Spring Review - Offense

One the biggest story lines of ASU's spring practice was the arrival of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and his no-huddle spread scheme. The implementation of this system had the usual learning curve, but overall the Sun Devils seem on the right track to turn around a dismal 2009 season. Joe Healey examines this side of the ball and how its various units fared in the spring.

Quarterbacks

During the four week stretch of spring drills, the quarterback play collectively had more highs and lows than perhaps any position group on the roster, as both primary candidates, sophomore Brock Osweiler and junior Steven Threet, had moments of excellence as well as times of inconsistency.

Expected by many to surely emerge as the unquestioned starting quarterback by spring's end, Threet was generally outshined by Osweiler's ability to physically and mentally adapt to new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's offensive scheme in tremendously quick fashion. Many fans and critics may keep a lasting impression from Threet's 9-for-27 passing, three-interception spring game performance that certainly left much to be desired, however the former Michigan Wolverine showed many spurts of promise, albeit unlikely at the rate of frequency that Osweiler showed.

Both passers bring similar elements to the Sun Devil offense and either player has the capability to quickly gain momentum and seize the starting role, and to the surprise of many it is Threet that perhaps stands behind the proverbial eight ball at the end of spring football.

Though the margin between the two likely is not measured in miles and no official starter has been named, Osweiler's consistency and growth gives him tremendous momentum entering the remainder of the preseason. Threet has the physical tools to close the gap and leapfrog Osweiler for starting rights, but now that mental aspects of Osweiler's game appear to be coming to a parallel with his incredible athletic gifts, Threet may need a largely productive and efficient stretch from now until late August to solidify a first-team role.

Once fall camp kicks off, junior Samson Szakacsy, who was greatly limited in the spring due while rehabbing from shoulder surgery, will enter the competition as well, but he likely will need significantly inadequate play and/or injuries to Osweiler and Threet to emerge as a starting candidate. The more likely scenario is for him to enter the games in specific down and distance situations, but as always his health will ultimately dictate the rate of his participation.

Offseason Questions

• How will Steven Threet respond to an inconsistent spring?

• Will Brock Osweiler be able to continue to develop and distance himself from the competition?

• Will Samson Szakacsy be a realistic factor in the fall competition?

Running Backs

If using a classroom grading scale to evaluate the running backs, in all likelihood the position group as a whole would earn an ‘incomplete'. With projected starter Cameron Marshall (pictured) missing the better part of the second half of spring drills and sophomores James Morrison and Jamal Miles and freshman Marcus Washington splitting time with unremarkable results—not aided by having to face one of the nation's most fierce defenses on a daily basis—the running back situation is not much more settled now than it was to begin the spring.

Marshall had stretches of showing the skill set that creates assumptions that he will be a reliable starter, but he simply wasn't on the field enough to prove his point on a consistent basis. Though Morrison was applauded as one of the team's most improved players, his performances generally did not draw notable attention, while Washington showed his talents but also his youth and likely will not be a significant factor in this year's offense.

Miles has a very strong chance to be a routine playmaker in Mazzone's new offense whether in the passing or running game and likely will earn his share of carries, and while his versatility will undoubtedly be an asset to the offense, other options may be needed for the tougher gains on the ground.

It remains a near certainty that incoming star freshman Deantre Lewis will crack the rotation at running back and with the average performances by Morrison, there could be a window for Lewis' fellow true freshman Taylor Walstad to earn some early reps as a downhill, short yardage specialist.

Succinctly, talent exists on the roster as to apparent options, but question marks still remain yet to be erased despite ample spring opportunities.

Offseason Questions

• Will James Morrison emerge as a reliable reserve and earn steady game action in the fall?

• What role will Jamal Miles serve in the running game?

• How will the arrival of multiple talented newcomers impact the current tailback competition?

Wide Receivers

As expected, under the new offensive scheme many receivers saw extended action in practice and scrimmages and though the overall depth chart is in need of concrete organization, there is reason for optimism at the position.

Incumbent starters Gerell Robinson and Kerry Taylor were not grabbing many headlines with their spring performances but also were not drawing noteworthy jeers; therefore their spots in the rotation likely remain the same.

Perhaps the most inspiring efforts came from a pair of players entering their debut seasons on the field for the Sun Devils in midyear junior college transfer George Bell and former Oregon Duck Aaron Pflugrad (pictured).

Virtually from day one of practice, Bell showed the athletic tools that enabled him to be one of the most highly regarded junior college prospects during his tenure at Southwestern College in San Diego, showing elite deep speed, route running and ball skills, while Pflugrad's plays tougher than any would expect of a 5-foot-10, 180-pound receiver. Together, the two receivers figure to play a prominent role in the Devils' diverse passing attack and have the capabilities to help fill the collective void left by departed seniors Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams.

Redshirt freshmen Jarrid Bryant and J.J. Holliday both earned consistent recognition for their spring contributions as Bryant advantageously emerged into a timely big-play weapon, while Holliday showed highly reliable hands as an overall accountable receiver. Though both rookies may face stiff challenges to enter the rotation this season, their future prospects appear very bright, especially for Holliday.

Sophomore A.J. Pickens may very well be lost in the shuffle of ASU's talented group of receivers, while sixth-year senior Brandon Smith unfortunately—and seemingly on cue—suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the spring. Junior T.J. Simpson missed the entire spring due to injury but is expected to be a prominent contender upon his return.

