ASU Sun Devils = Hot Offense and Potential NFL talent to go with it
With the Arizona State Sun Devils off to a hot start, this week’s game against UCLA should be a good measuring stick to see exactly where they stand in the PAC 12. Definitely fun to watch as the offense puts up 47 points per game the big question is will they be able to sustain this output with a backup quarterback against a top 20 team. A young defense by all accounts will have their hands full but it hasn’t slowed them down thus far.
As we try to do on NFL Draft GM is talk about the team and the potential next level talent. We are lucky to have been able to ask a couple of questions to Mike Slifer of the site Devils in Detail about the ASU football team and some players he believes have the tools to compete in the NFL.
J: At 3-0 the season has started off well for the Sun Devils but they run into what could be called their first real test of the season against UCLA. What has this early part of the season shown you both offensively and defensively?
MS: Defensively, so far it’s been what we expected. New, young, unproven, inexperienced players on the defense, especially up front. We were worried about their ability to stop the run and that worry has been validated. There have been a lot of critical errors in alignments and assignments that are giving up big running plays.
Offensively, the attitude is “guarded optimism”. They are scoring early and scoring a lot of points, but they aren’t doing it the way we hoped. Many of ASU’s big plays are the result of broken plays or DJ Foster breaking tackles/outrunning the Defense. They aren’t scheming people very well. The high octane passing game is average right now. The chemistry with Kelly and Jaelen Strong has not been apparent. Throw in the fact that Kelly is out for the meat of the season and you can see how people are a little concerned.
J: Obviously the injury to QB Kelly does make this next game against UCLA a little interesting but is it something to worry about for the season? Coach Graham expresses confidence in backup Bercovici but how is the team responding and has he performed in practice?
MS: As for backup QB Mike Bercovici, if you needed a backup, he’s the one you would want. He’s been in the program for four years, in Graham/Norvelle’s system for three. He has command of the offense. He has a good arm. He’s actually a better passer than Taylor Kelly. But he’s not the running threat. Also, there’s a reason he’s #2, he can get a little risky with the ball. Tends to force it. But I understand coach Graham’s confidence in him. He’s quite capable.
J: Name 3 or more players on each side of the ball that have really blossomed in Graham’s system?
MS: OFFENSIVELY, you’d have to start with (Taylor) Kelly. He was barely recruited to this level. He was a two star recruit with an ugly throwing motion. He went into the first spring session as the #3 QB and worked up to being the starter and hasn’t looked back for three seasons.
Second would have to be DJ Foster. He was a phenomenal high school running back, but most local coaches thought he would just be average at the PAC-12 level. He was supposed to be undersized and not possess homerun speed. Of course, that has not been the case. He’s been ridiculously versatile as a running back and a receiver and now taking over the main RB duties, he has blossomed.
Lastly on offense would probably be Left Tackle Jamil Douglas. Douglas has embraced the hard-nosed discipline style of coaching from Graham. He’s stepped up to be a team leader on and off the field. This is a big development for Douglas, because when he came here, he was a quiet, get a long type of kid. Now, he’s an enforcer.
DEFENSIVELY, Damarious Randall has blossomed. He was a JUCO transfer safety that fell off the map coming from Florida. He joined the team last year about halfway through and still got All PAC-12 honors.
Cornerback Lloyd Carrington is another one. He actually followed Graham from Pitt to play in Tempe. He has bided his time to be a starter and he’s been solid all around.
Lastly, I’d say Linebacker Laiu Moeakiola has blossomed. He’s another kid that has embraced Graham’s attacking, disciplined style of football.
J: Building on the last question, do you see players who could potentially play at the next level? Why?
MS: Next level players would include WR Jaelon Strong. He’s a beast. As a receiver, his size/speed combination make him a matchup nightmare. Somebody will draft him. Also, two offensive linemen, Jamil Douglas and Christian Westerman are pro prospects. Jamarious Randall will get a look as well. All those guys are just dominant
J: What about the system in place offensively and defensively prepares these players to possibly make the transition to the next level?
MS: Honestly, I don’t know if the systems in place at ASU are conducive to prepping for the NFL. The offense is the no-huddle/hurry up/zone read type of offense. It’s not what they use in the NFL. Defensively, it’s an unorthodox one with lots of blitzing and different looks. The DB’s don’t play a ton of man to man. So, the actual X’s and O’s being taught aren’t necessarily what NFL scouts want to see. But the techniques/reads and fundamentals being taught are more than enough for some of these kids to play at the next level.
J: Do you feel the talent on ASU is comparable to the “tier 1” (Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC) teams of the Pac-12?
MS: The talent overall is quite comparable to the elite teams of the PAC-12. I don’t believe they are quite at the level of USC and Oregon, but they are not far behind. They are probably even with UCLA. As for Stanford, they recruit a different style of player. So, no, we don’t have the same offensive linemen and tight ends that Stanford has. And we don’t have the pure passer that Stanford recruits. But again, a little bit different system there.
Overall, ASU has the talent (although young) to compete with these teams.
J: With UCLA struggling and USC coming off of a loss do you feel the next two weeks are winnable games?
MS: The next two games are definitely winnable. The SoCal schools are vulnerable (as is ASU). They have struggled on both sides of the ball and haven’t put it all together yet. That’s what will make these games interesting.
J: Ultimately how do you think ASU will fare this season? Bowl game?
MS: Ultimately, even with Kelly hurt, I think they’re looking at 9-3 or 8-4. I think they’ll lose to Stanford, Notre Dame and USC. They’ll also struggle with UCLA, Washington and Arizona. But I think they find a way to win 8 games and win a smaller bowl game.
Be sure to follow Mike Slifer for all of your Sun Devil football news on twitter @Devils_Detail and visit devilsindetail.com