ASU Football's 13 Most Important Players in 2013: #7 - RB Marion GricePosted: Updated:
Typically, a team using their running backs "by committee" is a clear sign that the depth chart lacks a clear starting-caliber player.
But for Arizona State, it means that they have two...and maybe three such players. It also means that for one of those backs to stand out from the pack represents a rather impressive feat.
"His potential is through the roof," said ASU running backs coach Bo Graham of senior Marion Grice. "His potential is going to be much more than it was last year."
Given what Grice produced last year, Graham's proclamation should keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
Grice came to Tempe last season as the nation's highest rated junior college running back, and joined a three-headed backfield attack with D.J. Foster and Cameron Marshall. He burst out of the gate in a big way, topping 100 yards rushing with three touchdowns in the opener against NAU.
He then settled into an effective part-time component on the ground, not topping 50 yards rushing in any of the next 10 games, although he did add three more scores.
However, over that span, he surprised many with his receiving abilities, quickly becoming one of the team's best playmakers in the passing game. Grice hauled in four or more passes in five games, and caught eight touchdown passes on the year. That figure not only led the team, but was also the highest total of any running back in the nation.
Grice saved his best for last. He assumed the lead back role against Arizona, and he ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns in the Territorial Cup win. Against Navy in the Fight Hunger Bowl, he had 159 yards and two more scores.
For the year, he posted a team-high 679 yards on the ground and 11 scores along with 41 receptions for 425 yards and those eight touchdowns through the air.
Not too shabby.
Even with Foster looking to build upon his dynamic freshman year, and an apparent return to form of Deantre Lewis, Grice stands atop the depth chart as ASU's go-to back in 2013.
"Right now, Marion is taking that role and will take more of the load to start out," said Graham.
One of the primary reasons that Graham sees big things for Grice this fall is the impact of a full offseason of work in the team's conditioning program.
"You can't underestimate a full year of development," Graham said. "Coming through the junior college ranks, he never really went through an offseason. Then he joined us late in the summertime and was really thrown into the fire. He never had an offseason training regimen. He's had that, and you can see in his body the change. When he breaks away on some of the long runs this spring, you see an extra gear."
Much like last year, the strength of the Sun Devil offense will come from the backfield. With continuing questions at wide receiver, the backs will figure to see significant work both on the ground and in the air this fall.
Should Grice reach the level that his position coach expects of him, it could be a special year for ASU.