Few teams lose a First Team All-Conference left tackle and a two-year starter at center without enduring growing pains on the offensive line. Fortunately for Arizona State, the Sun Devils might be one of those lucky teams.
Throughout spring practices, the Arizona State offensive line has consistently produced in run blocking and pass protection during team and tempo drills, and it's not just the starting five contributing.
Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham says his team can go eight-deep on the offensive line without skipping a beat, and the improved depth showed today in a more physical practice.
"Offense got after us today," the defensive-minded coach said. "The bright spot of today, that I've been looking for, Jamil Douglas, Christian (Westerman), (Tyler) Sulka, Vi (Teofilo), Stephon (McCray), Nick (Kelly), Evan (Goodman), those eight guys were just dominating in the ‘W' drill."
The 'W' drill looked like an extended version of the popular 'Oklahoma' drill, and it pitted offensive linemen against defensive linemen, linebackers against tight ends and bigger backs, and wide receivers and defensive backs in front of each other as ball carriers attempted to maneuver past the defensive players with the help of blockers.
Jamil Douglas and Christian Westerman were ferocious in their drive off the whistle, and routinely pushed defensive linemen back off of the starting line. Graham said the offensive linemen set the tone for the drill, and it's no surprise the running backs had success because of that.
"They weren't just blocking people, they were finishing people, developing that mean, nasty want, so today was dominated by the offense," Graham said.
Arizona State has shuffled the lineup on the offensive line on a few different occasions this spring, and Westerman has served mostly in a sixth-man role. Westerman can plug in at either guard spot, and when he plays left guard, the Sun Devils have kicked Douglas out to tackle to maximize their potential.
"I like his disposition and he likes to finish blocks and that's something that we need to do," Graham said of Westerman.
Another lineman who has stood out this spring is the athletic Nick Kelly, who is filling the void left by Kody Koebensky at center. Koebensky was lauded as the smartest offensive linemen during his two seasons as a starter, but Kelly brings versatility to the position that will allow offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to get creative.
"I think we're deeper and better at center," Graham said. "But you replace a guy that's so knowledgeable, so experienced there, but I really think physically we're better at center because we've got more depth."
The Sun Devils started the same five offensive linemen in every game last season and health was an important factor. Arizona State just didn't have the same type of depth up front, so making sure players were well-rested and healed up was a must.
This season could turn out to be a different story, as the offensive coaches could decide to tinker with the line throughout the year based on performance and fatigue. Either way, the Sun Devils are excited with their progress, and looking forward to seeing how the positional battles play out.
"There's going to be competition up front," Graham said. "Very stiff competition."
- While the offensive line stood out during run periods, the defensive backs did an excellent job in 5-on-5 and 7-on-7 passing drills today. Jordan Simone and Rashad Wadood each made plays in the secondary to bat down passes intended for Jaelen Strong and James Johnson came up with an interception on a deep pass.
- Jaxon Hood returned to practice on Tuesday with a club on his wrist. Hood is prepared for full-contact drills, but Graham said the defensive tackle was a bit out of shape.
- Hood's return allowed Marcus Hardison to play the 4i and 5-techniques on the defensive line, which Graham characterized as his natural position.
- Hardison and Mo Latu were the two defensive linemen to have success in the 'W' drill. Hardison was the lone defensive lineman participating in the drills featuring first-team players who stopped a running back behind the starting line.
- Vi Teofilo pancaked Jaxon Hood during the 'W' drill and during team periods, his pulling block on D.J. Calhoun sprung Deantre Lewis for a short touchdown run.
- Solomon Means took more first-team reps at cornerback on Tuesday as Lloyd Carrington nursed a hamstring injury.
- Grant Martinez and D.J. Foster caught the two longest passes of the day during team drills. Each player ran an out to the left sideline and took the defense by surprise as they raced up the field on their respective receptions.