Arizona State Football is gearing up for a big 2013 season. All-everything defensive end, Will Sutton announced that he will return for his senior season last week and another piece of the puzzle was filled on Friday with the addition of Chris Thomsen to the coaching staff.
Thomsen, who led Texas Tech to a victory in the Meineke Car Care Bowl as interim head coach, will return as running backs coach. Thomsen was hired in December 2011 by Arizona State head coach Todd Graham but left in February to coach at Texas Tech.
He inherited the head coaching position at Texas Tech after Tommy Tuberville resigned to take the head coach position at Cincinnati.
These are two important parts to the Sun Devils puzzle but there are still many areas that need to be filled before Coach Graham can call this a championship team.
Let’s look further into the projections for Arizona State moving forward into 2013 and beyond.
Before the 2012 season began, there was a big question at quarterback. Brock Osweiler had left a pretty big hole to fill, and all of the quarterbacks on the roster were largely untested. Through several months of preseason and heading into Camp Tontozona, Kelly, Eubank and Mike Bercovici were battling tooth and nail to earn the starting spot.
Graham named Kelly the starter and suffice to say that he made a great choice. Kelly had a phenomenal year for the Sun Devils and Eubank gained valuable playing time in every game in 2012.
Bercovici redshirted and will now have another year of eligibility, but he will also be challenged by incoming 4-star recruit Joshua Dobbs, who is ranked by Scout.com as the No. 12 quarterback in the country.
This is a big tandem coming out of the backfield. Grice and Foster were the spearheads that led Arizona State to over 200 yards of rushing per game. They were also No. 3 and No. 4 receivers on the Sun Devil squad in 2012.
They will be without senior Cameron Marshall, who was the heart and soul of the running game, and it will be difficult to replace his production. The triple threat of “Run DMC” will no longer be in effect, but there is no doubt that each player will take on the added responsibility and shoulder the load for the Devils.
Look for incoming junior Deantre Lewis, senior R.J. Robinson or Rivals.com 3-star recruit Nick Brown to grab some playing time as solid relief to Grice and Foster. Big men Marcus Washington (6’0″, 224) and Terrell Davis (6’0, 225) will also provide much-needed bulk to break initial contact and move the line.
Wide Receiver X
- Alonzo Agwuenu
- Ellis Jefferson
The Sun Devils were lacking in the 2012 season after losing a strong receiving corps to the NFL draft. Senior receivers Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles will also be noticeably absent in the 2013 season. Head coach Todd Graham made recruiting receivers a top priority for 2013, and he has already lined up four 3-star recruits and one tight end, according to Rivals.com.
Agwuenu showed up in a big way in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Navy and proved to Coach Graham that he deserves to fill the vacancy left behind by Rashad Ross. He played sparingly up until the final three-game push in which the Sun Devils went 3-0.
Three-star receiver Ellis Jefferson is going to be a big hit for the Sun Devils in 2013—and I mean big. Jefferson checks in at 6’4″ and 190 lbs. and will give quarterback Taylor Kelly another big option in replacement of Agwuenu who is also 6’4″ and 211 lbs.
Wide Receiver Y
Kevin Ozier returns for his senior season and looks to improve his draft stock and lead the Sun Devils in the coming year. Ozier averaged 15.4 yards per reception and collected five touchdowns on the year including two on the road against Cal.
Ronald Lewis out of Harvey, Louisiana is a speedy receiver that had offers from LSU, Nebraska and Texas A&M. Lewis is ranked as the No. 25 recruit in Louisiana and the No. 56 wide receiver in the country.
Wide Receiver Z
- Richard Smith
- Jaelen Strong
As a true freshman, Smith saw action in all 13 games and recorded stats in five of them. Smith averaged over 10 yards per reception and tallied two touchdowns including a 31-yard strike against Colorado. Smith is a speedy receiver with a 4.4 40-yard dash time. He is going to be a huge deep-ball threat in 2013 for Kelly and the Sun Devils.
Junior college transfer Jaelen Strong is the No. 49 recruit on the Rivals.com JuCo Top 100 for 2013. Strong also brings big size at 6’4″ and and 205 lbs. Look for Strong to make a big impact in the upcoming season and for Smith to continue to shine on special teams.
Chris Coyle dominates the tight end position and led the Sun Devils in receiving in 2012. He returns for his senior season in 2013 looking to add his name to the successful tight ends in the NFL including Todd Heap and Zach Miller.
He surpassed both Heap and Miller with the most catches by a tight end in Arizona State history in the final game of the 2012 season. His 57 receptions ranked No. 3 in the country and his 696 yards were fourth best.
Grant Martinez is a hometown talent out of Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale and was heavily recruited by Cal, Oregon St. and Utah. Martinez ranks as the No. 12 recruit in Arizona and the No. 13 tight end in the country, according to Rivals.com.
Head coach Todd Graham also has two offers to big TE recruits in 4-star Mitchell Parsons and 3-star Durham Smythe. Parsons is the No. 2 recruit in Colorado and the No. 7 TE in the country while Smythe is the No. 47 recruit in Texas and the No. 14 TE in the country.
