It's familiar territory for the Arizona State offensive line, but with an accomplished new coach and a group of talented returning players, the prognosis in the trenches is positive for the Sun Devils.
Last year, ASU was able to replace two key starters as the team produced its best rushing season in a quarter century. The line helped the Sun Devils average over 38 points-per-game, but there were struggles in pass protection that surfaced during the team's four-game losing streak.
Now in year two of the offensive system, a blend of change and stability is once again the order of the day.
For the third time in three years, the unit will have a new position coach. This time, it's Chris Thomsen. He was initially hired to be ASU's running backs coach shortly after Todd Graham came to Tempe, but soon left for a job on Texas Tech's staff. He returned this offseason and looks to take the line's play to a new level.
This fall, the team fins itself once again having to replace two starters, but the feeling is much more optimistic this time around.
During spring, the team experimented and did some lineup shuffling before settling on a starting five that, barring a major upset, should open the year on Sept. 5 against Sacramento State.
Heading into fall camp, that group will look to gel into an effective unit while other players will look to push for key roles on the depth chart.
- RSr. Evan Finkenberg: 6-foot-4, 293 pounds
- RJr. Jamil Douglas: 6-foot-4, 303
- Sr. Kody Koebensky: 6-foot-3, 290
- RJr. Sil Ajawara: 6-foot-4, 297
- RSo. Vi Teofilo: 6-foot-3, 314
- RJr. Tyler Sulka: 6-foot-5, 288
- So. Evan Goodman: 6-foot-4, 306
- RSo. Devin Goodman: 6-foot-1, 279
- RFr. Stephon McCray: 6-foot-3, 299
- RSo. William McGehee: 6-foot-5, 301
- RSo. Christian Westerman: 6-foot-4, 298
- So. Nick Kelly: 6-foot-3, 274
- Fr. Jack Powers: 6-foot-6, 260
- Brice Schwab
- Andrew Sampson
ASU has quite an anchor to the line in left tackle Evan Finkeberg, who will look to add to his career total of 34 starts. Finkenberg has been a stout force on the line, and is poised to bring home all-conference honors to cap an underrated career.
Fellow senior Kody Koebensky returns as the team's starting center. In his first year replacing All-Pac-12 center Garth Gerhart, Koebensky played well, and has developed into one of the offense's leaders.
The other returning starter from 2012 may turn out to be the unit's top player. After making 13 starts at left guard last fall, Jamil Douglas makes the shift to right tackle, a position that presents a great fit for the 6-foot-4, 303 pounder. Douglas worked diligently over the offseason, and showed during spring practice that he is ready for the position change. With Douglas' size and skills, he could be primed to become a dominant force.
The two new starters come at guard, where Sil Ajawara figures to start on the left and Vi Teofilo on the right. Ajawara is a powerful player, but has yet to see any sustained action. Teofilo, the line's heaviest player at 314 pounds, made three starts last year. Like Ajawara, Teofilo has great strength at the point of attack, but will need to prove during camp he can show the consistency to be a starter.
Camp Battle to Watch: Depth Competition
Absent an injury or unforeseen issue, ASU's starting lineup is in place. Last year, the unit was very healthy, with Sampson's three-game injury marking the only starts missed.
It's hard to count on that kind of continuity on any line, so the team will look to build depth at all the positions.
The outlook is best at tackle, where former 4-star prospect Evan Goodman backs up Finkenberg on the left, and the newly bulked up Tyler Sulka runs with the 2s on the right. The staff is high on Sulka, who saw action as a blocking tight end last year, and if he is able to step up at tackle, it would give the staff some options with Douglas going to guard should one of the new starters struggle.
Goodman and his brother Devin look to be the top options as reserve guards, but the biggest name there is likely a non-factor until 2014. ASU brought in Auburn-transfer Christian Westerman, a former 5-star prospect. While he likely will have to sit out the season due to NCAA rules, his play during the year on the practice field will provided tantalizing glimpses into the future.
Newcomer Nick Kelly impressed the staff during spring at center. Kelly's emergence provides depth in the middle, and with three years of eligibility left, a possible long-term answer at the position.
X-Factor: Pass Protection
While the line helped pave the way for a great rushing attack, the group struggled in pass protection throughout the year, and at times looked overmatched by top pass rushes. ASU finished the year ranked 102nd out of the 124 FBS teams in sacks allowed.
The outlook for improvement is good on the outside with strong and agile tackles Finkenberg and Douglas. However, with two new starters at guard, protection up the middle will be a concern. While well suited to a mauling style of run blocking, both Teofilo and Ajawara have work to do in pass protection. They have the talent to do the job, and their performance during fall camp, in which they will be tested by ASU's elite pass rush, will go a long way in helping to tell the tale of 2013.
Overall Situation: 3 pitchforks out of 5
This won't go down as one of the all-time great lines like the "Home Boys" or the 1996 unit, but there is plenty of potential here.
The group is well suited for powerful and explosive run blocker schemes, leaving the overall questions on their pass protection. Spending the next four weeks facing the likes of Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Jaxon Hood can only help the offensive line improve.
Finkenberg and Douglas should be able to be among the better tackle duos in the conference, leaving the primary questions up the middle. If Ajawara and Teofilo can perform well and solidify the sides of Koebensky, this will once again be a potent offense. If not, it could be a messy situation.