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August 29, 2012

Season Preview: Offensive Line

The following is a comprehensive preview of Arizona State's offensive line, with evaluations and analysis on the scholarship players, and includes a position synopsis and quotes from players and position coach Bob Connelly.

Offensive Line

Best player: Andrew Sampson

Emerging Talent:Jamil Douglas

Most improved: Brice Schwab

Impact newcomers: None

Now or Never: None

Freshmen to watch: Vi Teofilo, Mo Latu, Evan Goodman

Anticipated Two-Deep

Left Tackle: Finkenberg/Goodman or Douglas
Left Guard: Douglas/Sil Ajawara
Center: Kody Koebensky/Latu
Right Guard: Sampson/Teofilo
Right Tackle: Schwab/Tyler Sulka

Player Overviews

Andrew Sampson -- ASU's best interior "road grader," Sampson earned team captain honors on the offense along with senior running back Cameron Marshall. He's a cerebral player who is assignment sound and a student of the game. Those things allow him to overcome his average athleticism. He's a better run blocker than pass pro guy and this offense is well suited to his style because it's a true smash mouth power philosophy.

Brice Schwab -- Few, if any players on the roster have made the physical transformation that Schwab has over the last couple of years. He's lost 50-plus pounds since arriving at ASU as a highly acclaimed junior college tackle and struggling with balance, flexibility and foot speed. Those issues are significantly improved after a red shirt year dedicated to his body and conditioning. Schwab may have been the only player on the two who worked in two position groups during summer weight training and conditioning. His dedication to self-improvement is almost unmatched. Now that he's in ideal shape, Scwab's much better in his pass set, quicker to where he needs to be and his only remaining issue is he sometimes struggles with rush ends who counter across his body. In the run game, as a down blocker, he's very capable and powerful.

Evan Finkenberg -- One of two returning starters along with Sampson, Finkenberg is just a solid all-around offensive linemen. He won't wow you in any area, not a great athlete or physical specimen, but he has no skill deficiency, has good balance and technique on run and pass assignments, and seems to have a natural knack for the game. He's not likely to be an all-league performer, but he'll protect his quarterback and be very functional in executing this scheme's run philosophy.

Kody Koebensky -- Another lineman who has made significant strides physically since arriving on campus, Koebensky has cut his body fat percentage significantly and added quite a bit of strength, which compliments his length -- he's long-armed for his height -- and broadness. He's another guy who isn't particularly athletic for the position, but he's extremely reliable with his snaps and technical execution. He understands his assignments at a high level and is another good student of the game.

Jamil Douglas -- ASU's most promising starter in terms of his long-term potential, Douglas is very athletic for a guard and easily capable of sliding out and playing left tackle, which is the position he was initially recruited to play. But he's powerful in his lower half and can fire off the ball and get to the second level better than the other interior starters. He's got a good attitude and works hard, with a passion for the game and should have a bright future.

Tyler Sulka -- Possessing a bit of a mean streak, Sulka is a tough guy who has good feet and coordination of movement for a right tackle prospect. His main issue is just continuing to add clean weight, as he's a little undersized even though he's added a good 25 or so pounds since arriving at ASU. He's got the potential to be a very serviceable player at the position and should compete for a starting job in 2013 once Schwab departs.

Sil Ajawara -- In the last year Ajawara has made big strides in the strength and conditioning program though he was setback a bit by a sports hernia this summer. As he continues to become more powerful and sound he'll have a real chance at playing time.

Mo Latu -- Even at 350 pounds last year as a late qualifier when he was out of shape, it was obvious that Latu was quite a physical specimen. He's lost about 30 pounds since then, partly aided by a sinus infection that requires hospitalization a month ago. Conditioning has been an issue as a result and he didn't pick up as much ground on Koebensky at center as we expected, but if he continues to be a student of the game his upside is extremely high. He could play beyond college but he's still early on the learning curve.

Vi Teofilo -- Despite being just a redshirt freshman, Teofilo might be the strongest offensive linemen on the team at 315 pounds. He has everything you'd look for in a standout guard prospect and is very athletic with great feet as a former champion wrestler in high school. He just was very raw in his understanding of the game but continues to show better in scrimmage settings and should be a great replacement to Sampson, someone with a higher ceiling.

Evan Goodman -- An extremely gifted true freshman, Goodman's pass sets look like someone who has been around for a couple years already. He's so fluid in his movements with his kick step and has unusual coordination. He's had a bit of an issue with hand placement but as he gets that down and the mental aspects of the position and scheme, he's got a chance to be a star player at this level and future professional.

Kyle Johnson -- If Finkenberg goes down, ASU will have to make a decision on whether to slide Douglas to tackle, burn Goodman's redshirt year or go with Johnson, a senior who hasn't seen the field much and likely won't again this year. He's been a liability in practice on passing downs in team periods throughout his career. Ultimately, he's probably a No. 3 or 4 option at left tackle.

Devin Goodman -- The twin brother of Evan, Devin was a year ahead in school and coming off a redshirt year. He's smaller height and weight wise and looks like the No. 3 option at center and a deep reserve at guard. He'll need to continue to add good size and work on the technical and mental aspects of the position as he looks to compete with guys like Latu, Ajawara and Teofilo down the line a year or two.

