Arizona State Preview 2016: Can the Sun Devils rebound and rebuild at the same time?
What You Need To Know About the Arizona State Offense
The new-look Sun Devils are eyeing a rebound after disappointing in 2015.
At this time last year, ASU head man Todd Graham was talking openly about his third team in Tempe being the best squad he’d ever coached. The Sun Devils boasted a lot of talent and plenty of momentum, so Graham’s optimism was understandable.
But then the games began, reality took over and Arizona State stumbled to an improbable 6-7 finish that wiped out some of the gains the staff had made in the first three years. Well, that staff has a noticeably different look this offseason, as it searches for the formula it had when winning 10 games in 2014.
Graham is determined to get back on track … immediately. Not only was 2015 troubling for all of the obvious reasons, but it also stunted Graham’s vision of turning the Devils into a legitimate player in the Pac-12 title chase. Now, ASU still plans on perennially competing for Rose Bowl berths, aided by continuous success on Signing Day, but it’s not as if the 2016 roster is built for right now. That sub-.500 team last fall featured a surprising number of veterans.
Arizona State will enter 2016 with glaring holes that need to be filled on both sides of the ball. Following the succession of Brock Osweiler, Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici, there’s an uncommon level of uncertainty behind center. Contenders Manny Wilkins, Brady White and Bryce Perkins have combined to throw zero college passes, and their protection is comprised of four first-time starting offensive linemen.
On defense, the Sun Devils will also be a mixed bag. The good news is that the front seven should again be terrific, setting the tempo with frenetic pass rushers like linemen Tashon Smallwood and JoJo Wicker and linebackers Salamo Fiso and Christian Sam. However, a secondary that gave up a nation’s-high 338 yards per game is feverishly trying to piece together a starting unit after losing Lloyd Carrington, Jordan Simone, Kweishi Brown and Solomon Means.
Promising news? There are no worries on special teams, where PK Zane Gonzales and P Matt Haack are back to contend for all-league honors as seniors.
After veering off course last season, Arizona State wants to get back to being one of the Pac-12’s rising stars as quickly as possible. Easier said than done. While the Sun Devils are flush in talent, both returning and incoming, those nagging concerns on offense and defense are liable to put a cap on the 2016 team’s potential. And that cold reality will make the warm month of August particularly important for Graham and each of his assistants.