ASU Football: Norvell pleased with offensive progress through spring practices

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The Sun Devils' offensive coordinator spoke after practice on Tuesday about what he's seen from Arizona State's offense this spring.

In 2013, the Arizona State offense averaged just under 40 points per game and just over 450 yards per game. The gaudy numbers are impressive, but if you asked Todd Graham and Mike Norvell, last year's statistics are only an indication of what the Sun Devils have in store for the upcoming season.

Arizona State returns starting quarterback Taylor Kelly for his third season at the helm of the offense, as well as top receiving target Jaelen Strong and dynamic running back D.J. Foster. Add in a few high-profile recruits and the Sun Devils could be poised to score north of 50 in the majority of their games next year.

On Tuesday, Norvell addressed the media after practice to talk about his offense's progress this spring. The third-year offensive coordinator says having veterans return to the squad has allowed for easier installation of plays and packages, which has helped the coaching staff evaluate where the team stands.

"It's been a really good spring," Norvell said. "For us, part of it is to see the development of the guys coming back from last year. Being in year three, we've been pretty aggressive in what we've installed and focusing on the base."

A program's third year in a system is traditionally a time when players begin to grasp and master the concepts of a scheme, and that allows coaches to monitor and foster competition. Norvell wants players pushing for their spots on a daily basis, and so far, he likes what he's seen this spring.

"One of the things that we challenge our guys with is the competition aspect of it," Norvell said. "We want competition at every spot and right now, we've got seven or eight guys up front that are really battling."

After Tuesday's practice, Graham addressed how pleased he was with the prospects along the offensive line. After losing the war in the trenches against Stanford twice last season, the Sun Devils want to get bigger and more physical up front.

Jamil Douglas and Christian Westerman are leading the charge from a toughness standpoint, as each player stood out during the team's 'W' drill on Tuesday. The pair dominated the defensive linemen in one-on-one scrums during the drill, and it's that type of relentless drive that Norvell believes can take his offense to the next level.

"It's huge for your offense, in the run game, pass game, that's the heartbeat of this offense," Norvell said when asked about the depth of his line. "People always ask me, what do I think the favorite position in the offense is to play, it's got to be those guys up front because they get to do everything."

Norvell also said the offense now has the ability to put more trust in the scheme and the plays that are being called because of the confidence the unit has in the men up front.

"When you get a group that's deep, that have more length and physicality, you see more confidence in what the quarterback's doing, what the running back's doing, it really makes things go," Norvell said.

The offensive line isn't the only position group with strong depth on display this spring. Norvell praised the efforts of his tight ends, or 3-backs, and the versatility that they bring to the table.

De'Marieya Nelson is the top 3-back this spring, and he'll step into an extended role now that Chris Coyle has graduated. Nelson is a more explosive player than Coyle, and the most important step he can take this spring is mastering his execution within the offense.

"De'Marieya is a guy that as last year finished up, you saw his role continue to increase," Norvell said. "With what he's done, the explosiveness that he brings, he's a major weapon for us and we're really excited about that."

Aside from Nelson, Kody Kohl and Grant Martinez will compete for playing time at the tight end spot. Kohl is limited with an injury this spring, but Martinez has developed nicely and added muscle to his frame. On Tuesday, Martinez caught a pass from Mike Bercovici and scampered up the left sideline for the longest gain of the day.

"We've got Grant Martinez and I think every day, he's getting better and better," Norvell said. "He provides such great length, and he's gaining weight and kind of getting used to playing with a new body."

The Sun Devils know they have a tough task ahead of them if they want to match or better last season's 10-win mark, but with Norvell leading the charge, this team is confident it has the weapons to create mismatches against any defense.

So much of the fall will come down to execution, and right now, the Sun Devils are just beginning to compete for starting jobs that will determine who gets the first chance at executing on game days.

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