end, the offensive line, in all reality, has the power to make-or-break the 2009 campaign. Sadly, not much is expected of the group, but marked improvement will be needed to help allow any success to ASU's new starting quarterback and the offense in general.

While there is definite reason for concern, the staff has tweaked the lineup to hopefully begin to shore up the blocking woes. Ironically, the coaches would like to achieve these changes by relocating the only players that started every game last year.

Senior Shawn Lauvao and junior Jon Hargis will essentially flip-flop from where they saw the majority of their snaps last year, as Lauvao shifts to left tackle while Hargis will move to left guard.

Clearly the headliner of the offensive line, Lauvao earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 last year as a starter in all 12 games -- seeing action at both left guard and right tackle -- and has collected 21 career starts in 30 total contests, the most in both categories by an active ASU offensive lineman. Publicized this offseason for his mammoth weight room efforts, boasting a 500-plus pound bench press, 670-pound squat and other superhuman feats of strength, the Hawaiian powerhouse matches brawn with brains, having earned a bachelor's degree in educational sociology in three-and-a-half years and is now pursuing a master's degree in secondary education.

Despite less-than-ideal height for the offensive tackle position, ASU head coach Dennis Erickson insists that having not moved Lauvao to left tackle earlier was a grave mistake. Lauvao will undoubtedly need to be one of the team's overall most valuable players, as he is the most tenured offensive lineman and backside protector for ASU's new quarterback.

Hargis (pictured) began his Sun Devil career as a reserve defensive tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2007, but switched sides and started all 12 games at tackle, beginning the season as the team's top left tackle. Much like Lauvao's compatible fit at tackle, Hargis is more fittingly placed at guard. Although he has only one season of offensive play under his collegiate belt, Hargis will also be called upon to provide leadership and improved play as a junior in 2009.

The most competitive position battle this offseason has been at center, where Thomas Altieri (pictured), as senior and full-time starter at the position last year, was replaced by athletic sophomore Garth Gerhart, a natural center that saw starting action at guard last year.

Altieri had an extremely tough act to follow in 2008, replacing first-team All-Pac-10 member and second-round NFL Draft selection Mike Pollak, and despite a tremendous attitude and work ethic, fans certainly weren't confusing Altieri for his predecessor.

After losing the battle with Altieri prior to the 2008 season, Gerhart (pictured) persisted and worked his way into the starting lineup at guard before accelerating past his upperclassman position mate during spring drills. Formerly rated the No. 7 center prospect in the nation by Scout.com in 2007, Gerhart has shown flashes of high competency at the center position and provides an intriguing component to the Sun Devil front line.

The competition between Altieri and Gerhart may continue through fall camp, but all signs pointed to Gerhart as starting center after spring drills.

One of the nation's top offensive line recruits in 2008, Zach Schlink (pictured) of Peoria High School became the first true freshman offensive lineman since Chaz White in 2002 to see immediate action for the Sun Devils, even working his way to the top of the depth chart before missing the final three games of the season due to injury.

The former No. 22 offensive tackle prospect in the nation by Scout.com, Schlink was limited during spring drills but is expected to be ready for full action in the fall and is positioned to replace departed starting right guard Paul Fanaika, selected this spring in the NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Beside Lauvao, Schlink may be the team's most wholly talented offensive lineman and if he remains healthy, Schlink figures to clamp a lock on the starting right guard position for ASU.

The biggest question mark among the starting five likely is found at right tackle, where senior Tom Njunge (pictured) returns after starting four games at the position last year and exited spring drills atop the depth chart.

A virtual revolving door position last year, Njunge was promoted to first-team after Adam Tello (pictured) flopped during the first four games, but Njunge's performances didn't earn significant applause as he was benched after four starts, prompting Lauvao to shift to right tackle from left guard.

Njunge is unlikely the most talented candidate for the position, but injury primarily exalted the former junior college transfer to first-team status.

Sun Devil coaches and fans have kept their fingers crossed in hopes that sophomore Matt Hustad (pictured) can make his way out of ASU's infirmary, as Coach Erickson has constantly bragged about the former Gatorade State Player of the Year's athletic ability, toughness and tenacity, however Hustad was sidelined all last year as a redshirt freshman and did not appear in spring drills earlier this year. If Hustad can heal in time for the start of the 2009 season and quickly acclimate to his first taste of collegiate action and the two-year field layover since his senior season at Helena (Mont.) High School in 2006, his presence could provide significant assistance in ASU's quest for consistency.

