What to watch for: Arizona State's Maroon and Gold Spring Game
Todd Graham is in a good position this spring. He doesn't have a quarterback race to deal with. He has the reigning Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year in Will Sutton on the roster. Yet Graham still has a few things he would like to see solidify before the pads have to come off.
The Sun Devils will finish their spring sessions on Saturday, April 13 at 11 a.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks, one of five spring games on air that day. Though the questions surrounding the event won't be as plentiful as some other programs, Saturday's game still will be a key indicator of what's to come during a tough early-season stretch for the Sun Devils this fall.
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Here are a few things to watch for as Arizona State goes live for the last time before fall camp:
The number of times (and the way) Graham said it, you'd think he was getting paid five dollars every time he said "high-octane offense" last year. And a funny thing happened to quiet the doubters last season: The Sun Devils were quite good offensively. A lot of that has to do with the emergence of Taylor Kelly under center - he was a steadying presence on offense. It didn't hurt to have a running game that ranked in the top 25 nationally, either. Though Cameron Marshall is gone, Marion Grice and D.J. Foster are a dynamic duo in the backfield, and those two plus Kelly hope to take the next step from productive to explosive.
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The primary hold-up lies with the wide receiving corps. Only two receivers return from 2012 having caught more than one pass, including senior Kevin Ozier, who figures to be the primary pass-catcher. A handful of talented transfers and freshmen arrive later to infuse the group with additional depth and talent. Ozier, the leading returning receiver with just 21 receptions and 324 yards in 2012, understands how big this spring is to create some separation and could use a big finale to state his case to the coaches for those No. 1 reps. Tight end Chris Coyle figures to take some pressure off the group, but he'll still need help on the outside.
Solidifying the offensive line
If there's been one question mark about ASU the past few seasons it has generally revolved around the offensive line. That wasn't necessarily the case last season but with Chris Thomsen taking over coaching duties for the group, a few things still need to be sorted out. Overall, this likely will be a strong point for the Sun Devils with three starters returning, led by a very good left tackle in Evan Finkenberg. Still, the right side will have to rebuild at guard and tackle, and that's no easy thing to do. Evan Goodman is probably penciled in by most at right tackle given his experience and physical tools, but don't be surprised to see Mo Latu, Sil Ajawara, Stephon McCray, Tyler Sulka and Vi Teofilo in and out of the lineup at the two spots, either.
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Fresh faces in the secondary
On defense, Graham's great first-year results were based in large part on a secondary that finished in the top 10 in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Two new starters need to be figured out by the time the opener rolls around, and they'll face added pressure with opposing quarterbacks targeting them and avoiding the dangerous Osahon Irabor. Robert Nelson has the tools to be a factor as one of the corners, but someone else could also throw their name into the hat before a talented crop of transfers and freshmen make their way to Arizona State this fall.