Entering the season, the stars were aligning for Arizona State as the Sun Devils had a plethora of offensive weapons poised for breakout seasons. Quarterback Taylor Kelly was beginning his second season as a starter, running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster were coming off strong 2012 debuts, and Jaelen Strong was surpassing even the loftiest expectations at fall camp.
Arizona State' offense was on the brink of something special, and the only questions that remained circled around the Sun Devils' offensive line. How did the front five stack up in 2013? Let's find out.
2013 Expectations: The offensive line is the least talked about position group in college football, because most casual fans have a hard time wrapping their minds around the technical aspects of the job. Despite often being north of 300 pounds, offensive linemen are asked to perform some of the most athletic tasks on the field by jerking violently off the line of scrimmage to move the fellow 300-pounders across from them.
Coming into 2013, Arizona State had a few proven commodities along the offensive line, but there were just as many unknowns.
Left tackle Evan Finkenberg was expected to anchor the offensive line and provide leadership for the entire offense. Jamil Douglas was a wild card of the group, an able-bodied guard and tackle who the coaching staff could insert wherever it needed a body. Center Kody Koebensky was a returning starter, who would need to be sharp in his calls to help new starters at right guard and right tackle.
Vi Teofilo stepped into the starting right guard spot, while right tackle Tyler Sulka beefed up to replace the graduated Brice Schwab. Arizona State had no real ideas as to what type of production it could get from Teofilo and Sulka, but offensive coordinator Mike Norvell put his faith in the pair to hold down the fort opposite the returning starters.
With proven running backs and a mobile quarterback, the offensive line just needed to be decent to give the Sun Devils a fighting chance.
2013 Production: As surprises came and went at other position groups, the offensive line pretty much met the expectations laid out for it at the beginning of the season. The group was by no means stellar, but it did provide the skill position players with enough time to make plays against most of the Sun Devils' opponents.
The Sun Devil front five was not an elite group, and superior defensive lines exposed its weaknesses. Arizona State struggled to rush the ball against imposing front sevens of Stanford and Notre Dame, and even had difficulty against a rugged and physical Utah squad.
Arizona State's offensive line was at its best when the Sun Devils played teams that thrived on speed. Washington State, Washington and Arizona stood no chance at slowing down the maroon and gold because none of those teams were physical enough to make a difference up front.
Quite simply, when Arizona State had an advantage in size, it took advantage on the scoreboard.
Evan Finkenberg had one of the best seasons an offensive lineman has ever had under Todd Graham, and earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors. Jamil Douglas developed each game and will be the backbone of the offensive line in 2014 whether he stays at left guard or moves to tackle to accommodate Christian Westerman.
Center Kody Koebensky played well, but he struggled against the blitz and looked overmatched at times in pass protection. Koebensky's shot gun snaps were on target throughout the season, and that's easily the most important part of his job.
Teofilo and Sulka did have some growing pains, but they look as if they won't be liabilities moving forward. Sulka was prone to getting beat off the edge which forced the pocket to collapse on Kelly, and Arizona State will likely take a long look at redshirt freshman Stephon McCray at tackle next season.
The offensive line had its best overall game against the USC Trojans, when Arizona State racked up more than 260 yards on the ground and through the air and kept a fierce Trojans' defense off balance all night. Arizona State averaged more than seven yards per carry against the men of Troy, and more than a few of those players will be moving on to the NFL.
In the end, the Sun Devils were far from spectacular on the offensive line, but no one expected them to be the strength of this offense. Arizona State's linemen met their expectations, and that's all the Sun Devils can really ask of them.
Notable Returners in 2014?
Jamil Douglas: Starting left guard
Vi Teofilo: Starting right guard
Tyler Sulka: Starting right tackle
Christian Westerman: Transfer guard from Auburn
Stephon McCray: Backup tackle
Nick Kelly: Backup center
Sil Ajawara: Backup guard
Key Losses in 2014
Evan Finkenberg: First Team All-Pac-12, starting left tackle
Kody Koebensky: Starting center