When the fall arrives, junior college transfer Mike Willie, as well as freshmen Kevin Anderson, Randy Knust and Kyle Middlebrooks, will join the team and add even more depth and talent to an already potent group.

Offseason Questions

• Will Gerell Robinson and Kerry Taylor emerge as bona fide leaders and the top two receivers or will more of a ‘by committee' approach be implemented?

• How quickly can junior college transfer Mike Willie acclimate to ASU's offense and what realistic contributions can be expected this season?

• What role, if any, will the true and redshirt freshmen play in 2010?

Tight End

With nearly no mentionable contributions from any member of the position group last season, improvement is nearly a foregone conclusion, but despite low standards there were spots of intrigue that surfaced throughout the spring.

Former walk-on Trevor Kohl earned ample action with the primary starters and has shown noted improvement in all facets of the game, adding an increased sense of athleticism to his already solid blocking. Though he will not soon be mistaken for Sun Devil greats Todd Heap or Zach Miller, Kohl has made the necessary adjustments to remain a factor.

Redshirt freshman Christopher Coyle (pictured) provided a bit of a breath of fresh air and has the athletic upside to perhaps be the top receiving threat at the position since the aforementioned All-Americans if he is able to achieve his potential in game action. Brought to ASU with the task of upping the acumen of the receiving role at tight end for the Devils, Coyle provides a threatening mismatch in the passing game and this year he realistically should surpass ASU's receiving totals submitted by the tight ends unit as a whole last season. Nonetheless, his blocking abilities will dictate how much of an every down player he can be in this offense.

Dan Knapp has a high ceiling as a blocking specialist and capable receiver, but still is being eased back into duty after a late-season injury in 2009. When healthy he could face an uphill battle to gain a good spot in the rotation.

Youngsters Steven Figueroa and Max Smith have the physical tools to contribute at tight end but likely will need further development before seeing notable game action.

ASU's lone tight end signee, Phoenix's Josh Fulton, likely will not be prepared to compete immediately upon his fall arrival due to a February shoulder surgery, and in a crowded group of tight ends would be better served anyway redshirting in 2010.

Offseason Questions

• Can Christopher Coyle provide ASU a reliable receiving presence?

• Will Trevor Kohl play with a greater level of all-around consistency?

• Is Dan Knapp able to remain healthy enough to maximize his potential?

Offensive Line

Fans and critics have an absolute knee-jerk reaction to degrade the Sun Devil offensive line and though injuries and inconsistencies certainly re-surfaced, so did reasons to believe that the level of play and capable depth generally could improve toward a level more reliable than recent seasons.

The loss of injured guard Jon Hargis is a substantial blow to the team as a whole as the fifth-year senior was poised to be one of the overall squad leaders; however his absence opens the door for a handful of competitors to emerge into the starting lineup.

Other than Hargis, starting center Garth Gerhart (pictured) played at a solid level all spring as did Zach Schlink, who arrived in tremendous physical shape and performed admirably before being downgraded to limited snaps, primarily as a precaution to help ease the injury-plagued guard.

Junior college transfer Brice Schwab, generally believed to be the top signee among ASU's class this past February, suffered a bit of a learning curve as began spring at left tackle after playing on the right side at the JUCO level. He did line up at right tackle the last two weeks of spring practice. A determined and urgent athlete, Schwab will have to work on his conditioning during the remainder of the offseason in order to become the powerful presence at tackle, regardless of which side of the line, for the Sun Devils.

One standout surprise performers this spring was tackle Evan Finkenberg, who worked his way to the first team at right tackle, while also seeing some duty on the left side in the later stages of spring. A top-notch athlete that successfully filled out his large frame while redshirting last year, Finkenberg's spring efforts likely will stake his claim to be a serious starting contender at left tackle this fall and could force Schwab to assume the right tackle position.

Tackle Patrick Jamison saw substantial practice time and generally exceeded expectations, as did Kyle Johnson who has the ability to be a solid reserve at either tackle spot.

At guard, redshirt freshman Kody Koebensky played at a high level and may see more action then generally expected this season, while juniors Chris DeArmas and Adam Tello figure to remain in the equation for game time. DeArmas had the normal struggles of a JC transfer, while Tello played well until an early spring injury sidelines him for the lion share of the 15-practice session.

Perhaps the biggest question mark among the offensive line depth is at reserve center, where sophomore Andrew Sampson, more naturally fitted to be a guard, is likely to spell Gerhart when needed and Trent Marsh saw some time at that role as well. Nonetheless, this tandem has struggled in a major way snapping the ball in a shotgun formation making the reserve center a genuine point of concern, at least in this juncture of the pre-season.

Tackle Matt Hustad—who may be a candidate to play guard due to Hargis' injury—and guard Mike Marcisz were injured during the spring but will in all likelihood be key players on the line this fall and if nothing else will provide much needed depth.

As the line shuffles to replace Hargis and also establish consistency and reliability, junior college transfer Aderious Simmons, a fall arrival, will likely affect the strategies as he vies for action at tackle, while freshmen Sil Ajawara, Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka will probably be destined to redshirt.

Offseason Questions

• How will the depth chart at both guard positions settle?

• Will Brice Schwab live up to the lofty expectations to be a dominant left tackle or will he stay at the right tackle position?

• As a whole, will the offensive line be able to remain healthy enough to establish continuity?


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