ASU football 2015 positional outlook: OffensePosted: Updated:
The long, cold months of the football offseason are upon us, but the future of Sun Devil football appears bright.
With just under a month until National Letter of Intent Day, Arizona State's staff is currently working to close on another talent-laden recruiting class. Those players will join a team that returns 16 starters from last season's 10-win squad.
That momentum, plus a likely preseason Top 15 ranking, has the expectations for 2015 rising high.
We take an early look at how each of ASU's position groups stack up, including the key veterans, players coming off redshirt years, and potential newcomers. Plus, we tack on an octane rating, in a nod to one of head coach Todd Graham's favorite terms.
Quarterback: High Octane
Key Returners: Mike Bercovici (RS Sr.)
Redshirts: Manny Wilkins (RS Fr.), Coltin Gerhart (RS Fr.)
Newcomers/Commits: Brady White, Bryce Perkins
Three-year starter Taylor Kelly departs, but the present and future of the position remains very bright.
Senior Mike Bercovici will finally get his moment in the sun after waiting for four years. He flashed some often brilliant play during the three game stretch in which he replaced an injured Kelly, defeating USC and Stanford in the process. He showed off a powerful arm, poise, and playmaking ability that had much of the fanbase calling for him to take over for Kelly. However, he also showed a reckless streak at times, resulting in turnovers. All told, his potential and experience project should give fans confidence that a quarterback will once again be a major team strength.
Behind Bercovici will be a quartet of talented young arms.
Manny Wilkins and Coltin Gerhart redshirted last season. Wilkins—a former 4-star recruit—served as the No. 3 quarterback a year ago, and figures to be Bercovici’s backup. Gerhart has excellent athleticism, but still has a ways to go with his passing polish.
Two incoming 2015 recruits also bring promising ability to Tempe. As a mid-year transfer, Brady White has already signed his letter of intent and will have the advantage of participating in spring practices. A 4-star prospect, White is ranked as the nation’s No. 2 pro-style quarterback by Rivals. Perkins, a second-generation Sun Devil, has raised his stock dramatically. A local 3-star recruit, Perkins is an athletic dual-threat prospect who greatly improved his passing during his senior year at Chandler High School.
Running Back: High Octane
Key Returners: Demario Richard (So.), Kalen Ballage (So.)
Redshirts: De'Chavon Hayes (RS Jr.)
Newcomers/Commits: Jaason Lewis, Morie Evans, Paul Lucas
It’s not often that a team has a 1,000-yard rusher return and not be the lead back, but that’s what’s shaping up in Tempe. D.J. Foster ran for 1,081 yards and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection at running back, but he will now be seeing most of his time as a slot wide receiver.
A big reason for that move was the emergence of true freshman Demario Richard. The 210-pounder became a major contributor over the season’s second half, showing off a powerful running style and solid receiving ability while racking up 656 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage. He capped the year with a four-touchdown performance in the Sun Bowl win over Duke.
Kalen Ballage generated 190 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage as a true freshman, and also served as the team’s primary kickoff returner. A 220-pounder with great speed, Ballage brings tremendous raw ability as he continues to hone his craft and the finer points of the college game.
De’Chavon “Gump” Hayes redshirted last year after transferring from junior college, and could be the X-factor of the group. He may be the team’s fastest player, and impressed coaches during bowl practice, where he saw time both in the backfield and at wide receiver. His speed and explosiveness should find him a role on offense and as the team’s top returner.
The backfield will see an infusion of highly-regarded talent should the current 2015 recruiting class commits hold. Jaason Lewis is a massive 4-star talent at 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds, and he may be moved to the 3-back/tight end position. Paul Lucas was the top-rated prep running back in Arizona, and brings elite speed to the team. Whether he stays at running back or is tried at wide receiver remains to be seen. Morie Evans is an athletic and versatile player, while Nick Ralston—a highly productive prep running back—may see a move to defense in his future.
Wide Receiver: Medium Octane
Key Returners: D.J. Foster (Sr.), Cameron Smith (Jr.), Ellis Jefferson (RS Jr.), Fred Gammage (RS Jr.), Gary Chambers (RS. Jr.)
