Still some intrigue with ASU offense

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
1:15
PM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. -- What you already know about the 2014 Arizona State offense is impressive. Seven returning starters are led by third-year starting QB Taylor Kelly, owner of 57 career touchdown passes. There's imposing receiver Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. There's versatile veteran running back D.J. Foster and a physically impressive offensive line that could be the Sun Devils' best in recent memory.

But what you see at spring practices is often unfamiliar or new. Or a name that opens up the "Whatever happened to him?" file.

As in: Hey, that was a great catch by Strong.

[+] EnlargeDe'Marieya Nelson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDe'Marieya Nelson, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound tight end, will be an added weapon to Arizona State's offense next season.
No, that was redshirt freshman Ellis Jefferson. It's easy to mistake the two because both are 6-foot-4 and solidly built.

Or: Boy, Foster sure is elusive.

No, that was Kyle Middlebrooks or Deantre Lewis, players whose careers had been waylaid by injuries.

The loss of play-making tight end Chris Coyle doesn't seem to worry anyone because of the emergence of De'Marieya Nelson, who inspired coach Todd Graham to observe, "We can't cover him."

Returning starting guard Vi Teofilo is battling Auburn transfer Christian Westerman to hold onto his job. Or maybe both will start. There has been plenty of shuffling on the line in order to figure out where talented players like Jamil Douglas, second-team All-Pac-12 last year, and Evan Goodman should end up.

While most of the questions for the Sun Devils in 2014 center on their rebuilding defense, there's also intrigue on offense. Most of it dealing with how good the unit can be, not whether it will be good enough to defend the Pac-12's South Division crown.

Graham has, well, high expectations.

"Our offense should score every time they have the ball," he said.

Graham likes to be demanding, and he's excited about his offense, so setting a goal for offensive perfection probably makes sense to him. Yet Kelly, not a demonstrative sort who casually wields hyperbole, also gushes about what the offense is doing this spring and has the potential to do in the fall.

"We're deadly," Kelly said. "Our offensive line is doing a tremendous job up front. We're running the football better than we ever have before."

Of course, one shouldn't put too much stock into the vagaries of spring practices. A day after Kelly and Graham tossed bouquets to their offense, the rebuilding defense controlled the action during a weekend scrimmage.

Still, the potential for something special is obviously there. Further, the Sun Devils have a luxury that few teams in the nation or Pac-12 can boast: An A-list veteran backup quarterback. Junior Mike Bercovici doesn't look like a backup during practices. After deciding not to transfer when Kelly beat him out two years ago, he's almost certain to be the starter next year, and his live arm might make him a better NFL prospect than Kelly.

"The best thing about it is how they push each other in practice," offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. "Bercovici is creating his future based off every rep he gets today even though he's not the first-team guy. When he gets an opportunity, I'm 100 percent confident he's going to be successful because of the way he's prepared every day the last two years. He's not wasting days. He's ready to lead this team."

That also means Norvell doesn't have to use kid gloves with Kelly, who is a good and aggressive runner, who had 608 yards and nine TDs last year. That's a security blanket that UCLA and Oregon do not have with their dual-threat QBs.

It's pretty safe to say that Arizona State, barring major injury woes, is going to have one of the best offenses in the Pac-12 and nation next year. But there's still plenty of intrigue on the depth chart, which is a good thing -- depth! competition! -- for Graham, Kelly and company.

Ted Miller | email

College Football

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