Friday, May 2, 2014
Arizona State spring wrap
By Ted Miller
Three things we learned this spring about the Arizona State Sun Devils:
1. Kelly rising: Taylor Kelly is heading into his third season as the starting quarterback, and it looked like it this spring. He was fully in command of both his team in the huddle and the nuances of coordinator Mike Norvell's offense. With a strong supporting cast around him, including WR Jaelen Strong, RB D.J. Foster and a good O-line, Kelly will be in the mix for All-Pac-12 honors, which will equate to All-American honors in 2014.
2. Speaking of that O-line: While the Sun Devils are replacing two quality starters on their offensive line, the general feeling is the crew should be saltier in 2014. Nick Kelly is an upgrade athletically at center, and Auburn transfer Christian Westerman is a physical presence who has impressed with the way he finishes his blocks. The big question is whether Jamil Douglas, an NFL prospect at guard, will stick at left tackle. In any event, this group goes eight deep, which is the sign of a maturing program.
3. Foster is ready: Foster was a dual threat last year running and catching the ball, but he was second fiddle to TD machine Marion Grice. With Grice gone, Foster stepped up this spring. For one, he showed up bigger and stronger -- tipping the scales at 210 pounds, 15 more than a year ago -- while looking just as quick. While he will still be a versatile guy who can play slot receiver, Foster seems headed for 1,000 yards rushing.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Replacing nine: The Sun Devils' 2014 season hangs on how well it replaces nine starters on defense. And that's not just nine warm bodies. Six of those guys were first-team or second-team All-Pac-12 last year. On the positive side, the defense mostly held its own this spring against a very good offense.
2. Incoming! Arizona State expects many of its incoming players -- JC transfers and freshmen -- to immediately battle for spots on both sides of the ball, though most particularly on defense. Already this spring, early enrollee D.J. Calhoun made an impact by pushing for a starting job at weakside linebacker. Players such as Dalvon Stuckey, Darrius Caldwell, Kweishi Brown, Connor Humphreys and Tashon Smallwood are being counted upon to immediately contribute or even start. Will they be ready?
3. Special teams? Coach Todd Graham was frequently chagrined by his special teams play in 2013, particularly in punting. Can sophomore punter Matt Haack carry the consistency that he showed this spring into the fall? The lefty was booming kicks in practice, but will he be able to produce the same results in games?
One way-too-early prediction
Senior safety Damarious Randall is going to make a bid for All-Pac-12 honors and the interception lead in the Pac-12 this fall. He was a standout this spring as one of the few returning starters on the Sun Devils defense. The unit's fourth-leading tackler a year ago, he also grabbed three interceptions. In what figures to be a pass-happy league -- and with an inexperienced defensive front -- Randall should get plenty of opportunities to showcase his best ball-hawking.