William McGehee -- A junior college transfer with three years to play and a redshirt available, McGehee is raw and will likely spend a year on the scout team then compete at right tackle with Sulka and maybe even Evan Goodman or Finkenberg depending on which player ASU decides to move, as both will probably be among the best five linemen on the roster in 2013.

Stephon McCray -- The third-team left guard, McCray has an impressive, big frame and moves well for his size. He'll need to lean out, but he should fit the power run game approach of this staff and compete at a position where ASU could be particularly deep in the future, especially if Douglas remains at guard beyond this year.

Position Synopsis:

This is probably the healthiest the position group has been since the middle of last decade but it is by no means a stellar unit. The reality is that it's been a below average unit for a number of years, but that's no longer the case. There is an issue with experienced depth and overall depth at tackle as well as athleticism across the board, especially at center and right guard, where it is beneficial to have players who can get out and run to the second level. But that's getting a little picky to be sure. As long as Schwab holds up on passing downs against athletic rushers, there really is no weakness among the starting group and some of the youngsters looks really promising. If they can be brought along slowly, there are signs this can be a team strength in years to come. That hasn't been the case in a long time.

Quotables

Todd Graham

"[Schwab's] been very steady. We're encouraging him. The biggest thing we want him to do is play to his potential and his confidence level needs to be high. I think he didn't have a lot of confidence obviously because he didn't play last year but I think he can be a dominant player for us. I think he had a really solid camp and a great spring, the guy has put himself in a really great position and I think he's one of the best football players we have. I really do. I think he's a guy who can be an all-Pac-12 performer. He has to believe that. He has to play like that, prepare like that every day and see himself like as that. That's something we're encouraging him to do. My expectation is for him to be one of our strong suits if not these strong suit up front. He's got all the tools to be a great offensive linemen.

Bob Connelly

"I like our group, I really do. I'll be honest with you, when you come to a new situation you watch the film and you try to get an idea of what the guys are like, but then you have to learn it for yourself and especially when we do things a little bit different, but I've been pretty pleased for the most part. Of course as a coach you're always noticing the things you want to try to get corrected and focused on that and there's things we need to work on but as a group, we're a little further along than I anticipated which is a good, and now we've got to build from there."

"I think Brice is going to be fine, I have a lot of confidence in him. I think he's worked extremely hard to put himself in the position he's in now and he's more than capable of being a really solid player for us. Andrew is a leader for us and Evan (Finkenberg) has a lot of experience and knows what we're asking of him and able to execute those things so we have players I'm confident in but we've just got to make sure we are focused on continuing to put in a good effort every day."

"With some of our younger guys, like Evan or Vi or Mo or some of the others, their potential is very good but they are early on in their development as far as learning how the game is played at this level. There's a lot more to it of course than in high school so beyond just getting physically prepared to play -- and those are guys who have all the physical tools you look for -- there are all the little things you have to teach them and have them learn and demonstrate in order to feel confident that when you put them out there in a difficult situation, they're going to handle that as expected."

Andrew Sampson

"Last year the rumor was we were supposed to be run first and pass second and then we never were. To actually run it this year, you don't expect it you just do it. And it's a lot easier to run block than pass block. Pass blocking is all finesse. You've got to use your hands and wait for the d-lineman to come to you in certain situations, and you don't know where the blitz it coming from. Run blocking, you pretty much just smash them in the chin. That's what we want to do anyway, or at least I do."

"The scheme is pretty basic. There's inside zone, outside zone, power and a little bit of counter. But mainly it's just inside zone running it up the gut. Are you going to execute and be more physical than the guys on the other side? That's what we want to do. It's a lineman's dream to run in this offense."

Kody Koebensky

"Coach Norvell says the first thing about our offense is that we've got to knock the defense back, create a new line of scrimmage. We've got to take it to the defensive linemen and linebackers. We've got a bunch of good running backs and if we are successful at creating that new line of scrimmage we're going to have a chance to have a great season."

"I've had a big transformation. I came in not in very good shape and coach Griz this year especially has really worked us hard to create a different physique and different result than last year. I feel a lot stronger and more athletic. I feel like Coach Griz has done a great job helping us. Everything we do from all the cleans to throwing our hips into double teams, to getting out and running, I just feel like a more explosive athlete on the field."

Evan Finkenberg

"I think we're doing pretty good and ready to see how well we do in a real game. We have a good feel for one another out there because it's been the same guys since the spring and we've developed that which is always good because a lot of it is just knowing what the guy next to you is going to do and working well with him so that we can execute what we're supposed to as a group. I feel pretty good about that right now and like the offense and what the coaches are asking of us. So now we're just excited to go out there and play and see how it goes."

Evan Goodman

"It's a lot more fast paced and high intensity from high school. You've got to know what you've got to do because there's no time to think before the snap. But we got ready for it this summer. I never knew there were so many different types of running. It seemed like that's all we did was more running but I lost 20 pounds and go way stronger since I've been out here for months (since May)."


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