The addition of Martinez, Parsons or Smythe will give Graham and the Sun Devils a strong two tight end set that will be akin to what the New England Patriots are doing with Gronkwski and Hernandez.
- Kody Koebensky
- Mo Latu
- Evan Finkenberg
- Evan Goodman
- Vi Teofilo
- Easton Wahlstrom
- Sil Ajawara
- Tyler Sulka
The left side of the offensive line is still intact but the right side is gone now that seniors Andrew Sampson and Brice Schwab have graduated.
Center Kody Koebensky, left guard Jamil Douglas and left tackle Evan Finkenberg will anchor an offensive line that have played together for the past two years. Look for Sil Ajawara and Vi Teofilo to be immediate replacements on the line.
Josh Tremblay, a junior college transfer could also make an immediate impact when he joins the team this year. Tremblay, a 6’4″, 280-lb. guard is a 3-star recruit out of American River Community College and has good size and speed.
- Will Sutton
- Gannon Conway
- Jaxon Hood
- Sean O’Grady
- Davon Coleman
- Junior Onyeali
An incredible defensive line anchored by the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in Will Sutton. Coleman and Onyeali are both starters at the DE position and have both made an impact with five sacks from Coleman and six from Onyeali.
Sutton finished the year with 63 tackles including 23-5 for a loss of 130 yards and a team-leading 13 sacks. Hood had a remarkable year as a true freshman with 26 tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss.
- Carl Bradford—Devil
- Chris Young—Spur
- Steffon Martin—SAM
- Carlos Mendoza—WILL
There are four linebacker spots in the 3-4 defense for Graham and the backups could play any of the above areas. Bradford, Young and Martin anchor the linebacker crew and Mendoza will be replacing the soul of the defense in Brandon Magee. Mendoza had a promising freshman year before being sidelined with a season-ending shoulder injury.
Bradford finished the year with 81 tackles including 20.5 for a loss of 86 yards and 11.5 sacks. He had a nose for the ball as he also grabbed an interception, and forced three fumbles—recovering two of them.
Chris Young had 82 tackles on the year and 14 for a loss and added two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Martin added 27 tackles, a sack and 6.5 tackles for loss.
The second team looks to be filled with experienced veterans and great recruits that could gain ground on the starters.
- Grandville Taylor
- Anthony Jones
- Chans Cox
- Viliami Latu
Grandville Taylor and Anthony Jones saw playing time all season long and contributed greatly when the starters needed a breather or just a change of pace for Graham.
Cox and Latu are both 4-star linebackers according to Rivals.com and will make a big impact to an already remarkable linebacker crew.
- Osahon Irabor
- Rashad Wadood
- Robert Nelson
- William Earley
- Alden Darby
- Viliami Moeakiloa
- Ezekiel Bishop
- Luke Williams
Although the Sun Devils lost two key players to graduation in Keelan Johnson and Deveron Carr, there are numerous able-bodied replacements to fill in the slots.
Nelson and Darby both had three interceptions on the year including Darby’s amazing 70-yard pick-six against USC. Bishop will have big shoes to fill taking over the field safety position. Incoming junior Luke WIlliams might get challenged by incoming freshmen Jayme Otomewo and James Johnson.
Wadood, Moeakiloa and Earley are long shots to play as the others are so talented, but it is good to see depth in the otherwise razor-thin secondary.
It would be nice to add 5-star hometown hero Priest Willis to this list and have an over abundance in the secondary. Willis is rumored to have ASU in his top three schools.
- Alex Garoutte
- Jon Mora
- Matt Haack
- Parker Flynn
- Robert Nelson
- Richard Smith
The special teams sees the departure of some very valuable pieces in 2013. Josh Hubner, the ASU punter was a Ray Guy semifinalist and was named to the All-Pac-12 second team. The Sun Devils had Dillon Jackson as the backup to Hubner in 2012, but he never touched the playing field.
The Devils will go ahead with true freshman Matt Haack in 2013 unless redshirt junior Parker Flynn or sophomore Sean Conaway can step in to take away the duties.
Garoutte missed one PAT ouf of the 51 that he attempted in 2012 and will most likely remain as the kickoff and PAT guy while Mora will continue with the field goal dutoes.
The return team will be receiving some new blood after seniors Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles will leave the spots open. Look for Robert Nelson and/or Richard Smith to take over in the return capacity.
Head coach Todd Graham has done what was once believed to be impossible—bring discipline to the desert. His style of toughness, accountability and respect were inserted and accepted by the players immediately.
There are still some obstacles that need to be overcome and the Sun Devils are not a championship-caliber team as of yet, but they are light years beyond where they were under Dennis Erickson.
There is a new swagger around campus these days. From Will Sutton committing to his final season to the signing of the best high school linebacker in the state in Chans Cox. Former hometown hero offensive lineman Christian Westerman is returning home after a miserable season at Auburn University that also saw the dismissal of coach Gene Chizik.
These are all positive trends and are all products of what Todd Graham has done at Arizona State and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.