Arizona State’s offensive line is the embodiment of that old cliché “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
Although then-quarterback Rudy Carpenter was nearly killed in 2007 when the line surrendered a staggering 55 sacks, progress has been made, and the 2011 iteration of the offensive front is shaping up to be the best Tempe has seen in quite some time.
For an offensive line, there is nothing more important than consistency. To be effective, they must play together as a single unit, and nothing undermines that quicker than a constantly changing lineup. Thankfully for Arizona State, all five starters from 2010 return. Not only that, but all eight players who made starts in 2010 return for a nearly unprecedented level of stability.
The group is led by senior center Garth Gerhart, a 6’1", 300-pound anchor in the middle. Gerhart has improved greatly during his tenure in Tempe, and is now among the best offensive linemen in the conference. Over the off-season, he was named to both the Rimington Trophy (nation’s best center) and Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) watch lists, a credit to his ability. His leadership ability is also a critical piece to the offensive puzzle, as evidenced by his selection as a team captain for this season.
Flanking Gerhart at the guard spots are junior Andrew Sampson to the right and senior Mike Marcisz to his left. Both players are tough and strong 300-pounders who began last season on the bench but ended it as starters, a testament to their rapid improvement. The top reserves at guard are Brice Schwab and Adam Tello. Schwab came in as a heralded junior college transfer but was unable to make much of an impact in 2010, while Tello has been slowed recently by a back injury and he will miss the UC Davis game.
There was a bit of a shakeup at tackle this week as starting left tackle Evan Finkenberg was replaced by senior Dan Knapp. The move is disciplinary in nature and Finkenberg still should see time in the opener. Finkenberg made starts last season at both guard and tackle, and the talented 6’6", 292 pound sophomore has a chance to become a fixture at tackle for the next few seasons. Knapp, a converted tight end, has battled persistent MCL injuries as a Sun Devils. Another senior, Aderious Simmons, will get the start at right tackle. A rough transition from the junior college ranks slowed him early in 2010, but he began to acclimate himself and made six starts.
The line has all the makings of a solid unit. Perhaps their greatest challenge will be in pass protection, where quarterback Brock Osweiler has shown an improvisational ability similar to Ben Roethlisberger. While that ability to extend plays often results in many big plays for the offense, it puts tremendous pressure on the linemen. I recently asked former ASU All-American tackle Juan Roque on the “”http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/speak-of-the-devils/id460307196">Speak of the Devils" podcast about what ASU’s linemen need to do in protecting a quarterback like Osweiler.
“You got to finish your blocks. You can never assume a play is over until you hear the crowd cheer.”
If the line can finish those blocks, the talent at running back and wide receiver will have no problem making more than enough plays for the Sun Devil offense to be an elite unit this season, and that’s something that will certainly have the crowd cheering.