TEMPE, Ariz. – It became one of the defining images from a championship season: Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly hoisted into the air following his touchdown run in the win over UCLA, the victory that gave the Sun Devils the Pac-12 South title.
The sturdy arms holding Kelly on high into the southern California sky belonged to his trusted offensive lineman Jamil Douglas.
With ASU aiming to repeat as South champions, Douglas will have a heavier load to carry this fall.
As a junior in 2013, Douglas took his biggest step yet towards fulfilling his vast potential. He started all 14 games at left guard, forming a formidable duo with senior left tackle Evan Finkenberg. The elder lineman was named a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, while Douglas reached a personal goal with a place on the second-team
“I set a goal of being all-conference, and I was able to achieve that,” Douglas said of his 2013 season. “I think I did pretty well. There is always room for improvement, and I think I can get much better than I was last year.”
While Douglas was often outstanding in helping lead ASU’s highest-scoring attack since 1996 (39.7 points-per-game, also second-best since 1973), he and the line struggled in the team’s defining games. The three losses to Stanford and Notre Dame each saw ASU’s line struggling against larger, more physical defensive front sevens, throwing the offense off track.
With both Stanford and Notre Dame on the schedule this year, in addition to the annual rigors of Pac-12 play, Douglas is making sure he and his linemates are ready for the challenge.
“It’s impacted us a lot. I talk to them all the time about how we’re not going to have that this year,” Douglas said. “It’s going to be different. In the weight room, we’re attacking every rep, everyone is getting stronger, and in conditioning, we’re finishing two yards past the line just to get that extra work in. That way, when it comes down to those bigger groups and those stronger groups, we can handle them.”
A key element in those efforts has been becoming more explosive off the ball, and with two new, athletic starters sliding into the lineup, Douglas sees an ASU offensive line that’s up to the challenge.
“My biggest focus has been getting more explosive,” said Douglas. “Last year, we had some good times, but there were times that we lacked those explosive blocks. As a unit this year, we have a unit that is more capable of that with the addition of Christian Westerman and Nick Kelly, and then Tyler Sulka and Vi (Teofilo) returning as well as me, I think we have a more explosive unit that will clear lanes open for the running backs.”
While he clears those lanes for a third year as a starter, Douglas will be doing so from a new position.
With Finkenberg’s departure, Douglas slid over to take his spot as ASU’s left tackle during spring football and established himself as the protector of Kelly’s blindside.
“I like it so far. Spending the amount of time I did during spring practice, I got a pretty good feel for it,” Douglas said of left tackle. “The biggest thing is at tackle, I feel like you have to be more patient. At guard, everything is happening so soon because you are in the middle of the offensive line and you got the D-tackle right across from you. At tackle, it’s more of a patience game as far as your hand placement, not being too quick to over set a guy. Those are the things that I’m trying to adjust to. Timing is the biggest thing, because timing changes at every position.”
His ability to play both inside and out gives the coaching staff some flexibility, but as long as he's somewhere on the field, Douglas doesn't care where he lines up.
“I don’t. I’ll play anywhere," Douglas said when asked if he had a preference. "I could play right tackle. They wanted me to play there last year. I’ll play anywhere on the offensive line. I like guard just because that’s where I’ve been for most of my career here. I’ve grown to like tackle just as much.”
Call him a tackle, call him a guard, but one label that fits Douglas heading into 2014 is "freak"...and that is meant in the best possible way.
Following in the footsteps of former teammate Carl Bradford, Douglas earned a place on Bruce Feldman's prestigious "Freaks List", spotlighting the best athletes in the nation. At 6-foot-4 and just over 300 pounds, Douglas has exceptional athleticism. With his fit frame, he has the strength to squat over 560 pounds while maintaining the quickness to seal off edges or make blocks downfield.
His measureables, performance, and skillset have conspired to give Douglas plenty of attention this offseason, both at the collegiate and pro levels. He was recently named to both the Outland and Lombardi Award watch lists, and has begun to receive notice as an intriguing prospect in next spring's NFL Draft. While appreciative, he knows that such recognition only raises the bar of expectations.
(Cont.) Just as motivation But deep down didnt think I was good enough to win it. This time around is different though. I want it.— Jamil Douglas (@JamilDouglas74) July 10, 2014
“I see them, of course, but at the end of the day, I still have to play a season," Douglas said of the draft and award attention. "The preseason lists don’t matter if you don’t go out and perform at a high level. It’s nice to see that hard work is getting noticed, but there is a lot of work to be done. I have to go out and play and prove myself.”
Beyond the blocks and the brawn he bring to the field, Douglas also has matured into a vital leader on this Sun Devil team. He enters this season with 27 consecutive starts on his resume and is one of the team's most experienced players. With Finkenberg's departure—who himself had 48 career starts—Douglas is now ASU's unquestioned leader in the trenches.
“I think all the guys look up to me as a leader, whether it’s on the offensive or defensive side of the ball," said Douglas. "That’s my job now that Fink is gone, Kody (Koebensky) is gone, and guys like Will Sutton are gone. That’s my job, and I think guys respect me to be a leader.”
With Douglas clearing the path ahead, Arizona State's bevy of talented playmakers figure should have ample room in which to make plays. So potent is the Sun Devil attack, Douglas feels that they may not have a peer in all of college football.
“I don’t think there is a ceiling. We can be the best offense in college football," Douglas. "With the weapons we have coming back, our offensive line, the running backs, the receivers, the quarterback, I honestly don’t feel like there is a ceiling. When we are out there practicing, it amazes me at some of the things our playmakers can do. I look forward to being the No. 1 offense in the nation.”
So does Sun Devil Nation. But beyond that goal, the NFL attention, or repeating as an All-Pac-12 lineman tor any other, Douglas believes something else has to happen first.
“The goals I set for myself don’t mean anything unless our team succeeds which means Pac-12 champions and Rose Bowl champions."
Douglas Breaks Down the ASU Offensive Line
On new left guard Christian Westerman, a one-time 5-star recruit and Auburn transfer
“I think he’s done a pretty good job. We’ve been working all summer. I’ve been trying to get him caught up with the speed of things, the playbook, and everything. In spring, he was just getting acclimated to the system. He’s a big, physical guy, strong and explosive, and I think he’ll do a great job there.”
On new center Nick Kelly
“I think Nick gives us a more athletic offensive line in the middle. He’s quick, he’s strong, he’s fast. He is going to enable us to do some different things with our offensive line. I’m not saying that we couldn’t do those things last year, but he’s a different type of player. He’s an explosive guy. He’ll do great this year.”
On right guard Vi Teofilo and right tackle Tyler Sulka's second season as a duo
“I think it will help a tremendous amount. Last year, it was me and Evan Finkenberg’s second year playing together, and you are able to be comfortable to the guy next to you to the point where you don’t even have to say something in order to be on the same page. Vi and Tyler work out together all the time. That extra year of experience will help them mesh together better and help us as a unit.”
On who he thinks is poised for a breakout year
“I think Evan Goodman has had a great summer. He’s working like I’ve never seen him work before. Every time he’s struggling, I bring him over and say ‘Run this rep with me.’ I think he’s made great strides in order to put himself in position to be able to help us out a lot on the field this year.”