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ASU Football: Previewing the offense

Here's what the ASU offense has to work with heading into fall camp.

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Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State scored 50 points on six separate occasions last season, breaking a record previously held by the 1973 team. However, there is a very real chance that the Sun Devils could be even more dynamic and dominant on offense this season.

Expect the Sun Devil offense, which put points on the board in three minutes or less on 62 of 89 scoring drives in 2013, to be just as quick in offensive coordinator Mike Norvell's third year. It's a scheme that wears out opponents and doesn't allow for much substitution on the defensive side of the ball, as evidenced by Arizona State outscoring opponents 258-141 in the fourth quarter under Todd Graham.

This unit will have to carry the team at least through the first few games of this season. While fall camp provides ample opportunity for the Sun Devil defense to develop a rapport, there's no question that the unit will need real game experience in order to bond.  That puts a lot of pressure on the offense, but with so many starters back, and upgrades at every position where a starter was lost, this unit should be up to the challenge.

Todd Graham likes to use the phrase "high-octane" to describe the Arizona State offense and this group has the ability to embody that phrase to it's fullest potential this season.

Running back

The only critical loss from last season is Marion Grice, who made second team All-Pac-12 after leading the team in all-purpose yardage with 1,941 yards (996 rush, 438 receiving, 507 kick return). Although DJ Foster is a more than capable replacement, it's tough to forget that the Sun Devils lost to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game and to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl without Grice on the field. Foster will without a doubt be the Sun Devils' featured running back this season, but he needs to stay healthy, and this will be the junior's toughest season yet.

What is still in question is how much can incoming freshman Kalen Ballage and junior college transfer De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes contribute? Hayes has game-breaking speed and should work his way into the mix as a returner immediately.  Look for Norvell to try and find ways to get Hayes in space, too, because home run could be his middle name.

Deantre Lewis also returns for his final season in maroon and gold. His role is constantly in flux; after an impressive freshman campaign in 2010, rushing for 539 yards and four touchdowns, Lewis redshirted in 2011 recovering from a gunshot wound and then Graham converted him to a defensive back in 2012. He was moved into the backfield again last season rushing 58 times for 301 yards and a touchdown.

Best case scenario for the Sun Devils would be Lewis making a similar impact as Foster did when Grice was the feature back, but he also doesn't have the same receiving skills as Foster does. The coaching staff would like Lewis to contribute this year, but if Hayes and Ballage prove themselves in camp, the redshirt senior could also get lost in the fold.

Keep an eye on whether or not Norvell decides to continue to take advantage of Foster's dual-threat ability as a pass catcher or opts to keep him exclusively in the backfield. While he is quick and has displayed breakaway speed in the past, he was also incredibly useful as a slot receiver position last season, which could mean more touches for Lewis or another running back.


There really isn't anything to discuss here other than the starting quarterback is Taylor Kelly and there is absolutely no reason to think otherwise. If the Eagle, Idaho native can replicate or even increase his production from 2013, he could go down as one of the best ASU quarterbacks of all-time. One thing to monitor will be Kelly's ascent into the national spotlight. He's somehow managed to fly under the radar most of his college career, but after being named to the Maxwell, Davey O'Brien and Doak Walker Award preseason watch lists and getting being listed amongst the best 75 players in the country by ESPN, it's clear that people are now familiar with his name and abilities as a quarterback.

Michael Eubank transferred to Samford in the offseason so Mike Bercovici will be the backup. Bercovici doesn't posses nearly the running talent that Eubank supposedly did, so you can expect the goal line substitutions to stop.  Behind Bercovici, the race is solely for who the primary practice squad quarterback will be: Coltn Gerhart or Manny Wilkins.  The two dual-threat freshmen both have talent, but also both posses a number of questions about their skills and how they will transition to the next level. With four-star recruit Brady White on the horizon, both will need to take big steps forward this year if they want a chance to be the future signal-caller in Tempe.

Offensive line

Kelly shouldn't have any excuses that he doesn't have enough time to throw this season. Three starters return in Jamil Douglas, Vi Teofilo and Tyler Sulka. Evan Finkenberg and Kody Koebensky have left but Nick Kelly will replace Koebensky at center and much anticipated transfer Christian Westerman also enter the fray for a full season. Douglas will slide over to left tackle with the Auburn transfer Westerman at left guard. Teofilo and Sulka will anchor the right side of the line at guard and tackle, respectively.

Graham was really excited about this group at media day and for good reason. Westerman reportedly bench pressed 225 pounds 41 times at the last summer workout while Douglas has his name on the preseason Outland Trophy watch list and was named a "freak" for 2014. Kelly is the wild card, but he has drawn rave reviews from his quarterback and coach over the summer. This will be the biggest and most talented line Kelly has ever worked behind, and that's only good news for the Sun Devils.

Wide Receivers/Tight End

Receiver is the position with the most turnover this year. The transfer of Richard Smith and graduation of both Kevin Ozier and Chris Coyle have left the cupboard a little bare past Jaelen Strong, who returns as a high-level NFL draft prospect and will get his spot back at the "X" position. The "Z" and "Y" are currently up for grabs.

JUCO transfer Eric Lauderdale should get the first look at the "Z," or flanker, spot and sophomore Cameron Smith will get a hard look at the "Y," or slot position. Redshirt freshman Ellis Jefferson, who stands 6-foot-4, was working towards a starting position last season before injuries slowed him. He will get a chance to compete with Smith in the slot and Lauderdale as the flanker, but ultimately could be everyone's backup as the fourth option while preparing to take over for Strong in 2015. Redshirt sophomore Frederick Gammage and redshirt junior Gary Chambers will provide some competition for these spots, and Gammage did see some snaps last season, but ultimately neither should be expected to be major contributors.

At tight end, redshirt freshman Grant Martinez and De'Marieya Nelson will battle it out. Although Nelson was named to the Mackey Award preseason watch list for the best tight end in the country, Doug Haller of AZ Central recently reported that Todd Graham would give Nelson a look at "Devilbacker" on defense. If this is the case, Martinez would have the next best shot at a starting spot. The Sun Devils used more of a traditional in-line blocking tight end last season, and the offensive production didn't waiver.  If that's the case again, Martinez fits the bill. Nelson showed versatility last season, playing defense and even a little running back so it's not out of the question that he could play both ways.  Nelson is also an elite athlete, and that goes a long way in this offense.