Offseason offensive overview

Well here we are. Much earlier than expected, thanks to an early College World Series exit by the baseball team, but the dog days of summer as far as Sun Devil athletics are concerned have definitely arrived. In addition to triple-digit Tempe temperatures, the Sun Devil faithful now shift focus to the upcoming football season as ASU looks to regain its winning ways and return to the postseason.

Though the newcomers are still trickling onto campus and fall camp is nearly two months away, there are a handful of players on the roster that clearly face very serious tasks when formal practices begin, some of which are of the "make-or-break" variety. In this article, let's take a look at the offense.

Quarterback

Without question, one of the bigger surprise storylines from the Sun Devil offense during spring drills was the generally consistent play of sophomore Brock Osweiler, as former Michigan transfer, Steven Threet, who was largely considered to be the odds-on favorite to earn and maintain the starting position in quick fashion struggled

Osweiler's maturation and dedication have advanced noticeably in his first calendar year on campus, and he was generally able to conform to the needs of new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's quick-strike offense more quickly and efficiently than Threet was.

Though a concrete starter has not been declared, the general consensus is that Osweiler enters fall camp having the advantage over Threet.

Making matters additionally a challenge is that Osweiler and Threet are players cut from similar molds; for example, though junior Samson Szakacsy may face an uphill battle to be the starting quarterback, his athleticism places him in a position to at least earn spot duty in specific packages, providing he can be injury-free.

If Threet is unable to unseat Osweiler, his role may be dramatically reduced. Of course the Sun Devils are still in search of consistency at quarterback, but a sense of urgency is certainly prevalent with Threet, a redshirt junior who is in his third FBS program, having previous transferred from both Michigan and Georgia Tech.

By no means is Threet incapable of taking command of the quarterback position, but there is little doubt that he will have to have an incredibly efficient fall and Osweiler may have to falter as well to enable Threet to earn the starting nod for the season opener.

Running Back

The response to the overall play at running back during the spring was largely lukewarm; the players competing for time were neither disappointing nor surprisingly proficient.

A drastic turn of events likely would have to transpire for sophomore Cameron Marshall (pictured) to be booted from the starting lineup. Incoming true freshman, Deantre Lewis, the most highly-rated high school prospect to sign with ASU this year, seems far too dynamic and talented not to earn substantial reps this season.

Praised by the coaching staff for his offseason work ethic, sophomore James Morrison was expected to be an impact player this spring, but his play was not as noteworthy as expected.

Morrison has been an overachiever during the first two years at ASU as he quickly earned a scholarship after starting out as a walk-on in the fall of 2008. Yet, injuries and a clog of depth at running back relegated him to special teams duty and zero snaps at running back last year.

The crossroad that Morrison faces this fall is whether his career will strictly be as a role player and special teams contributor or if he can emerge as the tough-running difference maker that many believe he has the potential to be.

His depth chart position may not be confronted by tremendous adversity this spring—he likely will be either the second or third back depending on Lewis' development—but his collective effort this fall will have a significant impact on the amount of playing time Morrison earns in 2010.

Wide Receiver

He was the state of Arizona's top overall prospect among the 2008 class and statistically is ASU's top returning wide receiver from last season, but Gerell Robinson (pictured) awaits a fall practice session that is crucial to determining his impact on the offense as a junior and in many respects, the impact the remainder of his collegiate career will showcase.

Recruited by schools from every major conference, "G-Rob" was one of the key commitments for the Sun Devils after ASU's 10-3 season in Dennis Erickson's first year at the helm in 2007. The wide receiver reneged a prior verbal pledge to rival Arizona and ultimately chose the Devils over Notre Dame, Oregon and Georgia Tech on national television at the U.S. Army All-America Game.

Since that point, Robinson's career has garnered very little fanfare as his continued acclimation to the wide receiver position caused him to be minimally productive during his inaugural season despite appearing in 11 games as a true freshman in 2008.

