Burden of Proof is on the Offense

Today marked the first day of classes. It's a time where some want to continue their momentum, academically speaking, while others seek to reverse trends and make sure that this year is more successful than the last. The Sun Devil offense surely falls in the latter category, as Danny Sullivan and company seek to turn critics into believers.

On the day that Head Coach Dennis Erickson announced that Danny Sullivan will be the starting quarterback, the senior signal caller, in his first public fall practice scrimmage, didn't impress. It was unfortunate for many reasons, but first and foremost because Sullivan was coming off a solid week of practice which the majority of ASU fans didn't get to see.

There's no one on this maroon and gold squad that wants to silence his detractors more than Sullivan. His limited playing experience, albeit in sharp contrast to his years with the program, naturally classifies him as an unknown commodity. Thus, it leads some fans to either judge him solely by past performances or be skeptical of his chances of success.

As someone that has seen Sullivan for virtually the entire pre-season practice slate, I know that he is capable of a better performance than the 11-26 for 96 yards and a touchdown, as he registered in the last scrimmage. The coaching staff and players surely still believe in the senior and his ability to lead the offense.

Yet, the common denominator that both the Sullivan fans and critics share is that they would like to for once to see the starting ASU quarterback have a solid performance in a scrimmage situation, let alone on a Saturday during the season. That notion probably resonates tenfold with Sullivan himself, who is undeniably anxious for Wednesday's scrimmage as he tries to get rid of that bad taste left in his mouth from Saturday.

Even though it's only natural to pin any potential offensive success on the quarterback, they are obviously other units on this side of the ball that will have to carry their own weight in order to witness a 180 degree turn from last year.

The Sun Devil offensive line has just as much question marks as the player lining up under center. It is a unit that is largely characterized by inexperience as it tries to improve on its performance from last season. Injuries to some of its key players such as Garth Gerhart and Zach Schlink only add to the present obstacles.

Extensively running a shot gun formation should in theory cut down the number of sacks as the quarterback has more time to anticipate pressure and react accordingly. Truth be told that even during overall subpar offensive performances in the preseason the front five has held its own in terms of pass protection. So, Sullivan is likely to have ample time in the pocket to find his aerial targets.

Run blocking on the other hand is something that the offensive line could probably do better at. Granted, they are facing a stout run defense day in and day out in practice, and the aforementioned injuries on this unit have affected the line's running game more than any other aspect of this group.

The struggles of tailbacks are usually not attributed to the offensive line, when they should be. Therefore, this group has to demonstrate its ability in providing adequate running lanes to allow for a balanced offense that will keep opposing defenses askew.

Needless to say that the tailbacks have to put in their fair share, to say the least, in order for the ground game to succeed. Just like other groups on this offense, players that are fairly wet behind the ears will be asked to carry the proverbial load.

It would be unfair to call this unit untalented, but on the same token you would be hard pressed to find amongst the group the classic workhorse tailback who can carry the pigskin 20-25 times, consistently move the chains and wear down opposing defenses.

Seniors Dimitri Nance and Shaun DeWitty would surely like to erase the memory of 2008. And if that wasn't enough motivation for them, talented young running backs like Ryan Bass, James Morrison and Cameron Marshall are not only breathing down their necks but getting their fair share of reps in practices as they move up a crowded depth chart.

The Sun Devil nation could obviously care less if the running back by committee approach is what will define ASU's backfield, as long as it leads to a respectful ground attack that will take pressure off Sullivan and punish the likely cover-two defenses opponents will throw at them in light of the ASU's wide receivers and their talents.

By far, the Sun Devil wideouts are the strongest group on offense. Upperclassmen such as Chris McGaha, Kyle Williams and Kerry Taylor are proven commodities. Sophomore Gerrell Robinson may be hands down the team's most improved player from last year. Fellow sophomore T.J. Simpson is an excellent option as a reserve. Jamal Miles stands not to redshirt because of his abilities to play the slot position.

Nonetheless, even a talent rich group such as this one, has to back up its own accolades. The burden they shoulder is second to none on this side of the ball, as they could be asked to carry this offense. All in all, it would be hard to imagine a winning season without this group performing at a high level.

The sport of football may have evolved dramatically in the last few decades, but one constant throughout time has never changed – if you want to shut up the critics, you need to win. The ASU offense stands a golden opportunity to shine, perhaps even surprise, and hear the roar of the crowd which will drown the silence of the naysayers.

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