Redshirts: Eric Lauderdale (RS Jr.), Tyler Whiley (RS Fr.)
Newcomers/Commits: Alfred Smith
As ASU loses arguably the finest wide receiver in school history in Jaelen Strong, look for more diverse pass distribution in 2015.
Foster has seen extensive time at receiver during his first three years, catching 163 passes (62 in 2014), so he will be no stranger to his new full-time spot. He has reliable hands and great speed, and will work to refine his route running this offseason.
Speedster Cam Smith emerged as a productive No. 2 target, catching 41 passes for 596 yards and six scores. He has great deep speed, but will need to further develop his game in 2015.
Behind that duo, ASU returns a trio of solid players who had some moments in limited roles. Jefferson is a big bodied target who caught 11 passes a year ago, while the shifty Gammage added 16 catches. Chambers finally saw the field in his fourth year in Tempe, and showed some good hands and a big play ability while averaging over 20 yards per catch.
To make up for the loss of Strong, ASU will need two players coming off redshirt years to make an impact. Lauderdale, like Strong, was a highly regarded junior college transfer who offers a similar size (6-foot-2) and speed game. However, he struggled to adjust to major college football. If he can put it all together, he should vie for a starting role. Whiley was a consensus 4-star prospect who began the year at wide receiver before shifting to defensive back for most of the year on the scout team. He now appears to have moved back to offense, and has big play ability.
ASU is also aggressively working to add to the position in the 2015 class. Alfred Smith is a 5-foot-9 speedster who committed to the Sun Devils last May. ASU is in play for several other targets, most notably 4-star prospect Cordell Broadus of Bishop Gorman High in Nevada.
Tight End: Low Octane
Key Returners: Kody Kohl (RS Jr.), Grant Martinez (RS So.)
Redshirts: Dan Vear (RS Jr.)
Newcomers/Commits: Raymond Epps (junior college), Thomas Hudson
With De'Marieya Nelson's struggles last year, Kody Kohl emerged as the team's starter. Finally healthy, he totaled 16 catches for 167 yards and four touchdowns. Kohl has the ability to be a major contributor in the offense, and may see more passes his way with Strong gone.
Beyond Kohl, ASU is in dire need of someone to step up. Martinez continues to work his way towards the physical demands of the position, but has receiving ability. Vear has great size (6-foot-5, 230), but needs work on his offensive game.
Raymond Epps is a 3-star commit from the junior college ranks that has some good size (6-foot-5, 235) and raw potential. Thomas Hudson is a 3-star prep commit who is noted for his blocking ability and size (6-foot-5, 260).
Offensive Line: Low Octane
Key Returners: Christian Westerman (RS Sr.), Nick Kelly (Sr.), Vi Teofilo (RS Sr.), Stephon McCray (RS Jr.), Evan Goodman (RS Jr.), Devin Goodman (RS Sr.), William McGehee (RS Sr.), Jack Powers (RS So.)
Redshirts: Quinn Bailey (RS Fr.), Sam Jones (RS Fr.),
Newcomers/Commits: Zach Robertson, Cade Cote, Steve Miller, Mason Walter
ASU will return the three interior lineman starters, but will have the unenviable task of replacing both tackles.
Center Nick Kelly was a second team All-Pac-12 selection in his first year as a starter, while left guard Christian Westerman and right guard Vi Teofilo each were honorable mention picks. Westerman (6-foot-4, 305) has the ability to slide out to tackle.
Several key reserves return and will challenge for increased roles. Evan Goodman, a former 4-star recruit, is one of the contenders for a tackle job. Stephon McCray saw action as Kelly's backup, and made one start. A pair of 6-foot-6 players, McGehee and Powers, each saw special teams duty.
Tackle Quinn Bailey is a local product coming off a true freshman redshirt and can play either on the right or left side. The coaching staff likes the potential of fellow redshirt freshman Sam Jones, who can play either tackle or guard.
ASU currently has four offensive line commits for the 2015 class. Three—Cade Cote, Steve Miller, and Mason Walter—seem destined for redshirts to add bulk to their frames. The Sun Devils recently got a commit from 4-star prospect Zach Robertson. At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, he has good strength and athleticism, and could be a factor early.