Thursday was a good day for Arizona State wide receiver Jamal Miles.
SB Nation's excellent Sun Devil website, House of Sparky, named him No. 5 on their Most Important Player countdown, but that was merely the appetizer for an impressive entree. A mere hour later, he was named to the 2012 Paul Hornung Award watch list, an honor given to the nation's most versatile player, and it's easy to see why.
Not since the days of Rudy Burgess has ASU had a player who not only did so many things on the field, but did them at such a high level.
Although he was listed as a wide receiver last season, Miles lined up all over the field in the Sun Devil offense. Becoming an all too frequent target of the swing pass, he hauled in 60 receptions, but for just 361 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran 29 times for 237 yards, second on the team behind Cameron Marshall. For good measure, he also threw a key touchdown pass in the win over Missouri.
But his greatest impact came on special teams, where he ranked as one of the nation's best. He averaged 26.3 yards on kickoff returns and ran two back for scores, while he added another touchdown on punt returns.
Not too shabby, eh?
But for the Sun Devils to make a run at a bowl berth, he'll need to be even better for a few critical reasons.
The Need For "The Man"
Better late than never, the cliche goes. After three undistinguished seasons, Gerell Robinson exploded last season to become the type of go-to receiver that the program hadn't seen in many years.
What's left is Miles and several very talented, but largely inexperienced options. While Kevin Ozier, J.J. Holliday, Rashad Ross, Alonzo Agwuenu and others will battle for playing time, the one name you can put in the starting lineup in ink is Miles.
Even with his experience, he still has a lot of work to do in improving his route running. A player of his skill can't average just six yards per catch again if the team is to succeed. He'll need to be able to get open downfield consistently and grow into a complete wide receiver.
With ASU opening their fall camp today, all eyes will rightfully be on the three-man quarterback battle between Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank and Taylor Kelly. Regardless of the outcome, the winner will be making his first career start on August 30th.
With such inexperience behind center, the new quarterback will be in dire need of a dependable target, and a guy who can take it to the house on every catch is a good guy to look for on a dropback. However, if the connection fails to materialize, there will be some prolonged slumps for the offense.
Provide a Second Dimension
With uncertainty on each end of the passing game and one of the Pac-12's best running backs in Marshall in the backfield, expect to see opposing defenses stack the box in an effort to shut down the ASU running game.
However, should Miles be able to poses a threat both on the perimeter and downfield, it will force the defense to play back and open up lanes for Marshall and the rest of the talented backfield.
With a new offensive scheme, a new quarterback and many more new players, the Sun Devil offense is going to experience it's share of growing pains this fall. This is going to place an even larger premium on the field position battle and the performance of the return game...or the threat of it.
Last season, the college football world found out what happens when you kick the ball to Miles, so if he gets off to another strong start in that department this season, you could see a lot of teams begin to "Hester" him and kick away.
A coach can spends countless hours gameplanning, devising strategies and drawing up plays, but often times it all amounts to one thing: get the ball to your best playmaker. For ASU, that is Jamal Miles. Through the air, on the ground, or any other method that the crafty minds of the Sun Devil coaching staff can concoct, Miles will get the ball.
What he does with it may very well tell the tale of Arizona State's offense in 2012.
Get more Sun Devils coverage at House of Sparky.