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August 21, 2013
When asked about the Arizona State offense's new plays and formation, senior center Kody Koebensky flashes his country smile and chuckles to himself before answering.
"O-line we don't see too much of a difference because we're just told to block the same guys," Koebensky said.
Even though the new formations don't really change things for Koebensky, he does realize the offense's demonstrated cohesion so early in camp will help the unit be successful when the season kicks off.
At this point in the season the offense has pretty much solidified its starting 11. There is still a little bit of competition at one of the starting receiver positions, but otherwise things appear set.
On the opposite side of the ball there continues to be question marks especially at safety and linebacker, with head coach Todd Graham constantly tinkering.
Koebensky believes the offense has gelled together because everyone has a clear understanding of their roles.
"It helps us a lot," Koebensky said. "We've got a great group of guys on offense. Between the ones and twos we're all pretty close. It's not like ones are one clique and twos are another clique. We fit pretty well as a collective offense. So it's great having that chemistry and I think it's going to help out a lot this year."
The biggest question heading into camp for the offense was how quickly the team's five new receivers would pick up the system. Wednesday, the group had some missed alignments and blocking assignments, but overall it has done well over the first two weeks.
Sophomore Richard Smith and junior college transfer sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong are the outside receivers. Freshman Ellis Jefferson, senior Kevin Ozier, sophomore Gary Chambers and junior college transfer Joe Morris are all options at an undecided 5-receiver spot, which most frequently lines up in the slot.
Morris hasn't practiced yet due to a foot injury but is expected to be cleared in the next few days according to Graham, which could further clutter the position.
Koebensky said he has been impressed with how "football smart" the new and younger receivers are.
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said that is something you just can't coach.
"We talk about it all the time, is that one of the greatest talents you have is knowledge," Norvell said. "As you come out and you take the time to study and to learn and it can translate to the football field then that's going to help you as a player each and every day and get you on the field faster as a newcomer."
Norvell has been calling the plays for the offense for a year now. The number of veterans and returning starters at key positions has allowed Norvell to expand the offense now that there's more offensive familiarity.
Ozier said the offense has not added many new actual plays but the number of looks ASU can line up in has expanded.
"[There's] a couple more plays and a lot more different formations," Ozier said. "We're moving people around We can run all of our plays out of every formation. So it's not necessarily new plays it's just more so we're running them out of new formations so you might have a different responsibility or a different route."
The most noticeable new formation is the pistol.
Norvell implemented it during the spring and has expanded on it during the fall. With dynamic running backs like senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster, it gives the defense a lot to worry about especially since defenders cannot read the running back's first step because the quarterback is blocking the view.
Graham is excited about what the formation can do for the offense.
"I'll tell you it's really difficult on the defense," Graham said. "You don't get any offset. It helps you when you have that offset. I think it's really getting better. Marion and D.J. are really I-formation guys and that's really what you get, is the I-formation out of a shotgun when you use the pistol. So it's been very productive. There's been challenges with protections and things like that that we've had to make some adjustments. But we'll still run some hip too (shotgun with an offset back)."
Something else Norvell has expanded on in his second year is not a new formation. It is a play-type that, like Ozier said, the offense can now run out any new formation.
The play is the run/pass read option where the quarterback can hand it off to the running back, tuck the ball and take it himself the opposite direction or pass.
It is an interesting play because usually it ends up with junior quarterback Taylor Kelly throwing the ball on the run to a receiver.
Ozier said the play gives the offense a lot of options depending on what the defense gives them.
"It's good because the linebackers are going to bite on the run," Ozier said. "If the quarterback pulls it he can hit us across the middle; we've got to catch the ball and get up field. If they're back he's going to hand the ball off and he's going to keep handing the ball off and they're going to have bite, then the receivers get the ball."
There's still more than few practices before the team's first game against Sacramento State. Norvell is still not satisfied with the offense's consistency. In the meantime, he said the offense can improve on that with multiple strong reps in practice.
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