Offensive linemen are often asked to shift positions to accommodate team needs, but the Sun Devils' coaching staff has requested much more than just a simple position change of Jamil Douglas.
Since his arrival in 2010, Douglas has switched from guard to tackle and from the left side to the right side of the line and back with regularity. With such small increments of time to acquire confidence at a set position, Douglas has had his hands full in learning different techniques.
After starting at left guard last season, Todd Graham seemed firm in his commitment to swing Douglas all the way out to right tackle this spring. At 6-foot-4 and 303 pounds, Douglas has the body type of a tackle, so the switch made sense. But all of a sudden, the Cyprus, Calif. native found himself right back where he started.
How tough was the transition for the redshirt junior?
"It's been a little bit difficult just because in the spring I got used to playing at right tackle and they moved me back to left guard," Douglas said. "I had to get back to the basics of just setting the depth of the pocket."
Though it may not look like it to the average fan, the differences in playing guard and tackle are significant. Guards must be agile run blockers who work to the second level of a defense while tackles must be versatile in taking on defensive ends in the passing game.
Fortunately for Douglas, he excels at both, which is part of the reason the coaching staff doesn't seem to have any qualms about moving him around.
"I don't really have a preference, I think I do pretty well at both," Douglas said of his run and pass blocking abilities. "I like run blocking, I like putting my hand in the ground of course but I don't really have a preference to be honest."
With the emergence of redshirt junior Tyler Sulka at right tackle, the Sun Devils appear to have found a capable replacement for departed starter Brice Schwab. Douglas started the spring with the hopes of filling Schwab's shoes, but it turned out to be more difficult for Todd Graham to find someone to hold down Douglas' vacated spot.
A week and a half remains until the first game, but the Sun Devils have finally found a combination they're satisfied with along the offensive line. Evan Finkenberg will start at left tackle, Douglas will play left guard, Kody Koebensky will play center, Vi Teofilo will start at right guard, and Sulka will start the season at right tackle.
"I think we're coming along pretty well," Douglas said of the offensive front. "We've had some things we need to clean up every day of course but I think overall, we're doing a good job of meshing together and getting used to playing together."
Douglas and Co. may not be the most seasoned unit in the Pac-12, but through fall camp, they have had the advantage of preparing themselves against the toughest defensive line in the conference. And as if the transition back to guard needed to be any more difficult, Douglas finds himself up against a Consensus All-American on a daily basis.
"Of course Will Sutton, he creates a lot of problems, that's just the type of player he is," Douglas said. "I enjoy going against him because I feel like he's the best D-lineman in the country so I get a lot of good work in going against him."
Having to battle with a 305-pound beast every day presents its challenges, but Douglas' work should pay off in offensive coordinator Mike Norvell's run-heavy scheme. While Douglas enjoys paving the way for grind-it-out backs like Marion Grice, he does have a particular place in his heart for one of the Sun Devils' passing plays.
"Of course our screens, I mean I get to get out and show some of the smaller guys the wheels I have."
Those wheels have carried him to a few different spots along the offensive line during his career, but now it's time for Douglas to put them in park and help lead his team to a Pac-12 Championship.
Names to Know
Evan Finkenberg- Graduate Student- 6'4", 298 pounds: Todd Graham has called Finkenberg the best offensive lineman he's ever coached, and for good reason. Finkenberg is entering his fourth season as a starter, and like Douglas, he's seen time at both tackle and guard. This season, Finkenberg will hold down Taylor Kelly's blind side at left tackle and he is among the vocal leaders of the offense. Finkenberg is relatively quick for an offensive lineman (He's been clocked in the 4.9s in the 40-yard dash) and his versatility should give Arizona State plenty of options when running the ball to the left side of the line.
Jamil Douglas-Redshirt Junior- 6'5", 303 pounds: The coaching staff expects Douglas to be much improved in his second season as a starter and they showed their faith in him by giving him a cup of coffee at tackle this spring. Douglas is actually a tad larger than Finkenberg is, so the left side of the line will have plenty of beef to run behind. One of Douglas' biggest advantages is his athleticism, which makes him an asset as a pulling guard on rushing plays and a critical component in Arizona State's blitz protection schemes.
Kody Koebensky-Graduate Student- 6'3", 290 pounds: A local product out of Saguaro High School, Koebensky finds himself anchoring the middle of the Sun Devils' offensive line. Last season, Koebensky debuted as a regular starter and came on strong at the end of the season. An underrated part of Koebensky's game is his ability to snap the football in shotgun formation, and the Sun Devils will count on his consistency once again this year. Koebensky was named to the Rimington Award Watch List, which is awarded to the nation's top center annually.
Vi Teofilo-Redshirt Sophomore- 6'3", 302 pounds: Another 300-pounder, Teofilo will be called upon to be among Arizona State's most improved players this season. After attending Moon Valley High School in Phoenix, Teofilo came to the Sun Devils as a defensive lineman who ultimately converted to the offensive side of the ball. With just a few seasons under his belt on offense, Teofilo has impressed the coaching staff to the point where it seems confident that he can get the job done.
Tyler Sulka- Redshirt Junior- 6'5", 277 pounds: Sulka is the tallest Sun Devil starter, but he's also the lightest by a substantial margin. Last season, Sulka was a regular rotational lineman who subbed in for at least a series in every game, and he'll need to draw on his experience to have success this year. Brice Schwab held down the right tackle spot last year, but many people feel that Sulka is better suited for the position within the Sun Devils' offense. Much of Arizona State's success will rest on how Sulka and Teofilo mesh on the right side of the line, and the first few games of the season will tell us a lot.