Only a few short weeks before the start of the 2008 season, Adam Tello was thrust into the starting lineup at right tackle after the early departure of probable starting tackle Richard Tuitu'u, an announcement which Coach Erickson made at ASU's media day just prior to the start of fall practices. Recruited as a guard and ranked as the No. 36 guard prospect in the 2007 class by Scout.com, Tello started the first four games of the season out of position at right tackle and spent the remainder of the year on the sideline.

To his credit, Tello persisted and the coaches have refined his responsibilities to competing at offensive guard, where he will practice on both sides. Although he missed spring drills due to injury, when Tello returns for the fall he will likely be a top reserve at both left and right guard, and will probably be the top replacement starter if either Hargis or Schlink has healthy or consistency issues.

Despite seeing action in only one game as a redshirt freshman last season, sophomore Mike Marcisz (pictured) was one of the most versatile linemen during the spring, earning time – including some first-team reps – at both guard and tackle, and was listed on the final spring depth chart as a top reserve at both right guard and right tackle. Rated as the No. 78 offensive tackle prospect in the nation by Scout.com in 2007, Marcisz could become a key component in the line depth, especially if players around him cannot become or remain healthy.

Three high school members of ASU's 2008 signing class redshirted last season and have budding potential as talented reserves and possible future starters.

Guard Andrew Sampson (pictured), a ‘throw-back' type of lineman with excellent power and tenacity, was rated by Scout.com as the No. 33 offensive guard prospect as a senior, and finished his first full offseason as the second-string left guard behind Hargis.

Patrick Jamison (pictured), a local product from Chandler Hamilton High School, was ranked the No. 40 offensive tackle prospect by Scout.com after primarily playing right tackle for the Huskies. Entering his first year of field action for the Devils, Jamison is listed as a top alternative at right tackle, while also having practiced at guard during his redshirt season and is likely to play at role during his ASU tenure.

Before quarterback Brock Osweiler arrived to Tempe this winter, Kyle Johnson (pictured) laid claim to the title of ASU's tallest football player, towering at 6-7 and having added bulk to his frame and measured in at 292 pounds in the spring. Regarded as having tremendous upside as a blindside blocker, Johnson will likely earn spot reserve duty as a redshirt freshman behind Lauvao, but will prepare to compete for first-team duty at left tackle in the future.

Walk-on Brent Good, a product of Mesa's Dobson High School, appeared in every game last year on special teams protection units and adds depth behind Hargis, Sampson and Tello at left guard.

A pair of prep prospects officially became Sun Devils in February, as local standout Kody Koebensky (pictured) and athletically gifted Californian Evan Finkenberg faxed in letters of intent to ASU. A third prospect who also signed with the Sun Devils will reportedly be required to attend community college before joining ASU.

Koebensky, a stalwart on one of the state's most dominant programs, has the ability to play guard or tackle but likely will compete at guard. Evaluated last year as an offensive tackle by Scout.com and rated the No. 86 national prospect at the position, Koebensky brings toughness and winning expectations to ASU. Likely to redshirt in 2009, Koebensky has the talent to be a future starter for ASU.

A former tight end that grew into the offensive tackle position, Finkenberg's (pictured) recruitment skyrocketed in the late weeks prior to signing day in early February, as teams were tantalized by his physical and athletic potential. Finkenberg selected ASU over an offer from Washington State and serious interest from Colorado, and once bulk is added to his impressive frame, he has the making of an imposing and athletic tackle prospect for the Sun Devils. Furthermore, he will try to make the ASU baseball team as a pitcher.

Phoenix South Mountain High School product Fred Thornton, a powerful and aggressive, although raw, athlete, signed with ASU in February; however reports are that he was unable to meet academic requirements. According to Scout.com's Jason Jewell, Thornton will play at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College and intends to join the Sun Devil roster prior to the 2011 season.

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of ASU and a guest contributor to Devils Digest. He is also a feature writer each month in Maroon and Gold Illustrated and has contributed to ASU media guides, press releases and other official athletic publications. He can be contacted by email at josephwhealey@hotmail.com.


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