Robinson's sophomore effort in 2009 was a step up, as he posted 26 catches for 261 yards in 12 games with five starts, but the former Chandler Hamilton High School star has yet to score a touchdown at the college level and has yet to emerge into the dynamic mismatch that he was expected to be from an early point.

Looking ahead to the 2010 season, there certainly will be no shortage of bodies at wide receiver for Robinson to compete with, as roughly a dozen scholarship athletes will vie for time in the Sun Devil passing game. With senior and former high school teammate Kerry Taylor as the most tenured receiver, the emergence of former Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad and junior college transfer George Bell, and the versatility of junior T.J. Simpson, Robinson by no means is guaranteed to be the focal point of the Sun Devil passing attack this year.

In some respects, Robinson's career has mimicked that of a big-bodied receiver that preceded him, 6-foot-4, 203-pound Michael   Jones, who snared in only 24 receptions over his first two seasons before breaking out with 10 touchdown receptions as a full-time starter during his junior season in 2007.

With only 29 receptions to his name during his first two seasons, Robinson would be well served to compete at his highest possible effort level this fall to help propel him to a more dynamic role in the offense (likely as a slot receiver) and a higher overall productivity level.

Tight End

With the advent of Mazzone's offense this year at ASU, the tight end position likely will be deemphasized, causing an increased dog fight among the active players at the position as fewer field reps will be available.

Junior Trevor Kohl and redshirt freshman Christopher Coyle (pictured) cemented their spots as the top two tight ends this spring, creating a blinding sense of urgency among the remaining tight ends as beyond those two players, game opportunities may be few and far between.

As Jason Jewell of 24-7Football.com first reported, 2010 signee Josh Fulton will greyshirt this season as he recovers from a February shoulder surgery, while former tight end Dan Knapp will move to offensive tackle this fall. With those rearrangements, Steven Figueroa and Max Smith stand as the only other scholarship tight ends outside of Kohl and Coyle, and the competition to round out the depth chart expects to be an overlooked yet fierce one among this tandem.

Both are local products from historically successful programs as Figueroa graduated from Phoenix Desert Vista High School and Smith from Scottsdale Saguaro High School. Smith, at 6-foot-2, 258-pounds is a more compact, blocking type of tight end, while Figueroa, with a larger frame at 6-foot-4, 251-pounds, boasts more of a pass-catching presence.

Though he holds a year of experience over Smith, Figueroa only appeared in four games as a redshirt freshman last season and has been afflicted by injury issues during his first two seasons.

The likelihood of either player being significantly involved in the Sun Devil offense on a statistical basis is slim; however he who emerges as the top option between the two may earn field time in a blocking capacity in short yardage and goal line scenarios.

Offensive Line

Always an unsettlingly fluid, unpredictable beast, the Sun Devil offensively invariably has undergone a variety of shifts and realignments in recent years, and events this spring showed that the 2010 season likely will not buck that trend.

Though depth along the line is the best it has been in many years, with the season-ending injury to left guard Jon Hargis, inconsistent health of right guard Zach Schlink, the shuffle of Brice Schwab from left to right tackle, the introduction of redshirt freshman Evan Finkenberg into the starting lineup and a considerable lack of depth at center, question marks remain among the Devils' front line.

After starting games at both guard and tackle on the right side last season, junior Matt Hustad (pictured) quickly has become one of the most integral pieces in ASU's puzzle up front. Originally slated to compete to start at right tackle, Hustad now shifts to left guard to help supplant Hargis. The question at hand is not as much a matter of ability as it is a matter of dependable health for Hustad, who has missed 19 of a possible 24 games due to injury over the course of the first half of his collegiate career.

If Hustad is able to remain available, he will provide a versatile, tough and athletic presence to the interior line and if he is debilitated by injury again, likely candidates to start at guard are Mike Marcisz, Adam Tello (both coming off injuries), Chris De Armas or possibly Andrew Sampson. Especially if Zach Schlink, who has missed 15 consecutive games due to injury dating back to November 2008, is limited or unavailable, ASU can ill-afford to lose the services of Hustad.


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